GT in the EU

An extraordinary education

Month: July 2015 (Page 3 of 5)

Trains, cheese, and a warlord, oh my!

This morning was simultaneously both somber and hectic for most of us as we said our final goodbyes to oIMG_7978ur host families and rushed to store our luggage in our hotel in time to catch our train to The Hague. It was sad to leave our home-away-from-home after having been so immersed in Brussels with such amazing host families for almost two months, but still invigorating to think about what all we have in store for us the next three weeks in The Hague, Amsterdam, Berlin, and Kraków. The train ride through the beautiful countryside of Flanders and the rural southern Netherlands lasted a little over two hours, and I think it is definitely safe to say that none of us were disappointed upon arrival. The Hague’s architecture stuck out to me above all else, as it was very original and contemporary, but still easily comparable to cities like Antwerp, Bruges, and Ghent in Flanders.

After dropping off our luggage at our hotel, we journeyed to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. We started off by observing a hearing of evidence in the trial of Ratko Mladać (facing two counts of genocide, five counts of crimes against humanity, and four counts of violations of laws/customs of war). It was a surreal experience to see a person who initially seems so friendly and amiable, only to later have the revelation that he has more than likely murdered thousands of innocent people. The judges wore bright red, intimidating suits and held an essence IMG_7983of regality. You almost could feel the power and prestige of the ICC. After the trial viewing, we went to a lecture describing the structure of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the overall causes/judicial outcomes of the Balkan Wars.

Our speaker began by contrasting the prominent Nuremberg and Tokyo trials and the more contemporary ICTY trials, with the latter requiring a larger emphasis on cooperation with local authority to apprehend human rights violators. I found this particular aspect interesting as it showed the constraints on an international court having to work within the confines of an anarchic, sovereignty-based system. After WWII, the winners were allowed to operate with complete authority within their respective territories (where the majority of criminals were located). In the case of the Balkan Wars though, there were no real “winners” and the burden of justly prosecuting the perpetrators fell largely on the international community. Thus, international cooperation with local authority through the ICTY was the most efficient, effective way to apprehend and place war criminals on trial in the International Criminal Court.

After leaving the ICTY, we took a short tram ride to Statenkwartier, a busy, quaint neighborhood near the coast. We tried Dutch Stroopwaffles and a variety of amazing, exotic cheeses at the Kalkman cheese shop. It was well worth the walk to get to sample so many delicious, Dutch spIMG_7987ecialties. After eating our fair share of Stroopwaffles and cheese, we headed back to the hotel to eat dinner and rest up for our visit to the Dutch parliament tomorrow. It was definitely a great introduction to The Hague and our stay in the Netherlands!

Our Final Site Visits in Brussels

Today was our last real full day in Belgium.  It seems strange to be packing up and wishing farewells to the hosts and friends that we have lived with and gotten to know over the summer.  Just six weeks in Brussels and already most of us know the ins-and-outs of the city than we do Atlanta, but even as we prepare to move on to Holland, our studies into Human Rights with Professor Fabry are only just beginning, and so we spent our final day in Brussels being briefed at three of the most exciting and interesting site visits that we’ve taken yet:  the DG of Competition, the Council of Europe, and Human Rights Watch.

alexander_italianerTo start off the windy day we headed to the Directorate-General of Competition for the European Union, which is responsible for directly enforcing the European Union competition rules in order to “make EU markets work better, by ensuring that all companies compete equally and fairly on their merits.”  To make things even better, we had the distinct privilege of being briefed by Alexander Italianer, the current head of DG Competition, who was even just appointed as the future Secretary-General of the Commission.  In his exhaustive briefing of the policies, duties, and actions of the DG Mr. Italianer delved into such topics as the importance of protecting true competition in order to foster healthy rivalry between companies for profits and market shares in order to propagate lower prices, increased consumer choice, better quality options and increased innovation.  In finishing, he enlightened us to the inner workings and methodologies of the DG, discussing the process of opening and running an investigation into companies and governments that may violate fair competition – through restrictive behavior, price fixing, and cartels among many other means – as well as their role in creating antitrust policy and merger control.

Next, the group departed for the much anticipated Council of Europe.  Made up of forty-seven member states and five observers, the Council is one of the most important and influential human rights based organizations in the world, not to mention that it rounded out LogoCoethe last of the eternally confusing three European councils.  At the Council we had the interesting and insightful privilege of being briefed on and discussing the Council’s role in human rights by a member of staff from Russia.  To begin, we watched a short video presentation on the issues and challenges tackled by the Council, ranging from topics like the death penalty, torture, and human trafficking to more dialectic subjects such as cyber crime, implementation of social charters, and the protection of national minorities.  The following Q&A session covered a range of in depth issues, with questions on Ukraine (given the speakers unique experience and nationality) in particular being a popular line inquiry leading to a discussion on Russia’s legitimate concerns towards the treatment of
Russian-speaking minorities in the region in addition to the usual debate over the actions which they took in reaction. About an hour and several discussions on Eastern European HR violations, Hungary’s future, and the disastrous immigration situation later, we left for a long free lunch to digest the high level briefing.


Our energy recovered, we set out for our final (and personally, most exciting) destination: unnamedthe Human Rights Watch offices in Brussels.  This time we were led by an American staff member with an impressive track record in HR who is, in fact, preparing to begin work on the major issue of palliative medicine availability in less developed nations.  The briefing was simultaneously more informal and informative than most, rather taking the form of an in-depth Q&A/discussion session that lasted from the first minute until the moment the speaker had to leave.  To give us an overview of the organization before the questions began we once again began our visit with a video, this time a self-published segment on the deadly civil war in Syria and the massive humanitarian crises that has accompanied it as well as – of course – the role Human Rights Watch has played in bringing some of its worst tragedies to light.  Through the lens of the Syrian example we go to see exactly how the Human Rights Watch operates and what means they have at their disposal to achieve their goal of bringing offenses to light and utilizing media and public opinion in order to bring perpetrators to justice.unnamed (1)All in all, it was a fantastic way to wrap up our time in Brussels, and to top everything off it was also Apollo’a birthday!

(Also, ducks.)

A Farewell To Brussels

As our time in Brussels comes to a close, I’d like to take this chance to reflect on all of the incredible experiences we’ve had here. This study abroad program has taken the group to many places we would not have been otherwise able to access, and allowed us to speak with representatives from all aspects of European governance (and economics, security, human rights, etc.). I think it’s appropriate that we take a minute to share our favorite experiences here.

Of all the opportunities this program has given me in Belgium, I think my favorite has to be the chance to visit SHAPE and speak with NATO officials. It was somewhat surreal to be on the bus as it pulled up next to the fences around the compound and realize “This is where some of the greatest military minds in the world are working together.” It was not until we got inside that I realized they weren’t just working together to prepare for the possibility of war, but also to prevent conflict from occurring at all. While it is normally thought that the political arm of NATO is responsible for most of the deterrence carried out by the organization, the briefings we had revealed that a fair amount of actions involving military components are intended to prevent aggression by hostile actors and preserve the peace. The extent to which this is effective can be argued, but the fact that SHAPE’s operations are not all focused on war is encouraging for the future of European security.

Inside SHAPE, I would have to say that my favorite area was the office of the SACEUR, General Breedlove (Georgia Tech Class of 77). The history in that room: from the desk used by Eisenhower to activate SHAPE, to the globe around which many SACEURs have had conversations with world leaders, to the medallions from armed forces around the world, this room seemed to be a museum of military history. I was particularly impressed by the wall Gen. Breedlove dedicated to the men and women of the allied armed forces, with pictures of soldiers adorning an entire side of the room. It was truly a pleasure to tour SHAPE and I once again must thank General Breedlove for his support of the Yellow Jackets.

Now to my classmates: what was your favorite part of our time in Brussels?

A Global Effort for Human Rights

Greetings from Brussels! After spending an incredible week in Paris, we are back in Brussels for our final week here. Our European Security course has wrapped up, and this week we have started our Human Rights course with Dr. Fabry. After spending the past (almost) two months discussing security and European institutions in lecture and at our site visits, I think it will be refreshing to have a new topic, human rights, to round out our general understanding and analysis of European current and past issues.

Yesterday, our lectures focused on a general introduction to the topic of human rights by defining what constitutes a human right, the emergence of international governance on human rights as well as global and regional human rights institutions. After laying that foundation, today we discussed the role that human rights plays in foreign policy considerations and actions, both in the European Union as well as the international system as a whole.

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