GT in the EU

An extraordinary education

Month: May 2016 (Page 1 of 2)

Our visit to SHAPE

Today, our day started with a taste of social action in Belgium, since there was no public transportation due to a strike. It shows that there are economic and social issues that Belgium is dealing with and also illustrates how strong Unions are in Belgium.  Despite these challenges, everyone somehow made it on time to the meeting spot. After a two and a half hour bus ride, we finally made it to the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers of Europe (SHAPE) in Casteau, Belgium near Mons.

SHAPE is the headquarters of the Allied Command Operations (ACO) which controls all North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) operations worldwide. The commander of the ACO is known as the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) and is General Curtis Scaparrotti as of May 2016. His predecessor was General Breedlove, a Georgia Tech alumnus.

We had an introduction presentation by a NATO official and then another presentation by a EU Military Staff Officer.

The NATO official gave us a general overview of both NATO and SHAPE and reviewed information that we had learned in our security course and on our site visit at NATO earlier in the program. The presentation reiterated that NATO is a political and military alliance between sovereign states which are each responsible for their own and collective defence. One notable figure from the presentation was that in 1993, NATO has 32 different headquarters whereas in 2016 that number has been reduced to 11 to reduce redundancy.

Today, NATO has to react faster to local conflicts meaning that it needs a lighter and more capable structure. Risks today are harder to predict and can come from new challenges. The Very High Readiness Joint Task Force was created to be able to react to these challenges in a fast and effective manor (i.e. Within 48 hours).

The active NATO missions and operations are KFOR in Kosovo, Ocean Shield in the Gulf of Aden, Active Endeavour in the Mediterranean Sea, Air Policing Mission in the Baltic States, Resolute Support in Afghanistan and a Deployment in Turkey. KFOR’s goal is to ameliorate the security situation. Ocean Shield’s goal is to combat privacy in a dense trading zone. Active Endeavour’s goal is to counter terrorism and deter weapons, drugs, and human trafficking. The Air Policing mission aims to preserve the integrity of the NATO Airspace in the Baltic States and has 25 fighter jets. The Resolute Support Mission’s goal is to train, advise, and assist Afghani military and police forces.

Our next presentation was by a EU Military Staff Officer. He gave us an overview of the EU structure and then discussed the European Common Security and Defence Policy as well as EU- NATO Relations. One important point that he made is that the EU often has a complimentary job to NATO in terms of defence so as to not duplicate effort from common member states (of which there are 22). It was interesting to note that NATO has a Permanent Liaison Team to the EU and that the EU has a Cell at SHAPE. The EU Military Staff are the military experts within the European External Action Service (EEAS). Our present or then discussed common areas for deployments, the Berlin Plus Agreement and EU Military Operations.

The common areas for deployments were (and are) in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Somalia, and Afghanistan. The Berlin Plus agreement assured access to NATO planning capabilities, availability of NATO command operations (through the DSACEUR- who is also the commander of EU operations), presumption of availability of NATO capabilities and common assets as well as the adaptation of NATO Defence Planning. This agreement was the most important step in developing EU NATO relations.

The EU Currently has 6 ongoing military operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mali, Central African Republic, Somalia, the Gulf of Aden, and the Mediterranean Sea. Past operations have occurred in Macedonia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Central African Republic.

We had the honour of having lunch with a NATO official who shared several interesting points of views on different issues before returning to Brussels.

The European Commission

Today we went to visit and be briefed on the European Commission. The Commission is one of the three decision-making bodies within the EU and is independent from both the Parliament and the Council of Ministers. The Commission is composed of one representative from each member state, totaling 28 in all, and represents the member states’ interests in the EU. We were scheduled to have two briefings, one on the Commission’s role in the EU and the other on the implementation of the EU migration policy proposed by the Commission. Our speaker for both lectures was Ludo Tegenbosch, the Directorate-General for Communication.

Over the course of our stay so far in Brussels we’ve heard a lot about the Commission since it is the body responsible for proposing all new policies. We’d already toured another of the decision-making bodies, the European Parliament, and so I was excited to see how the two compared. Our first lecture was very information-heavy, with a lot of overview of the structure. The current president is Jean-Claude Junker, elected in 2014. There are seven vice presidents below the president, with the current first vice president being Frans Timmermans. Timmermans also sits in on the Parliament sessions, and I had a chance to see him last week when we toured there. Our speaker also discussed the EU in general, including a fact I found interesting, which is that the EU is known as a UPOL, or unidentified political body. This is because of its unusual structure and unique abilities, such as having speaking rights at the United Nations, the only international organization to have this. From there we dove further into the Commission, including how speakers are arranged in their meeting room and the Treaty on the Function of the European Union, or TFEU. This treaty set out, among other items, special procedures for when the Commission must share its ability to begin proposals. The two procedures are the consultation procedure, which states the Council of Ministers has the right to consult with the Commission on certain items, and the consent procedure, which says the European Parliament has the right to reject items such as trade deals right off the bat, giving a big chunk of power to the Parliament. Finally, we discussed how the Commission works with the member states’ national governments on competences; this is broken down into three areas. The first is exclusive competences, where the Commission has complete authority; the second is shared competences, which is as implied by its name, and the third is supporting/coordinating competences. This section includes areas headed completely by national governments, including tourism and health of citizens.

After a quick coffee break we rejoined our speaker for the second lecture, this one on the migration policy and refugee crisis. This lecture was very interesting to me since every site visit we’ve gone to has addressed this issue in some form. I always love hearing from different perspectives, especially on an issue as complex as this one is. We opened the talk with a quote by the Commission president, Junker, from when he took office in 2014; “I was an EU that is bigger and more ambitious on big things and smaller and more modest on small things.” This quote helped to put the migration policies since enacted into perspective; Junker’s aim is to provide as much assistance as possible on this very large issue, while keeping the EU’s borders tight and its citizens safe. This led us to discussion on the Common European Asylum System (CEAS); this has not been fully implemented by all member countries and our speaker stressed the importance of this system being put in place as quickly as possible. One reason he gave was to show unity in the face of the refugee crisis; this system also will help make the migrants’ transitions easier if all countries have a common policy. This system ties into its proposed Dublin Regulation, which aims at making one country in control of all asylum applications, to streamline the process and avoid refugees “asylum shopping,” or trying to find the most lenient member country to apply for asylum to. We finished up the lecture talking about challenges facing the Commission and its proposals, which included strengthening the EU’s presence at sea, fighting human traffickers while staying in accordance with international law and reinforcing internal solidarity and responsibility.

This visit was incredibly informative and we were fortunate enough to have a very educated speaker. What I learned from the site visit helped me start to draw connections between the Commission and the Parliament, and I know when we visit the Council of Ministers I’ll gain an even deeper understanding of the EU’s inner workings. Tomorrow we head out to SHAPE, the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Powers of Europe, for an all-day security briefing, which is sure to be engaging.

A Lecture on Crisis and Security

Following a day of awesome site visits to NATO and the European Parliament, today was the first of the guest lectures for the program. It was presented by Former Colonel in the Italian army Giorgio Cuzzelli. It was a wonderful honor to listen to a man of such distinguished service who worked both in the military commanding directly against security threats and at NATO in charge of generating different approaches to the ever changing security landscape. Based on this experience, he was able to give our group first hand knowledge into the subject matter. Our day with Col. Cuzzelli was separated into two lectures with one centering around the concept of security and the other focused on crisis management. Both lectures were related, but the security lecture was focused more on the theory and idea itself while the crisis management lecture was centered around actual planning and response to issues at hand.

The security lecture presented us with the concept of security and what the word truly means. As Col. Cuzzelli points out, security is extremely complex, multifaceted, and not strictly military in nature. This was the central point of the lecture as the idea of security was broken down into three distinct fields of National, International, and Human security. Each of these have evolved over time to create the complex security environment in today’s world. He presented numerous examples of how security evolved from the “Possession of the Prince” to the emphasis on security of the people through revolutions to transfer sovereignty. Perhaps the most interesting part of this discussion for me was talking about the price of security. Col. Cuzzelli referenced many examples, but centered on the U.S.’ War on Terror. We discussed to what degree civil liberties should be if ever sacrificed in order to guarantee safety. An extension of this was talking about the implications of excessive security (in the case of North Korea) as opposed to too little security (in the case of countries in Africa and South America) and how delicate a balance it is to maintain. As someone who is very intrigued by security in the modern world, this discussion was very rewarding for me.

The second lecture was focused on how to approach crises both before they occur and how to deal with the aftermath. Col. Cuzzelli heavily emphasized the point that if you have to deal in a reactionary fashion to a crisis, then security has been compromised and the process has failed. It was an interesting take, that I had not really considered before. Since the majority of news stories regarding crises are focused on the aftermath and dealing with them instead of crises that have been prevented this is a point that was something I hadn’t really thought of. Outside of this, the biggest takeaway I took from this lecture was Col. Cuzzelli’s heavy emphasis on being able to place yourself in your adversary’s shoes to understand their actions. Without this, he said that any approach you take will be the wrong one. This is something I have always thought of as many of the actions taken in today’s world seem to be focused solely on national interest instead of treating the cause of problem. He advocated this to be done in all cases especially in the cases of dealing with Vladimir Putin the Islamic State. This tied into a further point that in order to truly solve these issues, we need to ensure that stability is held and that there is an actual exit strategy in place in order to prevent the same situations that have continuously occurred from happening again.

Both of these lectures I found to be extremely fascinating and informative. Couple that with a catered lunch and it was a great day! This weekend will still be packed with free visits to the EU institutions followed by a trip to the European Commission on Monday. The trip so far has surpassed my expectations, and I can’t wait to see what happens next!

Resting Up After an Afternoon at Parliament


Flags representing the 28 member countries of the EU.

Our first week in Brussels was quite a busy one. We spent the week at ULB learning important information about the European Union and its institutions in preparation for our site visits. This week has been equally as packed with new information and even more things to do. Yesterday, May 25th, we had the opportunity to visit NATO and the European Parliament. Following lunch at NATO, we headed straight for the Parliament building where a plenary session awaited us.

Before the plenary session, we were briefed by a representative of the European Parliament. She went in depth about the basic structure of the European Parliament and its political parties as well as explained where it fits into the institutional triangle of the European Union. Since we had already covered so much material in our lectures, she could tell we knew a lot and was able to answer a few questions and speak more on the issue of transatlantic data flow.

After introducing the agreement’s official name to us, the EU-US Privacy Shield, the representative further explained how the agreement would better protect EU citizens and their personal data. The agreement ensures that U.S. companies wishing to import personal data from Europe will have to follow strict procedures on how data is processed and how rights are guaranteed. Transparency is also a new requirement that has never been mentioned in previous agreements.


The floor of the European Parliament

As soon as our briefing ended, we were escorted into the gallery to view the ongoing plenary session. There sat roughly twenty MEPs preparing for their turn to speak. Upon entering, we were able to catch the tail end of discussion on preparation for the G7 Summit. Up next was the debate on transatlantic data flow. It was fascinating to hear MEPs from all different countries and parties give their opinions and suggestions. Lucky for us, we were able to hear from Sophia in’t Veld, an MEP from the Netherlands and member of the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE). It was awesome to have the opportunity to watch the session take place.

Today, May 26th, was a free day. Much of the day was spent exploring parks and enjoying the most beautiful weather we’ve had thus far here in Brussels. A few friends and I popped into La Brace, a pizzeria near the Commission, where we enjoyed delicious margherita pizzas. It was a much needed day of rest for all of us. Back to work tomorrow!

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