GT in the EU

An extraordinary education

Month: June 2016 (Page 1 of 5)

A Visit to the Riksdag

Our second site visit of our last full day in Stockholm was a trip to the Swedish Parliament, where we took a short tour of the building and spoke with a representative about parliamentary procedures as well as its interactions with the EU. We learned that the Swedish Parliament, or the Riksdag, has numerous sectoral committees monitering EU affairs within specific policy areas. The Committee on EU Affairs deals with all areas of cooperation with the EU , and the Government consults both the Committee on EU Affairs and parliamentary committees when it needs to gain support for its EU policies before meeting with the Council of Ministers. It was particularly interesting to learn that consultations ahead of the meetings with the Council are open to the public, and the stenographic records are published. In many previous site visits, we’ve seen that a certain percentage of European citizens feel that they lack access to or knowledge of policymaking processes within the EU, so this visit gave us some valuable insight into how Sweden tries to make its interactions with the EU as transparent as possible to its people. It’s also important to note that the Swedish Parliament checks all of the EU drafts before approving them, but not all countries do. There have been discussions on finding a way for national parliaments across member states to work together on subsidiarity checks, which would make agreement and implementation of EU laws more efficient.
Another interesting point the representative made was that since Sweden currently has a minority government, there are often cases in which the government must negotiate with other parties, sometimes changing its position.
We also discussed some of the issues the Riksdag is currently dealing with, the most pressing of which is the migration crisis. The same day we visited parliament, they were voting whether to adopt new legislation on migration that would last for the next two years. We had the unique opportunity to witness the vote, which ended with a majority agreeing to pass the legislation. The new regulations will make it more difficult for refugees to attain permanent residency, and will impose serious restrictions on family reunification. Sweden has always taken a more liberal approach on migration than the rest of Europe, and this legislation was not without strong opposition, which was demonstrated in protests that took place outside the building. The legislation and the protests were further evidence that the migration crisis is only becoming more serious, and highlights the need for a more cohesive, effective strategy across EU member states. The visit to the Swedish parliament was an interesting look into Swedish politics, and gave us valuable insight into the Nordic model as well as prominent issues like the migration crisis. After visiting institutions in both Copenhagen and Stockholm, it will be very interesting to compare Scandinavian perspectives on European issues to those in other member states.

Data: A Battle for Privacy

Following a ten-day visit to Scandinavia, the first day of our brief return to Brussels included two of the most fascinating site visits of the program thus far. While today was quite busy and detail heavy, to summarize the subject matter in a few words would actually be quite a simple task: “data privacy”. The reality of this seemingly simple idea is ceaseless debates and complications with significant implications on citizens of the EU and worldwide. In a world where data has become such a valuable commodity, tensions surrounding international data policy are particularly high in current times. The site visits presented two distinct viewpoints on data privacy, the first from Dutch MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld and the second from Marc van der Ham, a legal consultant at Google Europe. Both visits offered valuable opportunities to analyze the issue of data privacy with leading experts on the subject while also allowing for detailed discussion of the current state of data policy.


After watching an impassioned Sophie in ‘t Veld speak fervently about data flows during our visit to the Parliament a few weeks ago, I immediately recognized her as an exceptional politician who fought tooth and nail for her beliefs. Listed in the top 40 most influential MEPs by Politico Magazine, in ‘t Veld works as the leading advocate for data privacy in the European Parliament. The opportunity to meet with such an esteemed MEP was not taken lightly by our group as we all arrived at the session eager for the dialogue with stimulating questions prepared. Ms. in ‘t Veld wasted no time as we immediately began a question and answer session that covered issues ranging from data privacy to counter terrorism measures. She spoke at length about the uphill battle she faces in fighting for data privacy and blocking mass surveillance. These topics included two key points of discussion: transatlantic relations and counterterrorism.


Due to data’s transnational nature, one of the most addressed topics in in ‘t Veld’s work has been the United States and its policies regarding data privacy. She believes that the EU has been too soft and willing to negotiate with the United States due to their close relationship with the EU and subsequently encourages the EU to take more resilient measures during negotiations. As an MEP, in ‘t Veld has voted against agreements including the Privacy Shield as she considered it to serve as an insufficient safeguard against mass surveillance. She has worked tirelessly to prevent the reduction of European data privacy and admits that politicians are to blame for the continued forfeiture of privacy for EU citizens. While pro mass surveillance policy has been a point of contention throughout in ‘t Veld’s fight for privacy, the largest underlying problem that continues to have negative effects on data protection legislation is counterterrorism and the preemptive detection of perpetrators of acts of terror.



In recent years, terrorism has become the most significant security issue worldwide, with organizations like ISIS recruiting countless members to train and commit attacks in the name of the organization. While often the idea of mass surveillance seems as though it could offer a way to catch potential terrorists prior to any violence occurring, in ‘t Veld believes this idea is ludicrous and simply will not work. To back up this ideology in ‘t Veld cites information including that governments almost always identify potential terrorists prior to their attacks and additionally that most of those radicalized by terrorist groups are weak individuals with troubled pasts. She argues that since warrants must be obtained to monitor people in the real world, then there is no reason to grant the government search rights without these same measures digitally. While there was somewhat of a consensus amongst the group on these issues, Ms. in ‘t Veld struck a controversial chord when she spoke of the recent shooting in Orlando.IMG_3554

Warning of overzealous fear of Islam and general xenophobia, in ‘t Veld challenged our group to make an effort to determine the true definition of terrorism. She stated that political motives were necessary in terrorist attacks and that people were too eager to label certain acts as terrorism. MEP in ‘t Veld was adamant that the act of heinous murder in Orlando in which fifty people lost their lives was not an act of terror, but was rather a hate crime carried out by an individual with a troubled past. This controversial opinion caused a rift to form between the MEP and our group. This view seemed to me to be inconsistent with other views held by in ‘t Veld. With this logic, I question whether or not she would consider events like the Jewish Museum attack acts of terror. Although I agree with in ‘t Veld that people are quick to label any attacks by Muslims terroristic in nature, I do not believe this was one of those times. To minimize one of the deadliest attacks in recent history due to the fact that the shooter had a troubled past seems to me to bogus and improper. This disagreement aside, I believe that Sophie in ‘t Veld’s work and stances on data privacy are crucial to the development of global cyber law and have immense respect for her as a politician.


Following this passionate discussion with Sophie in ‘t Veld, we made a visit to private sector giant, Google Europe. Marc van der Ham briefed the group in the sleek office-bar area of the modern office space. With a background in law and previous work experience in The EU Parliament, van der Ham offered us an excellent alternative to the first briefing of the morning. He spoke in length about topics focused around the legality of data flows and barriers to digital trade in which he included an interesting dialogue on data privacy. Additionally, van der Ham discussed the method Google used to rise to success and the future direction of Google.

IMG_5638.JPG During this interesting speech and the question and answer session that followed, van der Ham discussed the issue of data privacy and the international implications that accompany it. Perhaps the topic that struck me as most interesting of the discussion was The Commission’s attempts to limit Google’s power over the market. As a company Google uses a great deal of data to make suggestions to users and this has lead to concern over Google’s near monopoly on user data. Google has been fighting in court to prove that is a benevolent company and that it does not misuse user’s data. The outcome of this legal battle has yet to be seen; however, one thing is certain. Data is a valuable commodity that will continue to receive a great deal of legal attention in the years to come.


Ensuing our two stimulating site visits, our class debriefed at a local restaurant and discussed what we had spoken about with van der Ham and in ‘t Veld. The main point of contention was the comment made about the nature of the attack in Orlando. As American citizens, the majority of the class believed that this attack was an attack on terror and disagreed with in ‘t Veld on the point. Other than this one issue, it was evident that the class agreed with most of the positions in ‘t Veld presented. Mass surveillance is an issue that concerns all citizens of the digital world and it seemed to be the shared stance of the class that mass surveillance was not the answer to the security threat of terrorism. In addition to discussion about data privacy, another interesting dialogue occurred concerning the nature of the company of Google. The question as to whether or not Google is an “American” company interested me the most of the topics of this conversation. Although as a class there was a great deal of disagreement, I personally believe that Google is indeed an American company with global aspirations as it attempts to capture more of the global market. So far Google’s strategies have been wildly successful and I believe they will continue to be due to the ability to adapt and the widespread global use of its services. From data privacy to tech giants, today was a day full of detailed discussion that was by and large open ended. What will happen in the coming years regarding technology and data policy is yet to be seen; however, in such a digital world, developments in these areas will have great significance for people worldwide.

Today’s biggest concern: The UK referendum

The UK will vote either to remain or leave the European Union today. The referendum is considered the country’s most significant in half a century. No matter what the result will be, it is going to mark a significant obstacle to the EU-UK relations in the near future. Over the past month and a half in the EU study abroad program, Brexit has always been our biggest concern. We have had many opportunities to talk to different politicians at national as well as EU level on site visits and hear their perspectives on the issue. Like many of the speakers, I really hope the UK remains in the European Union. However, this is one of the most unpredictable referenda in the history of the European Union as the poll has shown an approximately equal amount of votes between “leave” and “remain”. The referendum result will not come out until 10 pm today or maybe even tomorrow morning; therefore, I would like to make some remarks based on my reading and what I have learned from site visits.

It is exceedingly difficult to say whether the UK will remain or leave the European Union. According to Financial Times database, the poll has shown almost a tie of 42 percent between “stay” votes and “leave” votes since January this year, and around 15 percent of votes is still undecided. Just a week before the referendum, polls showed an enormous shift of 10 percent towards Brexit. As reported by the Ipsos MORI poll for the Evening Standard newspaper, an approximate 53 percent of votes decided to leave, and the rest is going for remain. The reason behind such a significant shift exactly one week before the referendum was that the Remain campaign is losing support from citizens on the issues of immigration and contributions to the European Union budget. Demographically, polls show older voters supporting Leave, whereas the young immensely desire to stay in the European Union.

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Source : The Economist

Many people believe the UK is having a referendum because of Mr. David Cameroon’s promise under pressure from his own Conservative party. However, I find it very convincing that the reason behind it is the root of British Euroscepticism. The British still wanted to stick with the Common Wealth after seeing the reconciliation between France and Germany, which shortly led to the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951 and the European Economic Community in 1957. Only later in the 1960s did they tried to join as they were impressed by the continent’s stronger economy. Charles de Gaulle vetoed Britain’s application to join the Common Market as he believed they showed a lack of interest in it. The British finally joined in 1973 after Charles de Gaulle was out of office. Since then, British membership has been seen as “costs and benefits”, not as an “emotional commitment.” (Beddoes) Furthermore, the British have always been dreaming of absolute national sovereignty. The former mayor of London, Boris Johnson, states that Britain does not fit in the European Union parliamentary sovereignty. The ambition to gain back control becomes even clearer when Mr. David Cameron pulled his effort to get Britain exempted from the idea of “ever closer Union” despite the fact that he wants Britain to stay in the EU.

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I remember our discussion with the MEP Mr. Richard Corbett in the European Parliament a few weeks ago. According to him, there are three reasons why Britain should stay in the European Union: “idealistic, pragmatic, and selfish.” Those ideas refer to the purposes behind the creation of the EU, cooperative interactions between the EU countries, and a Britain with economic and financial benefits. The last rationale has the most relevant point of view since Britain has won many internal and external trade deals in the European Single Market system. During the discussion titled “Brexit/Bremain: what is at stake for the UK and the EU” on May 24th at Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB), Dr. Mario Telo, former president of ULB-IEE, stated in his panel discussion that the value of the pound sterling will drastically decrease, and British citizens will become poorer if “Brexit” really happens. In fact, this argument is also expressed by many experts from all over the world. For example, Guntram Wolff, from the director of the think-tank Bruegel has pointed out many interesting facts to support this idea. If “leave” wins, many international companies such as Hitachi might move some of their business outside the United Kingdom. Also, the European Union is the UK’s main trading partner, perhaps future trade negotiations between the United Kingdom and the European Union will not reach an agreement. Another reason I find very convincing is the potential detriment to the 27 European Union member states if “leave” succeeds. This will negatively affect many European Union citizens’ view towards the United Kingdom. Many EU countries have been warning the UK on Brexit: “If you leave, you leave. And we won’t grant you the benefits of the single market. You won’t move to an à la carte membership.” (Erlanger) As a consequence, it will be difficult for the United Kingdom to set up a special relationship with the European Union in the future.

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Recently, the murder of MP Jo Cox has raised many concerns over today’s referendum. According to the POLITICO analyst Francesco Guerrera, this incident has completely changed the dynamics of the referendum campaign. It seems that the death of Ms. Jo Cox has reconciled the conflict between both sides as “MPs were united in genuine shock and sadness at the loss of the 41-year-old mother of two little girls, aged three and five.” (Mctague) Many experts believe that this incident will strengthen “Remain”.

As a student who studies about Europe, I definitely wish the United Kingdom stay in the European Union.


Barker, Alex. “What a British Divorce from the EU Would Look like –”Financial Times. Financial Times, n.d. Web. 19 June 2016.

“BBC ON THIS DAY | 27 | 1967: De Gaulle Says ‘non’ to Britain – Again.”BBC News. BBC, 27 Nov. 1967. Web. 19 June 2016.

Beddoes, Zanny Minton. The Brexit Briefs: Our Guide To Britain’s EU Referendum. London: The Economist, June 2016. PDF.

Erlanger, Steven. “Britain Asks If Tone of ‘Brexit’ Campaign Made Violence Inevitable.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 17 June 2016. Web. 19 June 2016.

Erlanger, Steven. “E.U. Countries Warn Britain on ‘Brexit’: You’ll Pay If You Leave Us.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 19 June 2016. Web. 20 June 2016.

Guerrera, Francesco. “POLITICO Morning Exchange: UK Vote Bloodied by MP Killing — Germany vs ECB — Helicopter Money.” Politico. N.p., n.d. Web.

Mctague, Tom. “Jo Cox Death Unites Britain’s Warring Politicians in Sorrow.”POLITICO Jo Cox Death Unites Britains Warring Politicians in Sorrow Comments. POLITICO, 16 June 2016. Web. 19 June 2016.

“Jo Cox Death Unites Britain’s Warring Politicians in Sorrow.” POLITICO Jo Cox Death Unites Britains Warring Politicians in Sorrow Comments. N.p., 16 June 2016. Web. 19 June 2016.

Stone, Jon. “EU Referendum: Poll Reveals 10-point Swing towards Brexit as Campaigns Enter Final Stages.” The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, n.d. Web. 19 June 2016.

Wolff, Guntram B. “The Three Dangers of Brexit | Bruegel.” Bruegel. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 June 2016.


The Swedish Foreign Ministry


Today, after a weekend spent learning about Swedish history and walking around Stockholm, including a visit to the Vasa Museum, we visited the Swedish Foreign Ministry and the Swedish Parliament. I will talk about the visit to the Swedish Foreign Ministry and my colleague will talk about the visit to the Parliament tomorrow.

At the Swedish Foreign Ministry, we were briefed by an Ambassador who now heads up the European section of the ministry.  He last served as Ambassador for Sweden to the Netherlands so his view points were unique and interesting.

He started off his presentation by talking about the complicated relationship that Sweden has with the European Union and about the history of Sweden. He made a point on the wars with Russia in the 18th century which changed Sweden and led to the policy of neutrality that it successfully upheld during both World Wars. After the Cold War, and during the economic crisis in the 1990s, Sweden saw the benefits of the European Union and joined in 1995 (with Austria and Finland) after a positive referendum in 1994. However, Sweden is not part of the Eurozone and in the last referendum on whether Sweden should join the Eurozone, the public voted not to. As with other site visits, the Brexit issue emerged and the official stated that the UK is an important ally for Sweden within the European Union and that a Brexit would force Sweden to seek other similar minded allies. Interestingly, he also mentioned that about 65% of Swedes are for TTIP and that public backlash has been minimal. This is certainly interesting since in other countries the same percentage is opposed to TTIP.

Sweden is one of the EU member states that is not part of NATO, but Sweden allows NATO to conduct exercises on Swedish territory and with Swedish troops. Sweden also contributes to NATO missions as well as to EU missions. I think that the most important point that the official made was that the EU allows small countries like Sweden to influence global politics.

Tomorrow we had back to Brussels!

At the Foreign Ministry



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