After an adventurous yet restful 3-day weekend, we continued our program with two important appointments at key institutions. Packed with site visits and briefings, today was perhaps the busiest day yet of our journey. After following my classmates’ blog posts attentively, I know that the task of blog writing should not be taken lightly. I will endeavor to summarize the briefings of the five distinguished speakers and additionally provide some analysis of their ideas and significant takeaways from the speeches. With the sheer amount of information given over about five hours of lectures, I admit it is difficult to retain everything; however, I will do my best to recount concepts that struck me as notable as these important speakers offered us insightful information and opinions about their respective areas of focus. Although unintentionally scheduled, we had the unique opportunity to hear the opinions of the EEAS followed by those of the US Mission to the EU. Interacting with both sides of the transatlantic relationship proved to be very interesting, especially in discussions of issues like TTIP in which tensions run high between international entities. Viewing the dynamics of the relationship from each group’s viewpoints made for a stimulating and constructive Monday.
The morning began to a visit to the EEAS. Headed by High Representative Federica Mogherini, the EEAS is an organization with extensive power and influence in the EU and globally. A key EU institution, the EEAS focuses on “external action” or, in perhaps simpler terms, foreign policy. The most significant role of the EEAS is the representation of the EU internationally and its various missions abroad. During our visit to the institution three distinguished speakers briefed us and offered us lengthy question and answer sessions. This was an excellent opportunity to ask thought-provoking questions to those that deal directly with the most quarrelsome issues in the European Union and the world.
The first of the three speakers was British diplomat David Tunney. He spoke about the organization of the EEAS as well as the main issues that the institution is currently addressing referring to the EEAS as the “state department” of the EU. While much of this was review following my visit to the EEAS’s website prior to the briefing, it was interesting to hear about the organization of the institution from someone so involved in its inner workings. Following David Tunney, another British diplomat named Stuart Summers spoke to us about the global strategy and an array of EU issues, the most significant of which being Brexit. The most interesting take away from this conversation for me was the fact that there was no “plan b” in the case that the UK exits the EU. I find this to be telling of the importance of the EU to the UK. A large percentage of UK officials preach of the importance of the European Project yet there is still concern of UK exit. For the sake of United Kingdom citizens and the EU, I hope that the UK can come to a consensus to stay in the beneficial economic and political union. The final speaker at the EEAS was Rafal Domisiewicz, an important Polish figure in EU relations with the US and Canada. While he works on many issues, the most important seems to be TTIP. Hearing an EEAS representative with a great deal of experience in transatlantic relations speak about this important trade agreement offered a new perspective on the issue. The thing stressed the most was the lack of compromise by both sides. I believe that this is a trade deal that must be passed in order to increase trade and transatlantic prosperity; however, passing an agreement between entities unwilling to compromise has proved to be very difficult. All in all, the EEAS was a great opportunity to discuss issues with European diplomats who are specialized and knowledgeable about crucial topics and I am pleased to have had the opportunity to hear their side of discussions.
After a pleasant Belgian lunch, we made the walk from the EEAS to the US mission to the EU. The US mission to the EU is an organization that works on US relations with the EU. Their work spans many pertinent and contentious issues in the EU including the refugee crisis and counter-terrorism. In many ways this institution can be seen as a sort of counterpart to the EEAS as both work on foreign policy and relationships between international actors. Two American speakers briefed our group and a collection of students from Florida International University. Following brief introductions of themselves and their noteworthy backgrounds, the speakers opened the floor up for questions which students from both universities took as an opportunity to learn more about the US Mission to the EU as well as global conflicts. This question and answer session proved to be fruitful for all involved as important issues were broken down and analyzed through discussion.
In this interestingly formatted question and answer session, both speakers responded questions based on their specialties and supplemented each other’s thoughts with additional information. The speakers were Amy Roth and D.A. Brown, two American diplomats with different focuses posted at the Mission. Roth works on sanctions while Brown focuses on terrorism with a specialization in the areas of North Africa and the Middle East. While many questions were interesting, the idea of sanctions struck me as particularly interesting. When speaking about sanctions, Roth discussed the importance of cooperation between nations necessary to make efforts successful.
While from time to time I admit it is difficult to understand the goals set and actions taken in terms of international relations, the idea of cooperation in the creation and upholding of sanctions makes sense as an effective political move. Without collaboration, sanctions are more or less useless, as the country only experiences a relatively low loss of trade instead of substantial losses in economic prosperity. Sanctions interest me greatly as they are a tool commonly used, but only when their use is not detrimental to the states imposing the sanctions on others. An excellent example of countries worrying about their own well being and avoiding imposing sanctions is the European Union and Russia. The EU depends heavily on Russia for energy and thus has not inflicted any sanctions following clear Russian violation of international law. While talks about counter terrorism are always interesting, I found the discussion around sanctions to be more so because of the lack of availability of experts in the subject area. This briefing was the first time that I fully grasped the power of sanctions and their underlying importance and I am glad to have had the opportunity to speak with an expert on the subject.
In sum, today was definitely one of the most interesting days of our trip thus far. Experiencing the opinions of both sides of the foreign affairs conversation was excellent and a unique opportunity. The discussions of important world issues as well as the focus on a few key areas including Brexit, counter-terrorism, and sanctions proved to be very insightful and stimulating. I look forward to further site visits and am confident they will be as interesting as today’s briefings.