GT in the EU

An extraordinary education

Month: June 2016 (Page 3 of 5)

Academics and Haircuts

On Monday June 13 we were given the opportunity to visit the University of Copenhagen and were given a lecture by Ian Manners, a Professor of Political Science. In our discussion we covered three categories: member state perspectives, the future of Europe and possible scenarios for the EU moving forward.

In talking about the member state perspectives, Manners gave us some interesting facts about how nations act and think. We talked about the changing border controls and were presented with the idea that was founded in the 70’s that border controls within the EU couldn’t stop terrorism. This seems to be true given that the terror attacks on Paris in November were by French and Belgian nationals and the recent shooting in the US was perpetrated by a US citizen. Ian Manners confirmed this saying “terrorism is home grown,” which is both an interesting and somewhat scary thing to think about.

Ian in Class

Ian also talked about the economic situation in the EU and specifically about the Eurozone. While previous speakers have said that Sweden simply isn’t adopting the Euro because it cannot be forced on them and they don’t want to adopt it, it turns out that they are using a much more sophisticated method in order to not have the Euro forced on them. In order for countries to take on the Euro as their national currency they have to have stable currency for two years. Sweden controls its interest rates close to the Euro while letting their currency flow enough to not be eligible.

Another interesting fact we learned was about political parties specifically in Denmark. The second and third most popular parties in Denmark, Venstre and the Danish Peoples’ Party respectively, have made a coalition in order to gain power. Though the Socialists & Democrats are technically the most popular party in Denmark, Venstre is in power. The same thing can be seen in the European Parliament with the three largest socialist parties forming a coalition in order to have a majority over the European Peoples’ Party. This is one of the more interesting aspects of European politics that we don’t see in American politics since we have a two party system. It is also interesting to see the number of parties in the member countries and how this same coalition forming happens at a national and supranational level. Ian Manners ended his discussion saying “Danish politics is extremely volatile right now.”

As for the future of Europe, our speaker talked about three main challenges. The first is demographic challenges. The age distribution of most European countries is very heavily older. The work force in the next 15 years will be much smaller than it is now, which will put a strain on many countries’ economies. The only two countries that have a sufficiently high reproduction rate so as to not face these demographic challenges are the US and India, according to Manners.

The second issue is climate change. Though there have been movements towards a greener global community, the implementation of policy has to be relatively uniform in order for effective change.

The third issue is the move to the right, though this issue may be short-term. Austria recently nearly elected a very far-right party, the Freedom Party of Austria. Manners even called the Greek and Hungarian parties that are in power fascist. This is a problem as it creates friction within the EU, which can be seen as the EU has issued a warning to Poland over its abuse of power and limiting of constitutional rights. However, I think that this is a short-term issue as historically there can be seen a rightward shift following economic crises such as that that happened in 2009.

Finally, Manners explained five scenarios that could happen regarding the future of the EU. These are Absentio – no EU, Confederatio – intergovernmental cooperation, Federatio – supranational integration, Stato – a regional state or Communio – regional sharing. Which of these will be put in place is up for debate, they are simply the five possible scenarios. As of right now I believe that Absentio and Federatio are the least likely while Communio or Confederatio are the most likely.

I also got a haircut today. I went to a barber shop that was owned by a British man. During my haircut I told him that I was going to London, to which he responded that it will be interesting to be there after the 23rd. I asked him what he thought was going to happen and he had a very strong belief that the UK would leave. He also believed that when the UK left it would hurt Europe but not UK. He said that this was because 90% of British Businesses don’t export to Europe. This simply is not true, as evidenced by the link below, and it made me wonder about what kind of information or misinformation is spread about the UK’s role in the EU economy and the EU’s role in the UK economy. It was interesting to hear this perspective as mostly we have heard that the UK should stay. I hope to hear more public opinion on this issue.

How Important is the EU to UK Trade and Investment?

Welcome to Copenhagen!

I was lucky to have the first post in Brussels and this time I have the first post in Copenhagen, our first trip with the program! Before I even started this program pretty much everyone I know told me Scandinavia was going to be my favorite place out of the whole trip, and so far it has lived up to what everyone had said. In a way it is how I expected it to be but at the same time it is not like anywhere I have been before.


On Sunday I had to get up around five to make sure I did not miss the bus that took me to the airport because I had to get there by 7:30, and the only bus that would get me there on time left from Schuman at 6:50. Lucy and I got to the metro station and were nervous when we saw that the next one was coming in twenty minutes. Fortunately, out of nowhere another one appeared and we managed to make it on time. Once we got to Copenhagen and saw that not all of our rooms were ready we decided to go for lunch. Dr. Birchfield found an amazing restaurant that served Danish specialties. To say it was amazing is an understatement, we ate for hours, our lunch consisted of two courses. The first one consisted more of fish and the second one consisted more of meat. I still don’t know what part was my favorite because everything was delicious. After our huge meal, we all needed a nap, but then we decided to go out and explore. Part of the group and I decided to walk around without looking a specific place to go first. We wandered around a lot and eventually ended up close to the river were we decided to hang out for a while, then we got diner and called it a day.

Danish Food

Our first site visit in Copenhagen was to the Danish Refugee Council, and in my opinion it was one of the most comprehensive and informative briefings we’ve had. The speaker explained what was happening with the migration crisis, gave her perspective, the Danish perspective and sometimes she even included a Copenhagen perspective which is different than the Danish in some situations. She explained how the migration crisis was a political problem, and began explaining how it all began in 1956 with Hungary. Then, she told us that the Danish Refugee Council is present in Africa, Middle East, and a little in Central Africa. Their newest camp is in Greece. They are legal advisors through every stage of asylum seeking. Some of the activities they do to integrate them in Danish society with volunteers that plan activities, help with the language and getting a job. The biggest groups that get asylum status in Denmark are Eritreans and Syrians because they have the strongest case for asylum right now.

Danish Refugee Council

One of the most interesting things she mentioned, which I feel people are not really aware of is that many of the people leaving these countries are well educated. Their children have been out of school for maybe two years and they leave having lost hope on themselves but still seeking a better future for their children.

The speaker shared a quote that helped explained her point for the need of a joint solution, “It seems we have left on war to enter another”. She explained that the resources are there but there is a lack of political will. She explained the different systems in place to help asylum seekers and how they have evolved in time and this really put into perspective how hard it is for people to get in especially when every country has a different idea of how they should be treated and also different amounts of resources available.

In Denmark the package they receive includes Danish language school, job and training if necessary, education, and a house in the municipality they are assigned. Finally, she concluded by explaining that the prevalent reason in Denmark to not want more immigrants is fear. Fear of the unknown or the different, like religion, because this can change the society they are used to; in other words there is a fear of integration because of the difference in culture, when in reality this should be seen as an asset.

After our briefing we went to the rooftop of the building we were in and had a good time taking pictures of the beautiful view. When we left the group split up for lunch and then met up again to have our second scheduled activity which was a lecture by Ian Manners. His lecture was extremely interesting and in two ours managed to talk about everything we have been talking about for the past month in an entertaining but still educational way. I really enjoyed that at the end he mentioned possible scenarios of how Europe would look depending on how strong or weak the Union is.


Finally, to end the day we watched two Euro Cup matches, first Sweden versus Ireland, which ended up as a tie; and then Brussels versus Italy, which ended as a victory for the Italians.

Pastries at the Polish Embassy

Today we started off at our first embassy visit of the program at the Polish embassy. After getting turned around about where to meet, I was still able to make it on time for the briefing. The first thing I noticed was how nice and modern the embassy building was and how polite everybody was being towards us. We were then pleasantly escorted into our briefing room where there was a wonderful arrangement of pastries and tea and coffee. I personally felt that we were treated very nicely at the embassy and they even gave us free goodies.


Our briefing was given to us by three people. One of the people briefing us was a Polish representative from NATO, a Polish representative from the EU, and a representative from the Polish embassy. I enjoyed this variety of speaker because we got to see how the country differed under their different hats and institutions. The briefing began with a short overview of Polish interest by the representative who was not associated with NATO or the EU  and then he switched over to to his EU colleague for the Polish perspective in the EU. This man started off with discussing the focus of Poland’s interests, which is currently the East, or Russia. From the Polish perspective in the EU, Russia is still a threat and Poland is actively trying to work with its Eastern neighbors to try and work on this threat. Even though they are not very similar to the Eastern states, they all seem to want to come together to try and figure out what they need to do about Russia especially since their illegal annexation of Crimea. He also briefly mentioned pressure from the South, but stated that Poland believes that their borders should be maintained and the border of its partners should be maintained as well.

Then, the representative from NATO spoke to us about the differences of threat perception in NATO and what Poland viewed as its most pressing threat. Obviously again, it was pressure from the East. She discussed this in terms of the upcoming Warsaw summit and Poland’s goals at the Summit. The problem in Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia’s snap exercises were mentioned for goals to address during the summit. Another goal for the Warsaw summit was the enhancement of the Eastern Flank and the challenges Poland has doing that while not trying to provoke Russia. The lady also mentioned their principle of solidarity in terms of pressure in the South with the rest of their NATO partners, a need for common understanding in NATO between member states, a need for other countries to start spending more on defense, and the need to address rising security threats in hybrid warfare.

The briefing finished up with some insightful questions from my fellow students and one was interestingly strategically avoided by the Polish representatives on their recent slap on the rest by the EU. Overall, today was an interesting day that helped us to understand the views of one of the largest countries i the EU who is facing anew era of security challenges today.

A walk through history

Today we got the opportunity to visit the beautiful cities of Ghent and Bruges. I felt like I was in a time machine that would at times take me to the beautiful treasures of the past and at other times transport me to a beautiful modernized world. Both the cities were really compact and authentic where the past and present could co-exist in a perfect balance. Walking through the city, you turn the corner and just like that, you go from the fourteenth century to the twenty-first.

Our day started off with a great orientation about the College of Europe. That was our first destination at Bruges. The college of Europe is an independent university institute of postgraduate European studies with the main campus in Bruges, Belgium. Founded in 1949, it promotes “a spirit of solidarity and mutual understanding between all the nations of Western Europe and provides elite training to individuals who will uphold these values”. It has approximately 420 postgraduates from over 50 countries and even though it’s situated in the Flemish region of Belgium, a Dutch-speaking area, the college does not use Dutch as one of it’s working languages. We learned about the ERASMUS student network during our lectures but actually learned how beneficial that network is from an ex-student who was giving us the introduction to the course. He was from France and he told us about the great scholarship opportunity he received at the college of Europe due to the network. Right after his informative orientation we prepared ourselves to take Dr. Birchfield’s class’s exam. The exam was actually not that stressful as we were taking the exam in such a calm environment.

Right after our exam we went for a canal tour, that was probably the best tour of the city we could have gotten in the limited time we had left in Bruges. It was interesting learning about the history of this place and getting the chance to see all the fabulous Flemish art and architecture, w1orks of art and structures. The picture on the left is of the bell tower in Bruges. It’s importance was that it regulated the lives of the city dwellers, announcing the time, fire alarms, work hours, and a variety of social, political, and religious events. It is one
of the city’s most prominent symbols; the bell tower formerly housed a treasury and the municipal archives, and served as an observation post for spotting fires and other danger. Similar to this during our walking tour in Ghent we learned that the belfry is a proud symbol of Ghent’s independence. On top of the 95-metre tower the dragon has been watching over the city since 1380. (The dragon never sleeps, so no better animal to have as your guardian) The city’s festivities are still announced by extraordinary carillon concerts. It’s interesting to see the similarities between Bruges and Ghent’s histories but also important to note how history sometimes tells us a beautiful story. If we think about it most of Belgium is flat land so that actually gave both the French and Germans (specially Hitler) the incentive to fight on Belgian land instead of their own land. So in a way to protect their lands, Belgians had many of these tall towers to spot danger. Also another common story that our respective tour guides shared with us was about beer. People who lived in Bruges would drink beer from a young age, as it was really cheap, pepper was more expensive. While people who lived in Ghent would allow their children to drink beer from the age of 6 when they started getting their adult teeth. Again it’s interesting to see that history has played a role to define how alcohol is perceived in Europe today. Due to the acceptance of beer since so many years, today many places in Europe have an open container policy and it isn’t looked down upon when you buy beer. Comparing this to the States, we all know how people look down upon you when you buy alcohol or even cigarettes. Basically whether you realize it or not history plays a key role in determining values today. One piece of work I couldn’t go without talking about is the ‘The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb’. It’s without a doubt the world’s most besieged and coveted artwork. The Van Eyck brothers painted this unique altarpiece in 1432. It is the highlight of the Flemish Primitives. It’s just unbelievable that so many years ago people could be masters of the oil medium and use it so splendidly to portray a robust and realistically detailed vision of the world  around them.

Finally we got back home and I think this blog wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t talk about the Euros. It is the most anticipated event in Europe this summer. Every country is looking to win the euro and secure their dominance through the game of football. The picture below is of the opening ceremony of the tournament. The game is played with a lot of grace and respect however it saddens me2 that people would turn it into a violent act off the pitch. The fight between the English fans and the Russian fans just isn’t hooliganism. It’s extremely political! I’m happy that UEFA has taken measures to prevent alcohol near the stadiums and threatened to disqualify both the teams incase of any future acts of hooliganism by any of the teams or fans. The game should be played the way it is supposed to be played with elegance and mutual respect amongst teams and fans.

Visiting Bruges and Ghent and not to forget our time in Brussels has been just perfect! I look forward to our 10-day visit to Scandinavia and hope to learn much more about European integration and European history.

Page 3 of 5

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén