GT in the EU

An extraordinary education

Month: May 2017 (Page 1 of 2)

Fort Hackenberg and Camp Struthof

Fort Hackenberg

With sleepy eyes and bellies full of chocolate croissants, our entourage boarded the trusty coach bus at 7:45am to venture to Fort Hackenberg. Never wasting a moment, en route to the fort, we had an open discussion about the movie “I Am Not Your Negro”. The film took the format of a contemporary documentary tied into a narrative. Our discussion touched on many things, notably calling attention to perspectives that often go unrealized by privileged eyes: institutionalized idealism and misrepresentation, the concept of human error, and the divergences and convergences of MLK and Malcolm X’s messages. Concise, yet thorough, the discussion ended leaving everyone with their thoughts until we arrived at Fort Hackenberg. 

After a quick photo-op outside, we braced ourselves for the cold as we delved into the inside of the damp, cold fort, where we were met by a pleasant tour guide who immediately began to enshrine us with knowledge of the fort’s long history dating back to 1929. At 10km in length, Fort Hackenberg stands as one of the most extensive forts along the Maginot Line and has always been considered a pivotal military strategic point…No wonder it was so sought after by the Germans! The fort goes so deep into the earth and covers so much ground that it even has an electric train that runs along through parts of the fort; historically, this was a means to deliver supplies, including ammunition, food, and soldiers. The fort was particularly known for its abundant weaponry stash made up of sizable tanks, huge engines, a few large ammunition chambers, and a couple of turrets. Moreover, the military architects designed the fort in a U-shape because this configuration would lessen the blast of an explosion should one ever occur. Despite the ample armory, the French lost the fort to the Germans in 1940. However, the American military reclaimed the fort under allied control in 1944.

Hackenberg was built to manage quite a large number of people. In fact, up to 1,000 people could stay in the fort’s 25 blocks! With a population that size, about 400 liters of beer a day were consumed inside the walls of Fort Hackenberg. Conversely, all those people necessitated large amounts of energy and power. About 10.3 thousand volts of electricity were needed to run the place, which meant that four different submarine engines working on diesel had to be utilized. All those people and all that machinery also meant that the air had to be filtered throughout the fort, so engineers designed and executed such a filtration device to keep the air relatively fresh. The tour was concluded with a look at the fort’s exterior, a showing of the turret in action, and a WWII exhibit. A few more group photos and then we were on our way to our next destination!

Camp Struthof    

The next stop on the group’s tour was much more somber.


The post-lunch lethargy was met with the silence that comes along with the journey to a former concentration camp; the bus climbed into the mountains and turned through valleys and small towns, up into the hidden alcove where Struthof resides. One can’t help but think of the thousands of people who made the very same, but oh so different, journey not even a hundred years ago. We arrived quietly, many of us breaking into small groups of two or three as we made our way first to watch a short historical film and then to the museum. The museum was mostly about the context of World War II and background information that set the stage for what we were about to experience outside.

                              Nestled in the Alsace region of France, the site of Struthof has a harrowing beauty to it. Personally, I found myself awestruck that such a beautiful place could harness such a dark history. It’s unsettling, but it is also necessary and respectful to remember. To commemorate remembrance, the camp has multiple memorials- the biggest being a large, stone monument bearing a torch-like shape with the French and EU flags alongside it. However, before you can really even take in the memorial site, you must pass through the Struthof gate: an act that runs a chill down your spine and brings tears to your eyes. Beneath the memorial, you see guard towers lining the perimeter of the camp, barracks, “vegetable gardens”, and crematoriums. The barracks housed a mini-museum of their own, detailing how approximately 52,000 people were forced through this camp, where upwards of 20,000 people were killed in the three years of its functioning (1941-1944). In solitude, I walked down the steep incline, flanked by barbed wire, guard towers, and a noose. I approached the crematorium and the cells with sadness and awe, having trouble believing where I was. It’s shocking to stand in such an infamous place that you’ve heard about all your life. Textbooks and documentaries can’t prepare you for the sensations that you feel as you stand in the fields of a former concentration camp.

The Future of the EU

After a long weekend of travel, the lecture today offered an opportunity to explore the future of the continent many of us have been excited to experience. The lecture for class today focused on Jean-Claude Junker’s “White Paper on the Future of Europe.” His paper outlines the five potential scenarios for the future of the European Union.

The first scenario would be more or less a continuation of the current model, so the priorities would remain the same: strengthen the single market and pursue a common defense policy, etc. However, this option is seen as inefficient and impractical.

The second scenario would essentially revolve around the single market and nothing more. This would allow the member nations to put more of their energy and focus into strengthening the single market and less on policy areas where they are unable to find common ground. However, this option seems to reverse all the progress the European Union has made.

The third scenario is what has been coined “multi-speed Europe” as countries that would like to pursue further integration in regards to key policy areas are able to do so and those that would not are welcome to not participate. This scenario is more favored by many elites such as Junker himself.

The fourth scenario involves increased focus and dedication of resources to a few specific policy areas. This would decrease inefficiency and citizens’ distrust of the European Union. It might be hard to choose specific policy areas to target, but once this has been achieved, the EU can focus on these areas and create a more comprehensive policy agenda.

The fifth scenario would involve a European Union that would like to do more across all policy areas. The focus would be “deepening” the European Union and increasing cooperation so that the European Union would overall have one common voice. However, there are fears that this would increase the European Union’s power and decrease the power of national governments.

As a class, we were divided into five groups, each of which was assigned one of the five scenarios, and we were to present the essential argument of each possible scenario for the future of the European Union. It was interesting to explore one particular argument so closely. My group was assigned the third scenario, which I believe is the most likely future for the EU and currently serves as a major subject of debate. This is because, as Dr. Birchfield discussed during our class, many countries are already naturally inclined to group themselves according to issues that are most important to them due to geography, religion, culture, etc.

Scenario three and four seemed to be the most favored because they would decrease the perceived inefficiencies of the European Union, which seems to be one of the major issues today. Another major subject of debate is national sovereignty, which scenario three does address by allowing the individual member states to choose which policy areas they would like to take part in or not.

This was the overall topic of lecture for this day as we prepared for a week full of excursions to Fort Hackenburg, the Struthoff Concentration Camp, as well as the memorial site for the Battle of Verdun. These immersive activities will give us a better understanding of the sad history that ultimately led to the creation of this global peace project: the European Union.

Welcome to the EU Program 2017!

Bonjour! My name is Emma Smith and I am a Masters student in the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at Georgia Tech. This summer, I am travelling with Dr. Vicki Birchfield and 18 undergraduate students on the European Union and Transatlantic Relations Study Abroad program! I participated in the program as an undergraduate in 2015, and I’m very excited to be back in Europe as a teaching assistant and graduate student.

My first day in Brussels, 2015.

We arrived in Europe a week or so ago, on Monday, May 15th. For the first month of the program, we’ll be staying at Georgia Tech’s campus in Metz, France, called Georgia Tech Lorraine. Since we arrived, it’s been a whirlwind of activity getting to know a new campus in a new country on a new continent!

Aside from getting settled in our residence and trying not to get lost on the Metz bus system, we’ve also been learning a lot about this city and region. On Tuesday, we took a train tour of the city and saw many of the major Metz landmarks. We’ve also taken a walking tour of Metz’s beautiful cathedral and visited the Centre Pompidou Metz.

Attempting to navigate Metz public transit, 2017.

On Friday morning, we visited Fort Queuleu, a site important to the history of Franco-German rivalry. The fort was built just before the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, and changed hands along with the rest of the Moselle department several times until the end of World War II. During World War II, the Fort was used as a holding point for French Resistance fighters. We heard from our tour guide, Pascal, about the brutal treatment these prisoners experienced at the hands of the Nazis. On Friday afternoon, we learned more about the history of Alsace-Lorraine and the Franco-Prussian War at the Gravelotte Museum. These tours put the importance of the Alsace-Lorraine region to European politics into perspective. What is now peaceful French countryside near an open border into Germany was once the heart of a bitter rivalry that caused three wars within a century.

In the classroom this week, Dr. Birchfield introduced the class to the European Union as she views it and laid the foundation for what we’ll learn this summer. As I learned two years ago, Dr. Birchfield views the European Union a peace project. The idea of an ever-closer union has helped to sustain peace in a region previously plagued by power politics and bloody wars. However, not everyone sees the European Union this way.

Two years ago, Brexit seemed an unlikely and distant possibility. Since I last participated in the EU program, populist movements throughout Europe and the United States have rapidly gained ground. Resentment towards the bureaucracy of the European Union and the divide between Northern Europe and Southern Europe have only grown. While Europe faces many new challenges since the last time I was here, there are also many reasons for optimism. The European project will always face difficulties as European leaders try to navigate a changing world, so revisiting what I learned two years ago in a new context and with the knowledge I’ve gained since then will hopefully offer new insights on the fate of the European Union.

Back in the Swing of Things

Today we all returned from our long weekends feeling refreshed and ready to jump back into learning about the EU and transatlantic relations. It’s pretty hot in Metz right now (mid to upper 90s!), and since air conditioning is more of a luxury in Europe than in the US, I think we were all relieved to be spending the day inside the nicely air conditioned classroom.

Since the NATO and G7 summits had been held this past weekend, it was fitting that we started off class by watching a virtual briefing on Trump’s foreign policy and transatlantic relations after his first 100 days (which you can watch here) before seeing if any of the things mentioned came up this weekend. The members of the panel, including Dr. Young from Tech, also talked a bit about Brexit, so that factored into some our our discussion too, especially on the EU side.

Of course, during our discussion of the positives and negatives that came out of the summits, we couldn’t help talking about this incident:

We also talked about what some of the possible implications are of what was said during the summit—like Trump being the first president not to explicitly state US support for Article V, his meetings with both the Belgian and French leaders, the call for members to meet the 2% GDP spending, and the possibility that the United States will pull out of the Paris Climate Accord.

There were also multiple questions asked today that we will be keeping in mind during our trip. The first: To what extent are the EU and US diverging, and what are the consequences of such divergence? We heard this weekend that Angela Merkel essentially said Europe could no longer rely on the United States, which certainly hints at a divergence—especially if the US ultimately decides to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord as well. We’ll have to see what else happens before coming up with an answer by the end of the summer, and I’m sure this question will come up again during the EU-US relations simulation we’ll be doing later.

The second question was difficult to answer, and I actually didn’t even give an answer when Emma asked the class: Do you think Brexit and Trump will be a good thing for the EU? It’s hard to say because there are both positives and negatives that have arisen since each event in the EU context. Of course more support for the EU from the European people is a good thing, but I’m not sure having two difficult allies and losing an important member state will be. It will certainly be something I think about as the summer continues, especially during our time in Brussels and with the U.K. General Election happening on June 8th.

The last thing we did in class today was have a mini lecture on EU foreign and defense policies, learning more about the European External Action Service (kind of like the State Department of the EU) and the Common Security and Defense Policy. First, we identified the resources that the EU has, like member states that are medium sized and nuclear powers, have seats on the UN Security Council, and collective defense and soft power. We also identified some obstacles, like disagreements or different national interests that make it hard for the EU to form one foreign or defense policy. In particular, we learned about how the CSDP in particular works in relation to NATO and discussed the possibility of there ever being a European Army after what took place at the NATO summit.

Finally, we took a break from discussing the future of the world to watch a film discussing an issue that is still very real in America: racism. The film was called “I Am Not Your Negro” and it used the writings of James Baldwin to discuss the Civil Rights Movement in America and some of the movement’s key figures. However, it was made even more powerful by incorporating footage and drawing comparisons with what is still happening in America today, like Ferguson and the Black Lives Matter movement. Overall, the film was really well done (a bunch of us cried), and it was very eye-opening as well.

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