GT in the EU

An extraordinary education

Month: June 2017 (Page 1 of 6)

Google: an American Company in an International Context

In a world where the entire concept of the office is being reimagined, Google is a trendsetter. As Georgia Tech students, everyone hears about the computer science majors who snag a job at Google, Amazon, Apple, etc., not only because of the generous salary attached to the job, but also because of the famous office environment provided by American tech companies. The office in Brussels may be smaller, but the inside lived up to my expectations for what Google should look like. Our three young hosts, dressed in jeans, began the tour by showing us the “canteen” where all employees are provided breakfast and lunch each day. It was decorated like a traditional Belgian brasserie because Google tries to incorporate aspects of the culture of where the office is located—wherever it may be in the world. We then walked through a room with shelves of books and video games that was decorated to give it a nature-y feel: the floor looked like grass, the walls had plants growing on them, there was a large fish tank, the chairs were circular and white, and the windows stretched from floor to ceiling. Walking to the next room we passed a small gym where employees can workout whenever they feel like it, then go to the locker rooms to shower and get back to work. We stopped in a massive, open room that had a pool table, a couch, a large flat screen on the wall for video games, about 7 exercise balls, and a masseuse. Yes—a masseuse—so that employees could sign up for an hour-long massage after a tiring week of work.

Gaping, we walked back upstairs to the room we were briefed in which—of course—was mainly sleek and white with windows from floor to ceiling, multiple large screens, a ping pong table, a full bar, and large lettering on the wall that spelled “Goooooogle” to ensure it was picturesque. Since it was Friday afternoon, we had to keep the conversation short so that the Google employees could engage in a few intense games of ping pong and enjoy a Belgian beer together to celebrate the end of the work week. Seemingly over-the-top and ridiculous, what is Google’s reason for ensuring that their employees eat their meals together, workout whenever they want, play video games, pool, and ping pong together, and top off the week with a massage and a drink?  Despite criticism from people in grey suits in cubicles that the employees work at a playground, Google stands firm in their belief that people will be both more creative and efficient if they can take a break, take care of themselves, and spend non-work time with their colleagues than if they are forced to work through lunch. It may be that I just want to believe it, but it seems like it would be the “right environment to work well and be a happy person” as one of our hosts put it. Whether it works or not—Google can hire me any day!

Continuing with the trend of progressivism, upon entering the room for the second half of the tour we were introduced to Google Arts and Culture. Google partners with museums to digitalize art work and upload it online so that people can see “as much culture as they want” without having to travel to museums all over the world. Not only does this idea allow people to see artwork that they may never have had the opportunity to see, but the quality is so good that it allows people who have already seen the artwork in person to see more of it. I could not believe my eyes when they zoomed into a very intricate painting so that we could see the shadow of a person that I could not even see when looking at the whole painting. Not only is Google expanding their services online, they are also expanding the issues they’re expected to have answers to. In the past two years, there has been a convergence of every single social problem becoming an internet problem and Google—being the most used search engine in the world—is expected to find a solution. Google’s scope and influence is so large that it must be careful when addressing seemingly unimportant issues to most of the world like whether to call the Czech Republic “Czechia” or not because if Google calls it Czechia, the world calls it Czechia. This massive sphere of influence comes with massive responsibilities like finding an answer to the question, “What role does the Internet play in radicalizing terrorists?”  They said that these newfound responsibilities are contradictory because many people fear that Google is too big, but then continue to ask them to do more. Despite variations in public opinion, I think that Google welcomes their growing role and realizes that, in a globalized world, the Internet plays a vital part in both development and progress. The company is currently working to ensure that people in places like India, Africa, and South America have access to the Internet, and that with this development comes the presence of an ongoing global discussion to create a democratic forum for progress.

Turns out our hosts weren’t computer scientists, business majors, or engineers, but that they work in the realm of international affairs and politics—giving the INTA majors in the room hope that we too can work in a cool tech office one day. One of them focused on consumer protection and competition policy, dealing specifically with the European Commission and the member states on a daily basis to discuss their policy concerns and try to help them better understand artificial intelligence and its importance in the business world. The other two hosts worked for the European Parliament prior to Google, and therefore bring insight when dealing with educating member states on the importance of policies like the Digital Single Market. Just like any organization operating within the European context, Google Europe struggles to build consensus across the 28 member states in 24 different languages. To give a simple example of these challenges, they told us how they “can’t use puns” because everything is translated. However, there is some benefit to operating within such a complicated context—Google Translate draws much of their data from public translations done by European Institutions.

As we’ve learned throughout this entire trip, operating within the European context varies greatly from operating within an American one, so how does a company originating in Silicon Valley adapt in an environment like Brussels? The answer is to find a balance between conducting business as an American company while taking into account European consumer values. While  the American consumer values personal liberties and freedom of speech more than anything, the European consumer largely values their security. Due to history, Europeans are very skeptical over the government or large institutions having too much access to their data, especially the large American tech companies that control cyberspace.

This skepticism is shown in the European Commission’s close watch on these companies and their readiness to take action against them when they feel the European citizen is being compromised. Actions have been taken against Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, and Google—including the most recent decision by the Commission to fine Google a record 2.4 billion euros for breaching their dominant position by promoting Google Shopping over other comparison shopping services. Google stands that they were not in the wrong because they don’t think people use Google Shopping when online shopping but instead go straight to determined sites. As they have been challenged by European values, their American values are tested when operating abroad too. For example, they recently lost a case in the Canadian Supreme Court where the court ruled they were obligated to remove websites promoting pirated products—not just in Canada, but universally. Google argued that this set a precedent that goes against freedom of speech, especially having to remove entire webpages worldwide, but the Canadian Supreme Court won on the premise that their argument was rhetorical and a similar situation would not happen again. Ironically, Google has already been forced by some European courts to take search results down due to a “right to be forgotten.”

Operating internationally, it is expected that a company coming from the U.S., a country with unique values, is going to face challenges. Although they do not win every time, the company does what they can to stick to their values like the practice of writing transparency reports to give the public information on how their government is interacting with Google and their decision to leave China, despite the massive market potential, due to the Chinese request that they filter out certain results. Google adapts some of their decisions based on where in the world they are operating, but in the end the decisions must be coherent and go back to their American roots because there cannot be ten different Google’s around the world. Google’s motto is “Don’t be evil” which although is somewhat comical, is actually perfect. For a company in a position of massive power and influence all over the world and operating in many different environments, “don’t be evil” is a simple way for the company to not forget their values.

“We have tried to define precisely what it means to be a force for good – always do the right, ethical thing. Ultimately, ‘Don’t be evil’ seems the easiest way to summarize it.”—Google co-founder, Sergey Brin

Our final lectures from Giorgio Cuzzelli

Today we arrived at our beloved conference room in the Euroflat Hotel for our last series of lectures from the esteemed Italian Brigadier General.

He enlightened us on the topic of International Security & Geography beginning promptly at 10 am. We started off learning that geography is the study of features and patterns formed by the interaction of natural and man-made environments. Geography impacts nature, development, perceptions, relationships, and politics. Speaking of which, “geopolitics” is defined to be the influence of geography upon politics, and developed from the 19th Century on through four different schools of thought.

Subscribing to the Anglo-American Classical School of thought was Mackinder (1904) who believed that the Heartland was the key to ruling the world and that land power prevailed, while his counterpart Spyman (1942) alternatively believed that ruling the Rimland was more important along with sea power over land power. Students of the German Classical School of thought believed in Neo-Darwinism and thought that the State would naturally need Lebensraum to grow, as it naturally has a right to expand with only the fittest surviving. They also thought that it was the Manifest Destiny of Germany to rule.

Those in the American Cold War School believed that the containment of the Soviet Union went hand-in-hand with the Domino Theory. It was thought that containment should be achieved by surrogate powers through the three pillars:  American engagement in Europe, a strong Europe, and a strong China.  The fourth and final school of thought is the American Post-Cold War School in which divisions were thought to be cultural. According to this School, conflict occurs among fault lines between civilizations, and connected geostrategic regions generate a dynamic world equilibrium.

A strong point Mr. Cuzzelli made in his lecture was that seas unite people, thereby stressing the importance of maritime transportation. He said that food, energy, and raw materials are necessary to form a country and later stressed his point that climate change is a human security issue. Global warming compromises space and food, determines migrations, damages land, hinders developments, makes water a scarcity, and leads less-developed countries into famine. As essential commodities continue becoming more and more scarce, resource wars will emerge, especially since the world population is increasing exponentially.

After learning all of this, we took a quick [2 hour] break for lunch and returned ready to learn more. Our second and final lecture from Mr. Cuzzelli focused on Security & International Law. We talked about the right to defend and the concept of “Just War.” An important change we focused on was the transition from punishing wrongdoers to punishing wrongdoings. UN Article 2.4 prohibits resort to force with the exceptions of collective measures, self-defense, and humanitarian-intervention. He stressed that hostile action by a non-member state qualifies as an attack, and therefore a response to terrorism makes for Just War. A controversial topic is that of anticipatory self-defense/ preemptive strikes, but in general habits and customs rule in International Law.

Moving on to some specifics, the Right to Intervene is only possible under a UN Charter so that intervention can combat threats to international peace and security. Humanitarian Intervention is very difficult to justify outside of a UN Charter and hardly acceptable. Some major strategies to succeed with humanitarian intervention are as follows:  act quickly and resolutely, withstand pressure from the public, engage with a coalition of actors, and plan an exit strategy. The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) serves as a global commitment to prevent genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity. This differs from humanitarian intervention because it is endorsed by the UN and it is comprehensive. The Right to Prosecute up to WWII deemed that a war of aggression was not an international crime, and national sovereignty is always paramount. After WWII, Germany was punished and forced to pay compensation, and the Nurnberg and Tokyo trials took place. (These trials served to punish wrongdoings.) As Jackson famously said, this was “not for vengeance but for justice.” After the horrors of WWII, the UN was established and the Convention against Genocide & Universal Declaration of Human Rights took place. Additionally, an International Court was established (to which the US does not adhere).

To sum up, war is formally prohibited as a means of resolution of international controversy, self-defense is an inherent right, there are doubts on preventative action, the right to intervene is limited to UN Mandate, and R2P is a more formal and legitimate version of humanitarian intervention. Whew! That sure was a lot.

After absorbing all of this information, we had a few hours before heading over to our group dinner with the host parents who could attend. Inside of those brick walls and amongst the white tablecloths, families, students, and Tech alumnus conversed and enjoyed a lovely three-course meal. We got to meet other students’ host families and find out a little bit about their lives in Brussels. Once everyone had taken their last bite of cake and wrapped up their conversations, we all trekked back to our houses to end the night.

The Council of the European Union: Creating Solutions to the Migration Crisis

After spending the morning working in groups to prepare for an upcoming US-EU negotiation simulation, our group headed to the Council of the European Union (formerly known as the Council of Ministers). The Council of the European Union or the “Council” is one of the main bodies of the European Union. It is a forum through which EU Member States may promote their national interests. The Council is in a unique position of creating one coherent position on policy issues out of possibly twenty eight differing opinions of Member States. The Council consists primarily of 28 ministers, one from each Member State, who are Member States’ ambassadors to the EU. It is chaired by one Member State which rotates every six months. Malta currently holds the presidency, and in July it will pass the baton to Estonia. Through the “codecision” process, the Council of the European Union works closely with the democratically elected European Parliament to revise and adopt legislation. In addition the council meets in ten different configurations, each of which specializes in a different subject area. For example, the Foreign Affairs Council configuration brings together foreign affairs ministers from the Member States who work closely with the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy to shape EU foreign policy.

Today we had the pleasure of hearing a presentation on migration and asylum policy from Mrs.Susanne Nielson. She has previously worked on EU enlargement policy and EU Africa policy. Mrs. Nielson now works directly with the president of the Council to get general consensus on different policies with a focus on migration. Her presentation provided insightful details about EU migration policies which we had heard a little about at the High Level Conference on Migration which we attended last week. In recent years Europe has experienced a large influx of migrants and refugees, notably from the Middle East and Africa. Migrants to Europe travel through three main routes.

Eastern Mediterranean Route:

The first migration route runs from Turkey to Greece. Due to the crisis in Syria as well as other Middle Eastern states, Turkey has received millions of refugees and migrants many of whom travel to Greece and other Balkan states. Irregular migration to Greece peaked in October 2015 with Greece receiving hundreds of thousands of migrants in one month. After various initiatives such as the EU-Turkey arrangement in 2016, irregular migration has steadily declined and is now close to zero. Migration along this route has decreased by 79%. Greece, however, continues to receive thousands of migrants legally.

Central Mediterranean Route:

The second route or the Central Mediterranean route runs from Libya and other northern African countries to Italy. Libya serves as the departure point for 90% of migrants traveling to the European Union. This has, however, proved to be problematic since it is illegal to be a migrant in Libya. Migrants discovered by the government are sent to detention centers.  Organizations such as the International Organization for Migration (IOM) are often able to successfully negotiate access to detained migrants and return them to their country of origin if the person wishes to do so. The central mediterranean route is generally longer and therefore more dangerous than the Eastern Mediterranean Route with thousands of deaths already recorded in 2017. Migrants usually pay large sums of money to smugglers for passage across the Mediterranean. The smugglers put groups of migrants on rubber boats which are usually not equipped to handle large capacities. Smugglers also may not provide enough gas for the boat, and many boats sadly never make it to the European coast. Some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have boats waiting outside the Libyan maritime zone to help these migrants board sturdier boats and guide them to the Italian coast. Such organizations must, according to Mrs. Nielson, navigate between saving lives and helping smugglers by doing their job for them. With their profits smugglers often engage in the arms trade in Libya further contributing to the instability that causes mass migrations to Europe in the first place. They then profit from these migrations by offering passage to Europe at high prices which many are forced to pay in order to flee instability in their home countries. Migration along this route has increased by eighteen percent between 2015 and 2016.

Western Mediterranean Route:

The last route runs from Morocco and Algeria to western European countries such as Portugal, Spain, and France. This route has recorded the lowest number of irregular and regular migrants. In 2006 this route was the most common route for illegal border crossings into the EU. At its peak in 2006 over 31,000 irregular migrations occurred to the EU. Even within Western Africa, there were around 180,000 migrants in 2016.

Common migration routes to Europe

       After arriving in the EU, migrants enter the asylum process laid out by what are known as the Dublin Regulations. Dublin III which entered into force in 2013 provides the most recent laws regulating this process. Migrants must apply for asylum status once they arrive in the European Union. The state in which an asylum seeker applies for asylum is responsible for either granting or denying asylum. Until a decision is made, migrants must remain in their respective Member State. In Greece migrants must stay on the Greek islands until their application is processed. If granted asylum, the person can live in the Member State from which they were granted asylum but may not necessarily travel freely to other EU countries unless granted permanent residence or EU citizenship. If asylum is denied, the asylum seeker may not reapply for asylum in another Member State and is generally sent back to the country of origin. These regulations aim to prevent “asylum orbiting” in which asylum seekers travel to different Member States and submit multiple asylum applications until they are granted asylum. In addition to EU Member States, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Iceland also participate in the Dublin Regulations.

Though the Dublin Regulations and subsequent reforms have greatly increased the efficiency, new regulations are needed. Because the Member State in which the asylum seeker submits their application is responsible for the individual, border states such as Greece and Italy are forced to house thousands of refugees while states such as Hungary chose to close their borders. The European Commission proposed the Dublin IV to reform the current Dublin III Regulations. In an effort to relieve Italy and Greece of the large number of refugees arriving on their shores, the Council adopted Council Decision (EU) 2015/1523 and Council Decision (EU) 2015/1601 in 2015 which collectively relocate 160,000 refugees to other Member States. Decisions are legally binding, but some states have refused to accept relocated refugees or even declare how many refugees they plan to take in. The European Commission has recently begun infringement procedures against the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland. If the European Union is to cope with the migration crisis, its members must be held accountable and evenly share the burden. Great progress has been made by the EU, but the migration crisis is far from over.

European External Action Service – making the voice of Europe heard in the world

Today we woke up bright and early in order to prepare for the high level foreign policy related briefings from officials at the European External Action Service, which is more commonly referred to by the acronym EEAS.  The EEAS is the institution in the European Union that acts almost as a diplomat by carrying out the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy. As the world’s second largest economy (in nominal terms) and unique geopolitical situation, the European Union is undoubtedly a top global actor. They play an important international role in a number of areas including diplomacy, trade, humanitarian aid and development, migration, crisis response, financial matters and promotion of human rights. The EEAS brings coherence and coordination to all of these roles. In addition, it is responsible for carrying out the CSDP or Common Security and Defense Policy, and comprises the collective military expertise of the EU, which is crucial for peace-keeping operations and crisis management. The EEAS harmonizes all these policy areas, even in the context of an increasingly globalized world where Europe is facing a complex and uncertain security environment.

If all of this sounds complicated, a good comparison to help understand the role of the EEAS is to think of it is the equivalent to the US foreign affairs or the US department of state. Except that instead of doing diplomacy on behalf of the American people, the EEAS does it on behalf of the European citizens of 27 different nations; making sure their voices, and the collective voice of the Union, are heard all over the world. The representative of this job is called the High Representative, a position currently held by Frederica Mogherini, who also sits in on the European Commission meetings and the council of EU foreign ministers. The High representative position is a great symbol of how the EU coordinates its foreign policy by working closely with other EU institutions.

The first briefing we had the privilege of taking part in was by Mr Martin Dihm, the Senior Strategic Communications Advisor of the Strategic Communications Division of the EEAS, a highly qualified official who was previously the EU ambassador to Papua New Guinea. The subject of this briefing was the function and role of the European External Action Service. In addition to what I described previously, I found it incredibly fitting that he opened the briefing with a discussion about when the EU received the Nobel peace prize in 2012, emphasizing how the European Union primarily began as a project to facilitate peace among its member states after decades of war and far-reaching devastation. Even when talking about the origins of the EEAS, it’s imperative to understand it in the context of the European peace project. This was the first of three main points he asserts are crucial to the role of the EEAS in terms of European stability: peace, economic prosperity, and power. “The EU is rich” he put simply, and accurately, to summarize his discussion about the strength of the euro as a currency and the wealth of the European economy in terms of purchasing power. Economic prosperity is key to ensuring a stable Europe, and the single market is largely responsible for this prosperity. His final point was about the power of Europe, asserting that the EU creates a louder and larger voice through which all the member states can speak together. This is essential to understanding the importance of the European External Action Service, because as I mentioned earlier, it is the vessel through which this voice is heard throughout the world.


Comment Page illustration

The subject of the second briefing was especially relevant due to the recent US political environment: EU-US relations. The briefing was given by Mr Rafal Domisiewicz, an EEAS Policy Officer with Polish origins who works primarily in the US Canada Division. Recently, because of the upcoming NATO defense ministers meeting, the media has been covering the infamous and repetitive complaints by Donald Trump that the EU (or rather, 23 out of the 28 member states in his imprecise assertion) “owe massive amounts of money” and don’t pay their fair share for defense. Domisiewicz did a tasteful job of highlighting this issue by opening with a statement that building relations with the US is often about trying to emphasize the added value of the EU (to the US), and maintain that Europe is a valuable partner both economically and politically. He also discussed the Marshall Plan in a way I found unique, especially because I have studied the Marshall Plan in many different contexts – history, cold war ideological struggle, and European Union integration, you name it – but he explained it from the US perspective in a very novel way. He asserted that the Marshall Plan was never merely an altruistic gesture by the US, but that in addition to helping rebuild Europe after WWII it was most importantly an investment in the America’s own security interest because it helped the US gain strategic allies. This strengthened his argument that Europe is important and a vital asset in the strategic national security interest of the US. Of course, the Marshall Plan was one of the most important foreign policy initiatives to form the foundation of the EU-US relationship that exists today, one that has lasted for decades because of our shared values, the most important of which are human rights, democracy, and a free market according to Domisiewicz. He finished by mentioning that recognizing and maintaining these values is key to achieving our common interests on the global stage, notably in the military cohesion, space, energy, and trade sectors.

The third and final briefing was given by Mr Angel Carro Castrillo, on the subject of the global strategy for the European Union’s Foreign and Security Policy. Castrillo was an official of French origins, and a Senior Adviser in the Strategic Planning division of the EEAS. Castrillo used a simple equation (something the engineers in our group have been long missing at this point in the trip) to concisely explain the premise behind the EU’s global strategy for their foreign and security policy: shared vision + common action = a stronger Europe. To unpack that equation a bit, he meant that the volatile status of the world around calls for a more confident and responsive European Union, which requires an outward and forward looking European Foreign and Security Policy. This means that solidarity is vital among member states, because working together in a unified way will help the EU be more effective in achieving its objectives. He synthesized the argument for the importance of EU integration down into a phrase that will probably always stick with me: “There are two types of European states: small ones, and those who don’t realize they are small”. To me this means that a united Europe holds an economic and political weight that is much more profound than that of any individual member state. With an increasing number of factors challenging the internal cohesion of the EU, like growing inequality, the age gap, and climate change, speaking and acting with one voice and one united policy is the only way for Europe to maximize its interests in the current international environment. Visiting the institution that facilitates this process was a unique and compelling experience, and our group left with a much deeper appreciation for how European integration is necessary both for the prosperity of Europe and its strategic foreign partnerships.

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