GT in the EU

An extraordinary education

Month: June 2017 (Page 2 of 6)

International Security ft. Giorgio Cuzelli

Over the past two days we received lectures from Giorgio Cuzelli, a former military officer who later served in NATO for several years. The topics of these lectures focused on international security, which must be observed on three different levels: human, national, and international. Approaches and the evolution of crisis management were also discussed on the first day. On the second day, we learned about as much as one could ever hope to know about NATO, including its relationship with international security, as well as specific alliances on the Eastern, Western, and Southern fronts.

Day I: International Security and Crisis Management

“Security” was defined as the absence of danger as well as fear. It also includes the general stability of access to basic needs (food, water, shelter). Furthermore, the implementation of the term itself covers a far broader spectrum than just the mere use of military force. “Security” can refer to a risk of epidemics, the energy crisis, as well as even cyber security/ the security of digital information. When making a decision/ deciding that security must be more stringent, four basic questions must be asked. These include: who is the primary group in need of being protected, from what do they need protection from: (as well their perception of this threat… this is a very important point because perceptions themselves can cause fear), how/ who will carry out the implementation of higher security, and for what purpose?

*the answer to the last question is SUPPOSED to be something along the lines of  “allowing human relations for improve, to develop a more stable society.” However, as we later talked about in a discussion, there were many examples of when nations have intervened with an agreeable, just purpose, yet have had ulterior motives. One example would be the Vietnam War, when the US took advantage of the economic opportunities that France had been forced to leave behind, yet intervened in the name of democracy. A more recent example would be the US intervention in Libya. Although there were several atrocities going on at the time, the US saw an opportunity for a regime change and immediately grabbed it.

Cuzelli did note however that once something happens, it’s often too late. The goal of security in this sense is DETERRENCE; that is preventing the problem before it has a chance to manifest and develop.

In discussing the three types of security, and how they relate to one another, there was an interesting paradox.

National Security gives priority to the state, emphasizing it as the protector and defender of the citizens, (regardless of international relations with other sovereign states).

International security gives priority to peace between sovereign states, (regardless of national interests).

Human Security gives priority to the safety and well-being in of the individual, (regardless of international and national interests).

Therefore, in order for there to be peace and stability within a region, there must be a balance between the three types of security, since none of the goals of each directly align with one another. So many times what is best for a region of countries in conflict (such as the Middle East) is not going to be best for each of those countries individually, and therefore some sort of compromise is required practically every time. The first two paradoxes are fairly self-evident, and in a way they sort of counter-balance one another. However, the last one does not have such a counter-balance on it, and I believe that this is (at least one of) the root causes of conflict today.

The power of perception was brought up several times. It was said that our personal reality is 90% perception, 10% fact. I thought about this for a while, and began to question more and more the opinion of Western media. I tried to look at recent events with an objective lens, but I soon realized that this was basically looking at things from an Eastern perspective and balancing it out with the views I was familiar with. But I realized that no matter what conclusion I came to, it would always be clouded with at least some sort of bias, because I would never have an aerial point of view. It’s still hard to say if the two takes really balanced each other out.

Part of the reason the US (and other countries as well) tend to intervene so much is because of “human security,” or a “humanitarian crisis.” However “human security” is highly subjective, and in a lot of ways Western countries are able to bend the rules a bit. What I mean is that once they get to a country, after invasion with a supposedly just pretext, they often implement “regime change” as a form of “advancing human security.” Is this justified? In some cases, it might be. But them just doing it on their own accord, without accountability is not. Even if a country is de-stabilized, does that give another country the right to implement a form of government that they deem fair/ right, because it works for them? If this were the case, then Russia would have been legally able to overtake any unstable country and implement communism in the Cold War. However, it is not the case. There is no law that gives any country the right to intervene/ take over a government, because on the international playing field, states are supposed to have equal sovereignty. But so often this regime change is done in the name of “human security.” Because so many of the big military powers are democratic NATO members, this behavior is often condoned. However, it doesn’t mean that it is fair. Just because something is popular does not mean that it is the best. The US thinks that it has some sort of “divine right” exclusively because that specific form of government supposedly holds public officials accountable and hasn’t caused any major revolutions. However, does that mean that it’s the best form of government? Has it prevented corruption and poverty?

Crisis Management:

A “crisis” was defined as when the core values/ basic needs of society are at stake. It is a situation in which there is potential to not only worsen relations between nation states, but also escalate and lead to worse consequences. The key to effective crisis management, as mentioned before, is deterrence. Therefore, it is imperative to have a system of strategic monitoring so that the instant a situation occurs, nations can be alerted and prepared for the best course of diplomatic action. On the other hand, if intervention is needed, strategic surprise is a key element of success. This “surprise” can be in the form of WHO is intervening, to WHERE they are intervening, as well as WHAT exactly they are doing. Even after a crisis is effectively managed, it is just as important to continue following up so that it does not occur in the future. The example of Obama’s withdrawal of troops in Iraq and the resulting conflict that followed was used as an example as a time when “stabilization” and “monitoring any future risk” were not properly followed. There are many different actors in an international crisis scene, besides of course the government. These include anything from NGO’s to intelligence agencies to the media. In order for a crisis to be effectively managed, all of these institutions must work together. One recent example of when a crisis was effectively managed was the Ebola crisis. I feel like the reason for that success was is due to the fact that all countries involved had a common goal: save lives. They didn’t have ulterior interests, and because of that they were all able to cooperate so nicely. If only we could do that with climate change.

One other important thing that is not looked nearly enough into is the principle of an exit strategy. So often countries intervene with plans of destabilization or regime change or humanitarian aid… but the reality is that they cannot stay there forever. And often times when they leave, the country on its own is not stable enough to prevent another crisis from occurring. Fortunately, countries are starting to realize this, and more recently in the European Union there has been discussion of African and Middle Eastern economic investment, to basically address the root of economic migration crisis.

Day II: NATO & International Security

Since its initial founding, NATO has expanded from “collective defense” to crisis management and cooperative security. Technically, its authority is derived from Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, which states that nations have a right to defend themselves and/or attack a perceived threat. A common misconception is that the organization was founded as a military alliance. While partially true, the original intent was to unify nations who share the same interest of defending their dear democratic values. The organization is consensus based, although member states can abstain without preventing any action. Coalitions are formed by nations, on a case by case basis. This makes a lot of sense, since Belgium has entirely different security problems than Poland, who has entirely different needs from Turkey or Greece.

Although the organization began as a sort of Cold War organization, the cold war has been over for almost 30 years. So, NATO has gone through quite a bit of an evolution, in a way redefining themselves. Different summits in the 21st century have led to increased engagement against ISIL as well as counterterrorism itself, a new cyber defense initiative, as well as an increased “forward” presence in Eastern Europe. The latter hadn’t always been the case. In fact after the fall of the Soviet Union when several former Soviet states joined, NATO worked hard to form a bilateral alliance with Russia. This began in the early 1990s, and eventually evolved into a NATO-Russia Council, which was an active cooperation group. However, after the 2008 Georgia crisis, this was placed on hold. Although some cooperation resumed in 2009, this was abruptly halted in 2014 after the Ukrainian crisis. Currently the “forward presence” includes multinational battle groups in 4 eastern states as well as ballistic missile defense. Cuzelli offered an interesting perspective on Russia. He said that ever since the Treaty of Westphalia, Russia has never been the same. Basically this treaty introduced the concept of Western sovereignty, which would eventually evolve into shared Western Sovereignty. However, Russia has always seen its neighbors as a few weak states, never a true threat. But when all of a sudden those few neighboring countries joined an alliance of like twenty others, and “engaging in conflict with one, meant engaging in conflict of all of them, it is no wonder that they feel threatened. Russia is now symbolically bordered by a huge landmass of military alliances, geographically comparable to the size of the United States. This is quite a huge difference from a few weak countries, formerly part of their very own Soviet Union. And on top of that, they have no natural borders. Put in perspective, recent actions now make sense. Not only do Ukraine and Crimea have very close historic ties with Russia (Crimea also being a holy land) but they are also strategic points of land that once controlled enabled Russia to have a better defense and eye on the West. Although I don’t think Russia’s actions were necessarily justified, I can’t say that ganging up on them was the best idea either.

Many times in recent years, there have been are unilateral US initiatives and national/ continental issues of European countries that have sparked conflict. The most recent one I think would be the controversy of defense spending. Europeans have sometimes been described as “free riders” hiding under the umbrella of US nuclear safety. However with the recent 2% rule this is slowly coming to an end, as Europeans are starting to build up their military strength.

Later NATO’s “relevance” was discussed, and at least from my perspective it seems stronger than ever. The collective defense promotes not only “mutual commitment” but also “solidarity amount member states.” Not only does it strengthen Euro-Atlantic relations but it also helps stabilize the Eurasian continent by providing a counterbalance to emerging threats (as well as Russia). Recent agreements like the 2003 Berlin Plus followed by the 2010 Lisbon treaty have resulted in increased coordination and planning capabilities with the EU. It remains one of the primary respondents to international crisis, and the consensus-based decision making process ensures that decisions made are the best ones, always putting the common values of the member states before individual interest.

Towards the end of the lecture today, there were a few questions brought up, one of which had to do with Americans. I don’t remember the exact specifics, but I do remember the answer, which basically put Americans in a very positive light. This struck me as odd at first, because for a while I had been under the impression that at least in Europe, the typical American stereotypes was sort of what defined us, at least in current times. Of course, before coming on this trip I had taken history courses and knew enough about the European Union and the US and NATO to know that we were strong political and military Allies, who fought through not only two World Wars but also the Cold War together. Well obviously our governments are close, but what about the people? No, my experience with Europeans hasn’t been terrible, but I wouldn’t say I’ve gotten the vibe that we were absolutely loved, like Cuzelli said we were. He hasn’t been the first person to say that. In fact, each time any European official brings up the German Marshall Fund, there has been practically eternal praise towards the US.  Even though there has been quite a bit of conflict since the end of World War II, and things haven’t always really been that rosy between the US and other countries, I really don’t think we give ourselves nearly enough credit. Even though our current government and administration is so easy to criticize, the fact that we are able to criticize our government so much is part of what makes the system so amazing. Because we don’t have restrictions on public media, we are able to at least somewhat hold our government accountable. Not even all “democratic” countries have that. And even though the majority of Americans don’t look at the data/policy/information of each Congressman/ different US Departments provided to us, the fact that our government is so transparent is what makes it so great. It’s really quite easy to be cynical about our government and even the world in general today. But just looking at the past 100 years at least with the UN and EU, not to mention all of the international NGOs all working together, I think it is truly amazing how far countries have come. Yes, there are still a lot of problems in the world today, but what people sometimes forget is that so many of them have been at least partially solved, if not fully reconciled.

Bruegel: The Hippie Collective on a Mission

When we arrived at Bruegel, a European economic think tank, I was surprised that it was a somewhat obscure building that shared space with a handful of other organizations. Only half of us could fit in the elevator, and while the rest of us were waiting for it to come back down, a voice came up behind us and said “the adventurous ones can take the stairs.” Put that way, you really have no choice but to take the stairs, so I ran up the stairs into the conference room to learn that the voice came from Matt Dann, the Secretary General of Bruegel, and that that was just the beginning of the many interesting things he would say.  Of all of the tour guides, guest lecturers, and EU employees that we’ve heard speak throughout this trip, Matt was by far the most charismatic and entertaining of them all. Despite his obvious intelligence and success, he didn’t take himself too seriously especially considering his audience–a group of young college kids who were tired from weeks of travel. He broke things down and explained them in a way that would not only keep our attention, but at times provide comedic relief–a rarity when being briefed by important institutions. On the screen appeared Bruegel’s mission, four lines long, and he summed it up in three words: “improving economic policy.” In the true spirit of an economist, he got to the basis of the statement by eliminating distracting rhetoric.

What exactly is Bruegel?

Summarized well on their website:

“Bruegel is a European think tank that specializes in economics. Established in 2005, it is independent and non-doctrinal. Bruegel’s mission is to improve the quality of economic policy with open and fact-based research, analysis and debate. We are committed to impartiality, openness and excellence. Bruegel’s membership includes EU Member State governments, international corporations and institutions.”

Although we learned more specifics of how Bruegel is structured, how their research is conducted, who their fellows are, and more basics of their functioning as a think tank, their website is flawlessly designed as to provide all of this information in a much more effective and user-friendly way than if I went into the explicit responsibilities of each part that makes up Bruegel. Instead, I rather focus on the implicit responsibilities, what Matt said that wasn’t bulleted on the slideshow or easily accessible on the website: What really is the role of an economic think tank, and what is Bruegel’s place in the community of think tanks and in the world?

What are the internal workings of Bruegel like?

Matt described it as a “hippie collective” because it is essentially an organization of scholars who are given free reign in deciding how and with whom they want to conduct their independent research. Typically the people focusing on macroeconomic policy work together (because that is the nature of macroeconomics) and the microeconomic people tend to have more specific tasks (because that is the nature of microeconomics). Research can be conducted with whoever a fellow wants, even someone who does not work for Bruegel. Fellows are encouraged to share their work with their peers as often as possible to encourage creativity and constructive criticism, but the only time that everyone has to come together and work on the same thing is when there is a policy crisis and a comprehensive response must be produced as quickly as possible. Most of the research is done by surveying the literature and using pre-existing data sets as opposed to conducting original research. Although it is a researchers dream to be able to collect original data, unless you have excess time and financial means it will remain one. Furthermore, in today’s world it is arguably more important to survey the existing literature, separating real facts from alternative ones and reviving old concepts with new ideas–which is exactly what fellows at Bruegel strive to do.

Bruegel is defined as a public-private enterprise, but what does this mean in the context of a think tank?

On the most basic level, it is rooted in where the funding comes from—who the contributing members are. Bruegel is funded by 18 EU Member States, making up the public part, and by typical private companies like Google, Microsoft, and Amazon. To ensure its independence, Bruegel utilizes two important independent safeguards: 1) Don’t take too much money from one place (the five largest state contributors—Italy, Spain, Germany, France, and the UK—all pay an equal amount no greater than 4.5%, and all corporations contribute €50,000) and 2) Employees must legally agree to a Statement of Research and Integrity and sign a Declaration of Outside Interests. The first safeguard is to avoid being influenced by a large stakeholder in decision making because Bruegel chooses to reach decisions collectively, whereas in the United States contributors typically are given a say in what their money is used for. Moreover, U.S. think tanks only release ambiguous reports of their contributors and contribution amounts, whereas Bruegel makes every contribution detail available to ensure the public’s ability to decide if there is bias in what they are reading. The second safeguard is not only to avoid major conflicts of interests, but these records are also available on their website so that the readers can decide whether the author of a paper they’re reading has a conflict of interest or bias towards the topic. I think it is important to contrast the U.S. and Bruegel’s levels of transparency because, in my opinion, for an intellectual entity and its ideas to truly be considered independent, they should prove that they are also transparent.

More interestingly is how being a public-private enterprise affects how Bruegel conducts business. Choosing to be non-partisan is not only an important aspect of the think tank, but also a smart move for any enterprise receiving money from both public and private entities. Non-partisanship does not mean that they refrain from communicating with political parties, because they have to to see if their ideas have a chance to be considered by policy-makers, but they do not outwardly state any kind of political affiliation. They do not engage in consultancy or lobbying, both of which promote private interests, but they do advocate their ideas to policy-makers so that they can achieve their mission which is to improve economic policy. It is easier for think tanks in the European context to appear non-partisan because there are many different parties, in contrast to the United States where there is a two-party system with very different political platforms which makes it easy to assume which way a think tank leans politically. Despite being non-partisan, there are benefits to ambiguity in the media concerning their alignment which they can play on to create their “brand”. Matt said that it is very important to have a strong brand with a strong brand voice, which understandably would be hard to do if there was no way to collectively define Bruegel’s work.

One might assume that being completely non-partisan would be beneficial to a company so not to drive away large segments of the consumer base, but in reality it might be detrimental if there is not a loyal consumer base. As Matt put it, “if your constituency is everybody, then it’s nobody.” Having the whole of Europe as their target audience is a challenge for Bruegel, especially when trying to communicate the same information to 28 member states with varying press and media structures, translate papers into 24 languages without getting (literally) lost in translation, consider the supranational, national, and regional contexts intertwined in the European system, and please both the busy politician and the nerdy policy analyst. Bruegel partially accomplishes these things through strategic design to segment the market. Just as Coca-Cola has four different markets for Coke, Diet Coke, Coke Zero, and Coke Life–which are all essentially the same product marketed differently–Bruegel presents their work in different ways to communicate the same ideas to a large variety of people.

What is Bruegel’s role today in the modern world and what are their hopes for the future?

In order to survive in today’s globalized, digitalized world, any company knows they must develop an internet presence, at least via a website if not also through social media. Bruegel has realized how vital their digital presence is, especially as an independent enterprise attempting to sell ideas—the most commonly and easily shared things on the Internet. Matt spoke of the Bruegel website as his pride and joy, and rightfully so because over the past 11 years, Bruegel has redone their website eight different times—each update costing thousands of dollars–in order to keep up with the rapidly changing trends in technology and design. Their website is also their primary means of dissemination because it contains all of their publications, and it is visual proof of their transparency by including records of where all of their funds come from and the employees’ Declarations of Outside Interests, along with clear descriptions of the parts and functions of Bruegel. Because even the most impressive website isn’t enough for a company based on written word, Bruegel has a Twitter, Facebook, and Linked In to reach people of all ages and interests all over the world. The fellows and staff’s Twitter handles can be found beneath their biographies on the website—a vital move in not only increasing transparency but also a step towards creating a more consistent group of followers. Taking advantage of the cybersphere, Bruegel hosts web streaming events to start discussions regarding their work. This democratizes the entire idea of the think tank because it allows people to criticize their work, which allows Bruegel to challenge and defend their ideas or benefit from constructive criticism.

When asked “how big” Bruegel hopes to be, Matt did not have a definite answer, saying that the company wants to be bigger, but not too big. Rich U.S. think tanks provide an example of both the positive and negative aspects of being a big think tank: more money means more capability to do things like paying Twitter and Facebook for ad promotions, but it also means inevitable loss of sovereignty that smaller companies enjoy. Although they do not have the money to physically expand right now, their success has drawn more people to request work from them on untypical topics like labor markets, migration, global trade and inequality. The ability to research topics outside of the usual macroeconomic realm has been a privilege and a rarity to Bruegel in the past decade due to a semi-constant state of crisis. Primarily as intellectuals, they would love to be able to have the time to decide what topics are the most important and interesting to write about, but starting with the financial crisis in 2008 and now since Brexit and Trump disrupted the world order, they have little time to be “futuristic hippie researchers”  because they must address the issues being dealt with at present. This is evident when looking at the hot topics on the website which are exactly what one with basic knowledge of current affairs would guess they would be: Brexit, China, Inequality, United States, and European Governance. To emphasize how great of an effect these events have had on their work, Matt said “War did not unite the EU27 in the way that Brexit united the EU27,” and an event of such gravity cannot take the backseat to an intellectual debate on economic theory.

Why Bruegel?

While navigating their website, I found a page for awards and rankings and clicked on it out of curiosity, not sure what to expect as I am new to the world of think tanks. Truthfully, I was both very impressed and surprised at the obvious praise Bruegel has received.

The 2016 Global Go To Think Tank Report rankings:

#1 for best idea and new paradigm (worldwide)

#1 best quality assurance and integrity policies and procedures (Europe)

#2 top international economics think tank (worldwide)

#2 best managed think tank (worldwide)

#3 think tank in the world (non-US)

#6 think tank in the world (including US)

My surprise wasn’t due to a below-average briefing, it was actually quite the opposite, but rather because it took place in a humble setting and was given by a down-to-earth guy who never bragged about Bruegel’s renowned status on the world stage but simply focused on how important the company, its values, and its ability to make a difference were to him. As it was my first exposure to an economic think tank, and I have not read many papers published by one, I had no idea what made it successful or important. So, why Bruegel? I reverted back to focusing on the implicit responsibilities of a think tank and realized what makes Bruegel successful is actually striving to be what every think tank, NGO, political party, or any other organization in the business of influencing people, and thus the future, should be: transparent, focused, humble, conscious, real. Those words seem vague, but if you try to use all of them to describe rich American think tanks funded by massively powerful (and sometimes anonymous) corporations, corrupt NGOs, or a majority of politicians and political parties anywhere in the world—you can’t.

To clarify my point, consider the basic principle of economics that basically states if someone gains, someone else always loses. As commonly understood as other economic quips like “there is no such thing as a free lunch” and “you can’t have your cake and eat it too”–any economist would not deny its truth. Unfortunately, for those trying to please their constituents before an important election or those funded by a private corporation with something at stake, telling people they will inevitably lose is not in their best interest. Bruegel does not feign ignorance, in the wise words of Matt: “If someone says ‘this policy is going to be good for everyone’ it’s a unicorn.” They acknowledge that even with the most revolutionary ideas and policies, someone IS going to lose, but they then go onto ask themselves what they are going to do when the inevitable happens—and the hippie collective gets to work to find the next solution that could change the world.

Earning certificates for not destroying Europe

Today I woke up to some very lovely 63-degree weather outside (a full 30 degrees cooler from last week) and had some spare time before our first and only group task of the day at 2 pm. Some other classmates and I utilized this time to begin preparing for our EU-US debate in a week, so [like most people do early on a Sunday morning] I brushed up on my Russian foreign security policy. After this invigorating morning, we rushed over to the Parlamentarium for our simulation on the EU legislative process.


Upon our arrival, we were handed mobile phones and assigned one of 4 political parties:  Tradition, Solidarity, Liberty, or Ecology. (Yours truly was a member of Solidarity.) No single party had a majority in the Parliament, so we would have to work together to get any legislation passed.

We watched a short introduction on the EU Parliament which reviewed some basic procedures with which we were already familiar. There were 2 directives that needed to be passed:  one on water solidarity and one on personal identification. The first addressed the scarcity of fresh water and its unbalanced distribution in the EU, while the second addressed a microchip that could be implanted into people to help with easier identification. Within our parties, we further split up into groups of those addressing the water issue and those addressing the microchip. As I was an MEP working on the microchip issue, I’ll be able to provide more details on that compared to the other directive.

We learned about our parties’ manifestos and what stance we would have to take on these issues. Whenever notified by our phones, we would move locations into conference rooms, press rooms, information sites, and even a bar. Some main debate points for the personal identification directive where if the decision should be made by the state or the individuals, if it should be used for health/ security/ commercial purposes, and if everybody or only adults should be allowed to get it. A main concern was that if the chip could be used for commercial purposes, companies could abuse peoples’ personal rights by accessing unwanted information. After numerous press conferences and debates, we were informed that the Council didn’t agree with our proposed amendments, so there would be second readings.

But then ~disaster struck~ in the form of a major earthquake in Europe (how unlikely is that??). The disaster just happened to affect water infrastructure that was over 100 years old and took place while school was in session, so kids had to be quickly identified. With this knowledge in mind, more negotiating took place and we were able to reach an agreement with the Council on the water directive and got that passed (woohoo!). Despite that success, we were still unable to reach a compromise on the microchip directive, so that led to a last chance meeting to prevent further rejection. Amidst the yelling and passionate persuading, people held true to their parties’ values while finding points on which to compromise. In the end, the Council proposed that individuals would get to decide, it could be used for health and security and commercial purposes, and anyone over 18 could get it OR children with parents’ consent. Luckily this was adopted, and that brought an end to our time as MEPs.

We received a lovely and very official certificate for “not destroying Europe,” and on that happy note, we parted ways for the day.  Overall I had a very fun (and intense) experience with this simulation, more so than I was expecting. Even though it was only for a couple hours and the scenarios were made up, this gave me a taste of how stressful and frustrating it must be to work as an MEP when you can’t reach a compromise. I think I have gained a better understanding of the legislative process in the EU, and I certainly consider myself an expert on microchipping at this point. I look forward to framing my certificate as soon as I get home and getting some rest after my rather taxing experience as an MEP.

European Commission

Today we went to the European Commission info-point education office to learn about the role of the Commission in the European political system and some of its main priorities. After a slight location mix-up, we arrived at the right place and had a briefing on the role and functioning of the European Commission by a retired Slovakian diplomat.

The Commission is the political executive of the EU, and acts as a college, meaning that its decisions are collective, and in the interest of the Union as a whole, not of individual member states. The Commission has 3 levels of competencies in authority with relation to member states – Exclusive, which includes Trade and Competition regulations; Shared, which includes Agriculture and Environmental laws; and Supporting, which includes Tourism and Education.

After the European Parliament elections in 2014, the European Peoples’ Party held a majority, and nominated Jean Claude Juncker to the presidency of the Commission. Juncker said that his priorities would be creating a digital single market, developing an EU Energy Union, negotiating the Transatlantic Trade Agreement, reforming the Economic and Monetary Union of the European Union, and a “targeted fiscal capacity” for the Eurozone.

The Digital Single Market is a sector of the pre-established European Single Market that covers e-commerce, telecommunication, and digital marketing, announced in 2015 by the Commission. It is one of the main priorities of the Commission today, and is considered vital to the progress of the Single Market. This is such an important issue for the EU because over 90% of jobs now require some kind of digital skills. It also is important in trade, as it will create over 11 billion euros in savings for consumers when shopping online, and currently, 52% of cross border purchases are blocked.

The three pillars of the DSM are: improving digital access, optimizing the business market, and driving growth and job creation.

The Commission has 4 main roles:

  • Right of Initiative
  • Policy and Budget Implementation
  • Guardian of the Treaties
  • Represent the EU to the world

The European Commission holds the exclusive right to introduce legislation to the Parliament and Council, known as Right of Initiative. The legislation is then passed to the other two bodies for approval and amendments. The bill goes through a reading period in each body in which they make appropriate changes and discuss the changes the other made. If the bill is not passed by the third reading session, the bill fails.

Under the Commissions responsibility to implement policy and its role as Guardian of the Treaties, it is also responsible for overseeing the application of the EU Treaties and laws. We discussed the process of invoking Treaty Infringement Procedures against member states of the EU. The Commission may take action against a member state if it fails to incorporate EU directives into national law fully and promptly, or if it has adopted or maintained laws which violate or distort EU laws. This process can be initiated either by a direct complaint (295 registered currently), or by the initiative of the commission (578 currently). Then there is a structured dialogue opened to determine the extent of the violations, and a pre-litigation procedure to notify the state of its infringements, and finally a referral to the ECJ to pass judgement and final sanctions. The EC can also sanction companies or bodies that are in violation of laws. This has happened recently with Fiat, which was receiving illegal state aid in the Netherlands and Luxembourg, and also with Google and Apple, for abusing anti-trust laws and giving illegal advantages to their own services.

We also discussed Juncker’s white paper on the future of the European Union. He outlined 5 potential directions that the Union might head in in the coming years. His options were carrying on with current policies, focusing on making positive reforms; re-centering the EU on the Single Market and eliminating political competencies; allowing member states to do more in specific areas of their interest; focusing on a narrower range of issues and tackling them more efficiently; and finally, deciding to do much more across a range of policy areas.

This visit provided our group with a lot more in depth and topical information and expounded on many of the ideas we had learned in class. The presenter was able to talk about many of the issues the Commission is currently dealing with, as well as its recent accomplishments, such as abolishing roaming charges for cell phones. After this presentation, we had the privilege of attending the High-level conference on migration management at the European Parliament, where we heard from many of the officials we’ve learned about, including Juncker, Antonio Tajani, the president of the EP, and Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission. The day was a great look at the inner working of the EU institutions and how they work together symbiotically to accomplish their duties and manage crises.

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