GT in the EU

An extraordinary education

Month: June 2017 (Page 3 of 6)

High-level Conference on Migration at the European Parliament in Brussels

On June 21st, 2017, the Members of the European Parliament along with the President of the European Commission, the High Representative, and a variety of local, regional, and national public figures gathered at the European Parliament in Brussels to discuss the most pressing topic facing European Politics today: migration. Antonio Tajani, the President of the European Parliament, began his introduction to the meeting by pointing out how the date chosen for the conference, June 21st, 2017, was not random, but instead strategically chosen. The day prior to the meeting, June 20th, was World Refugee Day, and the bi-annual meeting of the European Council took place in Brussels the two days following the conference. He dictated a clear objective for the meeting, which was to make sure that their voices and opinions regarding migration and the refugee crisis were heard by the Heads of State and Government from all 28 member states right before an important discussion was to take place during the meeting of the European Council. A more specific objective of the meeting is given on the European Union website:

“The European Parliament will host the conference on migration management ahead of the EU summit to launch a platform for regular dialogue between all actors involved. It will address responsibility sharing among Member States, ensuring a stable and secure environment both in and at the external borders of the EU, and tackling the root causes of migration through cooperation with third countries.”

After listening to the introductory remarks from a variety of leaders, it was clear that they were going to stick to this objective and promote a more comprehensive discussion of the migration crisis.

Tajani named the three main goals of the EU at present: migration, the fight against terrorism, and youth unemployment. He honed in on the idea that people migrate for a multitude of reasons, such as climate change leading to desertification, and that in order to find a solution to the migration crisis the root causes must be identified. As for dealing with the migrants once they decided to migrate, he mentioned the importance of putting an end to the trafficking of women and children, calling it the exploitation of despair, and that a new distribution system with a new distribution key must be created so that Italy and Greece were not having to process a majority of the applications. The European Border and Coast Guard was implemented to alleviate some of the burden already faced by these border countries, and he said that a satellite system would help improve the situation also. Tajani then went onto confront the issues the EU was dealing with internally regarding the conflict, mainly referring to some member states misconduct in regards to migration policy and the rise of populism due to fear. He said that closing borders would only make the situation worse, and that strengthening their borders would not only help with the migration crisis but it was also necessary to protect the single market and the overall values of the European Union. A week before this conference, the European Commission launched infringement procedures against those countries that were not following the procedures regarding migration. To justify these proceedings, Tajani emphasized that it was not to punish those countries, but if you choose to be a part of the European Union you must follow the rules. To quote him, “Jean-Claude we [the European Parliament] support you, the Commission is not alone.”

Tajani used the latter part of his speech by delving into the topic that would be prominent during the remainder of the speeches: Africa. Africa is of utmost importance when it comes to discussing migration in the EU because not only are people migrating from different parts of Africa, but they are entering Europe through transit countries in the North of Africa who are alone not strong or stable enough to support migrants. He deemed the EU’s role in Africa to be to boost economic growth and alleviate poverty, not only to support the migrants flowing through but also to instill hope in the young people of Africa to build a stronger society for generations to come. In my favorite part of his speech, he warned against eurocentrism saying: “We shouldn’t look at Africa through a European point of view, but through the view of the African people,” and to “send a message to those on the other side of the Mediterranean that we are and always will be a friend.” I think it is especially significant that he included this in his speech, because it addresses those that are either wary of intervention due to Europe’s colonial past or who doubt the African people’s abilities in creating their own successful society by clarifying that intervention will not take the shape of forcing the pillars of Western European society upon Africa, but instead providing a solid support system in which the African states can build their own version of society. Lastly, to promote the importance and potential that lies within the Parliament and the EU as a whole, the President of the European Parliament blatantly said that politics and the formation of policies that will lead the way for other countries are absolutely necessary, and that the EU cannot continue to be perceived or to act solely as a massive bureaucratic body.

After an impressive introduction came the most important speaker of the meeting and the most influential leader of the European Union: Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission. Juncker’s term lasts from 2014 to 2019, and therefore he has not only seen the worst of the migration and refugee crisis play out, but is also expected to lead the Union in finding a solution to their most pressing issue. Juncker, a Luxembourgish native and member of the European People’s Party, is an extremely experienced actor in European politics, having represented Luxembourg in the Council of Ministers for half a decade before assuming the role of Luxembourgish Prime Minister for almost two, and his contribution to the European Union has been significant as he was involved in the construction of both the Maastricht and Lisbon Treaties and the President of the Eurogroup, the Ministers of Finance from the Eurozone, from 2005 to 2013. I mention this to emphasize the importance of his voice as the main leader of the EU in such an important time in its development. The three key values of his campaign platform (experienced and efficient leadership, solidarity amongst people and nations, and a strong vision for the future) remain more relevant than ever three years later as he tries to not only achieve his ten priorities but more specifically to focus on migration, an issue that I doubt he thought would be his top priority for the duration of his term.

To preface the short speech he gave at the conference are two previous Juncker quotes used on the 10 priorities outline regarding migration:

“The recent terrible events in the Mediterranean have shown: Europe needs to manage migration better, in all aspects. This is first of all a humanitarian imperative. I am convinced that we must work closely together in a spirit of solidarity to ensure that situations such as the one in Lampedusa never arise again.”

“I also believe that we need to deal more robustly with irregular migration, notably through better cooperation with third countries, including on readmission.”

His speech was brief, focusing on the progress being made and actions being taken to address this crisis—while reiterating the same beliefs he has held regarding migration throughout his presidency. When discussing the implementation of the European Border and Coast Guard, he said that there are 1600 guards currently deployed, and 1600 standing by ready to be deployed when needed. He also said that the number of refugees coming into the country who were registered has gone from 8% in 2015 to 100% now, and that since the agreement of the EU-Turkey Statement, the number of refugees arriving in Greece from Turkey has gone down 19%. He made clear that the EU had no intentions on leaving any country behind where there are people in need, reminding the audience that behind the statistics are men, women, and children who would rather stay in their countries—and are leaving because they have to, not because they want to. Juncker then discussed the recent infringement procedures the Commission had started against the member states who are not following procedure, saying “[he] believe[s] solidarity must first come from the heart,” but if the states do not cooperate then it is necessary for the Commission to take action to ensure that the procedures are followed. Just as the Commission is responsible for ensuring that the member states behave accordingly, the member states all have their fair share of responsibilities when it comes to dealing with the migration crisis. He closed by mentioning actions the EU is taking for the future, including conducting negotiations regarding readmissions into Morocco, Libya, Egypt, and Tunisia, and discussing the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa.

The third person to speak was Federica Mogherini, the High Representative for CFSP and Vice President of the Commission. Mogherini is a key player in the migration crisis because she is the head of the European External Action Service, chairs the Commission Group on External Action, chairs the Foreign Affairs Council, and chairs meetings of the Defense and Development ministers. She is essentially the Secretary of State of the European Union and the head of all foreign affairs, so the influx of migrants and refugees is one of her most important tasks. She specializes in working with the African countries to combat the root causes of migration, which is clearly reflected in her speech. At the beginning she criticized the EU’s initial response to the crisis saying, “some people were ashamed of the numbers being hosted, I am ashamed of the deaths the EU refused to see.” She said that in the past, dealing with migration was an exclusive national competence, but now people were coming to Europe, not one specific country. Therefore, Europe as a whole now has to address the problem and find a solution, in the words of Mogherini it is a “global phenomenon that requires unified external action.” Following the tone of both Tajani and Juncker, she said “if you’ve ever seen a woman put her children’s lives at risk, the push factor is much larger than the pull factor,” meaning that people are leaving because they have no better choice. Pointing out how people are often only concerned with those migrants coming by sea, she reminded the audience that there are lives to be saved as well as criminal networks to be dismantled in the desert too. Mogherini also warned against eurocentrism when discussing solutions to the issue, saying that some people have compared what the EU is doing for Africa to the Marshall Plan but a better name would be the “European Plan for Africa” which would be more of a partnership and an effort to empower instead of contributing money in exchange for power and influence. In order to support Africa’s development and resolve the migration crisis, she said it is necessary to combine both geography and ideals. Below is a map showing common routes migrants take from the Middle East and Africa, showing how crucial they are to finding a long-term solution to the problem.

Although Tajani, Juncker, and Mogherini were the three main speakers, they were followed by short speeches given by a variety of people which I have summarized below:

Fayez al-Sarraj, the Prime Minister of the Government of National Accord of Libya set up by the United Nations in 2015, was invited to speak due to Libya’s strategic role in handling migration into Europe because it is a transit country. As a transit country, many migrants are moving through it to reach Europe. It is in the EU’s best interest to strengthen these transit countries so that they can take better control of the migration through their country and so that more people will stay in Libya instead of continuing on to Europe. In Libya specifically, not only do they lack the resources to attend to the health needs of migrants, but they are also suffering from a drug problem which exacerbates the situation greatly. He emphasized that irregular immigration cannot be resolved by security policy alone, and that the transit countries’ economies and social policies must also be boosted so that they are capable of dealing with the situation. In order for this to happen, help must first be concentrated at the Southern border of Libya, not the coast where the migrants are leaving from, and within the countries that it neighbors because that is where the migrants are entering the country. He mentioned how Libya is working bilaterally with Italy to address the problem and that Libya has now sent an official application to the United Nations to lift the embargo currently placed on Libya so that they can begin to make progress.

Louise Arbour, the United Nations Special Representative for Migration, discussed concepts that those working towards a solution must first understand. This includes realizing that people are not migrating for one reason, but there are complex, multi-layered reasons to migrate. She also referred to the New York declaration and how it declares migration should be voluntary, not forced, and that there needs to be a global compact facilitating safe migration instead of halting it altogether. Furthermore, there needs to be an increase in the variety of pathways in which to migrate into a country and domestic labor markets must integrate migrant labor. On the issue of migrant labor, she discussed how important our perception of migrants is, and that it is necessary to integrate them into our society. Overall, she called for human mobility in a safe, orderly, and regular fashion.

Markku Markkula, President of the European Committee of the Regions, spoke very shortly. He said it was necessary to reform the Dublin Rules, which are part of the Common European Asylum System, and state that a person seeking asylum can only apply for it in one member state of the EU. The current problem with these rules is that the most common way to decide which country processes the application is based on the first EU country the asylum seeker enters, which has been Italy or Greece for a majority of the migrants since 2015 and they are therefore bearing an unfair amount of burden from the migrants. He also said that “when we speak of migration management we must also speak of integration of migrants” which refers back to the common theme of integrating and accepting migrants into society instead of preventing them from entering to start a new life.

Georges Dassis, President of the European Economic and Social Committee, discussed how many people’s perception of migrants has been strongly influenced by media and politics and is not based on fact. He also said that we are obligated on moral and legal terms to take in refugees, and that the legal terms were set in the Geneva Convention when the EU was dealing with refugees from Eastern Europe, pointing out the irony that now Eastern European countries in the EU are rejecting refugees. To close, he called for an overall holistic policy that included conflict resolution and state building, promotion of democracy and human rights, and development of civil society.

In conclusion, the conference was very interesting to take part in, not only because of the speakers who attended but also because of the way that the leaders came together and essentially delivered the same message to the European Council, and to the world, on their position on the migration crisis. In order to address this issue, the Common European Asylum System must be reformed including a new distribution key and changes to the Dublin rules, root causes for regular and irregular migration must be identified, transit countries in Africa must be supported with the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa and through long-term plans for sustainable development, bilateral and multilateral agreements concerning issues like relocation must be negotiated between member states and transit countries, and the attitude of EU member states as a whole must reflect solidarity and an agreement to support those in need by not only providing them with physical security but also by willingness to integrate them into their own societies. Overall, I think attending this conference was beneficial as an introduction into the European, as opposed to American, view of the migration crisis and will be an effective lens in which to learn about European Security.

House of Parliament and History!

June 20th, the day had finally come! We were finally able to get an official viewing of the EU parliament, along with a very detailed information session. We met our guide in the waiting area outside our info session room, and the first thing she pointed out was the large sculpture in the middle of the Parliament The sculpture was multiple stories high and was more than just a simple piece of art. The sculpture was called “Confluences” and was created by Olivier Strebelle. It was meant to symbolize the interdependency all the member countries have on each other and the relationship they all possess. The bottom of the sculpture resembled a tree trunk, meaning member countries all stem from the same goals while continuing to grow as one. This was a very insightful first introduction into the EU Parliament building. Then we were all led into the information session room and our guide began her lecture. The first couple of slides she quizzed on some information to see how knowledgeable we all were. After that, we began to cover specifics. First, she discussed the number of member states (28), candidates (5) and the potential candidates of the EU (2). That transitioned into a conversation about the issues some of those countries had that would prevent them from joining the EU. For example, Turkey was mentioned since it has always been a highly disputed country in regards to becoming a member of the EU. The 2016 coup attempt portrayed Turkey as a struggling country that may not be ready for democracy. Along with certain freedoms, such as press and media being extremely oppressed many Europeans are not enthusiastic about Turkey becoming a part of the EU. The next topic of discussion surrounded the UK withdrawal from the European Union and how that process might look in the next year or two. On March 29th, the UK gave the notification to the EU that they were planning on leaving. Then starting on April 29th through March 2019 the European Commission, Council and MEP’s will be meeting to support a healthy and fluid retraction of the UK from the EU. After discussing the UK, we jumped right into the specific policy challenges the EU faces in 2017. Our guide listed topics such as migration, Syria, Turkey, tax fraud and evasion, energy, Brexit, security and many more. Then we moved onto the key institutions of the EU. The first institution we discussed was the European Parliament. The Parliament represents the European citizens and has 751 members. It is the only directly elected EU institution and was the first international body directly elected by universal suffrage. The European Commission represents the EU interest and has 28 commissioners, so one from every member country. Finally, we discussed the Council of the European Union which represents the member states and has 28 ministers, so also one from every member country. Our guide then shifted the focus to the ordinary legislative procedure in the EU. First it begins with readings of the proposed law and then it is put in a conciliation committee. From there it goes into initiative control and is dispersed into the European Parliament and Council of the European Union for final decision. Finally, we finished off the lecture talking about directives and regulations. A directive binds any member state to its results but allows the national authorities to implement it in a way they see most fit. A regulation has a general scope, and is binding in all its elements. We specifically talked about the tobacco products directive in the EU. The directive made new laws concerning cigarette containers and the way they look and are marketed. For example, the text warning must take up more room on the package while the brand name is reduced in size and color significantly. These are just some examples of what directives can be in the EU. After we had our information session we were able to see the actual parliament room where all the action happens!

EU Parliament


My second activity assigned for this blog was the House of European History. This was by far one of my favorite museums we have visited during our time abroad. This museum showed how history has shaped a sense of European memory instead of through each country individually. There were 6 floors of this museum and we had a limited amount of time so I was only able to get to the first three floors. The first floor explained a lot of the mythology behind European history and the meaning behind a lot of the legends. For example, Europa supposedly took its name from an Asian princess which showed the interconnectedness of the regions. The myth goes that Zeus was so taken over by this Phoenician princess that he changed himself into a white bull. Europa was more attracted to this majestic animal than Zeus in human form and together they had three children, Minos, Rhadamanthus, and Sarpedon. The exhibit also went further into different interpretations and representations of these myths throughout the ages. During the Middle Ages the majority of myths changed origin form Greek Mythology to Christianity. Besides myth, many other aspects of life began to become extremely influenced by Christianity. For example, maps were often drawn less based on accuracy but instead to represent Christian symbols. Then, the next exhibit went on to portray Memory and European Heritage. These exhibits showed a lot of Aristotle and the idea of philosophy, as well as law, and the role it took in European History. As democracy was established so were the notions of justice and the rule of law. I found this exhibit particularly interesting because to demonstrate this idea they showed a more recent idea of this which were examples of state terror picturing a French guillotine blade and picture of statue called “state torture reimagined” of water boarding, the slave trade, colonialism, and humanism. After this I moved onto the third floor of the museum. The third floor focused a lot on different revolutions and nationalism. It also explored the Karl Marx idea of a classless and a communist society. This was the notion that since society emerged it has remained divided between classes who fight in the pursuit of class interests. This also concerned the of rise of industrialization and workers’ rights, including the development of worker’s cooperatives. Although, with the rise of nationalism comes the increase in warfare. This exhibit soon went into WWI and how during times of emerging nationalistic societies, war began to dehumanize people with the use of gas masks which were meant to break the deadlock of trench warfare. It went on to show walls of mass graves with the idea of the “unknown solider”. It demonstrated the terrors and terrible consequences of war during this time of European history. Overall, I thought the perspective that the House of European History put on the formation of modern Europe was extremely versatile and eye-opening. It demonstrated the reality of this continent’s history, in all its glory and gore.

Mass Graves

Gas Masks

Our First Day in Brussels

June 19th was our first official day in Brussels and it was a great one to say the least! We all settled in with our host families the night before and a got a good night’s sleep for our first big day in the city. The first item on the checklist was making sure we all had a metro pass for the next three weeks. The metro system in Brussels is extremely convenient and user friendly so no one had any qualms about using it as our main source of transportation. After everyone got a pass for the metro we started our short walk through the city to find a place to eat lunch. We eventually stopped at a perfect organic restaurant called Le Pain Quotidien. It had a huge selection of farm to table foods while satisfying the vegetarians and vegans of the group! After lunch we were on our way to taste some of belgium’s famous chocolates! Dr. Birchfield bought us all a variety of chocolates from two different stores. The first store we got a selection of milk and dark chocolate. The second store we had special heart shaped chocolate with raspberry filling. Overall I think everyone fell in love with the sweet side of Brussels that day!

After everyone got their fill of lunch and chocolate, Dr. Birchfield had to take a student to the doctor, and Emma took us on a little tour of Brussels. We walked through the city while she pointed out some main historical attractions. For example, the first attraction that we stopped by was the Royal Palace. The Royal Palace was first constructed between the second half of the 11th and first half of the 12th century but the building that stands today wasn’t built until after 1900 by King Leopold II. The Palace still functions as the residence of Belgium’s Royal Family today.

Another famous landmark is The Grand Place. The Grand Place was originally used in the 12th century as a busy trade center. Although, it is also surrounded by other important spots like the King’s House and the original Town Hall dating all the way back to the 15th century.

Another important location we visited in Brussels was the Cinquantenaire. The Arch was originally planned for the world exhibition of 1880 and was meant to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the independence of Belgium. However today, the various buildings of the Cinquantenaire are home to three museums and one mosque.The surrounding park is used for differing purposes like concerts, festivals and parades.

Martyrs’ Square is also a very important location of Brussels. The Place des Martyrs is a public square with different cabinet offices of the Flemish Government, built around the 18th century. More than just being a lovely town square it is also the it’s the burial site of many Belgians that died during the Revolution.

Finally, a more comical star attraction of this city is the famous little statue Manneken Pis. This tiny fountain statue is commonly referred to as the face of Brussels. There are many legends to why this statue is so famous and many question the origin of the art but to most it is a silly tourist attraction!

Overall, the first day of being in Brussels was about getting a good feel for the city and learning our way around. We were able to do this by having a nice morning with our host families and going out to lunch with our group. After walking around and eating lots of chocolate we were able to decide what we wanted to see in the city. Emma explained some of the major sites while the rest was up to us. A great first day!

The Royal Palace



Nous et Les Autres and Musee de l’Homme

The morning of june 12th, everyone in our EU program woke up with a feeling of anticipation. Today is the day we are to leave Metz for a city with more cafés, more historical monuments, more cathedrals, and a much higher population density. After stepping off the relaxing two-hour TGV train and into the chaotic streets of Paris, we headed to drop off our bags in our beautiful hotel located in the famous area of Paris in the Latin Quarter and right next to St-Germain-des-Prés. Surrounded by historically significant churches and fabulous high end shopping, it was a great introduction to Paris: très célèbre et très cher.

After getting settled in, it was time for us to do a follow up visit on a film we had seen in Metz called I Am Not Your Negro, a documentary that gave a compelling depiction of the history of racism in the US through the lens of James Baldwin’s personal recollections during the civil rights movements in the 50s and 60s. We took the metro over to the Musée de L’Homme, a museum that offers insight into the evolution of humans and human society, exhibits objects representing the history of human sciences, and raises awareness about modern-day and future environmental and societal issues. With racism, having been at the forefront of the US political environment lately, especially due to the increased police brutality associated with racial profiling and the problematic discourse used by our president during his 2016 campaign, the timing was perfect for us to visit thought-provoking exhibition at the Musée de l’Homme entitled Nous et les Autres (Us and Them), From Prejudice to Racism.

The exhibition Nous et les Autres is the first temporary exhibition organized by the Musée de l’Homme, offers a fresh perspective about racism, diversity, alterity, and equality of human beings today and throughout history by responding to three overriding questions: What is racism? Why does it exist? And Are all humans racist? The exhibition is especially unique because of its interactive component, it completely submerges the guest to become more of a participant than an observer through the use of touch screen games, 360-degree videos, and creative object display cases.

At first when you walk in, you see a wall filled with terms and definitions of some concepts that are common in the academic world, but sometimes difficult to understand or define concretely. Among them are racism, essentialization, discrimination, and a term that we discussed in length during class one day: ethnocentrism, which was described as “an attitude that involves promoting the cultural characteristics of one’s own group, which are taken as a yardstick for assessing other groups, and regarding the latter’s characteristics as secondary, without necessarily being hostile towards them”.

The exhibition was organized into three main segments: Me and Them, Race and History, and The Situation Today. The first part, “Me and Them” challenges the visitor to reflect on their own sense of identity, the differences between individuals, and how these create stereotypes, prejudices, and racism. The principal element of this segment that stood out to me was a simulation where the visitor walks through various doorways while a sound system simultaneously projects/shouts discriminatory phrases at them.

The second part, “Race and History” began with a room that showed a timeline of accounts and significant dates relating to institutional racism dating all the way back to the 16th century. Most of the older accounts were related to European colonization and slavery, but the timeline also included books written and scientific studies published. The one that stood out to me was published in 1837 and entitled: The Brain of the Negro, compared with that of the European and the Orang-Outang by F. Tiedmann.

As the visitor walks further through the exhibition, three rooms are set up that were projecting films about some of the most significant cases of institutional racism: one about slavery in the United States, one about the Holocaust, and one about the Rwandan genocide. In the “theatre” room that projected the short film about the holocaust, a gas chamber funnel from a concentration camp was placed in a clear display at the middle of the room, which was a truly heinous sight. Directly in front of me sat the vessel that was used to diffuse the Zyklon B which murdered hundreds of thousands of human beings during World War II; the Nazi’s means to achieve their ends of perceived racial purity. Even more stunning yet, the label underneath the funnel stated that it was from the concentration camp at Natzweiler/Struthof, which is the very concentration camp that our group had visited just days earlier. I have studied and read about the atrocities committed on behalf of nationalism, racism and discrimination for years, but the exhibition Nous et les Autres displayed them artfully as a reality which I was forced to confront.

The third and final part of the exhibition entitled “The Situation Today” included a circular table with touch screen computers and head seats placed in the middle of the room. The walls were covered with information, statistics, graphs, figures and images that depicted studies conducted by social scientists which show how certain minority groups still suffer noticeably from unequal treatment and discrimination. Most were conducted by the National Institute of Demographic Studies and concerned immigrants and their integration in the French population. It was especially interesting to see the minority groups that struggled disproportionately with discrimination in Europe in comparison to my knowledge of discrimination in the US, and it was important to see how minorities struggle globally to receive equal treatment especially in the hiring/employment process.

Nous et les Autres left everyone in our group with a much deeper understanding of the importance of the principle of equality. It set up a clear trajectory for how the categorization of one another based on our perceived differences as humans can lead to horrific acts ranging from discrimination to extermination, and used sciences to disprove the legitimacy of racism. Racism assumes the differences between us as humans form the basis for hierarchy, and unfortunately attributes value to these differences that make us unique. I left Nous et les Autres wishing I lived in a world where diversity and equality could peacefully coexist, but also hopeful that exhibits like these and documentaries like I Am Not Your Negro will help raise awareness about this problem and bring us all one step closer.

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