GT in the EU

An extraordinary education

Month: July 2017 (Page 2 of 3)

Meeting Sophie in ‘t Veld

Today was our last day in Brussels, and we visited the European Parliament for our final time.

Our speaker was Sophie in’ t Veld. in ‘t Veld is a Member of the European Parliament from the Netherlands. She is currently a part of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, and she previously served on the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs. She also was a member of the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality.

She briefly introduced herself to us, and we got to ask her questions right away. Our first question concerned women’s rights in Europe. in ‘t Veld began with a simple statement, “It is everyone’s duty to promote gender equality.” She emphasized that external policies are required to effectively fight against inequality. As well, she believes that standards must be set in terms of EU policy areas–issues such as abortion rights should not be dealt by the European Union but by local and national governments.

In terms of current immigration issue, she explained that she simply cannot accept the fact that many European countries are so unwilling to receive more immigrants. It is not fair to say, she said, that Italy needs to process paperwork for such a big number of immigrants simply due to its geographical location. She compared the percentages of accepted immigrants by different countries, and it was clear how so many countries can do so much more, yet many of them continue to live under fear of the new influx of unknown faces. Along with that, she talked about how the new rise of conservative beliefs and populist ideas are related to the “fear of the new” that the people have today. People tend to stick to what they know during the times of instability and uncertainty. They attempt to counter the flow of new development and go back to how it was in the old days, and such phenomenon can be explained through recent events such as the presidential election of the United States and Brexit.

She continued to respond to more of our questions in areas of environmental policies, data protection and privacy, and security. Despite the less-than-an-hour time that was given for this meeting, Sophie in ‘t Veld gave us so much insight and her own views on the issues that we considered pressing. One thing she said that stuck to me the most: “The fact that we can be sure that we will not have a war… that already means that we are incredibly successful.” We thanked her for her time and her passionate talk. I really wished we had more time to talk to her, because she was certainly my favorite speaker that we got to talk to throughout the program.

We headed back to our homes right after the meeting, and we got our (packed) suitcases and headed to the Brussels Central Station! Our last visit to the European Parliament was an excellent way of finishing our three-weeks-and-a-half journey in Brussels. We said final goodbye to the country of delicate chocolates, mannequin pis, frites, convoluted government system, and genuineness. On our seven hour ride to Berlin, I got to reflect on the days that I truly got to enjoy in Brussels. I am more than sure that I will come back in the future–hopefully with my much improved French.


Today we started out meeting at the train station Starbucks for a one hour train ride to Brugges. Along the way, a lot of us studied for our upcoming “security” quiz which was to take place at the College of Europe conference room once we got there. However, upon our arrival we were informed that there was not a room ready for us, so instead we took the quiz sitting against one of the canals. It wasn’t too bad. Immediately after, we hopped aboard a canal tour which was to take us through the city. One of the first things the tour guide said was that we were not to trust her, because as she was not an officially train tour guide, everything she was about to tell us could have possibly been a lie or myth. Either way, she did have some very interesting facts to offer.

~For one, the bell tower in the city’s center leans exactly one meter to the right.

~Religion was very important in this city, which is why the 7 words of charity were engraved on the city’s gable.

~At one point all of the swans in the city were kept together in confinement because they were believed to have carried a disease, and upon release there existed a social hierarchy with certain swans dominating other inferior swans.

~At one point we passed by a statue of Nyobi, who was laying down looking into the river. She apparently was the extremely proud mother to 14 children, but lived to see the slaughter of all of them because she wasn’t humble enough. And thus, she cried so much that her tears created a river. So we were wading through Nyobi’s tears.

~Animals on the tops of buildings were carved there so that they would scare away ghosts.

After the boat tour, we went our separate ways to get lunch. The place that a few others and I went to was like a fast food pasta place. Quite good and filling for only 5 euros. After that we did some walking around, and ended up at a bakery that served some delicious cakes and tartes. Very delicious. At this point it started raining, so for the rest of the time we just walked around. We saw the city center with the market area, as well as the bell tower (although we didn’t go inside.) It was a very cute little town, and had a nice sort of charm to it. In a way in reminded me of a smaller version of Amsterdam, at least with the canals and the way it set up. Although it was definitely is a mix between French and Dutch cultures,  there was definitely a strong German vibe there.




NATO Part 2

*Disclaimer: all comments made to us at NATO were made off the record, and are not official statements*

After a long lunch and a trip to the gift shop, we continued our visit to NATO with a briefing from Geta Medeleanu, a member of the Romanian Delegation to NATO. Mrs. Medeleanu has only been a part of the Romanian Delegation for one year, as a counselor in the political section of the delegation, but spent 18 previous years in the Romanian Diplomatic Service.

The primary focus of our briefing was the impressive strength and duration of the relationship between Romania and the U.S (145 years!). Mrs. Medeleanu reiterated a fact made to us earlier by Dr. Markley, that Romanians have a very positive view of the U.S., even if they aren’t the biggest fans of Donald Trump. She also elaborated on the extent to which the Romania-U.S. relationship goes by describing the “Joint Declaration on Strategic Partnership for the 21st Century Between the United States of America and Romania”. This partnership includes measures for ballistic missile defense where the U.S. assists in protecting Romania’s eastern border, promotion of economic cooperation through trade and investment between Romanian and American companies, and even educational connections through scholarships and student exchanges.

Logo for the ten year anniversary of Romanian membership to NATO in 2013

As for Romania’s role on NATO, Mrs. Medeleanu described Romania as punching above its size, meaning Romania contributes significantly more to NATO than people would expect. Romania is a contributor to several ongoing NATO missions including Afghanistan (of which Romania also contributes additional support to the U.S. effort in Afghanistan outside of NATO), preserving stability in Kosovo, improving cybersecurity in Ukraine, and supporting one of their neighbor countries, Moldova. Romania is also an advocate for Georgia’s membership to NATO, and has an expert on the team helping to support this goal in Georgia, as well as being one of pilot states for the #WeareNATO campaign. In terms of the controversy of President Trump’s statements on the burden sharing of NATO members and the 2% defense spending threshold, Mrs. Medeleanu assured us that Romania was one of the few countries who met the 2% threshold. This, I later discovered could be false, given Romanian President Klaus Iohannis said in his press conference with President Trump in Washington D.C. that he was committing Romania to increasing their defense spending from 1.4% to 2% by the end of the year.

Romanian President Iohannis meeting with President Trump at the White House in June

As we came to the end of our time with Mrs. Medeleanu, she described to us the fun tradition of the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest’s 4th of July parties, of which the theme this year was baseball. I think I can speak for my fellow students in saying that this celebration of U.S. Independence Day by Romanian citizens was an interesting and authentic view of the deep relationship between the two nations.

Our next and last speaker of the day was Commander Don Dasher, a Georgia Tech alum (go jackets!). Commander Dasher started in the Navy using his prestigious civil engineering degree from Tech before coming to NATO and becoming involved in the more international affairs related side of the military.

Our briefing started in a different style from the ones previous with more of a quiz on our NATO knowledge, instead of having it lectured to us for the millionth time. We hopefully impressed him by knowing when and why NATO started (1949, to combat Soviet expansionism), how many members there are (12 in 1949, 29 now – 2 North American and the rest European), the article from which the NATO members derive the right to create the organization (Article 51 of the UN Charter), and the most well-known article of the two-and-a-half-page NATO treaty (Article 5, collective defense).

The next phase of our discussion was more question and answers based, about topics we didn’t know as much about. One of the topics I found most interesting, was about the functioning of NATO meetings in several different languages. NATO has two official languages, English and French, but people can still use their native languages to speak, which requires dozens of interpreters and translators. The translation process can sometimes make the negotiation process difficult because the same words or phrases can’t always be translated into different languages. Commander Dasher gave us the example of the U.S. saying at English that they want to walk, but perhaps there isn’t a word for “walk” in another language, so the French, for instance, hear “run” and start reacting because that’s way too fast. So then, the U.S. has to communicate to the French that they want to do as clearly as they can, so both sides understand the process, method, or whatever is being discussed. Commander Dasher said himself that this wasn’t the best analogy, but I think we all understood the underlying concept.

After this briefing, our long day at NATO (and separation from our cell phones) was over. Overall, our briefings today gave us interesting insights into the role and functioning or NATO through several different personal perspectives. I believe that we all left with a deeper understanding and appreciation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, even though they took our phones.

Group photo outside of NATO in front of the member state flags

NATO Part 2

As soon as we stepped off of the bus at the NATO stop, two daunting buildings came into view- one the new NATO building, not yet ready for use, and the NATO building that has been used by NATO since its establishment in Brussels. Immediately, security came up to us to lead us to the security booth. We had to leave all electronic devices at the gate, so sadly (but understandably) there are limited pictures from the day. We were given visitor passes and then ushered into a conference room for our first speaker.

Our first speaker’s name is Allison Hart, and she is the Executive Officer of the Public Diplomacy Division of NATO. The first thing that she said was that we all must agree that everything that she and the next speaker said was strictly off of the record. Because of this, I cannot cover the exact things that were said and discussed; however, I will give a general overview. She laid out the structure of NATO and how decisions are made and actions are implemented. NATO is an organization where decisions must be made unanimously, meaning more times than not it takes extensive talks and debates before any actions are decided upon as a body. She also reiterated the point that the well known Article 5 has only been used once, and that was after the 9/11 attacks. Surprisingly, the United States was not the one to ask to invoke the article. Rather the other nations were the ones asking to help. Additionally, the initial help was not to begin attacking in the middle east, but to come to the United States and assist with securing the air space. After outlining NATO’s structure and past actions, we were able to ask questions about her opinions on current events. As stated previously, I cannot state her responses, but topics that were covered include the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Crimea, and cybersecurity.

The next speaker’s name is Diego Ruiz Palmer, and he is the Special Advisor to the Secretary General and a part of both the Economics and Security Assessments Unit and the Emerging Security Challenges Division. He went over his roles in all three parts, as well as covering some of NATO’s history in decision making. His views on why NATO sometimes chose to not take action or could not agree on an action to take were insightful. He too left time for questions, and the class mainly asked questions regarding his role on the Emerging Security Challenges Division. NATO has to think both in the short term and long term when it comes to this division to ensure that they will be prepared for any risk that could come their way, including things like nuclear deterrence.

Both speakers engaged all of the students and provided us with information and insight that we could have not gotten anywhere else.


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