GT in the EU

An extraordinary education

Month: May 2018 (Page 2 of 2)

Tour of Downtown Metz

The day started with gorgeous weather, a theme that fortunately lasted for the duration of our three hour walking tour through downtown Metz. Our group, including special guest Dr. Alasdair Young, met slightly earlier than our designated time for a quick ice cream break, a stop that I’m sure no one had complaints about! I opted for the caramel and chocolate chip which I would HIGHLY recommend!

Caramel & chocolate chip ice cream!

We met our tour guide, Vivian, in front of the Cathédrale Saint Étienne de Metz and while we were waiting we were lucky enough to get to witness a wedding party outside of the city hall. Vivian explained that in France, the wedding party goes to the city hall to witness the couple legally get married and then they all move to a church or a religious ceremony place, followed by a reception dinner that often lasts until one or two AM! (She recommends bringing comfortable shoes if your are ever invited to a french wedding).

Our tour guide Vivian

French Wedding

Vivian then took us into the Cathédrale Saint Étienne de Metz, the third tallest cathedral in France, where we were all awestruck by the forty two meter high vaults and the seemingly endless collection of stained glass windows. There are 6,500 meters of stained glass windows in the cathedral, enough to cover the soccer stadium that FC Metz plays in. Some of my favorite pieces were the ones by modern artist Marc Chagall in 1960.

Marc Chagall stained glass window

Metz Cathedral

After the cathedral, we made our way down to Rue Taison, the street to visit the legendary Graoully. Legend has it that Graoully terrorized Metz in the third century, so the people of Metz begged Saint Clement to vanquish the dragon. He accepted under one condition — the people of Metz accept Christianity. Desperate to get rid of Graoully, the people accepted and Saint Clement led the dragon to the river where it was never seen again. The gossip of the town is that Graoully drowned because everyone of course knows that dragons are terrible swimmers!


After visiting Graoully we walked over to the Le Fonds régional d’art contemporain de Lorraine, a project funded by the French Minister of Culture that hosts public exhibits and showings of regional contemporary art. It houses many exhibits by local artists in order to promote and education the public about art and culture in the region. One of the artist manipulated the rust on a pipe and created a amazing map that left us all in amazement.

Le Fonds régional d’art contemporain de Lorraine

World map made by rusting techniques

Afterwards, we made a couple more short visits to to the Sainte-Ségolène Church and the Église Saint-Maximin de Metz. The Sainte-Ségolène was a stunning church in the birthplace of Metz that holds the oldest stained glass window in Lorraine. The architecture of the outside was absolutely breathtaking (pictures don’t do it justice!). Vivian said that her favorite church was the Église Saint-Maximin de Metz, a small Romanesque church that houses stained glass windows designed by the famous Jean Cocteau. Jean Cocteau was truly a jack-of-all-trades — a filmmaker, poet, writer, artist, playwright, and designer. You might know him from his famous 1946 film Beauty and the Beast! He was a societal rule breaker and often strayed from societal norms, but ironically people loved him and he proved to be quite famous. The Église Saint-Maximin was gifted to Jean Cocteau as a place to hold his stained glass window designs. He designed the windows from 1960-1961, but unfortunately never got to see his life’s work as he died from illness in 1963.

Sainte-Ségolène Church

Sainte-Ségolène Church

Église Saint-Maximin de Metz

Jean Cocteau stained glass window

After touring a street of million-dollar French homes, we ended at our last stop which was the train station. Located in the Imperial Quarter, the train station was built during the German Empire’s annexation of Metz in the early 1900s when the Germans attempted to integrate the region into German culture. The architect, Kaiser Wilhelm, wanted to make the citizens feel more German, so he designed the building with heavy German influence. The station was voted most beautiful train station in France in 2017.

Gare de Metz

The walking tour was enlightening, but exhausting! We all took a short drink beverage break before heading off to our delicious three course meal at a restaurant not far down. The day left me estatic for rest of the trip — not only because I get to explore more of the gorgeous city of Metz, but also because I get to do it alongside great company! 

The Treaty of Lisbon, Institutions of the EU, Boat Rides, and Flam

We began the last lecture day of the week by diving into the details of the Lisbon Treaty as a conclusion to the prior day’s lecture. As Maddie mentioned in yesterday’s post, the Lisbon Treaty is the most recent treaty to be ratified and enacted by the European Union. As a whole, the EU hoped that the Lisbon Treaty would address the democratic deficit that was so often criticized by eurosceptics and increase the efficiency of the EU’s processes as well as make those processes more comprehensible and transparent. Externally, the EU hoped to increase its political clout by strengthening its ability to shape foreign policy positions and agendas. Indeed, the origins of the Lisbon Treaty can be traced back to the ineffectiveness of the Treaty of Nice. Several member states asserted that the Nice Treaty failed to adequately prepare for future expansion and the increased democratic processes for which they had hoped. Therefore, the Convention on the Future of Europe began in 2001 to discuss the next steps for the EU. This Convention was unprecedented in the history of the EU because instead of only allowing member states’ participation, a wide range of participants attended, including representatives from member states, candidate states, national parliaments, the European Parliament, and the European Commission. Dr. Birchfield was quick to highlight this point as a direct contradiction of the technocratic nature so often attributed to the development of the EU. After all, how can something so heavily attended by such a wide variety of representatives of different governments and populations be elitist?

We then walked through the rough-and-tumble process that tends to be international political decision-making to discuss how the Constitutional Treaty produced by the Convention was transformed into today’s Treaty of Lisbon. Essentially, the initial Constitutional Treaty hoped to constitutionalize the EU by creating a self-standing body of text as opposed to merely amending prior agreements and legislation. This text would unify member states under the concept of supranational law and the primacy of such law over national governments and establish cultural symbols like a common flag and anthem. Interestingly enough, most of the proposed institutional changes were widely accepted by member states, but many had severe reservations about constitutionalizing of the EU, citing disagreements with other states’ ruling governments, persistent euroscepticism, and fears of an overly liberal and social Europe. I would also agree to a certain extent that the Constitutional Treaty’s blatant formatting of the EU’s supranational authority threatened the pride of nations, as agreeing to such official measures of consolidation would challenge a nation’s identity. It makes me wonder if that degree of integration is even possible in the near future, and if this was maybe an early indicator of the increasing prevalence of nationalist movements we see in today’s political landscape.

The Lisbon Treaty did indeed restructure nearly every major EU institution. The directly-elected European Parliament’s (EP’s) seat count was granted co-decision power with the Council of Ministers for 95% of decisions, and the election of members of the EP also now impacts who the European Council proposes as the European Commission President. It granted national parliaments a method of subsidiarity control for challenging Commission proposals. The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, initially lacking legal validity upon its proclamation in 2000, was granted the same value and force as all other Treaties. The Treaty also institutionalized the troika system of Council presidencies to standardize goals and created a new institution and established a new institution, the European Council, to maintain intergovernmentalism.

After breaking for lunch, we moved away from the Lisbon Treaty and began to discuss the institutions of the EU. As an institution, the European Council is comprised of heads of government that formally meet at least four times annually at summits to establish policy directions and make declarations. Meanwhile, the Council of Ministers, or Council of the European Union, is a second intergovernmental institution that acts as a decision-making body. The Council of Ministers touts national interests as its prime focus and is divided into ten committees. The Committee of Permanent Representatives to the EU (COREPER) is comprised of several dozen diplomats who shape meeting agendas for the Council of Ministers. This Council cooperates with the only directly-elected international legislative body: the European Parliament. Aside from co-decision making, the EP is tasked with reviewing all EU actions through a democratic lens. Each member country is guaranteed six members of the EP (MEPs) to guarantee representation for each major identity on the political spectrum. Currently, there are eight affiliations for MEPs, and to form a new political party, a minimum of twenty-five MEPs from seven states is required.

The basis of the European Union lies within the concept of pooled sovereignty. Something that struck me in particular today while studying the composition of the EU was the willingness to be vulnerable that the member states need to possess. A democratic state exists to serve its people. Sacrificing sovereignty and the protection that comes with it because a state believes the end result will better its population is a fascinating concept. Historically, weaker states were detrimental to their populations, and here we have the EU, full of member states choosing to become weaker to benefit their populations. The intergovernmental trust between the member states is unprecedented in modern history. The Brexit crisis, which Pedro discussed in class during his member state presentation today, has caused nations to become aware of how affected international relations are by the EU, both internally and externally, and I look forward to seeing how this first test of interstate reliance impacts the future of this sustained vulnerability between member states.

The Group with our life vests reppin’ Georgia Tech on the waterfront

Following class this afternoon, Dr. Birchfield treated us to boat rides on the Moselle river through historic Metz. We divided into two boats of five and one boat of eleven and cruised our way past beautiful churches, murals, balconies, and other scenery. We managed to pull all three of our boats together for a group selfie, and not a single person fell into the water. Most of us ate dinner afterward at a local restaurant that specializes in flammekuecheor “flam”, the local (and far superior) version of a flatbread pizza, and celebrated the end of a successful first week of our program. I look forward to learning more about the EU, delving into my personal interests in intergovernmental relationships and national sovereignty, continuing to explore the city and culture, and eating more flam!

EU Study Abroad 2018!

Hello from Metz! We all arrived on Monday after a long journey from all over the world. This year, I am excited to have the honor of serving as the program assistant before heading off to graduate school in the fall. We a diverse group of 20 students, and of course, Dr. Birchfield will be with us for the whole 10 weeks. Dr. Markley will join us for a few weeks to teach the human rights courses and Dr. Young will give us some lectures next week. Head over to the Center for European and Transatlantic Studies website and click the EU Study Abroad tab to find the latest itinerary for our learning adventure. As an overview, we’re in Metz (at Georgia Tech Lorraine) until early June before heading to Brussels. Afterwards, we’ll visit The Hague, Paris and Berlin.

After arriving yesterday, we each settled into our individual rooms before heading over to the GTL welcome party. Here is a picture of the group for this summer taken with the program’s GoPro camera which we will use to log our summer activities.

The Group

After meeting some of the over 250 students participating in the GTL study abroad program, Dr. Birchfield treated us to pizza. We all got to know each other, and I’m really excited to work with such a great group of students.

On Tuesday, we started off by attending the GTL Orientation where we heard about important issues such as the honor code, computer and security procedures. We also participated in a tour of the campus and enjoyed lunch in the CROUS cafeteria. Most students thought that the food was really good!

After lunch, we had an introduction lecture where Dr. Birchfield gave us an overview of the summer program. We then headed into Metz and took our first trip on Metz Public Transportation to Place de la Republique. From there, we walked over to the Place d’Armes and got to see the famous cathedral up close. At the Place d’Armes, we ran into the Mayor of Metz, Dominique Gros and Dr. Birchfield introduced him to us.

The Mayor of Metz, Dominique Gros

The Group with the Mayor of Metz

You’ll notice that it looks like we are on a train. That’s the train touristique!! We started at the Place d’Armes and headed to the Place de la Comédie. Along the way, we saw the cathedral and the marché couvert (covered market). We then headed to the Tour Belle Isle, the Arsenal, and the Tour Camouffle. We also saw the old train station, Place Saint Louis and the Haut de St Croix. During the tour, we learned about Metz’s key role in the region throughout the years. Metz is currently the capital of the Lorraine region and the Moselle department in France. Before this, Metz went through 3 wars in less than 100 years (the Franco-Prussian War, WW1 and WW2). Metz was also an important Roman city, the birthplace of the Carolingian dynasty (Charles Martel and Charlemagne). Metz’s history shaped the region and we will be studying most of this. I’m excited for this summer and look forward to the rest of the blog posts. I’ll be back at the end to write a summary! A bientot!

May 16 2018

Dr. Birchfield began the lecture today by asking our class to give the key highlights from yesterday’s lectures. Cue, blank stares and students flipping through their notes. Fortunately, Dr. Birchfield helped us out and asked who the five people from the Schuman documentary were. The five founders were Monnet, Schuman, Spaak, Gasperi, and Adenauer. Our lectures mostly focused on Monnet and Schuman, but it was cool to hear about the other founders and see how their backgrounds shaped the creation of the European Union. It was also noted that the Post-WWII order shaped the EU in focusing on democratic principles. Next, a student commented on the theme of the European Union as a political or economic institution. While the EU has many economic components such as the ECB and single monetary market, there’s also political components such as common EU citizenship. Some only see the EU as an economic institution, but I believe the EU is both an economic and political institution as the economic components are a result of the political structure of the EU. This opinion of mine was further iterated when Dr. Birchfield later commented that the EU has legislative, judicial, and executive bodies just as any democratic government has.

Next, Dr. Birchfield started the new lecture topic: From SEA (The Single European Act) to TEU(The EU or Maastricht Treaty). She opened an explanation of two acronyms which are the 4 Is and 4 Cs. The 4 Cs have a definite order which are cooperation, consensus, compromise, and crisis. Cooperation is the willingness to assemble. Consensus is the decision-making process and a guiding principle of the EU. Compromise, the most integral step, is an agreement achieved by each side making concessions. Lastly, there is crisis like the refugee crisis. The 4 Is (interests, ideas, institutions, and individuals) are in no particular order as the students were asked to pick and justify his or her chosen order. My order is interests, individuals, ideas, and institutions. I am an economist at heart, so I believe that interests drive individuals. Individuals produce ideas, and these ideas result in the creation of institutions. Some people argue that ideas go before interests, but I think that interests guide and influence ideas.

After our discussion over the acronyms, we briefly covered the ESCS (European Steel and Coal Communities) and Rome Treaties. The ESCS was the marvel idea to have joint production of Germany and France’s coal and steel and set prices. It was a huge success despite the slight overproduction. The Rome Treaties of 1957 established the Euroatom which reflects the political nature of the EU and the EEC reflects the economic nature of the EU. In respect to the political vs economic debate, Thatcher and CDG regarded the EU as an economic institution. On the other hand, Delors and Shuman saw the EU as both and a supranational federation. I agree with Delors and Shuman because I believe that the EU as a supranational federation enables the 4 freedoms of the EU.

Then, we went over the Single European Act created by Delors. It aimed to prepare and create a single market. Its most important features are relaxed passport controls, more common policies, competition policy, and equal rights on gender. Delors also formed the EMU which laid the groundwork for the euro through the establishment of the ECB and convergence requirements. I think the ECB as an independent federal bank is vital to a function single market. However, I question how the convergence requirements were enforced because some countries like France and Germany could not agree if it should be enforced before or after the introduction of euro. Dr. Birchfield also discussed the Maastricht Treaty which she argued is the “cornerstone in articulating the EU.” It utilized the three-pillar system, created the common European citizenship, and principle of subsidiary. I find the principle of subsidiary quite unique and efficient because it allocates policy making authority to the level that would be most efficient and produce the most benefits. Most importantly, the Maastricht Treaty led to the creation of the euro which stabilized prices. I found it quite surprising that complete euro circulation took about 10 years, but it makes sense because there were so many currencies that needed to be taken out of circulation. At this point in the day, we took a break from lecture to pick up our bikes!

Next, the Amsterdam Treaty of 1997 was enacted. It demonstrated the interest of social Europe and idea of Common Foreign and Security Policy(CFSP). The Social Europe component made provisions for those negatively affected by globalization while the CFSP focused on coordination trade and commercial policy. In 2001, the Nice Treaty was implemented in order to prepare for the 5th enlargement. It mainly included institutional changes such as how many MEPs each member state would get. Dr. Birchfield noted that the Nice Treaty was poorly designed. I did some research and discovered that the treaty failed to address the incorporation of the Charter of Fundamental Human Rights which added to the issue of a lack of solidarity on positions. The complicated pillar structure was kept which inhibits some transparency. Furthermore, the treaty did not endorse constructive compromise over bargaining. Bargaining instead of compromise directly violates the second and third Cs: consensus and compromise. Consequently, bargaining continues to be an issue in the EU leading to an inability to cope with crises such as Greece’s financial collapse.

Following the Nice treaty, we briefly covered the Lisbon Treaty which eradicated the three-pillar system and make the EU more democratic. The EP and Council were given more power in order to counterbalance against the Commission. I find this change evidence of the EU’s democratic nature as it limits the executive’s power. Limiting the executive’s power is a fundamental principle of Lijphart’s majority consensus model. Like Dr. Birchfield, I find the EU to be democratic. However, there can be improved transparency and encouragement of citizen participation. I find the eurosceptics akin to revolutionaries who want to scrap everything and start over. I, on the other hand, am a reformer. The EU has a lot of great aspects, and problems that can primarily be resolved through reforms. It is wasteful to destroy a beneficial institution because of a few flaws. I think the convenience of the euro, EU citizenship, and prosperity of inter-trade benefit so many people, including the eurosceptics. Hopefully, the eurosceptics realize this and are willing to compromise.

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