After a fun night of dancing at Autoworld thanks to Jacob/Jack’s lovely host family and a beautiful weekend with our own individual host families, we were all refreshed and ready to go to the European Commission this morning.
The European Commission is the legislative body of the European Union. They are made up of 28 commissioners from each of the 28 member states. The current President is Junker from Luxembourg. We then went through security and took a group picture before going upstairs to our briefing room to first get informed by a representative of the Commission on the inner working of the European Union as well as a more detailed description of how the European Commission operates. Our speaker described an overall timeline of European Integration from the Schuman Declaration in 1950 to the establishment of the EEC in 1957 through all the enlargements and Treaties to bring us where we are today. The European Commission generates the ideas for proposals while the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament are the decision making bodies that approve the legislation. There are four main roles of the Commission that were described to us. Those being: right of initiative, policy and budget implementation, guardians of the treaty, and the international dimension. There are 20-30 proposals every year and there are also 10 key priorities of Junker’s Commission:
Our speaker then went on to describe these in more detail. He focused mostly on priorities one through six due to lack of time. When describing number one, increase in jobs and investment, I thought it was interesting that he stated Europeans would benefit from having a similar small business policy like we have in the United States. In regard to priority two, we learned that Europe still has many borders within the digital single market. There needs to be legislation to further integrate the telecom market and we were told to keep an eye on a new regulation coming up in November. For three through five his explanation was fairly straight forward. They highlight the need for a widening of EU integration in the fact that for priority three the commission can only give advice and allocate money from the budget towards climate change they unfortunate cannot enforce regulations. And for four and five to achieve a deeper and fairer market and union we need more agreed upon integration. Priority six was a good segway into a deeper conversation of trade policy as our speaker specialized in trade himself. He hit on defining topic such as the transition from a common market to a customs union, the four freedoms, the EU treaties, as well as standardization. One of the key issues that stood out to me was the problems that have arisen with the Free Movement of Workers. While this was initial brought to my attention as one of the core arguments of Pro-Brexit individuals, I was more struck when my host father brought up this problem at the dinner table one evening last week. He explained to us how his own individual company made up of Belgian engineers and architects was competing with workers from Poland and Romania that were offering to do the work for much less. This real life example helped put in perspective the EU legislation that we have been studying the past few days and I hope that the new legislation put in place two weeks ago will effectively be able to enforce a standardization across the EU.
After a quick coffee break we then heard from our next guest: Jan Vandenberghe. He played a key role in the TTIP negotiations and is a senior trade advisor as well as deals with U.S. Canada relations. He briefed us on the growing divergence between the U.S. and the E.U. ‘s trade policy, especially with the United States pulling out of the JCPOA and putting tariffs on EU products as of June 1st of this year. We also spoke about the EU’s retaliatory tariffs specifically targeting Levi’s, Harley Davidsons, Tennessee Whiskey and American farmers that are going into effect later this week. It still remains to be seen if this statement will be effective but regardless it shows that Europe will not be pushed around by the United States. It was interesting to hear about Europe’s reaction to the United States pulling out of the Iran Deal, and how they will continue to do business in Iran especially the smaller companies that don’t have an easy way around the tariffs. Mr. Vandenberghe also spent time going over procurement funds and describe to us how the EU is working on gaining further access at the individual state level instead of federally because of how closed off the current administration has been with the US markets. The EU wants to improve on the public procurement front before further liberalizing their markets. All in all, we gain so much valuable information and much more detail into transatlantic trade relations.
We then ended today a little early and split off to get lunch in downtown Brussels. After that Angelica and I headed back to our host family quickly to watch the soccer matches of the day. The Red Devils (Belgium) played at 17h and the British played at 20h. Both teams won their matches and it has been really fun being able to watch how supportive the Belgian people are of their team here in Brussels. There are flags in windows, every pub plays the game and people paint their faces as well as wear jerseys and scarves. They have a great team this year; who knows they might even win the whole thing!