Continuing on our tour of the various European Union (EU) institutions, we visited the Council of the EU this morning. We were lucky enough to have received two briefings from key advisors in the council. We loved seeing the ornate modern architecture of the Council building, as well as getting the chance to visit the Council as it is about to transition from the Bulgarian to the Austrian Presidency in a few days on July 1, 2018.  We also saw the Nobel Peace Prize display. The medal was given to the EU in 2012 for it’s global advancements in peace, democracy, and human rights.

Our first briefing was from a representative from the Secretariat of the Council. We received an overview of the roles, functions, and priorities of the Council of Ministers as well as the European Council. He provided a clear and concise explanation of the EU trilogue system of passing legislation between the Council of the EU, the European Commission, and the European Parliament. He also explained the nuances of translating legislation into the 24 official languages of the EU. The Council employs special senior translators, referred to as “loyal linguists” in order to ensure that the law retains its intended meaning across all the member state’s languages. Additionally, we learned about the multi-layered revision processes within the Council, starting with revision in the small working parties and committees, then moving on to revision in the COREPER structure (a revision body made up of permanent representatives to the Council), and lastly moving up to voting of approval by the Ministers in the Council.

Next, we were briefed by Susanne Nielsen, a specialist on the migration crisis. We learned about the multiple different challenges facing the three main routes of migration into Europe; Sub-Saharan Africa to Spain, Libya and Northern Africa to Italy, and The Middle East to Greece through Turkey. We discussed the EU’s plans to invest in northern Africa and the Middle East, as well as work with migration officials in Turkey in order to fix the crisis to decrease the flow of migration into Europe.  EU coordination on development aide in these regions is critical at this stage in the crisis. We also learned about Frontex’s coordination with the Italian, Spainish, and Greek naval forces on a few very important maritime missions. They are working to rescue the migrants fleeing to Europe on insufficient makeshift rafts, which often capsize in the Mediterranean Sea, leading to numerous drownings. The work these organizations are doing is saving a ton of lives.

After our visit to the Council building, we were off to to Euroflat Hotel for a briefing on “The Dynamics Between Europe and China” from Theresa Fallon, Director at the Center for Russia Europe and Asia Studies (CREAS). We learned about China’s increasing foreign direct investment into Eastern Europe, as well as their one billion dollar infrastructure investment through the One Belt One Road initiative, designed to increase international trade to China. We also discussed Europe’s fears of a “G2” world order with the US and China as the world’s two competing superpowers due to China’s rapid rise to power. Some key areas of concern are the unbalanced trade and investment relationship between China and it’s trade partners (specifically the US and the EU), as well as China’s inadequate workers rights, lack of environmental regulation, and heavy censorship. We all thoroughly enjoyed Ms. Fallon’s talk about China’s relationship with the EU.

Lastly, Hamid, a student on the program, gave us an extremely informative presentation on the history of US-Iranian relations. We covered the history of the primarily amenable but now more adversarial relationship between Iran and the US government, starting from the 1953 coup in Iran until present-day. For me personally, the history of the Middle East is a topic that I am not very knowledgeable about, so I found it very interesting to learn things like the US’s long history of supporting Iranian military development as well as the 1979 Iranian revolution, including the peaceful stepping down of the Shah (the Islamic monarch at the time) and his replacement by the Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. I also didn’t know that this revolution was the impetus for global conflicts such as the energy crisis of the late 1970s, the Iran-Iraq war, and the Iran Hostage Crisis.

For me, the most interesting part of our day was listening to Hamid’s personal anecdotes on the state of his home country of Iran. He shared with us the chilling story of a family friend who is trying to inspire progressive social change in the nation, however he is being heavily persecuted for his views, which oppose the nations traditional Islamic values. This gentleman was giving a speech at a political gathering in Iranian Assembly, in which he shared his progressive ideals. He received shouts of insults claiming that he “should be buried right underneath the nuclear power plant reactor.” The man left the podium in tears. Hamid relayed to us his disappointment in the current state of Iranian politics, and his concern that the USA’s unexpected decision to pull out of the Iran Nuclear Deal will only further escalate the political problems of the country. It was inspiring to me to see a fellow student so actively engaged in the global political dilemmas, and his will to change the troubled state of the Middle East today. Through our daily exposure to key issues facing the world stage, I hope that this study abroad program fosters that same sense of commitment  to build a better future for us all.