GT in the EU

An extraordinary education

Month: June 2018 (Page 2 of 6)

Council of the European Union and China Presentation

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.

Build the Highway!, the Death of Memes, and Why Not 100 Scenarios?

After visiting the EEAS earlier in the day, we headed to the European Parliament to attend a couple of briefings by MEPs. But before we went in, we ran into demonstrators from all over Europe, who were protesting all sorts of issues, from shady politics in Romania, to the EU’s proposed new copyright laws, to Donald Trump.

The first protest we noticed was about a highway in Romania, but all their signs said Moldova, which was a little confusing at first. Since we were puzzled by what their sign saying “Moldova vrea autostrada” meant, we approached them and asked them about their cause. They explained to us that the Romanian government is purposely withholding funds that it should be spending to build a highway between the Moldavia (sic) region and the rest of Romania, apparently to keep the area underdeveloped. After looking into this, I learned that they were referring to the “Autostrada A8,” which is a project that has been in the planning since 2007, and remains in the “feasibility studies” stage to this day. Oh, and it turns out that what the sign says is “Moldova wants the highway.”

There were also events observing World Refugee Day, one of them being a dance by the Syrian ballet dancer, Ahmad Joudeh. According to the Socialists and Democrats group (S&D), the event sought to highlight the positive things that refugees are doing around the world.

Outdoor ballet performance by Syrian dancer Ahmad Joudeh celebrating the United Nations World Refugee Day. Source: EP

One of the demonstrations that immediately caught our attention consisted of a group of six women holding signs that read ‘STOP TRUMP.’ They came all the way from Greece to tell the MEPs that Trump is a threat to minorities and women. They did not expect any action to be taken by the European Parliament, they just wanted to share their message.

After talking to some of the demonstrators outside the parliament, we proceeded to go inside the parliament for our briefings. The first meeting was with Mady Delvaux, an MEP from Luxembourg and member of the S&D group. She is the Vice-chair of the Committee on Legal Affairs, which that day had just voted 13-12 in favor of the new EU Copyright Directive. The directive was a hot topic of discussion during the briefing, especially articles 11 and 13, that could restrict the access to news publications online, and force websites to have a copyright screening mechanism for all content uploaded by its users. MEP Delvaux voted against this directive, citing that it would be detrimental to the access of news online, and will hurt smaller, rising websites while it benefits the already well-established platforms.

Meeting with MEP Mady Delvaux

Sign Outside the Parliament Protesting the new Copyright Directive

The new directive could also infringe on the right to freedom of speech, making the internet less open, less free. Oh, and did I mention that article 13 will have the unintended effect of basically ending internet meme culture? Yeah, the internet is not very happy about that. Here are just a couple of memes to protest the likely extinction of memes as we know them.

MEP Delvaux was out to another meeting as we prepared to meet with Mr. Tamas Meszerics, a Hungarian member of the Green Party. Our discussion with MEP Meszerics touched on several important issues facing the EU, but one that stood out the most to me is what the EU is going to do about its own future. Naturally, the question about what his preferred scenario is came up (from the five scenarios presented in the White Paper on the Future of Europe). Mr. Meszerics’ response to this question was very different to every other we had received on this issue. First, he pointed out that none of the scenarios said a word about institutional change (to be expected since it was published by the Commission). Second, placing policies conveniently into packages creates fake consensus, and is manipulative, said MEP Meszerics. Why 5 scenarios? Why place Juncker’s preferred scenario in the middle? Why not 12 scenarios? Or 100? The conversation with Mr. Meszerics was a very interesting one, and it covered many issues from an angle that we had not been exposed to before.

A Day in the Life of the High Representative- Our visit to the EEAS!

This lovely Wednesday morning we are heading to the European External Action Service, or the EEAS. I arrived at our meeting location, Exki—a grab and go restaurant with lots of healthy food options (and a new group favorite!)—a few minutes early so I grabbed a tea. I met up with the rest of the group shortly after and we walked next door to the EEAS.

After checking in and going through security, we were escorted to a press briefing room where we remained for the rest of our visit. Our first briefing was from a Strategic Communications Officer who presented to us some information on the role of the EEAS.

The EEAS was formed in January of 2011 with the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty. It was meant to be a platform for policy coherence and to find common ground between the three main EU Institutions—the Commission, the Council, and the Parliament. The main roles of the EEAS are to be the voice of the UE, work on a common foreign and security policy issues with member states, have a strong relationship with the United Nations and other international organizations, and to be responsible for EU delegations and offices around the world. There are over 140 delegations of the EU around the world! Essentially, the EEAS is the EU’s foreign ministry. It is headed by the High Representative, who is currently Federica Mogherini of Italy (and a favorite of Dr. B’s). She’s kind of like the EU’s foreign minister, and represents them internationally.

Federica Mogherini, the current High Representative

We discussed the main priorities of the EEAS, which include security and defense, supporting global governance, working to foster world peace, and helping the peace process and agreements. The EU and its member states is the largest funder of development aid and one of the largest humanitarian donors. This is one of the ways that the EU stays true to its value of championing human rights and supports the EU as a peace project. We talked more about the variety of Civilian and Military peacekeeping operations before moving on to areas of defense and security. There is a connection between climate change, migration, and terrorism that contribute to areas of conflict and tension. These tend to be areas where the EU sends peacekeeping missions. We learned a lot in this briefing!

Our second briefing was more specific to EU/US relations. We discussed security, trade, energy and climate, and foreign policy cooperation with a specialist in EU and US policies. The EU is the United States’ largest trading partner and many EU member states are also NATO allies. The United States has a long and friendly relationship with the EU. With the new administration imposing tariffs on aluminum and steel, and the EU responding with tariffs of its own, it threatens to destabilize the current world order. There are also different perspectives of the US and EU relationship depending on regions of Europe. Western Europe is more concerned on its trade and economic relationship, while Eastern Europe is more concerned with security due to its neighbor being Russia. The development of the EU and US relationship over the next few years will be one to keep an eye on, and any drastic changes will be felt across the globe.

We concluded our time at the EEAS, but the day is not over yet. We split off into groups for lunch, and we will be meeting next at the European Parliament for meetings with MEPs!

Swimming with the Big Fish in the Think Tank

Our journey to the Centre for European Policy Studies began later in the day than any of our previous site visits, at 16:30. We were met with the vibrant personality of John Peterson. His contagious smile and quick remarks left us all ready to hear more.

Instead of just beginning with a spiel about himself, he asked to hear a little more about us. We each described our favorite part of the trip thus far. Answers ranged from all the various institutions we have visited to more broad responses. These broad answers touched on the cohesion of the European Union amidst great cultural diversity, and how our visits to the various institutions have lent themselves to analysis of the differing perspectives of different institutions.

Once we had gone around the table, it was time to hear from the experts. While MEP Richard Corbett was meant to be the one briefing us, he had important business that kept him in London. Understandable, especially since this is a bit of a tumultuous time for the United Kingdom. In a pinch, John Peterson was able to rally some of his colleagues to give us a fascinating view from the thinktank itself.
As we moved on to the perspective of the think-tank employees, the mood turned more somber. Our first presenter began discussing how he thinks the EU has failed to make drastic changes since he first moved to Brussels. He highlighted that a lot of this lack of progress stems from the locations of the various institutions, which is detailed in the treaties. For example, he described these red boxes in the Parliament building in Brussels that contain material that must be shipped to Strasbourg because of the incidence of there being two Parliament buildings.

We then moved to a more positive note with the talking points on the summit agenda coming up at the end of the month. The agenda includes Brexit, migration, the deepening of the banking union, and the probable accession of Albania and Macedonia. On the idea of Brexit, one of the students wanted to understand what exactly the exit of the United Kingdom will look like. The conclusion seems to be that no one truly knows. There will have be a transition period, due to the fact that Article 50 was triggered with no plans in order for an exit strategy. Overall, though, British citizens are surprised about how little Brussels today is concerned with Brexit. This is due to negotiations being extremely compartmentalized within the institutions.

Our next briefer was involved in the economic policy unit at CEPS and also happened to be from Italy. As there is quite a bit going on with the Italian government at the moment, it was interesting to hear about it from the perspective of an Italian citizen. The newly elected government is a coalition government that is sympathetic to Trump and Putin and has agreed on a loose fiscal policy, which will increase the country’s debt further. As of right now, Italy has a 130% debt in relation to their GDP and has experienced low growth since the Great Recession. Although the EU has already experienced a debt crisis with Greece, Greece accounts for approximately 1% of the EU economy, whereas Italy accounts for 12% to 13%. This crisis would be more disastrous to the European Union than any other. Due to this situation, the EU is justifying moving some of their budget to Southern European countries. This may also be a scheme to remove some of the funding from Hungary and Poland, where there is democratic backsliding.

To wrap our meeting up, we briefly touched on whether the Trump administration will drastically change the trajectory of the EU-US relationship. I think that while it may put a major stall on the process, it will not change the trajectory completely, but the next president will have major bridges to build.

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