GT in the EU

An extraordinary education

Author: Amanda Olenczuk

European External Action Service – making the voice of Europe heard in the world

Today we woke up bright and early in order to prepare for the high level foreign policy related briefings from officials at the European External Action Service, which is more commonly referred to by the acronym EEAS.  The EEAS is the institution in the European Union that acts almost as a diplomat by carrying out the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy. As the world’s second largest economy (in nominal terms) and unique geopolitical situation, the European Union is undoubtedly a top global actor. They play an important international role in a number of areas including diplomacy, trade, humanitarian aid and development, migration, crisis response, financial matters and promotion of human rights. The EEAS brings coherence and coordination to all of these roles. In addition, it is responsible for carrying out the CSDP or Common Security and Defense Policy, and comprises the collective military expertise of the EU, which is crucial for peace-keeping operations and crisis management. The EEAS harmonizes all these policy areas, even in the context of an increasingly globalized world where Europe is facing a complex and uncertain security environment.

If all of this sounds complicated, a good comparison to help understand the role of the EEAS is to think of it is the equivalent to the US foreign affairs or the US department of state. Except that instead of doing diplomacy on behalf of the American people, the EEAS does it on behalf of the European citizens of 27 different nations; making sure their voices, and the collective voice of the Union, are heard all over the world. The representative of this job is called the High Representative, a position currently held by Frederica Mogherini, who also sits in on the European Commission meetings and the council of EU foreign ministers. The High representative position is a great symbol of how the EU coordinates its foreign policy by working closely with other EU institutions.

The first briefing we had the privilege of taking part in was by Mr Martin Dihm, the Senior Strategic Communications Advisor of the Strategic Communications Division of the EEAS, a highly qualified official who was previously the EU ambassador to Papua New Guinea. The subject of this briefing was the function and role of the European External Action Service. In addition to what I described previously, I found it incredibly fitting that he opened the briefing with a discussion about when the EU received the Nobel peace prize in 2012, emphasizing how the European Union primarily began as a project to facilitate peace among its member states after decades of war and far-reaching devastation. Even when talking about the origins of the EEAS, it’s imperative to understand it in the context of the European peace project. This was the first of three main points he asserts are crucial to the role of the EEAS in terms of European stability: peace, economic prosperity, and power. “The EU is rich” he put simply, and accurately, to summarize his discussion about the strength of the euro as a currency and the wealth of the European economy in terms of purchasing power. Economic prosperity is key to ensuring a stable Europe, and the single market is largely responsible for this prosperity. His final point was about the power of Europe, asserting that the EU creates a louder and larger voice through which all the member states can speak together. This is essential to understanding the importance of the European External Action Service, because as I mentioned earlier, it is the vessel through which this voice is heard throughout the world.


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The subject of the second briefing was especially relevant due to the recent US political environment: EU-US relations. The briefing was given by Mr Rafal Domisiewicz, an EEAS Policy Officer with Polish origins who works primarily in the US Canada Division. Recently, because of the upcoming NATO defense ministers meeting, the media has been covering the infamous and repetitive complaints by Donald Trump that the EU (or rather, 23 out of the 28 member states in his imprecise assertion) “owe massive amounts of money” and don’t pay their fair share for defense. Domisiewicz did a tasteful job of highlighting this issue by opening with a statement that building relations with the US is often about trying to emphasize the added value of the EU (to the US), and maintain that Europe is a valuable partner both economically and politically. He also discussed the Marshall Plan in a way I found unique, especially because I have studied the Marshall Plan in many different contexts – history, cold war ideological struggle, and European Union integration, you name it – but he explained it from the US perspective in a very novel way. He asserted that the Marshall Plan was never merely an altruistic gesture by the US, but that in addition to helping rebuild Europe after WWII it was most importantly an investment in the America’s own security interest because it helped the US gain strategic allies. This strengthened his argument that Europe is important and a vital asset in the strategic national security interest of the US. Of course, the Marshall Plan was one of the most important foreign policy initiatives to form the foundation of the EU-US relationship that exists today, one that has lasted for decades because of our shared values, the most important of which are human rights, democracy, and a free market according to Domisiewicz. He finished by mentioning that recognizing and maintaining these values is key to achieving our common interests on the global stage, notably in the military cohesion, space, energy, and trade sectors.

The third and final briefing was given by Mr Angel Carro Castrillo, on the subject of the global strategy for the European Union’s Foreign and Security Policy. Castrillo was an official of French origins, and a Senior Adviser in the Strategic Planning division of the EEAS. Castrillo used a simple equation (something the engineers in our group have been long missing at this point in the trip) to concisely explain the premise behind the EU’s global strategy for their foreign and security policy: shared vision + common action = a stronger Europe. To unpack that equation a bit, he meant that the volatile status of the world around calls for a more confident and responsive European Union, which requires an outward and forward looking European Foreign and Security Policy. This means that solidarity is vital among member states, because working together in a unified way will help the EU be more effective in achieving its objectives. He synthesized the argument for the importance of EU integration down into a phrase that will probably always stick with me: “There are two types of European states: small ones, and those who don’t realize they are small”. To me this means that a united Europe holds an economic and political weight that is much more profound than that of any individual member state. With an increasing number of factors challenging the internal cohesion of the EU, like growing inequality, the age gap, and climate change, speaking and acting with one voice and one united policy is the only way for Europe to maximize its interests in the current international environment. Visiting the institution that facilitates this process was a unique and compelling experience, and our group left with a much deeper appreciation for how European integration is necessary both for the prosperity of Europe and its strategic foreign partnerships.

Nous et Les Autres and Musee de l’Homme

The morning of june 12th, everyone in our EU program woke up with a feeling of anticipation. Today is the day we are to leave Metz for a city with more cafés, more historical monuments, more cathedrals, and a much higher population density. After stepping off the relaxing two-hour TGV train and into the chaotic streets of Paris, we headed to drop off our bags in our beautiful hotel located in the famous area of Paris in the Latin Quarter and right next to St-Germain-des-Prés. Surrounded by historically significant churches and fabulous high end shopping, it was a great introduction to Paris: très célèbre et très cher.

After getting settled in, it was time for us to do a follow up visit on a film we had seen in Metz called I Am Not Your Negro, a documentary that gave a compelling depiction of the history of racism in the US through the lens of James Baldwin’s personal recollections during the civil rights movements in the 50s and 60s. We took the metro over to the Musée de L’Homme, a museum that offers insight into the evolution of humans and human society, exhibits objects representing the history of human sciences, and raises awareness about modern-day and future environmental and societal issues. With racism, having been at the forefront of the US political environment lately, especially due to the increased police brutality associated with racial profiling and the problematic discourse used by our president during his 2016 campaign, the timing was perfect for us to visit thought-provoking exhibition at the Musée de l’Homme entitled Nous et les Autres (Us and Them), From Prejudice to Racism.

The exhibition Nous et les Autres is the first temporary exhibition organized by the Musée de l’Homme, offers a fresh perspective about racism, diversity, alterity, and equality of human beings today and throughout history by responding to three overriding questions: What is racism? Why does it exist? And Are all humans racist? The exhibition is especially unique because of its interactive component, it completely submerges the guest to become more of a participant than an observer through the use of touch screen games, 360-degree videos, and creative object display cases.

At first when you walk in, you see a wall filled with terms and definitions of some concepts that are common in the academic world, but sometimes difficult to understand or define concretely. Among them are racism, essentialization, discrimination, and a term that we discussed in length during class one day: ethnocentrism, which was described as “an attitude that involves promoting the cultural characteristics of one’s own group, which are taken as a yardstick for assessing other groups, and regarding the latter’s characteristics as secondary, without necessarily being hostile towards them”.

The exhibition was organized into three main segments: Me and Them, Race and History, and The Situation Today. The first part, “Me and Them” challenges the visitor to reflect on their own sense of identity, the differences between individuals, and how these create stereotypes, prejudices, and racism. The principal element of this segment that stood out to me was a simulation where the visitor walks through various doorways while a sound system simultaneously projects/shouts discriminatory phrases at them.

The second part, “Race and History” began with a room that showed a timeline of accounts and significant dates relating to institutional racism dating all the way back to the 16th century. Most of the older accounts were related to European colonization and slavery, but the timeline also included books written and scientific studies published. The one that stood out to me was published in 1837 and entitled: The Brain of the Negro, compared with that of the European and the Orang-Outang by F. Tiedmann.

As the visitor walks further through the exhibition, three rooms are set up that were projecting films about some of the most significant cases of institutional racism: one about slavery in the United States, one about the Holocaust, and one about the Rwandan genocide. In the “theatre” room that projected the short film about the holocaust, a gas chamber funnel from a concentration camp was placed in a clear display at the middle of the room, which was a truly heinous sight. Directly in front of me sat the vessel that was used to diffuse the Zyklon B which murdered hundreds of thousands of human beings during World War II; the Nazi’s means to achieve their ends of perceived racial purity. Even more stunning yet, the label underneath the funnel stated that it was from the concentration camp at Natzweiler/Struthof, which is the very concentration camp that our group had visited just days earlier. I have studied and read about the atrocities committed on behalf of nationalism, racism and discrimination for years, but the exhibition Nous et les Autres displayed them artfully as a reality which I was forced to confront.

The third and final part of the exhibition entitled “The Situation Today” included a circular table with touch screen computers and head seats placed in the middle of the room. The walls were covered with information, statistics, graphs, figures and images that depicted studies conducted by social scientists which show how certain minority groups still suffer noticeably from unequal treatment and discrimination. Most were conducted by the National Institute of Demographic Studies and concerned immigrants and their integration in the French population. It was especially interesting to see the minority groups that struggled disproportionately with discrimination in Europe in comparison to my knowledge of discrimination in the US, and it was important to see how minorities struggle globally to receive equal treatment especially in the hiring/employment process.

Nous et les Autres left everyone in our group with a much deeper understanding of the importance of the principle of equality. It set up a clear trajectory for how the categorization of one another based on our perceived differences as humans can lead to horrific acts ranging from discrimination to extermination, and used sciences to disprove the legitimacy of racism. Racism assumes the differences between us as humans form the basis for hierarchy, and unfortunately attributes value to these differences that make us unique. I left Nous et les Autres wishing I lived in a world where diversity and equality could peacefully coexist, but also hopeful that exhibits like these and documentaries like I Am Not Your Negro will help raise awareness about this problem and bring us all one step closer.

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