GT in the EU

An extraordinary education

Author: John Crawford

The OECD, George C. Marshall Center, and German Marshall Fund

Our first site visit of our busiest day in Paris was to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OECD. The OECD began on September 30, 1961 as a joint platform between the United States, Canada, and twenty other countries to be used originally for the funds given for the economic rehabilitation of Europe in the devastating aftermath of World War II. Today, the OECD continues to recognize the interdependence of the economies of its 35 member states as well as Key Partners like India, Brazil, and China, and it works to analyze, discuss, and propose solutions to problems or barriers to economic cooperation and success. In fact, as a non-authoritative body, the OECD primarily concerns itself with this analysis, acting as an economic watchdog. Member states apply peer pressure and publish evaluations to ensure concepts like fair trade and competition are respected and upheld. We were lucky enough to have representatives of both the United States and the European Union speak to us, and they presented perspectives of their involvement within the OECD and how they differ. Notably, the U.S. representative, Georgia Tech alumnus Alexander Bryan, highlighted that the U.S.’s economic relationship in the OECD on a working level has not been altered, and he touted its key role within the Organisation, espacially as an essential watchdog with its biannual peer economic evaluations. The EU’s relationship with the OECD was interesting because it isn’t a signatory, but is rather a Special Observer. This important distinction means that while the EU has an active seat at the table of member states, it has no voting power and cannot initiate any projects. It is also does not have any obligatory financial responsibility, though it is the second-largest financier of OECD projects after the U.S. Following these two speakers, we were briefed by a representative of the Trade and Agriculture Department, who explained the challenges facing international trade such as negative public perceptions and digitalization. We were all wholly impressed with the quality and depth of the information and the speakers themselves, and left the OECD more aware of the need for economic interdependence and the proliferation of such a positive interaction within the international community.

Posing with Alexander Bryan after our excellent briefings at the OECD

Next was our visit to the George C. Marshall Fund off of the Place de la Concorde. Originally the house of the French aristocrat Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord and later the Rothschild family, the Center’s current residence is furnished with lavish wallpapers, plenty of beautiful chandeliers and intricate wood panelings, and, in true Parisian fashion, its fair share of gold leafing. Our brief tour walked us through the history of the building and showcased all of the former diplomatic apartments. We finished in a large dining room and joined a group of MBA students from Westminster for our briefing by U.S. Foreign Service Officer Suzanne Marie Yountchi. Mrs. Yountchi is the newly-installed Primary Secretary to Economic Affairs and provided a fresh perspective on not only U.S.-French economic relations, but also to the life and career of Foreign Service Officers. She also spoke on the issues presented by the digitalization of the economic market, but specifically commented on how France, as a personal project of President Macron, is trying to boost its startup industry by taking notes from Germany and the U.S. on how to encourage young entrepreneurs to stay and develop the domestic economy. Yountchi has only been in Paris for a few weeks and was very transparent about what she was learning and the process of becoming settled in an new country, and we so appreciated her taking the time to speak to us as she was still acclimating and transitioning into her new role.

Touring the George C. Marshall Center

We finished our day with a conversation at the German Marshall Fund center here in Paris.  A representative of the thinktank shared its perspectives on French politics, France’s activity and place within the international community, and France’s relationship with the European Union. One of the most interesting points our speaker commented on was President Macron’s perceived misjudgment of how to manage the France-U.S. relationship with the Trump administration. He stated that Macron seemed believe that following his visit to the White House and meeting with Trump, which was generally perceived as positive and constructive, he thought the resulting relationship was strong enough to influence Trump’s attitudes on issues like the Paris Climate Agreement, the U.S. relationship with the EU, and the JCPOA, or the Iran Deal. However, when Macron had no impact on any of Trump’s statements or action, he found himself depleted of social capital with nothing to show for it, and has since taken a much harder stance against the current U.S. administration’s policy. Later, I had the opportunity to ask how he foresees France responding to the U.S. and UK’s isolationist policies and resulting power void and shift in world order, and he echoed the Franco-German partnership that many of our other speakers also predicted emerging in the coming years. This, to me, is evidence of the success of the European Union’s original mission as a peace project between France and Germany. Time and time again, experts and professionals in economics, politics, society, or some combination of all three pointed to this relationship as becoming a leading world power, both within the EU and globally. 

Discussing French current political affairs at the German-Marshall Fund

Today was generally full of optimistic and intellectually-stimulating conversations about stable working relationships between publicly at-odds entities, the continued successes of post-WWII-era projects, and the future of the international community. There are plenty of challenges that have either presented themselves in full force, are only beginning to emerge, or are predicted to materialize in the future, but there are equally as many organizations and individuals who are ready to respond to these challenges with an equal amount of gusto and determination. As I look at the itinerary for the remainder of the week and the conclusion of our time here in Europe, I realize how much progress we have made and how much we have grown as students over the past nine weeks. Not only do we have extensive exposure to a dozen of current event topics, developments, and crises, but we are able to have in-depth conversations with experts about these issues in a very engaged and intellectual way that I would bet none of us foresaw on May 14 back in Metz. Since this is my last post, I would like to emphasize how much I have appreciated the opportunities and experiences this study abroad has provided me, and how grateful I have been to be able to learn and see so much and to meet so many incredible people. I look forward to benefitting even more from our last site visits and to spending our remaining week together here in Paris!

Bastille Day in the City of Light

We woke up early this morning, bid our hotel and Berlin farewell, and took two public buses to the airport for the last leg of our study abroad in Paris. After going through a very lenient baggage check and equally thorough security check, many of us spent the next several hours waiting to board the plane by preparing for our upcoming EU-US summit simulation and composing our reflections on our site visits in Brussels and The Hague to the Human Rights Watch office and International Criminal Court, respectively. Something I’ve really appreciated over the course of this summer is not only the content of our site visits and the places we travel, but how the arrangment of both is structured in a way builds upon what we’ve already learned with more complex experiential learning. One of the core components of the foundation of the European Union was a declaration by Robert Schuman announcing that France and Germany would unify the core parts of their economies, so concluding our program and study of the EU in the hearts of the capital cities of both countries seems natural and means significantly more than if we started in either city back in May.

Paris upon arrival was as breathtaking, as was to be expected. We departed the airport on the RER line into the city, transferred to a connecting metro line, and walked the remainder of the distance to Hotel Bonaparte. The hotel is quaint and within walking distance of the Seine, Notre Dame, the Louvre, and other Parisian icons, and I’m sure we will take advantage of our location for sightseeing throughout the week. After spending enough time at the hotel to freshen up following our day of traveling, we set out for our dinner cruise along the Seine to celebrate Bastille Day. What an experience! We were joined by American diplomat and Georgia Tech alumnus Johnny Jones for our cruise and shared the small boat with a group of American families.

Waiting to board our dinner cruise on the bank of the Seine

Our courses included a plate of delicious hors d’œuvres, chicken and pasta, and an assortment of desserts. The view of Paris on either side of the river while we were dining were no less rich and splendid. From our tables we watched the boat glide past the Assemblèe nationale, the Concergerie, Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, and the Eiffel Tower. I doubt we could have asked for a better introduction to the cultural treasures of city.

The Assemblee Nationale lit in patriotic colors

Our view of the Alexander Bridge

After we finished our meal, we sat outside on the deck and prepared to watch the fireworks, and it was then that the City of Light lived up to its nickname. It’s difficult to articulate in words how magnificent it was to be on the Seine looking at the Eiffel Tower sparkle with lights and explosions of color against a backdrop of more fireworks-and on France’s National Day, no less! French citizens and tourists alike lined both sides of the Seine and covered bridges, waving flags and enjoying the camaraderie of celebrating together. There was a strong sense of communal joy and excitement, and it was electrifying. I was reminded of all the times I watched the A Capitol Fourth production in Washington DC on the Fourth of July with my family, and I imagine the energy must be the same. I doubt any of us will forget the experience we shared tonight for years to come, and it was the perfect way to begin our final week of the program in Paris.

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!

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