GT in the EU

An extraordinary education

Author: Lucia Lombardo

Peace Prevails

Today was our second day in The Hague, Netherlands. Our site visits were meant to focus more on international law rather than human rights, like yesterday’s visits covered. Our first stop was the Peace Palace Visitor’s Center, where we were able to take a self-guided tour of the history of the palace and its courts. The Peace Palace houses the Court of Arbitration and the International Court of Justice, among other bodies. The Court of Arbitration was the first established in the Palace in 1899, supported in large part by the United States. I thought this fact was interesting because the U.S. is not a member of most international criminal courts. Another interesting fact about this court is that it is not a court by traditional means. It can only organize tribunals to help resolve conflicts between countries. The International Court of Justice, however, can indict countries. In the history presentation I learned that Andrew Carnegie, the steel entrepreneur from the States, gave 1.5 million dollars for the Peace Palace to be built, with the one condition that it house a library. Today, only international law students needing research and justices from the courts are typically allowed entry. As we were about to leave the palace, Dr. Fabry surprised us all by saying his book is in the library (but he’s never been allowed to go in).


After an amazing sandwich lunch at the Blossom Café, where we had warm apple pie, we headed to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, or ICTY. We first watched a short documentary on the Prijedor war crimes resulting from the ethnic cleansing in the region in the early 1990s. The documentary was hard-hitting and laid out facts of the tribunal. Of the 161 persons accused of crimes, there have been 80 convictions thus far. The tribunal has been working for 20 years and is being shut down in 2017. Listening to recordings of witness and accused testimony was chilling but also incredibly important because it showed just how much a court was needed to deal with the aftermath of the crisis in the area and how the tribunal is working so that this never happens again in the region. Our speaker was the head of the outreach program at the ICTY and originally from Serbia. Her talk about the trials and what her office is doing with school kids around the world was fascinating to me. She told stories of going to schools in Bosnia and Herzegovina and being met with resistance because so many people there still deny the atrocities ever occurred. Another fact she mentioned was that this tribunal was the first to make sexual violence as a war crime punishable in the court. She followed this up by stating that 40% of the accused had this charge levied against them.


After the briefing we had the chance to visit the courtroom where many of these trials have taken place. While we were there no hearings were happening so we could sit and talk normally about the room. One thing our guide mentioned was that witness protection was of utmost importance to the court and pointed out measures to keep their identities if they wished, private. The glass was specially made to not allow visitors to see the face of the witness while testifying. There is also a 30 minute lag between what is said in the courtroom and what is aired online. This gives the cameramen time to cut any sensitive information that could lead to the identity of the witness. Finally, on the viewing screens, if a witness is remaining anonymous, their face and voice will be distorted. This site visit was probably the most interesting one we’ve had since arriving in The Hague and I know we all came out knowing exactly why the ICTY and similar tribunals matter and why we must be vigilant to deter this type of violence from happening again.

Tourist in Stockholm

Today was our third day in Stockholm and our second free day. From the moment I stepped off the train I knew this city would be amazing. Everything from the architecture to the canals to the people is beautiful and unique. This past weekend was filled with sightseeing and I know we each walked at least double the daily steps amount. Saturday was a free day and a group of us walked across one of the many bridges to the old town, which is on an island in the middle of a canal. Here you can see historical churches, the Parliament, the royal palace and tight, European-style cobblestone streets. We walked all around the island and visited the palace for the changing of the guard ceremony. We also were able to partake in multiple gelato runs this weekend as there’s seemingly an ice cream shop on every corner.

Sunday we went to a different island, again crossing from the mainland via a bridge, and visited the modern art museum. There we saw videos depicting art in sound, saw elaborate sculptures of mushrooms, and also viewed contemporary painted artwork. The museum was huge and had so many exhibits we couldn’t get to them all before our canal tour. The canal tour proved to be very useful for directions since most of the main paths in Stockholm follow the water. It lasted for approximately an hour and included commentary about buildings along the canal, including the first Absolut vodka processing plant. Dr. Birchfield treated us to a traditional Swedish dinner after the tour; most students ordered Swedish meatballs, a dish talked about in the States but almost never made.


Today was another free day and I was determined to use it to my advantage. A group of us walked back to the island hoe to the modern art museum and instead walked around in the Djurgarden, a large park that almost covers the island. It actually used to be hunting grounds for a house on the property but now belongs to the government and families live on the water in some of the old houses. We took a breathtaking walk around the water, getting views of geese, which were out in full force, and the surrounding countryside. The old homes were beautiful to look at and the boats docked were enormous. It was then that we decided to rent a boat and cruise around the river, getting views from another point of view. It was surprisingly easy to do this; we got lunch to go and rented a Go Boat, a popular tourist attraction in Stockholm, to use on the water. This was very different from the States, where you almost always need a boating license to drive anything on the water with an engine. We had an amazing time on the water; it was a sunny day with almost no current or waves. I already like Stockholm better than any city we’ve been to thus far on the program; it’s so vibrant and bustling, like a U.S. city, but has the historic architecture that makes you feel like you’re in a period drama.


Tomorrow we have a busy day of site visits; we go to the Swedish foreign ministry as well as the Parliament. I’m glad we’ve had a chance to be touristy in this city before we leave and that the weather has been (pretty) good to us so far. I’m looking forward to our last full day in Stockholm tomorrow and am already looking forward to leaving for Paris this upcoming weekend!

The European Commission

Today we went to visit and be briefed on the European Commission. The Commission is one of the three decision-making bodies within the EU and is independent from both the Parliament and the Council of Ministers. The Commission is composed of one representative from each member state, totaling 28 in all, and represents the member states’ interests in the EU. We were scheduled to have two briefings, one on the Commission’s role in the EU and the other on the implementation of the EU migration policy proposed by the Commission. Our speaker for both lectures was Ludo Tegenbosch, the Directorate-General for Communication.

Over the course of our stay so far in Brussels we’ve heard a lot about the Commission since it is the body responsible for proposing all new policies. We’d already toured another of the decision-making bodies, the European Parliament, and so I was excited to see how the two compared. Our first lecture was very information-heavy, with a lot of overview of the structure. The current president is Jean-Claude Junker, elected in 2014. There are seven vice presidents below the president, with the current first vice president being Frans Timmermans. Timmermans also sits in on the Parliament sessions, and I had a chance to see him last week when we toured there. Our speaker also discussed the EU in general, including a fact I found interesting, which is that the EU is known as a UPOL, or unidentified political body. This is because of its unusual structure and unique abilities, such as having speaking rights at the United Nations, the only international organization to have this. From there we dove further into the Commission, including how speakers are arranged in their meeting room and the Treaty on the Function of the European Union, or TFEU. This treaty set out, among other items, special procedures for when the Commission must share its ability to begin proposals. The two procedures are the consultation procedure, which states the Council of Ministers has the right to consult with the Commission on certain items, and the consent procedure, which says the European Parliament has the right to reject items such as trade deals right off the bat, giving a big chunk of power to the Parliament. Finally, we discussed how the Commission works with the member states’ national governments on competences; this is broken down into three areas. The first is exclusive competences, where the Commission has complete authority; the second is shared competences, which is as implied by its name, and the third is supporting/coordinating competences. This section includes areas headed completely by national governments, including tourism and health of citizens.

After a quick coffee break we rejoined our speaker for the second lecture, this one on the migration policy and refugee crisis. This lecture was very interesting to me since every site visit we’ve gone to has addressed this issue in some form. I always love hearing from different perspectives, especially on an issue as complex as this one is. We opened the talk with a quote by the Commission president, Junker, from when he took office in 2014; “I was an EU that is bigger and more ambitious on big things and smaller and more modest on small things.” This quote helped to put the migration policies since enacted into perspective; Junker’s aim is to provide as much assistance as possible on this very large issue, while keeping the EU’s borders tight and its citizens safe. This led us to discussion on the Common European Asylum System (CEAS); this has not been fully implemented by all member countries and our speaker stressed the importance of this system being put in place as quickly as possible. One reason he gave was to show unity in the face of the refugee crisis; this system also will help make the migrants’ transitions easier if all countries have a common policy. This system ties into its proposed Dublin Regulation, which aims at making one country in control of all asylum applications, to streamline the process and avoid refugees “asylum shopping,” or trying to find the most lenient member country to apply for asylum to. We finished up the lecture talking about challenges facing the Commission and its proposals, which included strengthening the EU’s presence at sea, fighting human traffickers while staying in accordance with international law and reinforcing internal solidarity and responsibility.

This visit was incredibly informative and we were fortunate enough to have a very educated speaker. What I learned from the site visit helped me start to draw connections between the Commission and the Parliament, and I know when we visit the Council of Ministers I’ll gain an even deeper understanding of the EU’s inner workings. Tomorrow we head out to SHAPE, the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Powers of Europe, for an all-day security briefing, which is sure to be engaging.

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