GT in the EU

An extraordinary education

Author: Madeline Furlong

May 30 2018

Around 8:30 AM, our class boarded the bus and headed out on our next adventure. Today, we visited the Verdun memorial, a WWI museum, the Verdun museum, and the Verdun trenches. During the bus ride, we shared our feelings of anxiety about the upcoming exam. I felt prepared but anxious because I do not like tests. However, all of us were grateful to get the exam out the way before going to Brussels. I took a short nap, as many others did, during the bus ride. 40 minutes later, I awoke to sites of manicured fields and rolling hills. The landscape of Verdun was absolutely breath-taking. The juxtaposition of the calm green environment against the somber war memorial was stark and quite jarring.

We got off the bus and entered the memorial through the gift shop and visited the chapel and memorial area. Verdun is essentially a giant mausoleum. There were scores of names written on the white walls.  Then, we went to the movie theater and watched a film about the memorial. The film began with saying that it was a one of kind theater because behind it were the bones of 130,000 men. It gave some general background on the battle and discussed the development and creation of the memorial. The memorial was built in order to commemorate the Verdun battle of WWI. The project was spearheaded by Maurice Genevoix, a veteran and member of L’Académie Française. The memorial was constructed in the 1960s and opened to the public in 1967. Many prominent politicians have visited the site to pay their respects. The most interesting part of the film was the commentary on tragedy and peace. Despite the mass damage and death caused by WWI, another war occurred. While I am fortunate to have never lived through a war of such magnitude, war and violence persist. I am reminded of the countless civil wars and terrorist attacks. When will humanity learn that war only causes death and destruction?


After the film, we went outside and ambled about the graves. Each grave was marked by a white cross. There were hundreds and hundreds of crosses. They seemed to go one forever. From the names, you could see French and German soldiers. It is alarming to hear that thousands of people were killed in a battle, but it is terrifying to see all of their graves. It visually demonstrates the true price of war. Before we boarded the bus, we peaked through the bottom windows of the memorial and saw piles and piles of skeletons. It was surreal and extremely haunting. Some students were to freaked out to peek through the windows, and I can’t blame them.

Our next stop was the WWI museum. This museum gave a holistic perspective on the war. It showed what equipment soldiers had, explained their duties, and the effects of society. I found it pretty cool that women were able to work during the war. They took men’s places in the factories, trained to be nurses, and joined associations. After the war, French women still could not vote unlike women in the UK and USA. Citizens were affected by the war through rationing. I saw a little ration card for bread, and I wondered what would happen if you lost your card. If I lived during that time, I would probably lose my card. Another segment of the museum talked about the medical and technological advances of the war. Firepower and the number of guns utilized increased. Camouflage was also invented by two artists. Aviation was not only used for observation, but also for combat through bombardments. Additionally, there were several medical advancements such as a recognition of the importance of hygiene and psychiatry becoming a field. We ended our visit by going outside to the gardens and celebrating one of classmate’s birthday. It was a nice break from the somber mood of the exhibits.

Next, we visited the Verdun museum which went into great detail about the battle. There were numerous exhibits about very specific aspects of the battle such as the food eaten, letters sent and received, and clothing worn. This museum was very interactive in that there were numerous video and audio exhibits. You could also walk on fake mud among military equipment. My favorite exhibition was the letter section because it gave great insight into the life and feelings of the soldiers. Interestingly, letters were to be censored in order to keep locations and military strategies secret and families from getting too upset. There was this one letter I read that was from a soldier to his wife. He told his wife how he loved her and that he may be dead soon. He told his kids that he loved them and the child to come. He also told his other family members to take care of his wife and kids if he did not return to war. The letter was beautiful, and I could tell how much the soldier loved his wife. I really hope that woman’s husband returned to her.

The last site we visited was the Verdun Trenches. It was a small exhibit, but it has some interesting characteristics. The trenches were real except for the wood plats on the ground. We walked around and went through the tiny walkways covered in wood. The living conditions were awful. It was hot, humid, and cramped. The living quarters were comprised of small rusty bunk beds and dirt floors. The second and last part of the tour was going over the equipment found at the trenches. There were French and German equipment at the site. The tour guide compared the different weapons. The French had the better bayonet while the Germans had a better gas mask. The tour guide also brought up the fact that this was the first war in which gas was used. They used chlorine gas which has prevented crops from growing in certain areas in Europe. Finally, the tour ended and we took the bus back to the dorm.

The visits today were very informative and reminded me of the perils of war and how society is affected by war. There were impressive technological and medical advancements made, but families were torn apart and entire cities were destroyed. Are wars worth the cost? Nonetheless, it is amazing to see how far Europe has come from the war-torn continent it once was to 70 years of peace. The EU is most definitely responsible for the continuing age of peace and unity in Europe. Overall, I now have a greater appreciation and understanding of the achievements of the EU in bringing peace to Europe.

May 16 2018

Dr. Birchfield began the lecture today by asking our class to give the key highlights from yesterday’s lectures. Cue, blank stares and students flipping through their notes. Fortunately, Dr. Birchfield helped us out and asked who the five people from the Schuman documentary were. The five founders were Monnet, Schuman, Spaak, Gasperi, and Adenauer. Our lectures mostly focused on Monnet and Schuman, but it was cool to hear about the other founders and see how their backgrounds shaped the creation of the European Union. It was also noted that the Post-WWII order shaped the EU in focusing on democratic principles. Next, a student commented on the theme of the European Union as a political or economic institution. While the EU has many economic components such as the ECB and single monetary market, there’s also political components such as common EU citizenship. Some only see the EU as an economic institution, but I believe the EU is both an economic and political institution as the economic components are a result of the political structure of the EU. This opinion of mine was further iterated when Dr. Birchfield later commented that the EU has legislative, judicial, and executive bodies just as any democratic government has.

Next, Dr. Birchfield started the new lecture topic: From SEA (The Single European Act) to TEU(The EU or Maastricht Treaty). She opened an explanation of two acronyms which are the 4 Is and 4 Cs. The 4 Cs have a definite order which are cooperation, consensus, compromise, and crisis. Cooperation is the willingness to assemble. Consensus is the decision-making process and a guiding principle of the EU. Compromise, the most integral step, is an agreement achieved by each side making concessions. Lastly, there is crisis like the refugee crisis. The 4 Is (interests, ideas, institutions, and individuals) are in no particular order as the students were asked to pick and justify his or her chosen order. My order is interests, individuals, ideas, and institutions. I am an economist at heart, so I believe that interests drive individuals. Individuals produce ideas, and these ideas result in the creation of institutions. Some people argue that ideas go before interests, but I think that interests guide and influence ideas.

After our discussion over the acronyms, we briefly covered the ESCS (European Steel and Coal Communities) and Rome Treaties. The ESCS was the marvel idea to have joint production of Germany and France’s coal and steel and set prices. It was a huge success despite the slight overproduction. The Rome Treaties of 1957 established the Euroatom which reflects the political nature of the EU and the EEC reflects the economic nature of the EU. In respect to the political vs economic debate, Thatcher and CDG regarded the EU as an economic institution. On the other hand, Delors and Shuman saw the EU as both and a supranational federation. I agree with Delors and Shuman because I believe that the EU as a supranational federation enables the 4 freedoms of the EU.

Then, we went over the Single European Act created by Delors. It aimed to prepare and create a single market. Its most important features are relaxed passport controls, more common policies, competition policy, and equal rights on gender. Delors also formed the EMU which laid the groundwork for the euro through the establishment of the ECB and convergence requirements. I think the ECB as an independent federal bank is vital to a function single market. However, I question how the convergence requirements were enforced because some countries like France and Germany could not agree if it should be enforced before or after the introduction of euro. Dr. Birchfield also discussed the Maastricht Treaty which she argued is the “cornerstone in articulating the EU.” It utilized the three-pillar system, created the common European citizenship, and principle of subsidiary. I find the principle of subsidiary quite unique and efficient because it allocates policy making authority to the level that would be most efficient and produce the most benefits. Most importantly, the Maastricht Treaty led to the creation of the euro which stabilized prices. I found it quite surprising that complete euro circulation took about 10 years, but it makes sense because there were so many currencies that needed to be taken out of circulation. At this point in the day, we took a break from lecture to pick up our bikes!

Next, the Amsterdam Treaty of 1997 was enacted. It demonstrated the interest of social Europe and idea of Common Foreign and Security Policy(CFSP). The Social Europe component made provisions for those negatively affected by globalization while the CFSP focused on coordination trade and commercial policy. In 2001, the Nice Treaty was implemented in order to prepare for the 5th enlargement. It mainly included institutional changes such as how many MEPs each member state would get. Dr. Birchfield noted that the Nice Treaty was poorly designed. I did some research and discovered that the treaty failed to address the incorporation of the Charter of Fundamental Human Rights which added to the issue of a lack of solidarity on positions. The complicated pillar structure was kept which inhibits some transparency. Furthermore, the treaty did not endorse constructive compromise over bargaining. Bargaining instead of compromise directly violates the second and third Cs: consensus and compromise. Consequently, bargaining continues to be an issue in the EU leading to an inability to cope with crises such as Greece’s financial collapse.

Following the Nice treaty, we briefly covered the Lisbon Treaty which eradicated the three-pillar system and make the EU more democratic. The EP and Council were given more power in order to counterbalance against the Commission. I find this change evidence of the EU’s democratic nature as it limits the executive’s power. Limiting the executive’s power is a fundamental principle of Lijphart’s majority consensus model. Like Dr. Birchfield, I find the EU to be democratic. However, there can be improved transparency and encouragement of citizen participation. I find the eurosceptics akin to revolutionaries who want to scrap everything and start over. I, on the other hand, am a reformer. The EU has a lot of great aspects, and problems that can primarily be resolved through reforms. It is wasteful to destroy a beneficial institution because of a few flaws. I think the convenience of the euro, EU citizenship, and prosperity of inter-trade benefit so many people, including the eurosceptics. Hopefully, the eurosceptics realize this and are willing to compromise.

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