GT in the EU

An extraordinary education

Author: Sanika Subhash

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!

Human Rights- Day 2!

We hit the ground running for our second day with Dr. Markley! To get our minds warmed up, we took a short quiz on the readings and some of the material covered from our first lecture. The five question quiz was based on the Donnelly chapters we read before the class began. The questions covered topics from characterization of periods in our history, to different models of human rights, to ways in which human rights are used as a foreign policy tool.

After the quiz we continued lecture from yesterday. We began by discussing the whether an international human rights regime has developed after WWII and the major issue that national implementation of international human rights is a slow and difficult process. There were a variety of opinions about 172 countries agreeing to International HR being a regime. I personally believe that out of the almost 200 countries on the globe, the current 172 countries agreeing on a set of rights is an accomplishment, especially with such differences among all of us. There is of course always room for improvement—one day I hope that all humans, regardless of nationality, race, gender, sexuality are granted equal rights across the globe.

A question that garnered a lot of attention in our class was “Why do countries ratify conventions but don’t apply international human rights laws?” We concluded that many do it for political and international validity. Signing on to a convention also holds the country accountable to their citizens. Another topic of discussion is why we should be concerned with other countries human rights practices. It’s important here to emphasize that we are discussing human rights. Therefore, we should value all human lives regardless of nationality. We also have to remember atrocities in our history, such as the holocaust and Rwandan genocide. Many countries turned a blind eye to what was happening in these countries and countless lives could have been saved.

We followed this with a couple of open discussion questions regarding the division of human rights, and how to define them. We ultimately came to the conclusion that human rights can be divided into social and economic rights versus civil and political rights, and this often dictates how countries implement human rights policies. Some value civil and political rights over social and economic rights. However, Donnelly says that we need to value both equally. This brought us to the term cultural relativism— you have to understand human behavior in the context of its own culture. Countries often cannot come to a consensus on what rights should be established and how to enforce them. That’s what makes it so difficult to implement human rights legislation and policy on an international scale.

The discussion on human rights was wrapped up with a review of the three models of human rights—cosmopolitan, statist, and internationalist. We discussed how these play a role in an anarchic international system, or a system where the actors are states and there is no supranational organization. The class was broken into two groups who compared and contrasted cosmopolitan and internationalist and statist and internationalist. Cosmopolitan is more individual focused, human rights should be implemented by the individuals, while statist argues the states are the primary enforcers of human rights, and internationalist argues for a supranational organization to enforce the human rights that are determined by the states. We also pointed out that implementation of an international human rights law takes some sovereignty away from states, and this can be a major problem for states.

The final activity of the day was to prepare a presentation for Thursday. Our task was to find a human rights violation in the member state that we were assigned and then to find other member states with a similar political background or in the same region and make a presentation on these violations. My member state was Finland, so I grouped with Gemma, Shekinah, and Hamid who worked on Ireland, Denmark, and Sweden, respectively. We decided to make the focus of our presentation Finland and their violation of the right to privacy—both in the physical and digital worlds. Finland does not require a court order for search and seizure of property, and they are now implementing a legislation that allows for civilian and military surveillance by the government. This requires altering the constitution, and violates the right to privacy that is important to citizens. It draws to many people’s attention the fact that human rights need to be extended beyond just the physical world, as much more of our lives is playing out in the digital sphere.

All in all, day two of human rights lecture with Dr. Markley was full of introspection, discussion, and a new understanding of how complex human rights is. She creates a safe space for us to express our points of view, and challenges us to think differently. I can’t wait to visit the council of Europe and for our site visits in Brussels where we will hear about how these human rights theories are put into practice!

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