GT in the EU

An extraordinary education

Author: William Peters

Berlin: German Foreign Ministry and Simulation

With layers of history from various eras marking every area of the city, Berlin has proved to be one of the most historical places I have ever visited in my life. While yesterday we took advantage of our free day by visiting the Holocaust Memorial and other significant sites, today we returned to business as usual as we completed our last official site visit, a brief trip to the German Foreign Ministry. Following this interesting visit we participated in the long awaited EU and US simulation. Weeks of work culminated into about two hours of introductory speeches and negotiations concluding with a final paper of agreements. Both of our activities today proved to be very insightful in different ways.


Upon arrival to the beautiful German Foreign Ministry building, we met with a young diplomat named Marius Osswald who had just finished a three-year period in Washington DC. He began by showing us a short video about German foreign policy that included a few interesting and memorable moments. While most of the video seemed very typical of any foreign ministry, one particular quotation struck me as interesting. In a brief clip that would never be dreamed of in the United States, the video stated that the UN was the “most important actor in world affairs”. This brief quotation served as a key example of the difference between the view of the US and German foreign policy. I find it interesting that views can be starkly different and still lead to success. While the US arguably gained the majority of its international respect through hard power, Germany gains its respect in a different way as it prioritizes partnerships and organizations including the UN and the EU. Germany strives to be “good at building relations between states” and their success has lead to their respect in the international community. Both entities have used different approaches to reach the same goal, international respect and success.


Following the video, Mr. Osswald spoke at length about the current events that are most relevant to German policy. The topics that he focused on included the effects of the UK Referendum and the influx of refugees into Germany. While it was interesting to hear of the effects of the UK Referendum from a German perspective, the discussion of the current state of the refugee situation in Germany captivated me. As a country, Germany has been a leader in the situation, taking in over a million refugees according to our speaker. Well this was already common knowledge, I had never considered why Germany took initiative when many countries shied away from responsibility. Mr. Osswald spoke at length of the capabilities of Germany due to its economic strength and cited this as a key reason for the acceptance of so many refugees. I believe this coupled with the position of Germany as one of the leaders of the EU has facilitated this much needed acceptance of refugees. Without the UK it is likely that Germany will have to step up in more situations in the future; however, this is only speculation due to the overwhelming uncertainties created by the UK Referendum.

After a swift lunch, we began our simulation. For this assignment, we were divided into two teams, the EU and the US. Within these teams we were further split into four groups of two that chose a particular issue to research and present. Following these presentations, negotiations between the two sides ensued. These negotiations ultimately resulted in a lengthy final transcript of the agreements and compromises between the two sides. The four topics negotiated were the future of NATO, the Russian and terrorist threat, TTIP, and data privacy. The entire process was an interesting chance to culminate all that we have learned into one process. Perhaps the most significant part of this process was the negotiations. Well I cannot speak for the entire group, I can speak for myself in saying that it was a difficult but rewarding discussion. Seeing this process made me understand fully the effort it must take to make negotiations and compromises in the real world.

International handshake

International handshake

In sum, today was an excellent way to end our long series of site visits and also a great opportunity to culminate all that we have learned in one assignment. With nine days left in our trip, I feel that our course material is being wrapped up nicely and will value the coming days before our departure home.

Data: A Battle for Privacy

Following a ten-day visit to Scandinavia, the first day of our brief return to Brussels included two of the most fascinating site visits of the program thus far. While today was quite busy and detail heavy, to summarize the subject matter in a few words would actually be quite a simple task: “data privacy”. The reality of this seemingly simple idea is ceaseless debates and complications with significant implications on citizens of the EU and worldwide. In a world where data has become such a valuable commodity, tensions surrounding international data policy are particularly high in current times. The site visits presented two distinct viewpoints on data privacy, the first from Dutch MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld and the second from Marc van der Ham, a legal consultant at Google Europe. Both visits offered valuable opportunities to analyze the issue of data privacy with leading experts on the subject while also allowing for detailed discussion of the current state of data policy.


After watching an impassioned Sophie in ‘t Veld speak fervently about data flows during our visit to the Parliament a few weeks ago, I immediately recognized her as an exceptional politician who fought tooth and nail for her beliefs. Listed in the top 40 most influential MEPs by Politico Magazine, in ‘t Veld works as the leading advocate for data privacy in the European Parliament. The opportunity to meet with such an esteemed MEP was not taken lightly by our group as we all arrived at the session eager for the dialogue with stimulating questions prepared. Ms. in ‘t Veld wasted no time as we immediately began a question and answer session that covered issues ranging from data privacy to counter terrorism measures. She spoke at length about the uphill battle she faces in fighting for data privacy and blocking mass surveillance. These topics included two key points of discussion: transatlantic relations and counterterrorism.


Due to data’s transnational nature, one of the most addressed topics in in ‘t Veld’s work has been the United States and its policies regarding data privacy. She believes that the EU has been too soft and willing to negotiate with the United States due to their close relationship with the EU and subsequently encourages the EU to take more resilient measures during negotiations. As an MEP, in ‘t Veld has voted against agreements including the Privacy Shield as she considered it to serve as an insufficient safeguard against mass surveillance. She has worked tirelessly to prevent the reduction of European data privacy and admits that politicians are to blame for the continued forfeiture of privacy for EU citizens. While pro mass surveillance policy has been a point of contention throughout in ‘t Veld’s fight for privacy, the largest underlying problem that continues to have negative effects on data protection legislation is counterterrorism and the preemptive detection of perpetrators of acts of terror.



In recent years, terrorism has become the most significant security issue worldwide, with organizations like ISIS recruiting countless members to train and commit attacks in the name of the organization. While often the idea of mass surveillance seems as though it could offer a way to catch potential terrorists prior to any violence occurring, in ‘t Veld believes this idea is ludicrous and simply will not work. To back up this ideology in ‘t Veld cites information including that governments almost always identify potential terrorists prior to their attacks and additionally that most of those radicalized by terrorist groups are weak individuals with troubled pasts. She argues that since warrants must be obtained to monitor people in the real world, then there is no reason to grant the government search rights without these same measures digitally. While there was somewhat of a consensus amongst the group on these issues, Ms. in ‘t Veld struck a controversial chord when she spoke of the recent shooting in Orlando.IMG_3554

Warning of overzealous fear of Islam and general xenophobia, in ‘t Veld challenged our group to make an effort to determine the true definition of terrorism. She stated that political motives were necessary in terrorist attacks and that people were too eager to label certain acts as terrorism. MEP in ‘t Veld was adamant that the act of heinous murder in Orlando in which fifty people lost their lives was not an act of terror, but was rather a hate crime carried out by an individual with a troubled past. This controversial opinion caused a rift to form between the MEP and our group. This view seemed to me to be inconsistent with other views held by in ‘t Veld. With this logic, I question whether or not she would consider events like the Jewish Museum attack acts of terror. Although I agree with in ‘t Veld that people are quick to label any attacks by Muslims terroristic in nature, I do not believe this was one of those times. To minimize one of the deadliest attacks in recent history due to the fact that the shooter had a troubled past seems to me to bogus and improper. This disagreement aside, I believe that Sophie in ‘t Veld’s work and stances on data privacy are crucial to the development of global cyber law and have immense respect for her as a politician.


Following this passionate discussion with Sophie in ‘t Veld, we made a visit to private sector giant, Google Europe. Marc van der Ham briefed the group in the sleek office-bar area of the modern office space. With a background in law and previous work experience in The EU Parliament, van der Ham offered us an excellent alternative to the first briefing of the morning. He spoke in length about topics focused around the legality of data flows and barriers to digital trade in which he included an interesting dialogue on data privacy. Additionally, van der Ham discussed the method Google used to rise to success and the future direction of Google.

IMG_5638.JPG During this interesting speech and the question and answer session that followed, van der Ham discussed the issue of data privacy and the international implications that accompany it. Perhaps the topic that struck me as most interesting of the discussion was The Commission’s attempts to limit Google’s power over the market. As a company Google uses a great deal of data to make suggestions to users and this has lead to concern over Google’s near monopoly on user data. Google has been fighting in court to prove that is a benevolent company and that it does not misuse user’s data. The outcome of this legal battle has yet to be seen; however, one thing is certain. Data is a valuable commodity that will continue to receive a great deal of legal attention in the years to come.


Ensuing our two stimulating site visits, our class debriefed at a local restaurant and discussed what we had spoken about with van der Ham and in ‘t Veld. The main point of contention was the comment made about the nature of the attack in Orlando. As American citizens, the majority of the class believed that this attack was an attack on terror and disagreed with in ‘t Veld on the point. Other than this one issue, it was evident that the class agreed with most of the positions in ‘t Veld presented. Mass surveillance is an issue that concerns all citizens of the digital world and it seemed to be the shared stance of the class that mass surveillance was not the answer to the security threat of terrorism. In addition to discussion about data privacy, another interesting dialogue occurred concerning the nature of the company of Google. The question as to whether or not Google is an “American” company interested me the most of the topics of this conversation. Although as a class there was a great deal of disagreement, I personally believe that Google is indeed an American company with global aspirations as it attempts to capture more of the global market. So far Google’s strategies have been wildly successful and I believe they will continue to be due to the ability to adapt and the widespread global use of its services. From data privacy to tech giants, today was a day full of detailed discussion that was by and large open ended. What will happen in the coming years regarding technology and data policy is yet to be seen; however, in such a digital world, developments in these areas will have great significance for people worldwide.

The EEAS and The US Mission to the EU

After an adventurous yet restful 3-day weekend, we continued our program with two important appointments at key institutions. Packed with site visits and briefings, today was perhaps the busiest day yet of our journey. After following my classmates’ blog posts attentively, I know that the task of blog writing should not be taken lightly. I will endeavor to summarize the briefings of the five distinguished speakers and additionally provide some analysis of their ideas and significant takeaways from the speeches. With the sheer amount of information given over about five hours of lectures, I admit it is difficult to retain everything; however, I will do my best to recount concepts that struck me as notable as these important speakers offered us insightful information and opinions about their respective areas of focus. Although unintentionally scheduled, we had the unique opportunity to hear the opinions of the EEAS followed by those of the US Mission to the EU. Interacting with both sides of the transatlantic relationship proved to be very interesting, especially in discussions of issues like TTIP in which tensions run high between international entities. Viewing the dynamics of the relationship from each group’s viewpoints made for a stimulating and constructive Monday.


The morning began to a visit to the EEAS. Headed by High Representative Federica Mogherini, the EEAS is an organization with extensive power and influence in the EU and globally. A key EU institution, the EEAS focuses on “external action” or, in perhaps simpler terms, foreign policy. The most significant role of the EEAS is the representation of the EU internationally and its various missions abroad. During our visit to the institution three distinguished speakers briefed us and offered us lengthy question and answer sessions. This was an excellent opportunity to ask thought-provoking questions to those that deal directly with the most quarrelsome issues in the European Union and the world.


The first of the three speakers was British diplomat David Tunney.  He spoke about the organization of the EEAS as well as the main issues that the institution is currently addressing referring to the EEAS as the “state department” of the EU. While much of this was review following my visit to the EEAS’s website prior to the briefing, it was interesting to hear about the organization of the institution from someone so involved in its inner workings.  Following David Tunney, another British diplomat named Stuart Summers spoke to us about the global strategy and an array of EU issues, the most significant of which being Brexit. The most interesting take away from this conversation for me was the fact that there was no “plan b” in the case that the UK exits the EU. I find this to be telling of the importance of the EU to the UK. A large percentage of UK officials preach of the importance of the European Project yet there is still concern of UK exit. For the sake of United Kingdom citizens and the EU, I hope that the UK can come to a consensus to stay in the beneficial economic and political union. The final speaker at the EEAS was Rafal Domisiewicz, an important Polish figure in EU relations with the US and Canada. While he works on many issues, the most important seems to be TTIP. Hearing an EEAS representative with a great deal of experience in transatlantic relations speak about this important trade agreement offered a new perspective on the issue. The thing stressed the most was the lack of compromise by both sides. I believe that this is a trade deal that must be passed in order to increase trade and transatlantic prosperity; however, passing an agreement between entities unwilling to compromise has proved to be very difficult. All in all, the EEAS was a great opportunity to discuss issues with European diplomats who are specialized and knowledgeable about crucial topics and I am pleased to have had the opportunity to hear their side of discussions.


After a pleasant Belgian lunch, we made the walk from the EEAS to the US mission to the EU. The US mission to the EU is an organization that works on US relations with the EU. Their work spans many pertinent and contentious issues in the EU including the refugee crisis and counter-terrorism. In many ways this institution can be seen as a sort of counterpart to the EEAS as both work on foreign policy and relationships between international actors. Two American speakers briefed our group and a collection of students from Florida International University. Following brief introductions of themselves and their noteworthy backgrounds, the speakers opened the floor up for questions which students from both universities took as an opportunity to learn more about the US Mission to the EU as well as global conflicts. This question and answer session proved to be fruitful for all involved as important issues were broken down and analyzed through discussion.

In this interestingly formatted question and answer session, both speakers responded questions based on their specialties and supplemented each other’s thoughts with additional information.  The speakers were Amy Roth and D.A. Brown, two American diplomats with different focuses posted at the Mission. Roth works on sanctions while Brown focuses on terrorism with a specialization in the areas of North Africa and the Middle East. While many questions were interesting, the idea of sanctions struck me as particularly interesting. When speaking about sanctions, Roth discussed the importance of cooperation between nations necessary to make efforts successful.

While from time to time I admit it is difficult to understand the goals set and actions taken in terms of international relations, the idea of cooperation in the creation and upholding of sanctions makes sense as an effective political move. Without collaboration, sanctions are more or less useless, as the country only experiences a relatively low loss of trade instead of substantial losses in economic prosperity. Sanctions interest me greatly as they are a tool commonly used, but only when their use is not detrimental to the states imposing the sanctions on others. An excellent example of countries worrying about their own well being and avoiding imposing sanctions is the European Union and Russia. The EU depends heavily on Russia for energy and thus has not inflicted any sanctions following clear Russian violation of international law. While talks about counter terrorism are always interesting, I found the discussion around sanctions to be more so because of the lack of availability of experts in the subject area. This briefing was the first time that I fully grasped the power of sanctions and their underlying importance and I am glad to have had the opportunity to speak with an expert on the subject.


In sum, today was definitely one of the most interesting days of our trip thus far. Experiencing the opinions of both sides of the foreign affairs conversation was excellent and a unique opportunity. The discussions of important world issues as well as the focus on a few key areas including Brexit, counter-terrorism, and sanctions proved to be very insightful and stimulating. I look forward to further site visits and am confident they will be as interesting as today’s briefings.

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