GT in the EU

An extraordinary education

Category: European Institutions (Page 2 of 3)

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.

The Binnenhof and the Peace Palace

After spending the last eight and a half weeks focusing on the EU and other International institutions one could be excused for temporarily forgetting the importance of national governments. Nonetheless, we stepped back into the slightly smaller world of national politics this morning with a trip to the Binnenhof, the headquarters of the Dutch government. After receiving VIP passes for our guided tour we were taken into the complex that has stood since the 13th century.  We followed our guide into an old wine cellar where we watched a short video explaining the history of the Binnenhof. The complex had been built by Dutch nobility in the mid 1200’s and was slowly expanded over the following centuries. It served many roles under differing Dutch, Spanish, and French governments but eventually became the location for the Senate and the House of Representatives. Though the House grew too large and recently moved to a different complex, the Binnenhof still houses the Senate, the Prime Minister’s office and serves as the center of government in the hearts of the Dutch people.

Probably the most well-known event that happens at the Binnenhof is Prince’s Day or Budget Day, where every year, on the third Tuesday of September, the King gives a speech to the House of Representatives, the Senate, and many high-level diplomats in the Hall of Knights. In this speech, he outlines the major governmental objectives for the coming year. This day is also important because it is when the finance minister outlines the country’s budget for the coming year. In the hall, there is an upper balcony where the public can come and watch. However, it is quite small and our guide said that the waiting list to get in on Prince’s Day is ten years long.

Out guide then took us out of the hall and, from the courtyard, showed us where Dutch leaders were currently debating as they try to form a coalition government. The Netherlands is primarily represented by the 150-member House of Representatives. The members of the house are chosen by proportional representation with around 70,000 votes resulting in one seat in parliament. This system, while effective at including many different viewpoints, also leads to a body with many different political parties. Our guide informed us that since the current governmental system came into place, the Netherlands has never had a single party gain a simple majority and there are currently 13 parties represented in the House. The largest party in the house, the leftist VVD headed by current Prime Minister Mark Rutte, has 33 seats while the smallest party, the Forum for Democracy, holds just two seats. The largest four parties are currently working on creating a coalition government. Worryingly, these negotiations have been going for over 110 days as compared to the historical average of 90.

We then were taken into the historical Senate chamber. The room is a majestically decorated portal to the golden age of the Netherlands. Portraits of some of the most important Dutch citizens surround the room. Along the ceiling, painted by students of Rembrandt, are caricatures of people from across the word trying to get a glimpse of how the Netherlands was so successful. In the center of the painted ceiling was a portrait of Dutch children watching the politicians to remind them that they are setting an example for posterity. Over the President’s seat in the center of the chamber hangs a portrait of King William the first, who ceded much of his power to the people. Officially this happened because the good king recognized the need for representative government and wanted to help his citizens. Our guide had a different understanding. He told us that the King was worried about two things, first his large outstanding debts to his cousin, the Russian Tsar. Secondly, he was worried about the possibility of political blackmail from his opposition due to his many affairs with both women and men. Afraid of damaging his public image, our guide suggested that he ceded his power to remain popular in the eyes of the citizens. Nonetheless, King William’s portrait hangs proudly in the Senate and is remembered for his actions that benefit the Dutch people.

The Senate as a legislative body is also interesting. Rather than being directly elected, the 75 Senators are selected by regional legislatures. This separates the body from the public and leads to it being slightly different in makeup from the House. Another interesting quirk about the Senate is that it is only a part time position. The body only meets once a week and the members have other jobs in politics or industry outside of being Senators. This gives the members the ability to see the impact of legislation in real life. In the passing of legislation, the Senators review all the bills after they are passed by the House. However, the Senate can only approve or deny legislation, not write their own or make amendments. Because of this inability to act there have been some proposals to disband the Senate entirely but for now it remains a traditional part of the Dutch legislative process.

After our short foray into national politics we wandered back into the realm of supranational organizations by going to see the Peace Palace, the location of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA). Sadly, we were not able to take a tour of the building but we were able to learn about the important work done there by visiting the Palace Museum. The Palace was built in the early years of the 20th century after two peace conferences in 1899 and 1907 and a sizable donation from Andrew Carnegie. Initially only supporting the PCA, the project seemed fool hearted in the first half of the 20th century which saw the worst conflict that the world has ever seen in WW1 and WW2. However, after the founding of the ICJ in 1945 as the principal judicial body of the UN the Palace began to see a resurgence. In modern times both the PCA and the ICJ help nations to resolve international conflicts without resorting to military means. There were case studies highlighting the successes of the organizations such as a dispute over Red Sea islands between Eretria and Yemen or a conflict over the building of a dam between Slovakia and Hungary. The ICJ and the PCA play an integral role in maintaining peace in our modern world and will be increasingly necessary as technology accelerates the pace of change.

The Peace Palace is also home to the Hague Academy of International Law and the Peace Palace Library. The Academy draws professors and students from around the world in the study of international law. Students can attend lectures from some of the world’s most prestigious international law academics and receive an internationally recognized and valued honor in having attended the Academy. The Palace is also home to the famous library, created as Carnegie’s one requirement for his funding of the building. The library is one of the most important international law libraries in the world and serves both the legal professionals in the ICJ and the PCA as well as the Academy’s students.

Our day saw a wide breath of information packed into two relatively quick site visits. Along with giving us a basic understanding of how Dutch government operates, our trip to Binnenhof also gave us another glimpse at a democratic alternative to the US legislative system. Being able to compare other systems around the world can help us see the strengths and weaknesses of our own system and think of opportunities for improvement. The trip to the Peace Palace gave us another consider how international organizations based on cooperation are essential to maintaining the current peaceful world order. The museum gave us a wonderful, interactive consider the two bodies and gave us a reason to come back and spend more time in a full tour. Tomorrow we are looking forward to a day trip to Amsterdam to take advantage of some of great museums, cultural, and historical landmarks that this region offers.

June 13th: Visit to Les Invalides and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Although we were supposed to go to the US Embassy and the Assemblee Nationale today, and the Les Invalides exhibition another day, the schedule got switched around. This worked out perfectly because we got to have a free morning in Paris and the perfect amount of time at the museum before taking the short walk over to the Ministry to meet with some young employees!

A couple of us used our free morning to visit the Notre Dame, then to peruse the halls of Musee D’Orsay (A sizable museum recognized mainly for its impressive Impressionist and Post-Impressionist collection), both of which were pleasurable and awe-inspiring activities I would recommend to anyone who comes to Paris.

The Notre Dame de Paris began in 1163 and was completed in 1345. “Notre Dame” means “Our Lady”. This structure is one of the largest and most impressive churches/cathedrals in world, and an excellent example of French-Gothic architecture. It also holds holy relics such as the “purported Crown of Thorns”, a Holy Nail and a piece of the True Cross. It was crowded with tourists, but still very impressive.

In Napoleon’s time, the Les Invalides was utilized as a military hospital, but now holds  historical monuments, museums, and a veteran retirement home and hospital. The front lawn of Les Invalides was scattered with bunnies and beautifully shaped bushes. The Dome des Invalides holds the final resting place of Napoleon Bonaparte, as well as the tombs of other war heroes. The Dome was very lavishly decorated, and held numerous monuments and remembrances. It was a cool respite to the hot outdoors.

We visited a special exhibition about the France-Germany 1870-71 War, Commune and Memories. It was relatively small, but chock-full of helpful summaries, interesting graphics and effects, old paraphilia, and moving art work. The museum made the effort to explain the reasons behind the war, what life was like during it, and the consequences and after-effect it had on German and French civilization.

Nationalism in France and the effort of unification in Germany triggered this conflict, and lead to French defeat, fall of their government, proclamation of a Republic, an uprising and occupation by the victors. This interaction set the mood for future French-German relations, and ended the Concert of Europe. The main players were Otto van Bismarck (unification was the name of his game), and Napoleon III, who’s empire was weakening. The French were decisively defeated, and Pais was sieged and eventually occupied (after an armistice). The price was heavy for both sides, and upset the French governance for a long time to come.

After the museum and tomb visit, we walked over to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which was only a couple of minutes away. We checked in our passports, got badges, went through security and were led through the old building. Everyone’s office doors and windows were open, and the conference room that we settled into had an impressive view of the Eiffel Tower.

After settling in, the young professionals there to meet with us introduced themselves. The young man, Nick, worked for the UN directory and the Young Diplomat Program, and had a history and interest in climate change and the environment. The first woman, Karen, was involved with NATO and strategic affairs defense, and was soon going to work on the Singapore trade agreement. The other woman, Nadine, was an Asia specialist involved in global affairs and soft power policies.

We asked them questions about the issues we were interested them, and they answered them as best they could. We talked about a variety of issues over the next two hours, focusing on Turkey, the future of the US relationship with France and the EU, China, the Paris Accord, and Brexit.

The conversation started with Turkey. Turkey is not in the EU, but is a part of NATO, but has proven to be a difficult ally. They said that the Ministry was trying to “ignore bilateral differences” and ” enhance unity and alliance to provide stability,” while trying to coordinate the efforts of the EU and NATO as to limit duplication and head-butting. They also mentioned that while Turkey was considered to be a candidate for EU membership in the past, it was no longer up for consideration in light of the less-democratic direction it has headed in in more recent years, and the fact that the death penalty is still an available punishment there, and that this application withdraws makes Turkish citizens very frustrated with the EU. While Turkey has become less democratic since the coup, the EU believes that Turkey is an essential ally, and that the democratic persons there must be supported (although it is hard to tell who is actually democratic). The situation is very much in the air, and needs to be felt out.

We then discussed the US withdrawal from the EU, in light of our new president. They believe that foreign relations don’t necessarily have to go through the center, and that with modern technology, everyone can communicate through many different channels. US and EU still agree on main objectives, but the US would like to see Europe step up on defense spending and shoulder some of the global and EU related burden. Nick said that hopefully Europe will step up and the US will stay involved, but Europe could also “bury its head in the sand” and try to draw US involvement back into Europe. As the Trump administration doesn’t have a consistent or collective stance, and the EU is representing 28 different voices, neither really know where to stand at the moment. The pledge to devote 2% of GDP to defense spending is being worked on, although Germany feels that 2% might be unreasonable for their economy. Countries are putting forward their national plans, and hoping to get there around 2024.

Nick was very passionate about the Paris Accord and climate change, stressing the importance of us making progress on this subject, and that we need to always be improving our carbon footprint. After the US dropout, EU and China are going to continue with the agreement, and some other groups (such as some US states) are following through with the deal. This agreement shows that we can tackle big problems globally, and is beneficial to everyone involved.

Nadine talked about China’s growing role as a trade partner with the EU, which is starting to look outward more and more. China is trying to improve its image and send a positive message about globalization and climate conservation, for profit and for their citizens. They are trying to show that they are a responsible global partner, and may begin to fill the hole left by the US in the EU, growing their presence their like they have in Africa.

The general EU feeling is that whatever happens with Brexit is bad for the EU and the UK. Nick, Nadine and Karen spoke as representatives by saying that Brexit is bad for British citizens abroad, EU citizens in the UK, businesses, institutions, and trade. The everyday life simplified by the EU and its benefits will now become more complicated and chaotic. Every sector where the UK and the EU mixed has to be sorted out and the EU might end up with a lower budget as they lose to UK’s contribution. The consequences of Brexit can be seen in the French elections, other countries’ referendums, and in UK politics. The EU is making an effort to negotiate as a group rather than individually. The main goal is to keep the UK as a close ally.

When we wrapped up this enlightening discussion, Dr. B was surprised with a special opportunity for us to see the building in which the Schuman Declaration was signed. The building was a part of the Ministry’s complex, so we quickly walked over. Although the exterior was modest, the interior of the building was ornately decorated and lavish. We were taken through the series of rooms to end up in front of a picture taken when it all went down. Dr. B was over the moon, and we were all thrilled to be standing where such a monumental event took place.

Later in the evening, we ended such an exciting day with a scenic boat cruise down the river Seine. The water beautiful reflected the city lights and setting sun, and the bridges and Eiffel Tower were just beginning to light up. What a perfect way to end the day!

Our Final Site Visits in Brussels

Today was our last real full day in Belgium.  It seems strange to be packing up and wishing farewells to the hosts and friends that we have lived with and gotten to know over the summer.  Just six weeks in Brussels and already most of us know the ins-and-outs of the city than we do Atlanta, but even as we prepare to move on to Holland, our studies into Human Rights with Professor Fabry are only just beginning, and so we spent our final day in Brussels being briefed at three of the most exciting and interesting site visits that we’ve taken yet:  the DG of Competition, the Council of Europe, and Human Rights Watch.

alexander_italianerTo start off the windy day we headed to the Directorate-General of Competition for the European Union, which is responsible for directly enforcing the European Union competition rules in order to “make EU markets work better, by ensuring that all companies compete equally and fairly on their merits.”  To make things even better, we had the distinct privilege of being briefed by Alexander Italianer, the current head of DG Competition, who was even just appointed as the future Secretary-General of the Commission.  In his exhaustive briefing of the policies, duties, and actions of the DG Mr. Italianer delved into such topics as the importance of protecting true competition in order to foster healthy rivalry between companies for profits and market shares in order to propagate lower prices, increased consumer choice, better quality options and increased innovation.  In finishing, he enlightened us to the inner workings and methodologies of the DG, discussing the process of opening and running an investigation into companies and governments that may violate fair competition – through restrictive behavior, price fixing, and cartels among many other means – as well as their role in creating antitrust policy and merger control.

Next, the group departed for the much anticipated Council of Europe.  Made up of forty-seven member states and five observers, the Council is one of the most important and influential human rights based organizations in the world, not to mention that it rounded out LogoCoethe last of the eternally confusing three European councils.  At the Council we had the interesting and insightful privilege of being briefed on and discussing the Council’s role in human rights by a member of staff from Russia.  To begin, we watched a short video presentation on the issues and challenges tackled by the Council, ranging from topics like the death penalty, torture, and human trafficking to more dialectic subjects such as cyber crime, implementation of social charters, and the protection of national minorities.  The following Q&A session covered a range of in depth issues, with questions on Ukraine (given the speakers unique experience and nationality) in particular being a popular line inquiry leading to a discussion on Russia’s legitimate concerns towards the treatment of
Russian-speaking minorities in the region in addition to the usual debate over the actions which they took in reaction. About an hour and several discussions on Eastern European HR violations, Hungary’s future, and the disastrous immigration situation later, we left for a long free lunch to digest the high level briefing.


Our energy recovered, we set out for our final (and personally, most exciting) destination: unnamedthe Human Rights Watch offices in Brussels.  This time we were led by an American staff member with an impressive track record in HR who is, in fact, preparing to begin work on the major issue of palliative medicine availability in less developed nations.  The briefing was simultaneously more informal and informative than most, rather taking the form of an in-depth Q&A/discussion session that lasted from the first minute until the moment the speaker had to leave.  To give us an overview of the organization before the questions began we once again began our visit with a video, this time a self-published segment on the deadly civil war in Syria and the massive humanitarian crises that has accompanied it as well as – of course – the role Human Rights Watch has played in bringing some of its worst tragedies to light.  Through the lens of the Syrian example we go to see exactly how the Human Rights Watch operates and what means they have at their disposal to achieve their goal of bringing offenses to light and utilizing media and public opinion in order to bring perpetrators to justice.unnamed (1)All in all, it was a fantastic way to wrap up our time in Brussels, and to top everything off it was also Apollo’a birthday!

(Also, ducks.)

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