GT in the EU

An extraordinary education

Category: Foreign Policy (Page 1 of 4)

The Treaty of Lisbon, Institutions of the EU, Boat Rides, and Flam

We began the last lecture day of the week by diving into the details of the Lisbon Treaty as a conclusion to the prior day’s lecture. As Maddie mentioned in yesterday’s post, the Lisbon Treaty is the most recent treaty to be ratified and enacted by the European Union. As a whole, the EU hoped that the Lisbon Treaty would address the democratic deficit that was so often criticized by eurosceptics and increase the efficiency of the EU’s processes as well as make those processes more comprehensible and transparent. Externally, the EU hoped to increase its political clout by strengthening its ability to shape foreign policy positions and agendas. Indeed, the origins of the Lisbon Treaty can be traced back to the ineffectiveness of the Treaty of Nice. Several member states asserted that the Nice Treaty failed to adequately prepare for future expansion and the increased democratic processes for which they had hoped. Therefore, the Convention on the Future of Europe began in 2001 to discuss the next steps for the EU. This Convention was unprecedented in the history of the EU because instead of only allowing member states’ participation, a wide range of participants attended, including representatives from member states, candidate states, national parliaments, the European Parliament, and the European Commission. Dr. Birchfield was quick to highlight this point as a direct contradiction of the technocratic nature so often attributed to the development of the EU. After all, how can something so heavily attended by such a wide variety of representatives of different governments and populations be elitist?

We then walked through the rough-and-tumble process that tends to be international political decision-making to discuss how the Constitutional Treaty produced by the Convention was transformed into today’s Treaty of Lisbon. Essentially, the initial Constitutional Treaty hoped to constitutionalize the EU by creating a self-standing body of text as opposed to merely amending prior agreements and legislation. This text would unify member states under the concept of supranational law and the primacy of such law over national governments and establish cultural symbols like a common flag and anthem. Interestingly enough, most of the proposed institutional changes were widely accepted by member states, but many had severe reservations about constitutionalizing of the EU, citing disagreements with other states’ ruling governments, persistent euroscepticism, and fears of an overly liberal and social Europe. I would also agree to a certain extent that the Constitutional Treaty’s blatant formatting of the EU’s supranational authority threatened the pride of nations, as agreeing to such official measures of consolidation would challenge a nation’s identity. It makes me wonder if that degree of integration is even possible in the near future, and if this was maybe an early indicator of the increasing prevalence of nationalist movements we see in today’s political landscape.

The Lisbon Treaty did indeed restructure nearly every major EU institution. The directly-elected European Parliament’s (EP’s) seat count was granted co-decision power with the Council of Ministers for 95% of decisions, and the election of members of the EP also now impacts who the European Council proposes as the European Commission President. It granted national parliaments a method of subsidiarity control for challenging Commission proposals. The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, initially lacking legal validity upon its proclamation in 2000, was granted the same value and force as all other Treaties. The Treaty also institutionalized the troika system of Council presidencies to standardize goals and created a new institution and established a new institution, the European Council, to maintain intergovernmentalism.

After breaking for lunch, we moved away from the Lisbon Treaty and began to discuss the institutions of the EU. As an institution, the European Council is comprised of heads of government that formally meet at least four times annually at summits to establish policy directions and make declarations. Meanwhile, the Council of Ministers, or Council of the European Union, is a second intergovernmental institution that acts as a decision-making body. The Council of Ministers touts national interests as its prime focus and is divided into ten committees. The Committee of Permanent Representatives to the EU (COREPER) is comprised of several dozen diplomats who shape meeting agendas for the Council of Ministers. This Council cooperates with the only directly-elected international legislative body: the European Parliament. Aside from co-decision making, the EP is tasked with reviewing all EU actions through a democratic lens. Each member country is guaranteed six members of the EP (MEPs) to guarantee representation for each major identity on the political spectrum. Currently, there are eight affiliations for MEPs, and to form a new political party, a minimum of twenty-five MEPs from seven states is required.

The basis of the European Union lies within the concept of pooled sovereignty. Something that struck me in particular today while studying the composition of the EU was the willingness to be vulnerable that the member states need to possess. A democratic state exists to serve its people. Sacrificing sovereignty and the protection that comes with it because a state believes the end result will better its population is a fascinating concept. Historically, weaker states were detrimental to their populations, and here we have the EU, full of member states choosing to become weaker to benefit their populations. The intergovernmental trust between the member states is unprecedented in modern history. The Brexit crisis, which Pedro discussed in class during his member state presentation today, has caused nations to become aware of how affected international relations are by the EU, both internally and externally, and I look forward to seeing how this first test of interstate reliance impacts the future of this sustained vulnerability between member states.

The Group with our life vests reppin’ Georgia Tech on the waterfront

Following class this afternoon, Dr. Birchfield treated us to boat rides on the Moselle river through historic Metz. We divided into two boats of five and one boat of eleven and cruised our way past beautiful churches, murals, balconies, and other scenery. We managed to pull all three of our boats together for a group selfie, and not a single person fell into the water. Most of us ate dinner afterward at a local restaurant that specializes in flammekuecheor “flam”, the local (and far superior) version of a flatbread pizza, and celebrated the end of a successful first week of our program. I look forward to learning more about the EU, delving into my personal interests in intergovernmental relationships and national sovereignty, continuing to explore the city and culture, and eating more flam!

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.

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!

A Day at the French Parliament

Following our exciting and mind-blowingingly awesome days in Paris was an unimaginable day in the French Parliament. Instead of having a regular briefing at the Assemblée Nationale we had a guided tour through the historic building. Our tour guide was amazing and she told us the history behind the building and how it used to be the home of Louise-Françoise de Bourbon and the other part of the building was the home of her lover so she could stay out of the politics in Versailles. The Palais Bourbon was breathtaking and the artistry and attention to detail in all of decorations was very impressive. The Palace was overtaken by the future Parliament after the aristocrats left Paris in order to escape the revolution.


During our time in the first room we were informed in, we learned all about the history of the French Parliament and its roots. The French Parliament really started during the French Revolution and France’s first attempts at being a Republic. With its roots in the Council of the Five Hundred meeting in the Palais the building has since been a representation of the French legislative body. In fact, the terms left-wing and right-wing came from the French Parliament because of their seating in parliament in reference to the President of the Parliament. Already feeling like I was in an amazing place, the tour guide then showed us to the library. With paintings by Delacroix done on the ceiling in six panels. Words cannot describe the beauty of the room and all of its 700,000+ books was a wonderful sight to see and experience


After the library we were taken into the main chamber of the French Parliament and got to see where the parliament meets, discusses, and votes on legislation. The room itself was just as beautiful as the rest of the Palais complete with a painting by Raphael and remnants of the reign of Napoleon still hanging on the wall.


Then, we were given a special tour the rest of the Palais and the beautifully designed Hôtel de Lassay and its themed salons. During that portion of the tour we even got to see the desk of the president of the President and where he works on legislation, but does not sign it because of superstition placed on desk of all paperwork signed on it failing. The tour concluded with that tour but, I got the unbelievable chance with Madison and Meghan to return later that day and view the parliament’s questioning of the government.


It all started with the arrival of the President of the Parliament through the Palais to the main chamber lined with guards of the Republic to represent the unity of the people and the Republican guard. Seeing the President of the Parliament was beyond amazing and I also got to see the Minister of Education as well casually strolling by right in front of me. Little did I know who I was about to see in the chamber. We got great seats in the chamber right in the center first row on the first balcony and we got a clear view of the Prime Minister of France himself who was there to personally discuss France’s new labor reforms.


During the questioning such topics as the labor reform, Brexit, and agriculture were discussed and argued upon. The whole thing was exhilarating because of the freedom of the members of parliament who were yelling and booing at each other when somebody from the opposite party spoke or said something disagreeable to them. It was entertaining to see the members there reading a newspaper the whole time but then put it up just to yell at the other members, even though it was hard to hear what the real speaker was saying. We sat through about an hour of the questioning and then ended our day by spending a free night in the beautiful city of Paris. I feel extremely lucky to be able to attend this session and am grateful that I decided to learn French in high school so I could be able to attend it and understand what was going on. It is fascinating how the French government works and I learned a whole lot today about the parliament and how it works as compared to the US system. I was interested to see how much the EU was brought up during their discussions and it proved to me that France is an important player in the EU that takes its position seriously and uses all of its power to try and make Europe a better place.

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