GT in the EU

An extraordinary education

Category: Security (Page 1 of 2)

The Council of the European Union

Hi! My name is Jack Sheldon and I am a second-year International Affairs and Modern Language (French) student from Atlanta, GA.

Yesterday, myself and 20 other students on the 2019 Georgia Tech European Union and Transatlantic Affairs study abroad had the privilege to visit the Council of the European Union in Brussels, Belgium. The Council of the European Union, also referred to as “the Council of Ministers”, is comprised of Union Member State heads of government along with national ministers who meet regularly in summits and working groups to engage in co-decision with the European Parliament, issue statements, and streamline policies. Yesterday, we were granted access to the Council’s two main buildings in the so-called “European Quarter” of Brussels, the Europa Consilium and the Justus Lipsius.

We began the day with a tour of the Europa building. Recently opened, this building is composed of two sections: the Résidences Palais and the Lantern. Housed in the Lantern are three meeting rooms that can accommodate from 80 to over 300 heads of state and officials. I found the smallest meeting room to be quite interesting, as it had many intentional design features and symbolic elements. First, the entire Lantern is decorated with a mosaic of vibrant colors, allegedly meant to represent colors found in Member State flags. Since lime green and neon pink are not found in any EU flags, I think the colors were meant more-so to project the Union’s motto, “United in diversity.” The building is named “the Lantern” not just for its shape but also to emphasize how the Council and Union are lights of Europe and have a duty to project power and jurisdiction in a positive manner. Logistically speaking, the meeting rooms seat the President of the Council, the High Representative of Foreign Policy and Security, and the Secretariat opposite from the Commission delegation. This shows the dynamic of the Commission acting as policy initiator and the Council working as co-decider with the European Parliament.

Exterior of the Lantern.

Vibrant carpet mosaic on the roof, found throughout the building.

The seats for Council and Parliament leadership.

The chambers are also quite small and elliptical in shape. I found this interesting because, although this allows for leaders and ministers to engage in informal and personal dialogue, it tends to exclude delegations or the press from larger meetings. Each delegation has offices in the Résidences, but it is often helpful to have them on hand (the Danish ambassadorial team has a WhatsApp group message to help with communication issues during summit sessions!). It is hard to imagine that of about four to five thousand people involved in a Council summit, only about 40 sit in the meeting room.

The second part of the Europa building, the Résidences, is the remains of a luxury 1920’s apartment complexes. It was fascinating to see the contrast between old and new; the Union is relatively old but must remain modernized and streamlined to function. In this wing, delegations and other civil servants keep offices.

Neo-renaissance styled hallway of the Résidences office wing.

Following our tour, we moved over to the Justus Lipsius building to be briefed by Mr. Alessandro Vitro, a member of the Council’s Legal Service about the Council as it relates treaty law, security, and defense. Mr. Vitro described three layers of decision-making in the Council: first about 200 expert working groups, then national ambassadors, and finally national ministers and heads of government. Foreign policy and defense are complicated for the Union; I found it quite interesting that the Commission is not able to initiate legislation for these areas, only Member States can. This is often used to rebut the claim that the Union “steals” national sovereignty, as the Member States have not conferred foreign and defense competencies exclusively to the Union.

Students at the Council briefing in a multilateral conference room.

Currently, the Union has 16 defense missions active: 10 civil and 6 military. According to treaty law, these missions cannot operate within the Union. This has posed many logistical and legal problems, especially as it relates to migrant crises in the Mediterranean and Balkans.

During class at Georgia Tech Lorraine, we learned about the Union’s Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO). The briefing gave me more context about this body. Spread across three sections in the Treaty for European Union (Maastricht), PESCO has two goals of fulfilling higher defense criteria and making more binding collective security commitments. It looks to increase spending but also make spending more efficient and effective. Currently, the Union is second in the world in military expenditures, however, it only reaps about 10% effectiveness when compared with the United States. I was not aware that PESCO had this utility that is often used to justify its means!

We also learned through students’ Member State presentations that countries like Hungary and Poland have been undergoing democratic backsliding in the past years. Poland, for example, has seen its federal judiciary independence trampled by the reigning Law and Justice (PiS) party. During the briefing, these questions were raised, and it was asked how the Council can use its legal powers to combat and punish these backslides.

According to Article 7.2 of the Treaty on European Union “In the event of a ‘serious and persistent breach’ (i.e. the country does not heed the Council’s guidance) then the Commission or one-third of countries, approved by a two-thirds majority in Parliament, calls the country to answer to the European Council again. The European Council must then decide unanimously to proceed to Article 7.3.” It was then explained that this article has proved ineffective, as invoking it requires unanimity of 28 often divergent Member States. We learned that in these cases the Council tends to hear less from these countries, seeing them as black sheep. This surprised me, because in my opinion times of democratic crisis are not times to throttle dialogues and proceedings.

The third and final part of our visit to the Council was the Visitor’s Centre. In the Centre, we watched films about how the Council, Brussels Police, and others prepare security and logistical arrangements for higher-level officials and European summits. We also got to quiz our knowledge on the Union, and got some fun photos while we were at it!

Students showing their love for the EU!

In summary, the site visit to the Council of the European Union’s main buildings was eye-opening and helped to supplement the class work, discussions, and readings pertaining to the Council, the Union, pooling of sovereignty, and European integration as a whole. It is bittersweet to say that our visits to the Union’s Institutional Triangle are officially over, but I along with my peers have learned so much in the past two weeks. Now to Versailles!




The Swedish Foreign Ministry


Today, after a weekend spent learning about Swedish history and walking around Stockholm, including a visit to the Vasa Museum, we visited the Swedish Foreign Ministry and the Swedish Parliament. I will talk about the visit to the Swedish Foreign Ministry and my colleague will talk about the visit to the Parliament tomorrow.

At the Swedish Foreign Ministry, we were briefed by an Ambassador who now heads up the European section of the ministry.  He last served as Ambassador for Sweden to the Netherlands so his view points were unique and interesting.

He started off his presentation by talking about the complicated relationship that Sweden has with the European Union and about the history of Sweden. He made a point on the wars with Russia in the 18th century which changed Sweden and led to the policy of neutrality that it successfully upheld during both World Wars. After the Cold War, and during the economic crisis in the 1990s, Sweden saw the benefits of the European Union and joined in 1995 (with Austria and Finland) after a positive referendum in 1994. However, Sweden is not part of the Eurozone and in the last referendum on whether Sweden should join the Eurozone, the public voted not to. As with other site visits, the Brexit issue emerged and the official stated that the UK is an important ally for Sweden within the European Union and that a Brexit would force Sweden to seek other similar minded allies. Interestingly, he also mentioned that about 65% of Swedes are for TTIP and that public backlash has been minimal. This is certainly interesting since in other countries the same percentage is opposed to TTIP.

Sweden is one of the EU member states that is not part of NATO, but Sweden allows NATO to conduct exercises on Swedish territory and with Swedish troops. Sweden also contributes to NATO missions as well as to EU missions. I think that the most important point that the official made was that the EU allows small countries like Sweden to influence global politics.

Tomorrow we had back to Brussels!

At the Foreign Ministry



Pastries at the Polish Embassy

Today we started off at our first embassy visit of the program at the Polish embassy. After getting turned around about where to meet, I was still able to make it on time for the briefing. The first thing I noticed was how nice and modern the embassy building was and how polite everybody was being towards us. We were then pleasantly escorted into our briefing room where there was a wonderful arrangement of pastries and tea and coffee. I personally felt that we were treated very nicely at the embassy and they even gave us free goodies.


Our briefing was given to us by three people. One of the people briefing us was a Polish representative from NATO, a Polish representative from the EU, and a representative from the Polish embassy. I enjoyed this variety of speaker because we got to see how the country differed under their different hats and institutions. The briefing began with a short overview of Polish interest by the representative who was not associated with NATO or the EU  and then he switched over to to his EU colleague for the Polish perspective in the EU. This man started off with discussing the focus of Poland’s interests, which is currently the East, or Russia. From the Polish perspective in the EU, Russia is still a threat and Poland is actively trying to work with its Eastern neighbors to try and work on this threat. Even though they are not very similar to the Eastern states, they all seem to want to come together to try and figure out what they need to do about Russia especially since their illegal annexation of Crimea. He also briefly mentioned pressure from the South, but stated that Poland believes that their borders should be maintained and the border of its partners should be maintained as well.

Then, the representative from NATO spoke to us about the differences of threat perception in NATO and what Poland viewed as its most pressing threat. Obviously again, it was pressure from the East. She discussed this in terms of the upcoming Warsaw summit and Poland’s goals at the Summit. The problem in Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia’s snap exercises were mentioned for goals to address during the summit. Another goal for the Warsaw summit was the enhancement of the Eastern Flank and the challenges Poland has doing that while not trying to provoke Russia. The lady also mentioned their principle of solidarity in terms of pressure in the South with the rest of their NATO partners, a need for common understanding in NATO between member states, a need for other countries to start spending more on defense, and the need to address rising security threats in hybrid warfare.

The briefing finished up with some insightful questions from my fellow students and one was interestingly strategically avoided by the Polish representatives on their recent slap on the rest by the EU. Overall, today was an interesting day that helped us to understand the views of one of the largest countries i the EU who is facing anew era of security challenges today.

Our visit to SHAPE

Today, our day started with a taste of social action in Belgium, since there was no public transportation due to a strike. It shows that there are economic and social issues that Belgium is dealing with and also illustrates how strong Unions are in Belgium.  Despite these challenges, everyone somehow made it on time to the meeting spot. After a two and a half hour bus ride, we finally made it to the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers of Europe (SHAPE) in Casteau, Belgium near Mons.

SHAPE is the headquarters of the Allied Command Operations (ACO) which controls all North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) operations worldwide. The commander of the ACO is known as the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) and is General Curtis Scaparrotti as of May 2016. His predecessor was General Breedlove, a Georgia Tech alumnus.

We had an introduction presentation by a NATO official and then another presentation by a EU Military Staff Officer.

The NATO official gave us a general overview of both NATO and SHAPE and reviewed information that we had learned in our security course and on our site visit at NATO earlier in the program. The presentation reiterated that NATO is a political and military alliance between sovereign states which are each responsible for their own and collective defence. One notable figure from the presentation was that in 1993, NATO has 32 different headquarters whereas in 2016 that number has been reduced to 11 to reduce redundancy.

Today, NATO has to react faster to local conflicts meaning that it needs a lighter and more capable structure. Risks today are harder to predict and can come from new challenges. The Very High Readiness Joint Task Force was created to be able to react to these challenges in a fast and effective manor (i.e. Within 48 hours).

The active NATO missions and operations are KFOR in Kosovo, Ocean Shield in the Gulf of Aden, Active Endeavour in the Mediterranean Sea, Air Policing Mission in the Baltic States, Resolute Support in Afghanistan and a Deployment in Turkey. KFOR’s goal is to ameliorate the security situation. Ocean Shield’s goal is to combat privacy in a dense trading zone. Active Endeavour’s goal is to counter terrorism and deter weapons, drugs, and human trafficking. The Air Policing mission aims to preserve the integrity of the NATO Airspace in the Baltic States and has 25 fighter jets. The Resolute Support Mission’s goal is to train, advise, and assist Afghani military and police forces.

Our next presentation was by a EU Military Staff Officer. He gave us an overview of the EU structure and then discussed the European Common Security and Defence Policy as well as EU- NATO Relations. One important point that he made is that the EU often has a complimentary job to NATO in terms of defence so as to not duplicate effort from common member states (of which there are 22). It was interesting to note that NATO has a Permanent Liaison Team to the EU and that the EU has a Cell at SHAPE. The EU Military Staff are the military experts within the European External Action Service (EEAS). Our present or then discussed common areas for deployments, the Berlin Plus Agreement and EU Military Operations.

The common areas for deployments were (and are) in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Somalia, and Afghanistan. The Berlin Plus agreement assured access to NATO planning capabilities, availability of NATO command operations (through the DSACEUR- who is also the commander of EU operations), presumption of availability of NATO capabilities and common assets as well as the adaptation of NATO Defence Planning. This agreement was the most important step in developing EU NATO relations.

The EU Currently has 6 ongoing military operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mali, Central African Republic, Somalia, the Gulf of Aden, and the Mediterranean Sea. Past operations have occurred in Macedonia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Central African Republic.

We had the honour of having lunch with a NATO official who shared several interesting points of views on different issues before returning to Brussels.

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