GT in the EU

An extraordinary education

Category: Site Visits (Page 1 of 6)

The French Senate

In the very last site visit of our program, we went to the French Senate located in Luxembourg Place where we learned more about the French government and the history of the building. The visit was bittersweet because we got to see the grandeur of the palace and amazing sights such as Napoleon’s throne and Victor Hugo’s senate seat, it also meant that our time together was coming to an end as shortly after, people started heading to the airport.

While we waited on the tour to begin, we were given a brief civics lesson on how the senate in France works; it is interesting to see how similar yet how different this Senate is to the one at home. The Senate is the upper house of the Parliament; they review bills and monitor the government. Unlike the National Assembly, they can not be dissolved and act as a guarantee of institutional stability. Senators are elected for 6-year terms through indirect elections carried out by population-proportionate districts. 

After this, we got to walk through the palace, starting in the west wing, which is the original building built by Queen Marie de’ Medici. Here we learned about the many historical aspects of the building. 

We started our visit in the famous Salle du Livre d’Or which is the only part that remains the same from Queen Marie de’ Medici original palace.

After the French Revolution, the Palace was converted into a legislature and was briefly the first residence of Napoleon Bonaparte since he was the first consul of the Republic. From this comes some of the palaces most interesting artifacts. The Salle des Conférences was commissioned during the second Empire and thus holds mainly that stye but it also includes Napoleon’s Throne which was used both by Napoleon and Napoleon III. 

After we walked through here we went into the main Senate chamber where we learned about the Senate’s procedures, and we got the rare honor of being able to sit in their seats; we are able to literally see everything from their positions. We saw the seats of previous notable senators such as Victor Hugo. 

Then we made our way to the Library where we were able to look in, the Senate holds many copies very old and rare books including some that in Napoleon’s collections. After that we walked out through the grand main entrance into the Luxembourg Gardens, It truly was a memorable end to an amazing summer. 

Our Trip to Munich

Upon our arrival to Munich, our study abroad group was given background on our two main visits that would occur within our couple of days in this historical city. Our visit to Munich was in order to supplement our understanding of the creation and duration of Nazi Germany, as well as learning how this state resulted in the beginning of World War II. We began our journey to further understanding of Nazism with our visit to Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site, which was the pilot concentration camp that formed the method of how individuals would be treated at concentration camps during the Final Solution. This site is also a memorial to the 41,500 lives lost at this concentration camp.

Our study abroad group, accompanied by Dr. Claire Greenstein, a professor at Georgia Tech with a background in German history, began our visit with the film offered at the memorial site. This film gave an inside look as to how Hitler became the Chancellor of Germany, followed by his dictatorship that created the Dachau Concentration Camp as one of its first projects. This concentration camp was first intended for political prisoners, which consisted of politicians and activists that held ideals that differed from the National Socialist Party. The identities expanded to include Jewish people, Jehovah’s Witnesses, gay men, and other minority populations in Germany by 1935 in order to promote a pure Germany. This film detailed the terrible conditions in which the prisoners were forced to endure and conveyed the feelings of hopelessness of all who were sent to Dachau. Following this film, we were given the opportunity to explore the memorial site and educate ourselves on the events that took place at this concentration camp, as well as the lessons learned from Germany after World War II.

Later in our visit to Munich, we attended a walking tour of the Third Reich. This tour supplemented our knowledge of Hitler’s rise to power in Germany with historical sight-seeing and an engaging tour guide to lead us around Munich. We began in the center of Munich, where we were given some background information on Hitler’s political career before he became the Chancellor of Germany in 1933. We learned that the well-known book, Mein Kampf, was written during his time in jail, where he had been imprisoned for his political views. This book contained the anti-Semitic ideology that Hitler later used as a tool to convince the German people that he held the solution to their economic crisis following World War I. We also visited a hotel that was the site in which a group of Hitler’s followers decided to dedicate their lives to protecting the Chancellor; these men were later known as Hitler’s secret service. The tour ended by the tour guide leading us to the location where the Nazi Party derived its origin story from. At this location, several Nazis were in armed conflict with other policemen that resulted in the death of six Nazi politicians. In order to honor the lives of these politicians, it was necessary to salute to their memorial as one would walk past this specific location. The photo below shows where this memorial was once placed.

This memorial had unintentionally created Dodger’s Alley, where those who did not wish to salute at this memorial would take an alternate route, which became very unsafe as the Nazi Regime took a stronger hold in Germany. Today, this site is often used as a place events that would have never been condoned under Nazi Germany, such as Munich Pride. This tour gave us an important understanding of what the Third Reich looked like for those who lived in Germany during that time, as well as an understanding of how present-day Munich addresses its past.

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!




First day in The Hague!

   This morning we all said our last goodbyes to our host families and thanked them for their generosity and kindness over the past couple of weeks. We all managed to lug our heavy suitcases onto the train and we were on our way to the next portion of our adventure. We kicked off this last part of our ten week excursion with a one way ticket to Den Haag, also known as The Hague. When I told my friends and family that I was traveling to The Hague, many were confused as to where it was and why I was going. Most do not know that The Hague, the third largest city in the Netherlands, is an international city of peace and justice that houses some of the most influential institutions in terms of human and civil rights. It is home to the International Criminal Court and the Peace Palace, which seats the International Court of Justice and the Permanent Court of Arbitration. Aside from the institutions, The Hague has all of the elements to make a perfectly balanced city. It contains the city aspect with the close and compact office and shopping buildings, but also has a beautiful beach and absolutely amazing weather!

   After clumsily carrying our luggage from the train station to the hotel, we settled in and then were immediately on the move. We has an appointment at the International Criminal Court (ICC) at 14:30 and made it there with time to spare. Upon arriving, we were greeted by the daughter-in-law of one of our host families! She gave us an extremely informative presentation on the ICC and how it operates. The International Criminal Court was established on July 17, 1998 with the Rome Statute and went into force on July 1, 2002 after being ratified by sixty states. She explained that the ICC puts individuals on trial for war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity, and most recently: crimes of aggression. The Rome Statute established that the ICC can only hold trial if a state unwilling or unable to properly investigate and prosecute the perpetrators, meaning that the court does not infringe on national sovereignty. Cases are brought forth in one of three ways: 1. A state request that the court conduct an investigation and/or trial, 2. The United Nations security council refers a case, or 3. The Office of the Prosecutor opens an initiative for an investigation with permission from the Pre-Trial chamber judges. The ICC has heard 26 cases and resulted in 8 convictions and 2 acquittals. The ICC can issue arrest warrants, but the court itself does not have a police force meaning that arrests rely on states and cooperation between states. This is due to a stipulation in the Rome Statute which states that the court holds the judicial pillar and the states hold the states hold the operational pillar, meaning that any execution of action is left up to the individual states. The court is funded by a combination of state contributions, individual contributions, international organizations, and corporations.

International Criminal Court


   Two of the most interesting aspects of the court, in my opinion, is the concept of no immunity and the most recent addition of crimes of aggression. The concept of no immunity is simply the idea that no one is exempt from the prosecution of the court, including head of states, government members, or other people in prominent positions. This reinforces the idea that no one is above the law and everyone must be held accountable for their actions. The other interesting aspect is the addition of crimes of aggression to the court’s jurisdiction. The ICC defines a crime of aggression as the planning, initiation, or execution of using force to infringe on another state’s national sovereignty. The individual that would be held responsible is whoever has the authority to exercise military action in a state. The concept of no immunity and the newly added jurisdiction of crimes of aggression seem to compliment each other, with the crimes of aggression being more specifically targeted towards powerful and influential individuals. The addition of crimes of aggression comes with the most recent amendment of the Rome Statute in 2010 and will be going into full effect within the next month.

   After our informative presentation and session in the visitors center, the group gathered outside in the nice, sunny weather to discuss and unpack all of the information with Dr.Birchfield and Dr.Markley. One of the most interesting points of the conversation touched on how the United States is not apart of the International Criminal Court. Criticisms were made against the United States because the US claims to champion human and civil rights, but does not take part in the ICC, one of the core institutions that works to promote human and civil rights. Others pointed out that if the United States were to take part, it would make the US a target to many cases involving high level military officials due to the large number of military missions that the US is involved in. The United States will most likely continued to be criticized for not participating in the ICC, but it does not seem to have the desire to join any time soon.

International Criminal Court Debrief


   Once our session at the ICC ended, we all prepared to have a traditional dutch pancake by the beach for dinner. The pancake is not at all like a traditional American pancake, but it was still just as delicious! There were various options for savory filling such as stir fried chicken, smoked salmon, or Thai beef. For dessert we had a traditional dutch dessert called poffertjes. They are reminiscent of American mini pancakes, but slightly denser with a sweet touch. After dinner we watched the sunset on the pier, a perfect way to end to our first day at The Hague!

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