GT in the EU

An extraordinary education

Category: Site Visits (Page 2 of 6)

Build the Highway!, the Death of Memes, and Why Not 100 Scenarios?

After visiting the EEAS earlier in the day, we headed to the European Parliament to attend a couple of briefings by MEPs. But before we went in, we ran into demonstrators from all over Europe, who were protesting all sorts of issues, from shady politics in Romania, to the EU’s proposed new copyright laws, to Donald Trump.

The first protest we noticed was about a highway in Romania, but all their signs said Moldova, which was a little confusing at first. Since we were puzzled by what their sign saying “Moldova vrea autostrada” meant, we approached them and asked them about their cause. They explained to us that the Romanian government is purposely withholding funds that it should be spending to build a highway between the Moldavia (sic) region and the rest of Romania, apparently to keep the area underdeveloped. After looking into this, I learned that they were referring to the “Autostrada A8,” which is a project that has been in the planning since 2007, and remains in the “feasibility studies” stage to this day. Oh, and it turns out that what the sign says is “Moldova wants the highway.”

There were also events observing World Refugee Day, one of them being a dance by the Syrian ballet dancer, Ahmad Joudeh. According to the Socialists and Democrats group (S&D), the event sought to highlight the positive things that refugees are doing around the world.

Outdoor ballet performance by Syrian dancer Ahmad Joudeh celebrating the United Nations World Refugee Day. Source: EP

One of the demonstrations that immediately caught our attention consisted of a group of six women holding signs that read ‘STOP TRUMP.’ They came all the way from Greece to tell the MEPs that Trump is a threat to minorities and women. They did not expect any action to be taken by the European Parliament, they just wanted to share their message.

After talking to some of the demonstrators outside the parliament, we proceeded to go inside the parliament for our briefings. The first meeting was with Mady Delvaux, an MEP from Luxembourg and member of the S&D group. She is the Vice-chair of the Committee on Legal Affairs, which that day had just voted 13-12 in favor of the new EU Copyright Directive. The directive was a hot topic of discussion during the briefing, especially articles 11 and 13, that could restrict the access to news publications online, and force websites to have a copyright screening mechanism for all content uploaded by its users. MEP Delvaux voted against this directive, citing that it would be detrimental to the access of news online, and will hurt smaller, rising websites while it benefits the already well-established platforms.

Meeting with MEP Mady Delvaux

Sign Outside the Parliament Protesting the new Copyright Directive

The new directive could also infringe on the right to freedom of speech, making the internet less open, less free. Oh, and did I mention that article 13 will have the unintended effect of basically ending internet meme culture? Yeah, the internet is not very happy about that. Here are just a couple of memes to protest the likely extinction of memes as we know them.

MEP Delvaux was out to another meeting as we prepared to meet with Mr. Tamas Meszerics, a Hungarian member of the Green Party. Our discussion with MEP Meszerics touched on several important issues facing the EU, but one that stood out the most to me is what the EU is going to do about its own future. Naturally, the question about what his preferred scenario is came up (from the five scenarios presented in the White Paper on the Future of Europe). Mr. Meszerics’ response to this question was very different to every other we had received on this issue. First, he pointed out that none of the scenarios said a word about institutional change (to be expected since it was published by the Commission). Second, placing policies conveniently into packages creates fake consensus, and is manipulative, said MEP Meszerics. Why 5 scenarios? Why place Juncker’s preferred scenario in the middle? Why not 12 scenarios? Or 100? The conversation with Mr. Meszerics was a very interesting one, and it covered many issues from an angle that we had not been exposed to before.

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!

The Battle of the Bulge

Today we took a trip to Bastogne, Belgium, the heart of World War Two’s Battle of the Bulge. While in Bastogne we visited the Mardasson Memorial, the Bastogne War Museum, and took a trip into the city for lunch

The Mardasson Memorial is an impressive monument to the sacrifices of American soldiers in the liberation of Bastogne and the rest of the western front. The memorial starts light heartedly with a larger than life statue of the “V-J Day in Times Square” kiss. It then progresses to a tall cement star surrounding a small garden. The star has the names of the then 48 states on its arms and on the inside. After a quick photo-op with the “Georgia” section of the memorial we were free to explore and experience the area. The most impressive section was the top of the memorial itself. After a scaling a small spiral staircase you could walk around the top of the memorial and view the area in which the battle took place. Small plaques at each arm of the star told you what you were looking at and what happened in each direction. Being able to get an overview of the actual land the battle took place on made it feel all that more real. This was especially impactful when coupled with the museum that followed.

The Bastogne War Museum is a moving tribute to the lives that were lost in the battle for liberation while also being incredibly informative and helping visitors understand the battle. The museum follows the journeys of 4 main characters. The first, Emile, is a young Belgian boy who is growing up during the war and learns to live under Nazi occupation and through the stress of battle. We see how Emile has much of his childhood taken from him during the war and how he must quickly grow up after the loss of his family during the battle for liberation. The next story we follow is that of Mathilde, young school teacher in Bastogne. Under the occupation, she runs messages for the Belgian resistance and during the battle she shelters children in the cellar of one of Emile’s uncles. She shows how much of the native population responded to the war and the battle and the responsibility they took on in a time of great fear and danger. The third actor we hear from is Hans, a German Lieutenant who fought at Stalingrad and ends up captured in the battle. Hans shows us that the soldiers on the other side of the battle weren’t monsters, just people raised and indoctrinated in a toxic culture. Hans reaches redemption in the end of the story, as after he survives the war he becomes active in West German Politics working to redeem and reunify his country. The last person we hear from is Robert, an American soldier deployed on the western front who is trapped in the city of Bastogne during the battle. Robert shows us the chaos that soldiers lived through during the war. He also reminds us of the costs of war since he lost his brother in the pacific campaign and his son in Vietnam.

These stories guide us through the museum, bringing a unique and human element to the battle. The interactive films serve as flashbacks for visitors. The connections that we built with the actors in helped us connect to their experiences.

After the museum, we took a short trip into the city of Bastogne itself. While the lunch that we had was excellent, the most amazing thing was seeing how the city managed to come back from the battle. In the area that we saw there were almost no signs that most of the city was destroyed only 70 years before. The resilience of the population to rebuild their home after such a tragedy is admirable and was amazing to see.

Tomorrow, we are going to see the Lorraine American Cemetery. After experiencing the memorial and the museum I hope that we are better able to appreciate the cemetery with our improved understanding of what life was like during the war.

Visiting the Bundestag

On our second day in Berlin, we began our site visits with a trip to the Bundestag, where we were shown around by an official in the upper house of the German Parliament. The parliament is not currently in session, but will return later in September. As we walked through several parliamentary buildings, one of the things that I noticed was how much care was put into the architecture and design of the buildings. The various architects and designers employed to work on the buildings were given an extraordinary amount of control over their respective areas, and the resulting rooms and buildings are really something to see. Not only are they impressive architectural works of art, many of the features on the parliamentary buildings have great historical or political significance. For example, the plenary room, which our guide referred to as the most important room of the parliament, was designed in such a way that a person can stand outside the building from a great distance away and see directly into the glass walls of the room. The intended result was a room that is both transparent and somehow accessible to the people, reflecting the transparency of the parliament and processes. German history is also an integral part of the parliamentary buildings; there are many references to German identity and history in the buildings themselves and in the tunnels under them. Below the Bundestag in one tunnel is a construction of boxes bearing the names of German MPs. Certain boxes are specially marked and commemorate the members who were killed or imprisoned standing up to the Nazi regime. In this way, the construction is not just a record of those who have served the German people in parliament; it is also a sort of memorial.
The tour of the Bundestag presented an opportunity to see some incredible architecture as well as a glimpse into German culture and history. In each country we’ve visited so far, we have seen multiple government buildings and parliaments, but the visit to the Bundestag gave us an example of how history affects national identity in a very visible way. Throughout the buildings, we saw memorials and monuments commemorating German independence and reunification as well as the events of World War II. Entire rooms and buildings have been redesigned to intentionally reflect changes in German identity and values, making them works of art as well as historical reminders. It was incredibly interesting to see a visible representation of how deeply German culture and politics are linked to historical events.
After the tour, we were briefed by Mr. Hardt, a member of the German Parliament as well as the official coordinator for transatlantic cooperation. He began the briefing by speaking about some of the main topics on the agendas of the EU and the German parliament; according to Hardt, the primary concern at the moment is Brexit, which few expected would actually happen and for which no one was prepared. As the European Union prepares for the UK’s secession, their top priority will be to avoid losing power by showing the European people that they are still strong and prepared to follow through in spite of the referendum. As a part of this effort, Angela Merkel will release a new strategy approach after this coming March, which might involve closer cooperation between state governments as well as EU institutions. We also discussed the potential economic and policy effects of Brexit on both the United Kingdom and the European Union, including what the possible impacts will be on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. In regards to how TTIP will be affected, Hardt’s opinion was that both the EU and the US consider TTIP and its progress a top priority, which will take precedence over any future bilateral trade agreements with the UK. As a result, the UK is at a disadvantage in its trade negotiations with both sides, and its relationship with the US will likely deteriorate, as the United States’ first trade priority is with the EU and not the UK. He also remarked that the UK has weakened significantly its bargaining power with the EU by not actively taking a role in EU politics and issues for the past few years. He finds it unlikely that Great Britain will be able to remain within the single market; while it will probably form a special agreement with the EU, it will not enjoy full integration into the single market after leaving. Hardt also spoke about the direct impacts that Brexit has had on Germany, its role as a member state, and its people’s perceptions of the EU. With the loss of such a large and influential member state, it is possible that Germany will take a stronger leadership role within the EU.
We also discussed the rise of right-wing politics across the European continent, a trend which has become evident with the events of the UK referendum and the recent presidential elections (and re-elections) in Austria. The success of the French Front Nationale and the Austrian People’s Party has been characterized by the rise of national-populistic rhetoric and strong anti-EU sentiment, which is also evident in the words and actions of a number of members of the European Parliament who are actively anti-EU. The events of the Syrian refugee crisis and recent economic hardships (largely due to the financial crisis of 2008), have increased similar sentiments in many European countries. However, by contrast, public support for the EU has recently increased in Germany. Mr. Hardt mentioned that even in the midst of the refugee influx, which encouraged right-wing support in other countries, support for the German far right party was only around 10%, and has since fallen lower. He told us that while the far right party will likely become an acting party in parliament next year, they will do so only as a tiny percentage, echoing what we heard from the official who toured the Bundestag with us earlier in the day.
Finally, our briefing with Mr. Hardt included a conversation on current German politics, including an analysis of Angela Merkel. In particular, he mentioned a decisive moment in Merkel’s career in which she spoke on the topic of refugees, saying that if one can’t be friendly and open to refugees in Germany, then it is not her country. It was very interesting and informative to hear the perspective of a German MP on Angela Merkel and her approach to refugee policy, which has such huge implications for European states today. It was also interesting to hear Hardt’s opinions on TTIP- he gave us part of his explanation as to why negotiations might be moving so slowly. In addition to being extremely complex and difficult to explain to citizens, the trade deal is also encountering issues with differing standards of production, mistrust on both sides of the negotiations, and a certain reluctance to embrace changes that might come with a final deal. The 14th round of negotiations began on the previous day, and there will be a council meeting in September regarding progress. Hardt finds it unlikely that the agreement will be finished before President Obama’s term is up, which means that the next US president will very likely have to look at the final stages of the agreement and push it through. While many speakers have expressed extreme doubt that the agreement will pass if not completed under the Obama administration, Hardt seemed to be of the opinion that the new US president will be able to finish the TTIP negotiations. The briefing has only made it more evident how closely the world is watching the upcoming elections; it’s been spoken about in nearly every single site visit, and this one was no exception. Speaking with MP Hardt was a great opportunity to gain a further understanding of the importance of cooperation between the EU and the US as well as insight into German politics. As we come to the end of the program, it will be very interesting to follow Germany’s evolving role in the EU and in transatlantic relations.

Page 2 of 6

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén