GT in the EU

An extraordinary education

Category: Site Visits (Page 4 of 6)

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.

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.)

We’re in PARIS!

These first two days of our trip to Paris have been fantastic. Everyone in the group is giddy because of how excited and grateful we are to be here, and a lot of that has to do with the all of the cool activities included on our itinerary for this week.


One of the famous Love Lock bridges in Paris!

After arriving at the hotel Sunday afternoon, we quickly settled in and set off for the Quartier Latin (the neighborhood where the Notre Dame is), where half the group got crepes for dinner and the other half had falafel sandwiches. Already, we knew what we were in for in terms of quality food this week. Afterwards, we strolled for about an hour in the area, and watched street dancers and walked through shops, etc.

Around 9:30, at dusk, we started our boat tour on the River Seine. The tour guide explained all of the major bridges and landmarks that could be seen from the river, as well as an explained the history of some of the neighborhoods. It was a great start to this week, because it gave us some much needed information for exploring, site-seeing, etc.

One of the breathtaking views from our boat tour of the sunset.

One of the breathtaking views from our boat tour of the sunset.

To top off our beautiful boat tour, we stopped for gelato at Dr. Birchfield’s favorite spot. The flavor choices were endless, but I decided on raspberry, lime-basil, and chocolate hazelnut. It was SO good, and I’m already looking forward to going back (maybe or maybe not every night this week).

Raspberry, lime-basil, and chocolate hazelnut gelato!

Raspberry, lime-basil, and chocolate hazelnut gelato!

Monday started with a lecture by Professor Cottle of Georgia Tech’s School of Architecture on the architecture of Paris’ arcades. He explained to us the history of the architecture and how the arcades have both evolved and maintained their original styles, and then took us on a walking tour of Paris’ arcades on the Right Bank. It was super informative, and a great way to explore an area that we otherwise may not have discovered!

The very typical glass ceiling of the Parisian arcades.

The very typical glass ceiling of the Parisian arcades.

Portrait of George C. Marshall

Portrait of George C. Marshall

George C. Marshall Center

George C. Marshall Center








The beautiful view from the George C. Marshall Center.

The beautiful view from the George C. Marshall Center.

And like any typical tourists in Paris, we finished our first full day first with the climbing of l’Arc de Triomphe for a beautiful view of the city, and next with a picnic at the Eiffel Tower. We spent time discussing some of our favorite experiences so far this summer, and gushing over how lucky we are to be here in Paris!

No picture can justice of our view from the top of l'Arc de Triomphe.

No picture can justice of our view from the top of l’Arc de Triomphe

Me, Madeline, and Rebecca at the top of l'Arc de Triomphe!

Me, Madeline, and Rebecca at the top of l’Arc de Triomphe!

An accidental candid of Will in front of the Eiffel Tower during our picnic!

An accidental candid of Will in front of the Eiffel Tower during our picnic




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