The Binnenhof and the Peace Palace

After spending the last eight and a half weeks focusing on the EU and other International institutions one could be excused for temporarily forgetting the importance of national governments. Nonetheless, we stepped back into the slightly smaller world of national politics this morning with a trip to the Binnenhof, the headquarters of the Dutch government. After receiving VIP passes for our guided tour we were taken into the complex that has stood since the 13th century.  We followed our guide into an old wine cellar where we watched a short video explaining the history of the Binnenhof. The complex had been built by Dutch nobility in the mid 1200’s and was slowly expanded over the following centuries. It served many roles under differing Dutch, Spanish, and French governments but eventually became the location for the Senate and the House of Representatives. Though the House grew too large and recently moved to a different complex, the Binnenhof still houses the Senate, the Prime Minister’s office and serves as the center of government in the hearts of the Dutch people.

Probably the most well-known event that happens at the Binnenhof is Prince’s Day or Budget Day, where every year, on the third Tuesday of September, the King gives a speech to the House of Representatives, the Senate, and many high-level diplomats in the Hall of Knights. In this speech, he outlines the major governmental objectives for the coming year. This day is also important because it is when the finance minister outlines the country’s budget for the coming year. In the hall, there is an upper balcony where the public can come and watch. However, it is quite small and our guide said that the waiting list to get in on Prince’s Day is ten years long.

Out guide then took us out of the hall and, from the courtyard, showed us where Dutch leaders were currently debating as they try to form a coalition government. The Netherlands is primarily represented by the 150-member House of Representatives. The members of the house are chosen by proportional representation with around 70,000 votes resulting in one seat in parliament. This system, while effective at including many different viewpoints, also leads to a body with many different political parties. Our guide informed us that since the current governmental system came into place, the Netherlands has never had a single party gain a simple majority and there are currently 13 parties represented in the House. The largest party in the house, the leftist VVD headed by current Prime Minister Mark Rutte, has 33 seats while the smallest party, the Forum for Democracy, holds just two seats. The largest four parties are currently working on creating a coalition government. Worryingly, these negotiations have been going for over 110 days as compared to the historical average of 90.

We then were taken into the historical Senate chamber. The room is a majestically decorated portal to the golden age of the Netherlands. Portraits of some of the most important Dutch citizens surround the room. Along the ceiling, painted by students of Rembrandt, are caricatures of people from across the word trying to get a glimpse of how the Netherlands was so successful. In the center of the painted ceiling was a portrait of Dutch children watching the politicians to remind them that they are setting an example for posterity. Over the President’s seat in the center of the chamber hangs a portrait of King William the first, who ceded much of his power to the people. Officially this happened because the good king recognized the need for representative government and wanted to help his citizens. Our guide had a different understanding. He told us that the King was worried about two things, first his large outstanding debts to his cousin, the Russian Tsar. Secondly, he was worried about the possibility of political blackmail from his opposition due to his many affairs with both women and men. Afraid of damaging his public image, our guide suggested that he ceded his power to remain popular in the eyes of the citizens. Nonetheless, King William’s portrait hangs proudly in the Senate and is remembered for his actions that benefit the Dutch people.

The Senate as a legislative body is also interesting. Rather than being directly elected, the 75 Senators are selected by regional legislatures. This separates the body from the public and leads to it being slightly different in makeup from the House. Another interesting quirk about the Senate is that it is only a part time position. The body only meets once a week and the members have other jobs in politics or industry outside of being Senators. This gives the members the ability to see the impact of legislation in real life. In the passing of legislation, the Senators review all the bills after they are passed by the House. However, the Senate can only approve or deny legislation, not write their own or make amendments. Because of this inability to act there have been some proposals to disband the Senate entirely but for now it remains a traditional part of the Dutch legislative process.

After our short foray into national politics we wandered back into the realm of supranational organizations by going to see the Peace Palace, the location of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA). Sadly, we were not able to take a tour of the building but we were able to learn about the important work done there by visiting the Palace Museum. The Palace was built in the early years of the 20th century after two peace conferences in 1899 and 1907 and a sizable donation from Andrew Carnegie. Initially only supporting the PCA, the project seemed fool hearted in the first half of the 20th century which saw the worst conflict that the world has ever seen in WW1 and WW2. However, after the founding of the ICJ in 1945 as the principal judicial body of the UN the Palace began to see a resurgence. In modern times both the PCA and the ICJ help nations to resolve international conflicts without resorting to military means. There were case studies highlighting the successes of the organizations such as a dispute over Red Sea islands between Eretria and Yemen or a conflict over the building of a dam between Slovakia and Hungary. The ICJ and the PCA play an integral role in maintaining peace in our modern world and will be increasingly necessary as technology accelerates the pace of change.

The Peace Palace is also home to the Hague Academy of International Law and the Peace Palace Library. The Academy draws professors and students from around the world in the study of international law. Students can attend lectures from some of the world’s most prestigious international law academics and receive an internationally recognized and valued honor in having attended the Academy. The Palace is also home to the famous library, created as Carnegie’s one requirement for his funding of the building. The library is one of the most important international law libraries in the world and serves both the legal professionals in the ICJ and the PCA as well as the Academy’s students.

Our day saw a wide breath of information packed into two relatively quick site visits. Along with giving us a basic understanding of how Dutch government operates, our trip to Binnenhof also gave us another glimpse at a democratic alternative to the US legislative system. Being able to compare other systems around the world can help us see the strengths and weaknesses of our own system and think of opportunities for improvement. The trip to the Peace Palace gave us another consider how international organizations based on cooperation are essential to maintaining the current peaceful world order. The museum gave us a wonderful, interactive consider the two bodies and gave us a reason to come back and spend more time in a full tour. Tomorrow we are looking forward to a day trip to Amsterdam to take advantage of some of great museums, cultural, and historical landmarks that this region offers.

NATO Part 2

*Disclaimer: all comments made to us at NATO were made off the record, and are not official statements*

After a long lunch and a trip to the gift shop, we continued our visit to NATO with a briefing from Geta Medeleanu, a member of the Romanian Delegation to NATO. Mrs. Medeleanu has only been a part of the Romanian Delegation for one year, as a counselor in the political section of the delegation, but spent 18 previous years in the Romanian Diplomatic Service.

The primary focus of our briefing was the impressive strength and duration of the relationship between Romania and the U.S (145 years!). Mrs. Medeleanu reiterated a fact made to us earlier by Dr. Markley, that Romanians have a very positive view of the U.S., even if they aren’t the biggest fans of Donald Trump. She also elaborated on the extent to which the Romania-U.S. relationship goes by describing the “Joint Declaration on Strategic Partnership for the 21st Century Between the United States of America and Romania”. This partnership includes measures for ballistic missile defense where the U.S. assists in protecting Romania’s eastern border, promotion of economic cooperation through trade and investment between Romanian and American companies, and even educational connections through scholarships and student exchanges.

Logo for the ten year anniversary of Romanian membership to NATO in 2013

As for Romania’s role on NATO, Mrs. Medeleanu described Romania as punching above its size, meaning Romania contributes significantly more to NATO than people would expect. Romania is a contributor to several ongoing NATO missions including Afghanistan (of which Romania also contributes additional support to the U.S. effort in Afghanistan outside of NATO), preserving stability in Kosovo, improving cybersecurity in Ukraine, and supporting one of their neighbor countries, Moldova. Romania is also an advocate for Georgia’s membership to NATO, and has an expert on the team helping to support this goal in Georgia, as well as being one of pilot states for the #WeareNATO campaign. In terms of the controversy of President Trump’s statements on the burden sharing of NATO members and the 2% defense spending threshold, Mrs. Medeleanu assured us that Romania was one of the few countries who met the 2% threshold. This, I later discovered could be false, given Romanian President Klaus Iohannis said in his press conference with President Trump in Washington D.C. that he was committing Romania to increasing their defense spending from 1.4% to 2% by the end of the year.

Romanian President Iohannis meeting with President Trump at the White House in June

As we came to the end of our time with Mrs. Medeleanu, she described to us the fun tradition of the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest’s 4th of July parties, of which the theme this year was baseball. I think I can speak for my fellow students in saying that this celebration of U.S. Independence Day by Romanian citizens was an interesting and authentic view of the deep relationship between the two nations.

Our next and last speaker of the day was Commander Don Dasher, a Georgia Tech alum (go jackets!). Commander Dasher started in the Navy using his prestigious civil engineering degree from Tech before coming to NATO and becoming involved in the more international affairs related side of the military.

Our briefing started in a different style from the ones previous with more of a quiz on our NATO knowledge, instead of having it lectured to us for the millionth time. We hopefully impressed him by knowing when and why NATO started (1949, to combat Soviet expansionism), how many members there are (12 in 1949, 29 now – 2 North American and the rest European), the article from which the NATO members derive the right to create the organization (Article 51 of the UN Charter), and the most well-known article of the two-and-a-half-page NATO treaty (Article 5, collective defense).

The next phase of our discussion was more question and answers based, about topics we didn’t know as much about. One of the topics I found most interesting, was about the functioning of NATO meetings in several different languages. NATO has two official languages, English and French, but people can still use their native languages to speak, which requires dozens of interpreters and translators. The translation process can sometimes make the negotiation process difficult because the same words or phrases can’t always be translated into different languages. Commander Dasher gave us the example of the U.S. saying at English that they want to walk, but perhaps there isn’t a word for “walk” in another language, so the French, for instance, hear “run” and start reacting because that’s way too fast. So then, the U.S. has to communicate to the French that they want to do as clearly as they can, so both sides understand the process, method, or whatever is being discussed. Commander Dasher said himself that this wasn’t the best analogy, but I think we all understood the underlying concept.

After this briefing, our long day at NATO (and separation from our cell phones) was over. Overall, our briefings today gave us interesting insights into the role and functioning or NATO through several different personal perspectives. I believe that we all left with a deeper understanding and appreciation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, even though they took our phones.

Group photo outside of NATO in front of the member state flags

NATO Part 2

As soon as we stepped off of the bus at the NATO stop, two daunting buildings came into view- one the new NATO building, not yet ready for use, and the NATO building that has been used by NATO since its establishment in Brussels. Immediately, security came up to us to lead us to the security booth. We had to leave all electronic devices at the gate, so sadly (but understandably) there are limited pictures from the day. We were given visitor passes and then ushered into a conference room for our first speaker.

Our first speaker’s name is Allison Hart, and she is the Executive Officer of the Public Diplomacy Division of NATO. The first thing that she said was that we all must agree that everything that she and the next speaker said was strictly off of the record. Because of this, I cannot cover the exact things that were said and discussed; however, I will give a general overview. She laid out the structure of NATO and how decisions are made and actions are implemented. NATO is an organization where decisions must be made unanimously, meaning more times than not it takes extensive talks and debates before any actions are decided upon as a body. She also reiterated the point that the well known Article 5 has only been used once, and that was after the 9/11 attacks. Surprisingly, the United States was not the one to ask to invoke the article. Rather the other nations were the ones asking to help. Additionally, the initial help was not to begin attacking in the middle east, but to come to the United States and assist with securing the air space. After outlining NATO’s structure and past actions, we were able to ask questions about her opinions on current events. As stated previously, I cannot state her responses, but topics that were covered include the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Crimea, and cybersecurity.

The next speaker’s name is Diego Ruiz Palmer, and he is the Special Advisor to the Secretary General and a part of both the Economics and Security Assessments Unit and the Emerging Security Challenges Division. He went over his roles in all three parts, as well as covering some of NATO’s history in decision making. His views on why NATO sometimes chose to not take action or could not agree on an action to take were insightful. He too left time for questions, and the class mainly asked questions regarding his role on the Emerging Security Challenges Division. NATO has to think both in the short term and long term when it comes to this division to ensure that they will be prepared for any risk that could come their way, including things like nuclear deterrence.

Both speakers engaged all of the students and provided us with information and insight that we could have not gotten anywhere else.

 

Human Rights Watch

Today we had the incredible opportunity to visit Human Rights Watch, an American-founded international non-governmental organization that conducts research and advocacy on human rights. While there, we were able to meet and talk with Andrew Stroehlein, the European Media Director at Human Rights Watch. As a media director, Stroehlein basically acts as the spokesperson for HRW on the European stage. He is extremely active on social media and noted that his work days tend to start at 6 am because that is the best time to reach journalists and prominent news outlets. He then briefed us on how Human Rights Watch works and the major human rights issues that the NGO is dealing with today.

Stroehlein began by explaining that HRW does three main things: investigate human rights abuses, expose these abuses and push for change in the areas they are committed. HRW also covers a wide range of human rights from LGBT rights to refugee rights. Each year, HRW publishes more than 100 reports and briefings on human rights conditions in some 90 countries. HRW implements public and private advocacy by meeting with governments, the UN, regional groups like the European Union, financial institutions, and corporations to fight for changes in policy and practices that promote human rights around the world.

Stroehlein encouraged more of a discussion-based briefing and urged us to ask questions. A range of topics were covered by our questions. For instance, someone from our group asked how HRW deals with uncooperative governments when HRW wants to enter a country for research. Stroehlein said that sometimes HRW struggles to obtain visas or even be able to talk to people once in the country. He used North Korea as an example by saying that HRW obtains most of their information regarding North Korea’s human rights abuses by people who have escaped the authoritarian regime. He also added that HRW had been denied visas to countries like Israel and Azerbaijan recently.

Someone then asked which country has the most investigative funding going into it, and to my surprise, the answer was that the US has had the most articles published on its human rights abuses annually. The reason being, as HRW is an American NGO they are more easily able to look within their own country and identify when individuals’ rights are not being recognized. It was also explained that the human rights abuses in the US are not systematic as they might be in other countries and may be less severe. Most investigation in the US is about domestic issues, but there are still a good number of issues that arise out of how the US projects its power in the international arena. Stroehlein then mentioned how HRW was highly critical of former President Obama and his administration regarding issues like the use of drones and the closing of Guantanamo Bay.

I’m amazed at Human Rights Watch’s power to affect change, especially given that they are a staff of 450 covering 100 countries. When asked how they got to be so widely known Stroehlein responded “be big and be loud.” This site visit was definitely one of my favorites so far as we learned a great deal of information. The briefing was a great introduction to our human rights course and Stroehlein was an engaging and enthusiastic speaker!

Human Rights Module with Dr. Markley

Starting off our last full week in Brussels, we began our final class of the program, Human Rights in Europe taught by Dr. Eliza Markley. After spending the past two months discussing security and European institutions in lecture and at our site visits, I think it will be refreshing to have a new topic, human rights, to round out our general understanding and analysis of current and past European issues.

On Tuesday, we welcomed Dr. Markley to Brussels with a delicious lunch at a local crêpe food truck, and today, we dove right into lecture. The lecture for the day was based off a couple of chapters from our assigned reading, International Human Rights by Jack Donnelly. The chapters covered everything from the history of human rights to human rights applied in foreign policy.

Dr. Markley started off the lecture by giving a brief history of human rights. She told us that the beginnings of the human rights movement arose from the Declaration of International Rights of Man in 1929. We started to discuss how at first, human rights were considered a state sovereignty matter and how World War II and the Nuremberg Trials changed that by bringing international human rights and the concept of “crimes against humanity” to the forefront. Our discussion then transitioned around the international institutions that contribute to the international human rights debate. We mainly discussed the United Nations and how it has evolved and adapted to address human rights with initiatives like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 and the International Human Rights Covenants in 1966. Before our lunch break, we wrapped up the discussion by focusing on what the sources of human rights are and the various models of human rights. As a class, we concluded that human rights are sourced from humanity, basic needs, morality, and dignity and that human rights are independent and indivisible.

After lunch, we discussed a South African apartheid case-study from our reading. Dr. Markley elaborated a little bit more on the South African government’s deep-rooted and wide-ranging systematic racial domination and then talked about some major turning points during apartheid such as the murder of Steve Biko, a South African anti-apartheid activist and philosopher. After the murder of Steve Biko and ensuing riots and protests, an international campaign against apartheid started. Powerful states reduced or ended diplomatic, cultural, and commercial relations with South Africa and the United Nations even prevented the country from taking its seat in the United Nations General Assembly in 1970. After the discussion, we learned that international pressure undoubtedly played a major role in the abolition of apartheid in South Africa.

We ended our day of lecture by briefly discussing the legitimacy of transnational human rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs). We discussed their roles and how some human rights NGOs can define themselves by addressing human rights generally or focusing explicitly on a subset internationally recognized human rights, or even a single right. This was a perfect way to end the lecture because we are visiting Human Rights Watch, a transnational human rights NGO, tomorrow! We all look forward to using the knowledge we gained from today’s lecture as we prepare to embark to The Hague and Berlin in order to become truly immersed in current human rights issues through relevant site visits!

 

EU-US Transatlantic Relations Simulation

About a week ago, 18 of us were split into two teams: the European Union and the United States. Within each group, we were split once again into two topics: economy and security. Today was the day of the simulation.

We seated ourselves based on our topic, and the room was split into two groups of different topics. Our goal was to successfully discuss the future of the transatlantic relationships on the two specific issues in order to achieve cooperation in responding to such global matters. Theme of the economic policy was “The Global Aluminum Market,” and that of the security policy was “Russia: Partner, Competitor, or Threat?” The simulation began with presenting policy position statements of each working group. The four statements primarily included the current concerns of each group and future direction that the group wishes to work towards together with other groups.

Discussions began right after the final position statement was delivered. The main points of the four groups’ positions were as follows:

Economic Policy: The Global Aluminum Market

🇪🇺 European Union 🇪🇺

🇺🇸 United States 🇺🇸

• Bilateral collaboration
• Section 232 and tariffs on steel imports harmful
• Wishes to discourage china’s destructive behavior
• Disturbance of balance by chinese aluminum production
• Focus on aluminum’s role on trade and circular economy
• Developed anti-dumping claims
• Circular economy to reduce inefficiency and combat climate change
• encourages free global market

• Value multilateral trading system
• supports china’s development into open economy but not its illegal practices
• Encourages more effective
anti-dumping policies
• China subsidizes enterprises to sell
aluminum for cheaper prices
• Many jobs lost due to China
• Seeks implementation of tariff on
semi-manufactured aluminum and
aluminum classification, global tracking of imports
• Reaffirms right to regulate tariffs as it deems appropriate

Security Policy: Russia: Partner, Competitor, or Threat?

🇪🇺 European Union 🇪🇺

🇺🇸 United States 🇺🇸

• Increasing support to sovereignty,
democratic future of Ukraine
• Sanctions until Minsk Agreement implemented
• Wishes US reaffirmation of US commitment
to Alliance and its operations
• Hybrid warfare concerning
• Concern over protection of information
• Reliant on energy imports from Russia;
wishes to diversify energy supply
• Open to cooperation with Russia in future

• Russia as potential partner while
recognizing her as security threat
• Russian expansionism must be stopped
• Does not recognize Russian annexation of crimea
• Determined to reduce strategic importance of oil
to ensure free and competitive marketplace
• Plans to act as needed on case-by-case basis
in Syria on behalf of NATO interests
• Control cybersecurity through data sharing

After actively discussing our ideas for an hour and a half, we talked to our country groups while we had lunch. We attempted to make sure that each country did not have conflicting views. When lunch was over, we sat in our original seats and finalized views of both countries in one declaration. The declaration of each policy area was completed after about an hour of drafting, and afterwards, all groups combined the declaration into one document in order to create one joint declaration addressing both policies. The joint declaration was finally complete.

The simulation was really interesting especially because the EU and the US have very similar views and ideals on many aspects. Since they were so similar, true cooperation was key in order to settle any discrepancies. In many cases, compromise could be achieved fairly easily; for example, although EU was at first against extensive sharing of data with the US, after the US agreed on guaranteeing the privacy and re-sharing of information with other countries, it agreed to work with the EU to improve cybersecurity through data sharing. Likewise, it was difficult for the EU to have one strong voice for all policy areas because of the sheer number of different voices among 28 member states. There were some times when some countries in the EU favored a certain policy suggested by the US while other countries in the EU disapproved the idea. I think it was really great that we were able to simulate the cooperative process; it was a very interactive way to understand the challenges of such processes in transatlantic relationships.

Google: an American Company in an International Context

In a world where the entire concept of the office is being reimagined, Google is a trendsetter. As Georgia Tech students, everyone hears about the computer science majors who snag a job at Google, Amazon, Apple, etc., not only because of the generous salary attached to the job, but also because of the famous office environment provided by American tech companies. The office in Brussels may be smaller, but the inside lived up to my expectations for what Google should look like. Our three young hosts, dressed in jeans, began the tour by showing us the “canteen” where all employees are provided breakfast and lunch each day. It was decorated like a traditional Belgian brasserie because Google tries to incorporate aspects of the culture of where the office is located—wherever it may be in the world. We then walked through a room with shelves of books and video games that was decorated to give it a nature-y feel: the floor looked like grass, the walls had plants growing on them, there was a large fish tank, the chairs were circular and white, and the windows stretched from floor to ceiling. Walking to the next room we passed a small gym where employees can workout whenever they feel like it, then go to the locker rooms to shower and get back to work. We stopped in a massive, open room that had a pool table, a couch, a large flat screen on the wall for video games, about 7 exercise balls, and a masseuse. Yes—a masseuse—so that employees could sign up for an hour-long massage after a tiring week of work.

Gaping, we walked back upstairs to the room we were briefed in which—of course—was mainly sleek and white with windows from floor to ceiling, multiple large screens, a ping pong table, a full bar, and large lettering on the wall that spelled “Goooooogle” to ensure it was picturesque. Since it was Friday afternoon, we had to keep the conversation short so that the Google employees could engage in a few intense games of ping pong and enjoy a Belgian beer together to celebrate the end of the work week. Seemingly over-the-top and ridiculous, what is Google’s reason for ensuring that their employees eat their meals together, workout whenever they want, play video games, pool, and ping pong together, and top off the week with a massage and a drink?  Despite criticism from people in grey suits in cubicles that the employees work at a playground, Google stands firm in their belief that people will be both more creative and efficient if they can take a break, take care of themselves, and spend non-work time with their colleagues than if they are forced to work through lunch. It may be that I just want to believe it, but it seems like it would be the “right environment to work well and be a happy person” as one of our hosts put it. Whether it works or not—Google can hire me any day!

Continuing with the trend of progressivism, upon entering the room for the second half of the tour we were introduced to Google Arts and Culture. Google partners with museums to digitalize art work and upload it online so that people can see “as much culture as they want” without having to travel to museums all over the world. Not only does this idea allow people to see artwork that they may never have had the opportunity to see, but the quality is so good that it allows people who have already seen the artwork in person to see more of it. I could not believe my eyes when they zoomed into a very intricate painting so that we could see the shadow of a person that I could not even see when looking at the whole painting. Not only is Google expanding their services online, they are also expanding the issues they’re expected to have answers to. In the past two years, there has been a convergence of every single social problem becoming an internet problem and Google—being the most used search engine in the world—is expected to find a solution. Google’s scope and influence is so large that it must be careful when addressing seemingly unimportant issues to most of the world like whether to call the Czech Republic “Czechia” or not because if Google calls it Czechia, the world calls it Czechia. This massive sphere of influence comes with massive responsibilities like finding an answer to the question, “What role does the Internet play in radicalizing terrorists?”  They said that these newfound responsibilities are contradictory because many people fear that Google is too big, but then continue to ask them to do more. Despite variations in public opinion, I think that Google welcomes their growing role and realizes that, in a globalized world, the Internet plays a vital part in both development and progress. The company is currently working to ensure that people in places like India, Africa, and South America have access to the Internet, and that with this development comes the presence of an ongoing global discussion to create a democratic forum for progress.

Turns out our hosts weren’t computer scientists, business majors, or engineers, but that they work in the realm of international affairs and politics—giving the INTA majors in the room hope that we too can work in a cool tech office one day. One of them focused on consumer protection and competition policy, dealing specifically with the European Commission and the member states on a daily basis to discuss their policy concerns and try to help them better understand artificial intelligence and its importance in the business world. The other two hosts worked for the European Parliament prior to Google, and therefore bring insight when dealing with educating member states on the importance of policies like the Digital Single Market. Just like any organization operating within the European context, Google Europe struggles to build consensus across the 28 member states in 24 different languages. To give a simple example of these challenges, they told us how they “can’t use puns” because everything is translated. However, there is some benefit to operating within such a complicated context—Google Translate draws much of their data from public translations done by European Institutions.

As we’ve learned throughout this entire trip, operating within the European context varies greatly from operating within an American one, so how does a company originating in Silicon Valley adapt in an environment like Brussels? The answer is to find a balance between conducting business as an American company while taking into account European consumer values. While  the American consumer values personal liberties and freedom of speech more than anything, the European consumer largely values their security. Due to history, Europeans are very skeptical over the government or large institutions having too much access to their data, especially the large American tech companies that control cyberspace.

This skepticism is shown in the European Commission’s close watch on these companies and their readiness to take action against them when they feel the European citizen is being compromised. Actions have been taken against Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, and Google—including the most recent decision by the Commission to fine Google a record 2.4 billion euros for breaching their dominant position by promoting Google Shopping over other comparison shopping services. Google stands that they were not in the wrong because they don’t think people use Google Shopping when online shopping but instead go straight to determined sites. As they have been challenged by European values, their American values are tested when operating abroad too. For example, they recently lost a case in the Canadian Supreme Court where the court ruled they were obligated to remove websites promoting pirated products—not just in Canada, but universally. Google argued that this set a precedent that goes against freedom of speech, especially having to remove entire webpages worldwide, but the Canadian Supreme Court won on the premise that their argument was rhetorical and a similar situation would not happen again. Ironically, Google has already been forced by some European courts to take search results down due to a “right to be forgotten.”

Operating internationally, it is expected that a company coming from the U.S., a country with unique values, is going to face challenges. Although they do not win every time, the company does what they can to stick to their values like the practice of writing transparency reports to give the public information on how their government is interacting with Google and their decision to leave China, despite the massive market potential, due to the Chinese request that they filter out certain results. Google adapts some of their decisions based on where in the world they are operating, but in the end the decisions must be coherent and go back to their American roots because there cannot be ten different Google’s around the world. Google’s motto is “Don’t be evil” which although is somewhat comical, is actually perfect. For a company in a position of massive power and influence all over the world and operating in many different environments, “don’t be evil” is a simple way for the company to not forget their values.

“We have tried to define precisely what it means to be a force for good – always do the right, ethical thing. Ultimately, ‘Don’t be evil’ seems the easiest way to summarize it.”—Google co-founder, Sergey Brin

Our final lectures from Giorgio Cuzzelli

Today we arrived at our beloved conference room in the Euroflat Hotel for our last series of lectures from the esteemed Italian Brigadier General.

He enlightened us on the topic of International Security & Geography beginning promptly at 10 am. We started off learning that geography is the study of features and patterns formed by the interaction of natural and man-made environments. Geography impacts nature, development, perceptions, relationships, and politics. Speaking of which, “geopolitics” is defined to be the influence of geography upon politics, and developed from the 19th Century on through four different schools of thought.

Subscribing to the Anglo-American Classical School of thought was Mackinder (1904) who believed that the Heartland was the key to ruling the world and that land power prevailed, while his counterpart Spyman (1942) alternatively believed that ruling the Rimland was more important along with sea power over land power. Students of the German Classical School of thought believed in Neo-Darwinism and thought that the State would naturally need Lebensraum to grow, as it naturally has a right to expand with only the fittest surviving. They also thought that it was the Manifest Destiny of Germany to rule.

Those in the American Cold War School believed that the containment of the Soviet Union went hand-in-hand with the Domino Theory. It was thought that containment should be achieved by surrogate powers through the three pillars:  American engagement in Europe, a strong Europe, and a strong China.  The fourth and final school of thought is the American Post-Cold War School in which divisions were thought to be cultural. According to this School, conflict occurs among fault lines between civilizations, and connected geostrategic regions generate a dynamic world equilibrium.

A strong point Mr. Cuzzelli made in his lecture was that seas unite people, thereby stressing the importance of maritime transportation. He said that food, energy, and raw materials are necessary to form a country and later stressed his point that climate change is a human security issue. Global warming compromises space and food, determines migrations, damages land, hinders developments, makes water a scarcity, and leads less-developed countries into famine. As essential commodities continue becoming more and more scarce, resource wars will emerge, especially since the world population is increasing exponentially.

After learning all of this, we took a quick [2 hour] break for lunch and returned ready to learn more. Our second and final lecture from Mr. Cuzzelli focused on Security & International Law. We talked about the right to defend and the concept of “Just War.” An important change we focused on was the transition from punishing wrongdoers to punishing wrongdoings. UN Article 2.4 prohibits resort to force with the exceptions of collective measures, self-defense, and humanitarian-intervention. He stressed that hostile action by a non-member state qualifies as an attack, and therefore a response to terrorism makes for Just War. A controversial topic is that of anticipatory self-defense/ preemptive strikes, but in general habits and customs rule in International Law.

Moving on to some specifics, the Right to Intervene is only possible under a UN Charter so that intervention can combat threats to international peace and security. Humanitarian Intervention is very difficult to justify outside of a UN Charter and hardly acceptable. Some major strategies to succeed with humanitarian intervention are as follows:  act quickly and resolutely, withstand pressure from the public, engage with a coalition of actors, and plan an exit strategy. The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) serves as a global commitment to prevent genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity. This differs from humanitarian intervention because it is endorsed by the UN and it is comprehensive. The Right to Prosecute up to WWII deemed that a war of aggression was not an international crime, and national sovereignty is always paramount. After WWII, Germany was punished and forced to pay compensation, and the Nurnberg and Tokyo trials took place. (These trials served to punish wrongdoings.) As Jackson famously said, this was “not for vengeance but for justice.” After the horrors of WWII, the UN was established and the Convention against Genocide & Universal Declaration of Human Rights took place. Additionally, an International Court was established (to which the US does not adhere).

To sum up, war is formally prohibited as a means of resolution of international controversy, self-defense is an inherent right, there are doubts on preventative action, the right to intervene is limited to UN Mandate, and R2P is a more formal and legitimate version of humanitarian intervention. Whew! That sure was a lot.

After absorbing all of this information, we had a few hours before heading over to our group dinner with the host parents who could attend. Inside of those brick walls and amongst the white tablecloths, families, students, and Tech alumnus conversed and enjoyed a lovely three-course meal. We got to meet other students’ host families and find out a little bit about their lives in Brussels. Once everyone had taken their last bite of cake and wrapped up their conversations, we all trekked back to our houses to end the night.

The Council of the European Union: Creating Solutions to the Migration Crisis

After spending the morning working in groups to prepare for an upcoming US-EU negotiation simulation, our group headed to the Council of the European Union (formerly known as the Council of Ministers). The Council of the European Union or the “Council” is one of the main bodies of the European Union. It is a forum through which EU Member States may promote their national interests. The Council is in a unique position of creating one coherent position on policy issues out of possibly twenty eight differing opinions of Member States. The Council consists primarily of 28 ministers, one from each Member State, who are Member States’ ambassadors to the EU. It is chaired by one Member State which rotates every six months. Malta currently holds the presidency, and in July it will pass the baton to Estonia. Through the “codecision” process, the Council of the European Union works closely with the democratically elected European Parliament to revise and adopt legislation. In addition the council meets in ten different configurations, each of which specializes in a different subject area. For example, the Foreign Affairs Council configuration brings together foreign affairs ministers from the Member States who work closely with the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy to shape EU foreign policy.

Today we had the pleasure of hearing a presentation on migration and asylum policy from Mrs.Susanne Nielson. She has previously worked on EU enlargement policy and EU Africa policy. Mrs. Nielson now works directly with the president of the Council to get general consensus on different policies with a focus on migration. Her presentation provided insightful details about EU migration policies which we had heard a little about at the High Level Conference on Migration which we attended last week. In recent years Europe has experienced a large influx of migrants and refugees, notably from the Middle East and Africa. Migrants to Europe travel through three main routes.

Eastern Mediterranean Route:

The first migration route runs from Turkey to Greece. Due to the crisis in Syria as well as other Middle Eastern states, Turkey has received millions of refugees and migrants many of whom travel to Greece and other Balkan states. Irregular migration to Greece peaked in October 2015 with Greece receiving hundreds of thousands of migrants in one month. After various initiatives such as the EU-Turkey arrangement in 2016, irregular migration has steadily declined and is now close to zero. Migration along this route has decreased by 79%. Greece, however, continues to receive thousands of migrants legally.

Central Mediterranean Route:

The second route or the Central Mediterranean route runs from Libya and other northern African countries to Italy. Libya serves as the departure point for 90% of migrants traveling to the European Union. This has, however, proved to be problematic since it is illegal to be a migrant in Libya. Migrants discovered by the government are sent to detention centers.  Organizations such as the International Organization for Migration (IOM) are often able to successfully negotiate access to detained migrants and return them to their country of origin if the person wishes to do so. The central mediterranean route is generally longer and therefore more dangerous than the Eastern Mediterranean Route with thousands of deaths already recorded in 2017. Migrants usually pay large sums of money to smugglers for passage across the Mediterranean. The smugglers put groups of migrants on rubber boats which are usually not equipped to handle large capacities. Smugglers also may not provide enough gas for the boat, and many boats sadly never make it to the European coast. Some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have boats waiting outside the Libyan maritime zone to help these migrants board sturdier boats and guide them to the Italian coast. Such organizations must, according to Mrs. Nielson, navigate between saving lives and helping smugglers by doing their job for them. With their profits smugglers often engage in the arms trade in Libya further contributing to the instability that causes mass migrations to Europe in the first place. They then profit from these migrations by offering passage to Europe at high prices which many are forced to pay in order to flee instability in their home countries. Migration along this route has increased by eighteen percent between 2015 and 2016.

Western Mediterranean Route:

The last route runs from Morocco and Algeria to western European countries such as Portugal, Spain, and France. This route has recorded the lowest number of irregular and regular migrants. In 2006 this route was the most common route for illegal border crossings into the EU. At its peak in 2006 over 31,000 irregular migrations occurred to the EU. Even within Western Africa, there were around 180,000 migrants in 2016.

Common migration routes to Europe
Source: https://xchange.org/the-dangerous-routes-migrants-take-to-the-uk/

       After arriving in the EU, migrants enter the asylum process laid out by what are known as the Dublin Regulations. Dublin III which entered into force in 2013 provides the most recent laws regulating this process. Migrants must apply for asylum status once they arrive in the European Union. The state in which an asylum seeker applies for asylum is responsible for either granting or denying asylum. Until a decision is made, migrants must remain in their respective Member State. In Greece migrants must stay on the Greek islands until their application is processed. If granted asylum, the person can live in the Member State from which they were granted asylum but may not necessarily travel freely to other EU countries unless granted permanent residence or EU citizenship. If asylum is denied, the asylum seeker may not reapply for asylum in another Member State and is generally sent back to the country of origin. These regulations aim to prevent “asylum orbiting” in which asylum seekers travel to different Member States and submit multiple asylum applications until they are granted asylum. In addition to EU Member States, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Iceland also participate in the Dublin Regulations.

Though the Dublin Regulations and subsequent reforms have greatly increased the efficiency, new regulations are needed. Because the Member State in which the asylum seeker submits their application is responsible for the individual, border states such as Greece and Italy are forced to house thousands of refugees while states such as Hungary chose to close their borders. The European Commission proposed the Dublin IV to reform the current Dublin III Regulations. In an effort to relieve Italy and Greece of the large number of refugees arriving on their shores, the Council adopted Council Decision (EU) 2015/1523 and Council Decision (EU) 2015/1601 in 2015 which collectively relocate 160,000 refugees to other Member States. Decisions are legally binding, but some states have refused to accept relocated refugees or even declare how many refugees they plan to take in. The European Commission has recently begun infringement procedures against the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland. If the European Union is to cope with the migration crisis, its members must be held accountable and evenly share the burden. Great progress has been made by the EU, but the migration crisis is far from over.

European External Action Service – making the voice of Europe heard in the world

Today we woke up bright and early in order to prepare for the high level foreign policy related briefings from officials at the European External Action Service, which is more commonly referred to by the acronym EEAS.  The EEAS is the institution in the European Union that acts almost as a diplomat by carrying out the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy. As the world’s second largest economy (in nominal terms) and unique geopolitical situation, the European Union is undoubtedly a top global actor. They play an important international role in a number of areas including diplomacy, trade, humanitarian aid and development, migration, crisis response, financial matters and promotion of human rights. The EEAS brings coherence and coordination to all of these roles. In addition, it is responsible for carrying out the CSDP or Common Security and Defense Policy, and comprises the collective military expertise of the EU, which is crucial for peace-keeping operations and crisis management. The EEAS harmonizes all these policy areas, even in the context of an increasingly globalized world where Europe is facing a complex and uncertain security environment.

If all of this sounds complicated, a good comparison to help understand the role of the EEAS is to think of it is the equivalent to the US foreign affairs or the US department of state. Except that instead of doing diplomacy on behalf of the American people, the EEAS does it on behalf of the European citizens of 27 different nations; making sure their voices, and the collective voice of the Union, are heard all over the world. The representative of this job is called the High Representative, a position currently held by Frederica Mogherini, who also sits in on the European Commission meetings and the council of EU foreign ministers. The High representative position is a great symbol of how the EU coordinates its foreign policy by working closely with other EU institutions.

The first briefing we had the privilege of taking part in was by Mr Martin Dihm, the Senior Strategic Communications Advisor of the Strategic Communications Division of the EEAS, a highly qualified official who was previously the EU ambassador to Papua New Guinea. The subject of this briefing was the function and role of the European External Action Service. In addition to what I described previously, I found it incredibly fitting that he opened the briefing with a discussion about when the EU received the Nobel peace prize in 2012, emphasizing how the European Union primarily began as a project to facilitate peace among its member states after decades of war and far-reaching devastation. Even when talking about the origins of the EEAS, it’s imperative to understand it in the context of the European peace project. This was the first of three main points he asserts are crucial to the role of the EEAS in terms of European stability: peace, economic prosperity, and power. “The EU is rich” he put simply, and accurately, to summarize his discussion about the strength of the euro as a currency and the wealth of the European economy in terms of purchasing power. Economic prosperity is key to ensuring a stable Europe, and the single market is largely responsible for this prosperity. His final point was about the power of Europe, asserting that the EU creates a louder and larger voice through which all the member states can speak together. This is essential to understanding the importance of the European External Action Service, because as I mentioned earlier, it is the vessel through which this voice is heard throughout the world.

 

Comment Page illustration

The subject of the second briefing was especially relevant due to the recent US political environment: EU-US relations. The briefing was given by Mr Rafal Domisiewicz, an EEAS Policy Officer with Polish origins who works primarily in the US Canada Division. Recently, because of the upcoming NATO defense ministers meeting, the media has been covering the infamous and repetitive complaints by Donald Trump that the EU (or rather, 23 out of the 28 member states in his imprecise assertion) “owe massive amounts of money” and don’t pay their fair share for defense. Domisiewicz did a tasteful job of highlighting this issue by opening with a statement that building relations with the US is often about trying to emphasize the added value of the EU (to the US), and maintain that Europe is a valuable partner both economically and politically. He also discussed the Marshall Plan in a way I found unique, especially because I have studied the Marshall Plan in many different contexts – history, cold war ideological struggle, and European Union integration, you name it – but he explained it from the US perspective in a very novel way. He asserted that the Marshall Plan was never merely an altruistic gesture by the US, but that in addition to helping rebuild Europe after WWII it was most importantly an investment in the America’s own security interest because it helped the US gain strategic allies. This strengthened his argument that Europe is important and a vital asset in the strategic national security interest of the US. Of course, the Marshall Plan was one of the most important foreign policy initiatives to form the foundation of the EU-US relationship that exists today, one that has lasted for decades because of our shared values, the most important of which are human rights, democracy, and a free market according to Domisiewicz. He finished by mentioning that recognizing and maintaining these values is key to achieving our common interests on the global stage, notably in the military cohesion, space, energy, and trade sectors.

The third and final briefing was given by Mr Angel Carro Castrillo, on the subject of the global strategy for the European Union’s Foreign and Security Policy. Castrillo was an official of French origins, and a Senior Adviser in the Strategic Planning division of the EEAS. Castrillo used a simple equation (something the engineers in our group have been long missing at this point in the trip) to concisely explain the premise behind the EU’s global strategy for their foreign and security policy: shared vision + common action = a stronger Europe. To unpack that equation a bit, he meant that the volatile status of the world around calls for a more confident and responsive European Union, which requires an outward and forward looking European Foreign and Security Policy. This means that solidarity is vital among member states, because working together in a unified way will help the EU be more effective in achieving its objectives. He synthesized the argument for the importance of EU integration down into a phrase that will probably always stick with me: “There are two types of European states: small ones, and those who don’t realize they are small”. To me this means that a united Europe holds an economic and political weight that is much more profound than that of any individual member state. With an increasing number of factors challenging the internal cohesion of the EU, like growing inequality, the age gap, and climate change, speaking and acting with one voice and one united policy is the only way for Europe to maximize its interests in the current international environment. Visiting the institution that facilitates this process was a unique and compelling experience, and our group left with a much deeper appreciation for how European integration is necessary both for the prosperity of Europe and its strategic foreign partnerships.