Thursday, August 8, 2013

Reflective/Retrospective Post

Sorry for the delay, I've been pretty busy and all over the place lately.

My overall impression of my Brussels experience was positive (despite the horrendous weather for five of the six weeks). I really liked that we had three day weekends, it gave me many opportunities to travel. Jerry's lectures were really great, and he was nice enough to give Cassandra, Emily and myself a private tour of the Battle of the Bulge, and he even drove us the hour it took to get there and back for free!

Although I like that the policy posts on the blog were all conducted over one weekend in one cluster, I thought it would have been easier to complete all the readings a week or two later, since we were still getting situated and had just completed a breathtaking week of travel, internship interviews, and internship orientations.

As for the homestay experience, it was O.K. From talking to the other 9 students, I would rank my family as somewhere in the middle. Some families made their student lunch and dinner every day, while others were forgotten about or had to listen to family fights at 4 AM every morning. My family was not particularly warm, but they were polite for the most part. They did forget my dinner one night, but I also received one extra dinner several weeks later, so I suppose this balances out.

With respect to my internship, again my feelings are mixed. I was frustrated that somehow I was the only grad student to not receive an interview with a member of parliament, while others who weren't even considering parliament received one or even two interviews there (though I'm happy for those that did wind up in parliament, and I know they did a really great job!). Also, the majority of the interviews I received were not fields I was interested in: I was hoping for something more directly related to the EU government. Though having completed this course, I now know how uncommon it probably is for EU internships to be granted to Americans. I think it would be helpful to tell incoming law students about the internships previous law students had received, to help them decide if they want to participate in the program.

With regard to my particular internship, I really like the work Social Platform is doing, and I was able to work briefly on a few important projects. I also thought the staff was very warm and friendly, and I do think this was a worthwhile work experience. However, the Platform seemed a little unprepared for how short the internship was (this was their first 6 week summer intern experience). The first week was nearly a waste, since they were in the middle of several important meetings, and no one had time to set me up on any projects or show me much, so I spent most of that time sitting in on the meetings. Also, on slower days I was doing mundane tasks such as making copies and setting up tables for meetings. Though I didn't mind doing this kind of work as an undergrad, I'm now looking for more substantial work as a second year graduate/law student, particularly since I've paid for the flight and course and in time to be there and was working for free. I think it would be helpful in the future to stress to the employers before the student arrives that there are differences in expectations between an undergraduate and a graduate internship. Still, my overall impression of Social Platform was positive, and I did get to do some work on substantial projects, such as my financial inclusion analysis grid. If they were more prepared for the short timespan, I think this would solve many of the problems.

Thank you for a great course and a great trip! This blog has been my favorite online classroom experience to date!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Reminder: Internship Portfolios

Greetings all,

I hope that everything is going well as you enter the final week of your internships.  It is amazing how time flies! 

I just wanted to send along a quick reminder about the Internship Portfolio assignment.  As you wrap up your time in Brussels, it is an excellent time to take stock of the materials that you have collected or produced that could be included in the portfolio.  In general, your portfolio should be well-organized (a binder with sections & a table of contents) and should provide some commentary or description of the materials included.  Beyond that, the key details are provided in the assignment description on the course syllabus, so please make sure to review the information in the syllabus.  As always, please don't hesitate to let me know if you have any questions. 

I look forward to seeing your portfolios and reading about your work and experiences in Brussels!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Organizational Assessment: Social Platform

Social Platform is a "Platform" or collection of more than 40 NGOs working together on social issues of common concern. I have now worked here for several weeks, and had the opportunity to observe the massive amount of coordination and organization that goes into something of this large size and diverse breadth of interests. My work here has varied quite a bit. It has included assisting with the transition to a newer website, researching and providing information on how the Platform can better use social media, English corrections on newsletters that are sent out to members, and analyzing Commission proposals and already existing directives while summarizing their relevance for discussion during steering group meetings (discussed below). Additionally, I have attended a Parliament meeting on a topic of interest to the Platform, financial inclusion, and written an article on it that was later published and sent to all the members as a part of a weekly news update.

To provide a more clear overview on what Social Platform really is, it helps to first describe what its members do, as NGOs. NGO members are groups dedicated to raising awareness over some specific issue of political policy within the EU. They represent a wide variety of issues, from immigrant assimilation, to elderly discrimination, to disability awareness. Unlike charities, they do not seek to assist their target groups of people by gaining and distributing financial donations. Rather, they are closer to political lobbyists, seeking to influence emerging legislation, or change existing policies to benefit their people. An important distinction from lobbyists however is that NGOs generally seek to monitor and protect particular classes of (traditionally underprivileged) people, whereas lobbyists are usually seeking only to influence legislation to the benefit of the business that hired them.

Social Platform's internal organization seeks to balance efficiency and clarity with diverse voices and interests. Only seven people work within the organizational office. They work constantly to communicate between members (NGOs) and garner support for whatever issue gradually emerges. This office (where I work) holds quarterly meetings with various "working groups" who meet to discuss issues that hold particular relevance to them. At these meetings, details about proposals to the Commission, Parliament and even the Council are hammered out, and decided on. Additional, new ideas are either proposed by the organizational office to members here, or by members themselves. Once this meeting is completed there will be an even less frequent "Steering Group" meeting, which consists of all 46 NGOs within social platform. Here, a vote is held on what to keep and what to remove from proposals, and a simple majority determines what will actually make it into the requests or proposals sent to the EU.  These members all recognize the power of large numbers when seeking to influence the EU, and so hope to gain influence and insight from working together on issues of common concern.

The main categories of policy that that Social Platform deals with are financial inclusion, equality and anti-discrimination, integration of migrants, fundamental rights, corporate social responsibility, services of general interest (public services), and of course whatever else may emerge. Some members have a stronger interest in particular fields over others (almost by definition, since they seek to protect a narrower group of people), and so they will voice their opinions at working group meetings more on issues that relate to them directly in a broad proposal. Currently, many members are pushing hard just to prevent money-saving cuts to social service funding during the ongoing financial crisis.

Finally, because the EU values the input of the NGOs that Social Platform represents,  the Commission actually provides the majority of the Platform's funding. Occasionally the Commission will request Social Platform's opinion on a particular proposed directive or regulation, and take it into consideration while assessing how legislation may impact underprivileged groups. The Platform requests funding from the Commission yearly, and income is further supplemented through donations and even renting out a large meeting room in the main office to NGOs for conferences.

European Parliament-Organizational Assessment

Working under MEP Peter Stastny at the European Parliament, his office mainly focuses on International Trade; specifically, my work thus far has consisted of economic partnership agreements (EPA) with ACP (African, Caribbean, and Pacific) countries and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations. The constraints of the organization can be divided into two general categories: the parliamentary level and the MEP level. The latter level is a small office with four people trying to do everything which can lead to mild chaos at times; there are numerous conferences and events to keep track of and to ensure that the MEP must be prepared for that it is easy to get confused if one is disorganized.

On the European Parliament level, the main struggle is trying to convince everyone that the MEP’s views are valid enough that the majority will vote according to those views. Mr. Stastny is a member of the Christian Democrats and so far has been in agreement with the majority of the Parliament on the matters of international trade. These past two weeks I have been working on speeches for the ACP conference that Mr. Stastny will be attending and during my research I found with the EPA that it is particularly difficult for this policy to be implemented due to the instability in certain ACP countries that Mr. Stastny focuses on: Mali, Central African Republic, and Guinea. The EPA proposes that it will aid in development for these countries by opening the European market up to them but without domestic security in place the EPA will not work for these countries at the moment; the security issues are definitely a constraint on allowing this policy to see fruition.  In this case, it is up to the Parliament and the Commission to decide if they are to involve themselves in the security matters of these countries. More discussions are occurring this week about security in these countries and hopefully I will be to see how this will impact future negotiations for an EPA in ACP countries.

There is an addition level to policy making in the European Parliament which is the state level but so far that has not had much of an impact in my office. However, after hearing a few speeches at different meetings I see that the state has an important role in policy making just as the institutions that make up the European Union.

Organizational Assessment: European Parliament

My internship is at the European Parliament, which covers a variety of policy areas. However, my MEP is a member of the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection, so much of the work that my member and her assistants have been working on, focus on the issues related to this committee.

There are many organizational constraints and organizational procedures that apply when working within the European Parliament and addressing issues such as the internal market. First, there are legal restrictions. As a member of the European Parliament, my member and her office must follow legislative procedures in order to accomplish something. There are also bureaucratic structures that create constraints on what Mrs. Roithova and the European Parliament would like to accomplish. Specifically, Mrs. Roithova has been the rapporteur for updating eight product safety directives to bring them in line with the Lisbon Treaty. As a result, she has been working with the European Commission and European Council to negotiate a legislative package that would be accepted by all three bodies. This process has taken over 18 months and has been difficult at times, particularly in getting all three bodies to agree on delegating and implementing acts. In order for a directive, or in this case a set of directives, the Parliament, Council, and Commission, all have to agree. From what I’ve witnessed within the technical meetings and trialogue concerning these eight product safety directives, this is not an easy task.

Not only are there certain legal restrictions in place but political/party structures can also create organizational constraints. My member of parliament is part of the EPP Group, a political party within the European Parliament. The EPP Group has working group meetings to discuss what reports/directives/legislation they will support as well as what they will not support. The EPP Group plays a role in what Mrs. Roithova can do and support as a member of the EPP Group and as a member of the European Parliament, especially in terms of policies concerning the internal market and consumer protection. Mrs. Roithova and her office are also constrained by the state in which she represents. As a MEP from the Czech Republic, Mrs. Roithova is a represented of her country and is accountable to the people there through elections; yet, she is expected to promote the ideals of the European Union. This can be a tough balance and can create constraints on how far she might support certain reports and initiatives concerning the internal market and consumer protection that are good for the European Union as a whole, but may have negative consequences for her own country.

The European Parliament’s organizational culture is best understood within the context of what the Parliament is a part of as well as the people in which it represents. As a result, the European Parliament is an organization focused on creating and meeting the ideals set out in all previous treaties, now including the Lisbon Treaty. This means focusing on creating one market within Europe. However, the Parliament also represents the cultural diversity of the European Community and, as a result, the Parliament must address those differences in order to be successful. The most obvious example of these differences is language, which has been addressed. For example, in committee meetings, where there are 23 translators sitting in booths around the room, translating what is being said. This is perhaps the easiest issue to address concerning organizational culture. Other problems that may arise is lack of unity and disagreement on what should be done or supported within the European Parliament, or the process in which to accomplish something.

Organizational Assessment: Atlantic Treaty Association

I have been interning with the Atlantic Treaty Association. The ATA is an NGO that works closely with NATO to promote the common values and ideals of the Alliance through individual national chapters in over 30 countries. The ATA in Brussels is the General Secretariat of the organization and therefore serves to promote and support its national chapters in a variety of ways. The secretariat helps the chapters in promoting their events and often suggesting projects they may be interested in completing. The office also serves as the main liaison between the chapters and NATO headquarters. A very large component of the ATA mission is to support and foster the youth community interested in international security and defense. The Youth Atlantic Treaty Association (YATA) works very closely with ATA.

ATA publishes a monthly newsletter, Atlantic Voices, featuring articles by young academics, professionals, and researchers on current topics in security and defense. I have been lucky enough to help edit and publish the May and June editions of Atlantic Voices and am currently working on a piece that I hope will make it into the July edition, the subject of which is Russia/NATO relations.

With respect to any organizational hiccups ATA encounters, all that I've observed seem relatively minor (i.e. we can’t call Portugal or Spain before 2pm, because no one is in the office) with one exception: some of the chapters in Eastern Europe and the Caucuses have a lot of trouble working to promote NATO ideals because they receive a lot of pressure from their government to do otherwise. Specifically, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s new “foreign agent” legislation makes daily operations of the Russian ATA chapter extremely difficult.

Given that it has virtually no interaction or association with the European Union, the closest the ATA gets to European policy is NATO policy. Although, it is hard to consider the two close at all, as the European (and most other non-US) perspective is that NATO is simply a US strong-arm in Europe.

Organizational Assessment Blog Post

Organizational Assessment Blog Post

The organization I am interning with is called Security Europe.  Security Europe publishes monthly publications on civil security developments in the EU and can also provide clients with specified “trackers” – newsletters on a specific topic i.e. cyber security.   The main policy areas Security Europe deals with are security and defense in the European Union.

As an intern, I have had quite a range of tasks.   The principle role I’ve had so far is attending events and taking notes.  I’ve attended events at the European Parliament, the European Defense Agency, and a few speeches by politicians or security experts.  In addition to attending events, I have had to read final reports written for the EU Directorate of General Enterprise and Industry and then summarize them into more concise stories that will be published online and in print.  Recently, I helped to look at and reorganize Security Europe’s website and have also been asked to do research into how to use social media to promote the organization.

From what I have seen, Security Europe does not have too many organizational constraints despite only essentially having two full-time employees, two part time workers, and two interns.  But beyond best-case scenarios with a fleet of reporters and perfect technical operations, I’m not sure what could really be done in terms of the organization to make it function more efficiently.  “Security” is a broad policy to analyze, but it seems to me that it is specialized enough to allow for the employees to go to most if not all relevant events and report on the proceedings.  With the right connections, which my boss appears to have, there are not too many constraints when it comes to getting access to relevant information.

In terms of connecting to the larger landscape of European policy and politics, at the end of the day, Security Europe is essentially a newsletter that seeks to inform rather than dictate or overtly influence policy.  However, I think there are 13,000 subscribers to the newsletter, so in that sense one might argue that Security Europe’s interpretation of ongoing events could have some ramifications in terms of informing people.  That said, it’s hard to measure the influence of an organization like Security Europe but I do think (from what I have seen) that it has been effective in gaining followers and reporting on notable civil security developments.