Friday, May 31, 2013

Continuing the Discussion

I've enjoyed the first set of posts that you've put up as part of our virtual "workshop" on Policy Analysis and the European Union.  I've placed some comments/questions on each of your posts, so be sure to check back to respond to those.  In addition, you should make sure to post some comments and questions of your own on the posts of others as you read through the posts and consider the material that we have covered.

A couple of overarching themes came out of the first set of posts.  As many of you pointed out, the European Union was born out of the combination of a set of ideas concerning European unity and identity on the one hand, and the concrete material realities resulting from WWII on the other.  The European Coal and Steel Community was, quite literally, a step to bind Germany and France together by sharing resources and territory that were/are essential to the state's war-making capacity.  That is a tremendous step in surrendering national sovereignty!  That being said, though, the evolution of the EU suggests that sovereignty might not be a "finite" thing or a 0-sum calculation.  Is it possible that a state's decision to bind itself to the rules and institutions of the EU might enhance or expand its sovereignty?  Can anybody think of any examples?

Another overarching theme had to do with the fact that the EU has, in fact, experienced crises and periods of uncertainty in the past.  Let's think for a moment what the process of crisis and crisis resolution in the past has meant for the EU and the integration project.  What do we think this complex history suggests for the EU as it negotiates the current economic crisis?  Where, specifically, do we see areas of authority and legitimacy shifting in the current crisis?

Feel free to post comments/responses of your own to this post if you'd like.  I look forward to reading all of your comments/questions and to your upcoming posts on discussion topic #2 as we delve into the theories of European integration in more detail.

Comic Interlude: Lola the Performing Donkey in Brussels

This is just a brief comic interlude to keep things light even as we discuss the history and theory of European integration.  NBC4 here in DC just ran a report on Lola the Performing Donkey.  Lola apparently lives on the balcony of a Brussels cultural center.  She has created quite the stir in the neighborhood given the noise she makes and the fact that, well, balconies aren't the typical habitat for donkeys.  Keep an eye out for Lola as you explore Brussels!

A donkey stands on the balcony of an apartment block in Brussels May 31, 2013. The animal, which is part of a theatre show, has been banned from the balcony after neighbors complained. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

EU Integration: A Narrative.

           The European Union has undergone multiple distinct periods while undergoing a process of integration. Similar to States, the EU has been through periods of both strong and alternatively weak support. The birth and growth of the EU is a compelling story, one in which recent economic recession events will undoubtedly mark a chapter.
            To examine the motivations behind the existence of the EU of today, it is important to keep in mind the initial purpose behind the creation of the EU. After a second World War, in which hundreds of millions of Europeans perished and destruction occurred on a level never before seen, the individual nations of Europe understood the urgency of ensuring that this level of loss and conflict never happen again. After the failure of the loosely united League of Nations formed in response to World War I, the nations of Europe understood the need to create something more binding than a traditional international alliance or collection of treaties. To achieve this end, the six most powerful nations of Western Europe pooled their heavy national resources into the collective European Coal and Steel Community in 1952. Thus coal and steel, two primary supplies needed by a nation engaged in warfare, were under the collective control of the community. This successful cooperation led to the Treaty of Rome in 1957, which solidified the arrangement into the European Economic Community. The optimism of this period was high for academic analysts at the time. Neo-functionalism emerged and sought to explain the actions of Western nations as stemming from their goals within the EC, highlighting that transnational benefits would become increasingly apparent to States and on both the national and international level States would seek to increase their participation and cede more decision making powers to the EC. This period of integration optimism, in which it was expected that "political spill-over" would result in enhanced integration (Pollack, 18) came to a screeching halt with the first major crisis the EC faced.
            The "Empty Chair Crisis" stemmed from Charles De Gualle taking issue with proposals from the Commission that were in line with the EC's ever-expanding role and influence over national actors. As a result, France boycotted all European institutions, which at the time required unanimous participation to accomplish anything. Charles De Gaulle's distrust of supranationalism dealt a hard blow to European integration and the optimistic perception of an ever-increasing EC.  Though this incident was finally resolved in 1966 by the Luxembourg compromise, it marked the beginning of the "Doldrums Era" in European integration.
            The Doldrums Era lasted until the mid 1980's, and were marked by the perception that States were still acting in their own best interests, as advocated by the new school of Intergovernmentalism at the time (which emphasized that European States interacted with one another internationally, but not as a part of a larger transnational framework or political structure envisioned by neo-functionalists) (Pollack, 19). Thus, the fate of the eventual EU looked bleak, and many scholars left the field of study altogether. Still, this era allowed perhaps for a more realistic understanding that nations still strongly valued their sovereignty, and acted rationally with their own interests in mind, as held by the emerging concept of Liberal Intergovernmentalism. Then, along with the fall of the Soviet Union and the dissolution of the old divisions of states into communist and anti-communist groups, the EU experienced a brand new wave of unprecedented growth.
            Shortly after the end of the Cold War, Eastern European nations began to join the EU. This was a drastic change to the previously Western-dominated power structure of the EU, and with the new, smaller Eastern countries came several new pro-integration ideas and demands for a voice of their own in the international forum of the EU. Thus, Eastern States saw the opportunity for their voice to be heard and to shape policy within Europe, and were particularly receptive to institutional change by the vacuum created from the fall of Soviet prop governments. They sought to strengthen and foster greater integration within the EU, even as member states such as France and England raised occasional objections.
            This overview of the EU concludes with a look at the present financial (and governmental) crisis shaking Europe. Starting with the financial crisis of 2007-8 and then the recession in the US , the interconnected EU market soon suffered the effects as well. These problems became urgent with the collapse of the Greek economic situation in a sea of debt, and later the governments of Spain, Italy and Ireland (which, though not as bad as Greece showed dramatic increases in unemployment and were considered to be high risk for defaulting). Some are debating whether Germany will continue to be willing to "bail-out" these other member states, and whether or not the EU will financially collapse under the strain of the present recession.
            These fears are unfounded. As discussed above, the EU has already survived numerous 'hiccups' on its road toward ever-increasing integration. Similar financial difficulties were faced and survived in the 1970's. Later this week Italy is coming off the "at-risk" list for default as it re-organizes its debt and institutes necessary measures to achieve financial responsibility. Other nations will follow suit, although it may take some time. Departure from the EU now would only increase the economic uncertainty plaguing many member states, and would make no sense for any rational political actor. Still, the recession and current crisis is already having an impact on the way debt and now "euro-bonds" are organized, and will likely leave the EU changed once it emerges from the present situation.

EU: Background and Foundations

The “narrative” of the European integration is relatively simple. After two World Wars tore through Europe, leaving the continent a mass of rubble, there was only one thought dominating the minds of Europeans: this cannot be allowed to happen again. Thus, beginning with the integration of the French and German coal and steel communities (two industries essential to war making)  the now 27, soon to be 28, nations in the European Union have become so economically dependent on one another that war is virtually impossible.

However, the motivation for European integration is not the only aspect critical to the EU’s narrative. Politically, European integration has always been viewed through two different lenses. While the EU was originally envisioned by Schuman as a “European federation,” many have fought to maintain the power and independence of the nation state within the European framework (Schuman Declaration, 2). This debate regarding the exact function of the European Union remains to this day. Both camps agree that their system would serve the original purpose of ensuring peace, so then why the conflict? As the Union has grown, the needs of the nation states have changed. European countries are no longer only looking for a sustainable peace; they now seek “prosperity, with business and trade… protection of the environment… and influence in external relations” (Pinder & Usherwood, 9). This has meant that the governing institutions in the European Union have a larger role to play than simply managing the coal and steel industries. Thus, the balance of power between European institutions and national governments has been in constant flux. In particular, the Council of Ministers generally represents an intergovernmental position whereas the European Parliament promotes a more federalist approach (Pinder & Usherwood, 10).

Given the current economic and political crises facing the European Union it is clear that 60+ years of a common European history is just the beginning. Daily, EU institutions are dealing with new problems and acting in a way that is setting precedent for the future of the Union. And in accordance with the debate of national vs. institutional power, member states continue to push back against anything that could be considered too much oversight. Particularly in the case of economic recession in individual member states, given how interconnected European national economies are, it will be very interesting to witness how the EU will proceed to protect the European economy in the face of individual crises’. 

European Integration: History and Implications for the Future

Following World War II, there was a profound political motive for peace and security within Europe and, as a result, European integration began (Pinder, Chapter 1, para. 7). Belgium, France, Italy, the Federal Republic of Germany, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg were the six countries that really began this process with the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community. As Pinder notes, the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community was really the first step “in a process of political as well as economic unification” within Europe (Chapter 1, para. 11). After the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community, European integration continued with the Treaties of Rome, setting up the European Economic Community and the European Atomic Energy Community, with a focus placed on creating a common market and open borders for trade between the six countries (Pinder, Chapter 2, para. 8). The success of this would lead to other countries within Europe applying to join; thus, the Community expanded in 1951 from six countries “to fifteen by 1995, and to 27 in 2007” (Wallace et al., 5). Many steps were taken along the way, including the signing of various treaties seeking to enhance political and economical integration within Europe. This would ultimately lead to the Maastricht Treaty which would establish the European Union (Pinder, Chapter 2, para. 12).

The history of how the European Union was created was not as simple as the first paragraph depicts. Throughout the entire process, the balance between member states and an actual European Community was difficult. As Wallace et al. notes, the European Union is “built out of three original separate Communities, each with different powers, characteristics, and policy domain, complemented by other ‘pillars’ of organized cooperation” (5). As a result, consensus was not always guaranteed. The European Union has now emerged as a partnership model with a key feature of its policy process placed upon cross-agency coordination (Wallace, 10). This emergence; however, has led to the fragmentation of member state’s national governments (Goet et al., 9). What has become evident, is that the peculiar institutional structure of the European Union has become a challenge for governments (Goet et. al., 9).

This history of struggle between the European Union (particularly the Commission) and the European member states suggests that the current economic (and governance) crisis will only heighten this struggle. While European member states will want to have more control in how to deal with the issues plaguing their economy, the European Union has become a dominating influence, something that some member states don’t appreciate. Thus, the current economic crisis will challenge the relationship between the European Union and its member states. However, European integration has gone too far for a reversal. In order to get pass the current crisis, member states and the European Union will have to work together and continue to build towards a more integrated Europe once dreamed about 60+ years ago.

***Note: I downloaded the book from Pinder on my Kindle so I had to use paragraphs instead of page numbers. Hopefully that is okay.

EU narrative

         There are many ways to potentially describe the “story” of European integration.  In attempting to create my own narrative about the rise of the EU, I think it is important to make a broad and perhaps overly simplistic distinction between the initial phases of integration and the actual functioning of the EU.  While these two phases are clearly inextricably linked and others might disagree with me, I think that the distinction is important as I would argue that the roots of the formation of the EU can primarily be traced back to the effects of the second world war but that understanding how and why it operates can be understood through a more theoretically oriented framework.
            I don’t think any story about the increasing levels of European integration can be complete without examining World War II.  To a great extent, I would argue that WWII led to a heightened fear of the dangers of extremist nationalism while also highlighting, in painfully tangible detail, the horrors of war to Europe’s citizens.  Creating a system to avoid such a conflict in the future was of the utmost importance as “for France and Germany…finding a way to live together in a durable peace was a fundamental political priority.” (Pinder, 1)  The formation of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC)/European Economic Community (ECC) represented great strides in this direction. 
Although there were economic incentives to form these communities, the ultimate aim was to eliminate war with the hope being that “solidarity in production” would make “any war between France and Germany…not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible.” (Schuman declaration, 1.)  After experiencing the destructive capabilities of warfare, European states sought a way out.  While some may argue that “WWII is receding into a more distant past” I think it is also true that “the motive of peace and security…remains a powerful influence on governments and politicians.” (Pinder, 3.)  I would thus argue that the foundations of EU can be traced to the necessity of peace and the opportunity to enact real change.
            The second part of my narrative of EU integration follows the creation of the ECSC and the ECC in the 1950s and involves the official formation and functioning of the EU after the Maastricht Treaty in 1992.  I think some important question to ask here include:

1) why does the EU work?
 2) how does it work?, and
3) how has it changed it over time?

All of these questions could well be answered with dissertations and there are many potential avenues of explanation.  For example, Pinder and Schuman argue the “two main ways of explaining” (Pinder, 6) the rise of the EU are, respectively, tied to the degree of emphasis placed on the role of states versus institutions.  Other authors take more micro-level approaches in analyzing changes within the EU over time by focusing on the role of political parties or understandings of what governance means to member states. (Goetz et al., 9-10.)
            Personally, I would explain the functioning of the EU through the neo-liberalism IR theory.  That is, states have joined the EU out of self-interest and but have become tied together through institutional links, specifically the benefits of economic and security cooperation.  In terms of what history suggests for the current economic and governance crisis in the EU, I would remain cautiously optimistic as I don’t think states will lose sight of its (real or perceived) necessity. 

My Interpretation of the Story of the EU

European integration over the past 60 years has in many ways completely transformed while simultaneously maintaining its core purpose for existence. The EU, or formally known as the European Coal and Steel Community, began as an initiative to ensure that France and Germany could no longer choose war as an option to resolve differences; moreover, the original six signatories of the agreement pursued a united Europe to promote and safeguard peace and security within the region. As the EU began to expand, policies and structures had to transform to accommodate the needs and interests of those states entering the union while standards were formed to qualify entry into the institution.  Since enduring the Cold War era, the EU has not only changed in social structures but has since shifted its political goals for hopeful initiates from democratic victory to the quality of democratic governance (Goetz, 4). The political notions of democracy were admirable plights but without the integration of the economies between the member states (i.e. becoming economically bound to one another), the EU would not have sustained for this length of time (Pinder, ch 1: “Economic Strength and Prosperity”).

With the addition of many eastern European states in the early 2000s, the member states would have to decide how to expand or change treaties and whether or not to give the EU more economic sovereignty. As stated in the EU Observer, German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble pressed the idea of having a “eurozone-only budget helping to level out macro-economic imbalances” (“Germany softens stance on EU treaty change”, 2013) so as to assist small businesses in competing on an even playing field throughout the eurozone. It seems to me that economic changes are occurring quicker than the EU is able to make those policy reforms as influx of states enters the union. Additionally, there is hesitation by member states to put more sovereignty into Brussels to develop new economic policy adjustments for fear of decreasing individual state sovereignty if that process were to occur. Regardless of whether the EU is given more power or not to handle the economic crisis, it is crucial that the progress be made towards overcoming this issue and that the union be adaptable to any shocks that may occur in the future.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

EU Usurping National Parlimentary Powers?

This article on the concerns about the EU usurping the powers and role of national parliaments as an unintended (or perhaps not) consequence of the EU response to the economic crisis seems particularly relevant given our recent discussions on the blog here.  For those of you interning at the EP in particular, has this been a concern that has come up in your work?

Photo from vendstrek, via EU Observer:

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Single Seat Campaign

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to go to a hearing on the Single Seat Campaign. This was an interesting experience because the hearing was addressing some issues that I have seen throughout some of the readings. The hearing was on the issue of the European Parliament's "seat." A majority of the Members of the European Parliament are arguing that they should be able to decide where their "seat" is. Under the current treaties, the European Parliament operates in three different locations: Brussels, Strasbourg, and Luxembourg. For now, the location of the Parliament "seat" is decided by the unanimity among member states. Most members argue that Brussels should be the location of the single "seat" and that the Parliament shouldn't have to go to Strasbourg. However, the historical and political importance of Strasbourg plays a major role in how this will be decided. Furthermore, it is being argued that France would never allow the European Parliament to leave Strasbourg.

I think this debate demonstrates how the European Union is continuing to grow and change. The Parliament, in particular, is continuing to gain more power and a larger role within the EU. At the hearing, the consensus was that for there to be a change on whether the Parliament could decide where its "seat" is located, there would have to be a change in the Treaty. It will be interesting to see what comes about this push for amending the Treaty and the political/diplomatic implications of this between the European Parliament and the member states.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Stimulus vs. Austerity: the IMF Weighs In...

Here is another contribution to the "austerity vs. stimulus" debate that has characterized not just the US-EU relationship, but also debates within the EU and between the EU Member States and International Financial Institutions like the IMF.  Although IFIs like the IMF initially promoted a course of austerity for countries like Greece, Portugal, Ireland, and Spain, they have since moderated if not fully reversed course on the "harsh" cuts that were imposed on these countries early in the financial crisis.

Has there been any discussion of the ways in which the economic crisis or Europe's economic woes have impacted the work of your respective internship organizations?

Christine Lagarde at the World Economic Forum (photo from the World 
Economic Forum via EU Observer:

Monday, May 20, 2013

Internships, Tours, and Travels

     My interview experience this week in Brussels was a positive one. The metro was luckily not too terribly difficult or different from that of DC, so I was able to make it to all of my interviews on time. The interviews themselves were not that different from similar interviews I've had in the United States. The people I met with were all very friendly, which I think may have come from this internship program's AU affiliation. I did notice that as huge as some of my organizations sounded, they were always an office of only about 2-10 people. I think this will be a good thing, since I'll almost certainly have no shortage of work. The internship I was ultimately matched with, Social Platform, is an NGO that coordinates the similar interests of hundreds of organizations and 70+ other NGOs with respect to their common interest of basic human rights protections. They were my first choice, and I am excited to be analyzing and coordinating along with them. I am particularly excited because I will likely be attending meetings on their behalf within the EU. Overall the internship experience was a positive one, and I think we all really did hit the ground running here. The only aspect I was not particularly fond of was that we were not allowed to rank our internship preferences to our coordinator. I still managed to convey my number one choice I think through the length and enthusiasm of the internship evaluations I gave, but I wish I could have been more direct. Besides this, I am happy with where I was placed and am excited to begin.

     My impressions of Brussels so far are difficult to describe. I am thrilled to be within Europe again, and particularly to be so close to the EU parliament. However, I have had a bit of a struggle getting over my initial jetlag, and every single day has been very cold and very rainy. I would say I expected this for maybe the first few days, but now a full week later I have only seen the sun once and I'm really hoping the weather will clear up soon. Also, I've been surprised at the advanced age of the majority of people I've seen here, who have a tendency to keep quiet and keep to themselves. I think this may be because, as Jerry told our class, nearly all of the students are at home panicking and studying for their finals, which determine whether or not they may even stay enrolled. Other than these initial impressions, I really like how international the city is. Speaking English only (my spanish doesn't really apply here) I have had no difficulty communicating with anyone. 
This past weekend was my favorite experience so far. I loved the cities we visited, the tours and the architecture. Gent in particular was my favorite, I really liked both the people and the huge, aged buildings and structures.

     I think that the aspects of my academic program that will be most beneficial to me will be, of course Jerry's lectures and tours. The EU lecture filled in the gaps in my basic EU knowledge, and I really think that because I will be lobbying the EU, the more information I can gather on it's origins and function, the better. The tours have done an excellent job of connecting the modern attitude of Belgians today to their history. Again, this past weekend's trips in particular were great. I am looking forward to starting my internship, hopefully better weather, and more time to navigate and explore Brussels in the weeks to come.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Internship: Interviewing, Business Culture, and Academic Experience

My interview experience in Brussels was much different than my interview experiences in the United States for several reasons. In the United States, I have gone into an interview knowing the person who would be interviewing me, either through a classmate, friend, or previous supervisor. As a result, I somewhat knew the person who was interviewing me as well as knew what to expect within the interview. In Brussels, my interview experience was completely different. I had no knowledge of the place I would be interviewing at until a day or two before I was supposed to be there. I had no knowledge of the person who would be interviewing me. Each interview was different as well. At one interview in Brussels, I was asked to demonstrate my skills, which is not unlike one interview experience I had in the United States. At another interview in Brussels, I interviewed with a group, which was a completely new experience for me. Overall, the interview experience in Brussels was much more challenging for me.

My impressions of the Brussels/European business culture thus far is that the offices are much smaller, usually comprised of only two or three people. However, this doesn’t mean that there is less work to be done. Organizations appear to be extremely focused on one area instead of being comprised of multiple different offices working on different things within a broader context.

As I begin my internship, the classes that I have taken that focus on the policy process and policy analysis, I think, will be the most value to me because these courses have taught me about agenda setting, policy formation, policy adoption, policy implementation, and evaluation, all of which I think is applicable to the EU Parliament. Through these courses, I have also gained the experiences of writing memos, which I believe will be something I will have to do at my internship.

The Brussels vs. US Interview Process

So far my interview experiences have been relatively easy. Compared to the US I felt like these interviews were more informal and less stressful besides the confusing street signs (well the lack of visible street signs) and the cold rainy weather. At every interview I was offered some type of beverage which was great, especially since I can't recall ever being offered any refreshments in the US. This added to the relaxed conversational atmosphere that I felt at every interview. I think the best part about the interview a few of us had for MEP Rhoithova and Social Platform was that some of the questions where character and personality based which I think is important to note and often overlooked. A person may be able to perform the tasks and duties of a job proficiently but if their personality does not mesh well with others it can hinder the progress of an organization, especially these small offices.

The only real distinction I see between the Brussels and US business is culture is that showing up early to interviews does not necessarily mean that a person is responsible and prompt. Since the organizations or offices are so small there is not always an area to seat a guest and thus showing up early may put pressure on the host to either start the interview earlier than expected or go out of their way to find accomodations for you. Moreover, since the organizations are so small it seems very quiet at times which is not something I am accustomed to. NOrmally, there is a lot of chatter and livly interaction in the offices that I have worked for in the US but this assumption could be wrong once I actually start my internship next week.

My academic program is peace and conflict resolution which I think will work well with my internship with MEP Stastny who is focusing of trade negotiations with Canada at the moment. My Comparative Peace Processes class taught me much about the negotiation process and the intricacies of trying to come to an agreement about any issue. I believe this negotiation has been going on for 2 or 3 years now and the hopes of concluding this year are not high. This class also taught me that it is difficult to take an entity as large as the EU to come to an agreement in general due to the all of the actors who now have a stake in certain policies. Compromises will have to be made and many states either do not want to compromise or do not have the capacity to enforce a certain policy at the time so changes must constantly be made. It's difficult to get a group of friends to agree on a place to go for dinner; imagine that on an international level.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Interview Impressions

Interview impressions

*Apologies for what might end up being a wall of text:

Well, after an interesting but at times hectic past few days, the search for an internship is over!  It looks like I will be interning with SecEUR, an organization that does research and publishes newsletters to subscribers about civil security within the EU.  As this was one of my top choices and I am really into security issues, this should be great!  It is also located relatively close to the European Parliament, so hopefully I can get lunch a few times with whoever ends up interning there!

I had a total of five interviews in the span of three days.  On my first day, I had one interview with Euro Tasc.  This was a conducted in a group setting that included myself and three other students.  Unfortunately, the interviewer didn’t really ask too many questions specific to each of us (he never even asked us to review our resumes) and the interview kind of devolved into us asking him questions without ever really getting the chance to show what we had to offer. 

The second interview with the Atlantic Treaty Association went well, even though it was a bit hard to find as it was hidden under scaffolding and there wasn’t a street sign.  Luckily I walked over there with Cassandra and we were able to ask a construction worker where the building was and he pointed us in the right direction.  Oddly enough, the ATA is located in a former hotel room, as in we took an elevator to a floor and walked past a bunch of hotel rooms before finding it.   The ATA interview was one-on-one and went really well – they do interesting work there.

The next day I had my interview with SecEUR.  This interview also went really well.  I enjoyed talking to my two interviewers about topics ranging from military history to EU security policy.  I have a lot of experience doing writing and research assignments, especially pertaining to security issues, so I hope and think I will fit in well there!

I also had an interview the second day for an internship with an MEP.  This interview was quite odd – we were taken in as a group and each given an assignment to write a one-minute speech about a topic.  I got tax havens and evasion, something I didn't know much about at all.  I used a lot of generalities and gave a rousing speech about how MEPs have the capability and therefore the responsibility to aid their constituents by stopping it.  We were all also called in for individual interviews.

My final interview on the last day was with another MEP and was again conducted in a group setting, but this time over tea.  Again, as with the first interview, I didn’t think the interviewers got anything substantive out of us.  They basically only asked us why we were there and where we were from in the U.S.  Beyond that, there wasn’t talk about individual qualifications or anything.

Overall, my interview experience is pretty limited as I’ve only had two or three in-person interviews in the U.S.  However, judging from the five interviews I had, the whole process did not seem too different from the U.S. in that there can be considerable variability in terms of what to expect when interviewing at each organization.  I will say that the group interviews did not seem to work very well, but that may have been due to the interviewers and I’m not sure if that’s typical of Europe or not.  Generally speaking, their business culture appears to be a bit more relaxed and laid-back, although I am sure I will learn more about this in the coming weeks.

As a whole, I was very prepared for the ATA and SecEUR internship interviews largely due to the large amounts of writing and wide range of classes related to security and history I took as an undergrad.  In particular, I took a COIN and counter-terror seminar my senior year that was invaluable.  Grad school work has also been useful.  International trade issues are a big theme with the EU now and having just taken an international econ. class I was able to follow the discussions much better than I would have otherwise.  Well, that was my whirlwind interview experience.  Looking forward to travelling around Belgium this weekend and starting the internship on Tuesday!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Interview Experience and First Impressions

Over the last three days I have been to five interviews: Euro TASC, ATA, SecEUR, AEFJN, MEP Peter Stastny. Of the five companies, I am only particularly excited about two (ATA/SecEUR). I had two group interviews with other AU students (Euro TASC and MEP Peter Stastny) and in both the interviewers did not seem too interested in learning much about us. In the case of Euro TASC I felt that I got a good idea of what would be expected of the intern; however it was not particularly clear from our meeting with Peter Stastny’s office.

My interviews with ATA, SecEUR and AEFJN all offered me the opportunity to both sell myself and ask questions about the internship and the organization. These three offices showed genuine interest in my academic/professional background and my expectations of an internship with their company.  The interviewers all clearly explained how I might shape my work with them into something relevant to my interests and skills, and how their office would help me to grow both academically and professionally.  

I've found Brussels to be lovely. I love that I can go around on my own without feeling anxious about a language barrier. The cobblestones are doing a number on my heels but they really add to the charm of the city. And although the weather is expectedly horrible, the rain does fall straight down rather than sideways as in DC, so that’s something. I’m looking forward to exploring the city more soon with my lovely fellow AU students.  

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

First Impressions

At first sight of the city of Brussels my initial thoughts, as we rode in the taxi to our hotel,  was that the city looked very similar to DC (which I believe were similar thoughts that others had as well). However, as my eyes and mind begin to shake off the jet lag and exhaustion I am now seeing Brussels in a whole new light. Our tour of the Grande Place with Jerry Sheridan revealed the rich history that can be found right in the architecture of the city. Navigating the streets as I search for the location of my interviews has lead me to find the Royal Palace, lush parks, and many restaurants that are now on my "to eat here" list. I'm looking forward to learining more as we travel and study about this complex little country named Belgium.

Impressions of Brussels

So far, I'm really enjoying Brussels (besides the cold and rain). I've been pleasantly surprised that I haven't had any issues with communicating with most people despite not being able to speak any French. It is possible that if I was anywhere else in Europe, I might not have such an easier time with that. Also, though at first the public transportation system seemed impossible to understand, I think that I am slowing learning how to get around (with the help of maps). It also helps that Brussels is quite small so it doesn't take long to get from one side to the other like Washington, DC.

My host family is awesome! I have learned so much about Brussels, France, and Europe through them in the past few days. In particular, I've learned a lot about the European perception (or to be more specific, French perception) of American politics and culture. I'm looking forward to continue these discussions with my host family over dinner!

I was told before I got here, that Brussels is an international city and in the short time that I have been here, I am finding that it truly is!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Transatlantic Divide Over the Economic Crisis

Here is another good piece from EU Observer highlighting the persistent "austerity vs. stimulus" debate that has characterized transatlantic relations since the onset of the fiscal crisis.  Many expected a renewal of the close working relationship between the US and the EU when President Obama took office in 2008 after the tension and distance that had set in under President Bush's terms in office.  However, a fundamental philosophical difference at the level of ideas concerning economic governance and the proper response to economic crises has complicated US-EU relations over the past 4 years.  Keep an ear to the ground for discussions of these topics once you get to Brussels, and post your comments here!

(Photo: Joerg Rueger/German ministry of finance, via EU Observer)

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The EU Treaties and the fiscal crisis

If you've started reading Pinder (as you should be doing!) you'll notice how much of the history and the current politics of the EU revolve around different treaties and debates about how to expand or change treaties (or even forge new ones).  The EU is, at its core, a rule-based institution grounded in a series of treaties that all of the member states have ratified.  The current economic and fiscal crisis in Europe has once again brought the EU treaties into the spotlight, namely though the persistent question of whether adequate reforms for "economic governance" (a key term in EU parlance) in the Union can be made within the current treaty framework, or whether a new treaty is needed.

Here is a recent news article from EU Observer that will help bring you up to speed on this debate, which will certainly be something that folks in EU politics/policy circles will be discussing once you get to Brussels:

What kind of institutional and political dynamics strike you as important as you read this article and read about the economic and fiscal crisis more generally?  Where does authority lay on these types of questions in the EU?