IAPSS: Study trip to Brussels – Conclusion

European Parliament with IAPSS

European Parliament with IAPSS

My conclusion from my week at the political heart Europe, in Brussels.

Everything here is formed of my own opinion, and the speakers involved in the IAPSS study trip were not speaking on behalf of the EU in any official context. To protect each individual speaker’s identity, I won’t name or quote anyone officially.

Institutions visited: EU Parliament, EU Commission, Council of Europe, Institute for Europe Studies at the Free University of Brussels, A lobbyist (Burson-Marsteller), Representation of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia and the European Policy Centre (EPC).

The question is “the EU under threat” naturally leads one to think yes. There is certainly recognition from many speakers that we engaged with during the three days.

Crisis and governance

Being a government means crises are very much the norm. The EU is a continental governance of 28 member states, with a political-economic union, various active liberalisation policies, and over 500 million citizens. It’s easy to see how easy crisis builds up and stack up upon each other. I will not go in depth about factors outside of the union (the Arab spring and its aftermath, which led to an ongoing refugee crisis). It seems as though expansion, has happened too quick. Early success from many early EU projects, led to over-optimism. It seemed to me that most of the speakers I engaged with realising the brakes now need to be applied and recognise the need to consult EU citizens more. It seemed to me many were aware that no government/union can survive without the desire/will of its citizens.

Consulting citizens is all good and well, but I think the EU has one hand tied behind its back. Member states refuse to have the promotion of any factual information by the union. It’s clear that elements in member states would brand it as propaganda anyway. The problem when consulting citizens at the ballot box is they don’t tend to get the facts. There is a massive void between independent sources that can promote and provide facts and EU citizens. So, it’s no surprise that populists, charismatic politicians fill this void. What Europe needs is more independent (non-biased) fact-finding charities reaching out to the populace.

Political integration and democracy

I am going to stray a little and talk about the early founding of the EU. To add to this I will put forward my own opinion, which is that the EU should go back to its founding values. Political integration is something, not every member state is ready for and not every EU citizen is ready for. Political integration has come too soon, and without the consent of many Europeans. I think integration could be rolled out slowly over the next 30-50 years in but only in small chunks, and by consulting EU citizens through the ballot box. Although democracy does already exist within the EU (contrary to populist claims). Unfortunately, much of the control over political integration isn’t in the hands of ordinary EU citizens.

This is one reason why the EU feels so distant to many of its citizens. It’s good to see though that this has been recognised by the Juncker commission. It’s in the top ten priorities for Europe and it’s something I will follow to see just how the democratic deficit is being tackled. It’s important to remember that within any democratic governance/parliament, there is a democratic deficit so this isn’t EU specific. The question is to what extent and also what do those who hold power intend to do about it. The media/politicians/some citizens in the UK tend to raise the case of democracy a fair bit, overlooking the fact we have a large deficit in the UK parliament with an unelected House of Lords and some would argue an unfair balloting system at elections (no proportional democracy).

Many EU citizens are unable to understand the rather complex form of democratic representation within the EU, the processes are not the same as to how most state democracy works, which is far easier to understand. This is then exploited by politicians and the media, leading to a void between the governance and its citizens. There is a lack of independent sources out there, although this has improved in the run up to the UK referendum with sites such as fullfacts.org. There are still questions about how much real independent material citizens from other member states are able to access. The EU does provide facts about its operations but they aren’t allowed to advertise, and independent groups often have more credibility than government sources.

To conclude

The EU should look at its successes, which in turn have in many cases created its various crises. Some were undoubtedly unavoidable and were not caused by poor governance, such as the migrant crisis. However, this now faces a huge risk of being mismanaged!. However, with these sort of crises along with climate change the EU will be measured upon how it reacts and acts. The EU should stick to its liberal and inclusive democratic foundation. Liberalism won’t please everyone but the very fact it tries to accommodate everyone should see the EU through its toughest days yet.

One representation, In my opinion got weighed down too much by statistics and econometrics, not including any real social or “field” analysis. This is the problem with statistics and regressions.

Governing 500 million people with many different languages, cultures, religions, and differing viewpoints means the EU will always be in one crisis or another. What’s unique about today is the amount of crises the EU face all at once. In the past, they may have been one (or at most two side-by-side) now they are faced with multiple crises and growing populism. Populism is best defeated by sticking to the core values of inclusivity and by making rational decisions (no knee-jerk reactions), not by shifting to ideas which have brought bloodshed and grief not just on this continent but many others.

I went off on a bit of a tangent there, but it’s hard to talk about each institution individually. Maybe that’s an idea for a future post!

{Originally, I had planned to post this Tuesday 22nd March. However, I decided to hold this after the dreadful attacks in Brussels. I offer sympathies to all those involved in the terror attacks in Brussels, and across the world (most recently Iraq and Pakistan).}

Photos from the trip

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As a side note. I’ve purchased this book. I have gaps in my understanding about how certain things work in the EU. I don’t think you ever can know everything about governance really, pics and reviews will be in the books section.

It was an informative trip and was thoroughly enjoyed. I met a great set of people and may attend more events with IAPSS in the future (watch this space 😉 ).

I’ve been stressed out because of a university assignment. All back on track now 🙂

IAPSS Brussels Study trip “The EU under threat?”

Five weeks (and a bit) ago I decided that I’d do something I wouldn’t normally do. I applied to go on a study trip to Brussels with the IAPSS. Throughout the whole process, I had in my head that it wouldn’t be offered to me. However, it was worth a shot anyway, to gain experience applying for programmes and jobs. So, I submitted my application before the deadline on January 30th.

The form required a few personal details. As well as my academic background, and why I would like to go on the study trip. I explained my eagerness to learn about EU institutions and the threats the EU faces from multiple angles. As well as including my interest in environmental/climate policy and the dangers a state leaving the EU would have on the potential for cooperation at National/European/International level. My Economics project that I worked on in my last module was submitted for their viewing..

Along came the 6th February and the email I totally wasn’t expecting.

Study trip acceptance email

Study trip acceptance email

I got on the programme! The European Union is of deep interest to me.

The IAPSS itself is a great international network for students of political science and international relations. It’s student led and works with key institutions. I can’t believe I missed out on being a member of this network for so long, then finding out about it just as I’m finishing my degree.

The range of talks next week take place in the European Commission, Council and the Parliament (if I’m on TV, I’ll give a wave).

I have an idea of a few issues that I’d like to get more clarification on as I participate.

A couple of questions, I’ve had pointed to me by others:

    1.) Is there a democratic deficit in the EU or is it a scare tactic touted by those who don’t know the difference between direct and indirect democracy?
    2.) Is there a potential for member states not to stick to free movement of people over the refugee crisis (although I think it’s a more schengen issue)

If anyone can think of more questions they would like me to answer or clarify please comment below or navigate to the contact area.

Apart from waiting with much anticipation for this study trip. I’ve been busy writing TMA 4 towards my module (DD313 – International Relations). Concerned with governance in the international system and whether it is a bottom-up or top-down process in a chose case study. I chose to specialise in international environment and climate governance, specifically the EU emissions trading scheme (yes, again! 😉 ).

In conclusion, Through analysis it was shown that there is more prospect of bottom-up governance in the international system in liberal societies then in illiberal societies. As the 28 states in the EU are liberal (more or less) they all allow for bottom-up governance in regards to ETS governance. However, using states like Belarus as an example itself a signatory to the Kyoto protocol, would allow for less or no bottom-up governance in the name of networks. Belarus is a dictatorship and is more absolute in terms of international legal sovereignty and is more centrally controlled meaning governance is generally top-down.

I tried to (shorten) summarise my essay in 4 lines, in a readable format. Didn’t really think that was possible.

Below you’ll find some images I’ve taken over the past month. As I’ve been so incredibly busy and broke, I’ve not been able to go anywhere. Oh and don’t judge regarding the wine, every student needs a vice to pull through right? 😛

Images from the past month

Right now, I’m listening to Light It Up (feat. Nyla & Fuse ODG) – Remix on Spotify.
Have a peaceful end of the week readers.

I’ll try and blog post before I leave for Brussels on Tuesday.
If I don’t, you can follow my progress on Twitter (displayed on the top right) –>

Weeks 15-16, Top-down or bottom-up? & Governing weapons proliferation

I’ve been asked before just what the format and structure of study is like with the Open University. I’ve decided to create this post and make it (nearly) entirely Open University based. I’ve attached some images in the slide show below, and I hope that it assists with giving a picture of what I do (or should be doing every week 🙂 ).

My study planner for this Week highlights that I should be at “Week 16 – Governing weapons proliferation“. Which I’ve just finished!

Each week usually has a chapter from the OU module materials, that must be read along with activities in the book and online. Further reading sources are provided every week, and it’s expected that 6 hours every week should be allocated to this. I also try to read a chapter from my outside text “The Globalization of World Politics“.

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I’ve tried to keep it relatively brief here. I could go on and on and make this essayish but I figure anyone interested would lose interest! Audio and video material is provided online nearly each week too. Attendance in face-to-face tutorials isn’t required but recommended. I think I’ve missed about one or two during my whole degree. As you progress to level 3. Tutorials are few and far between.

That’s it for now. I have a more exciting post coming up in the next few days, I’m still on a high from the news I received and can’t wait to share it with my readers. I can’t wait! Just am so excited 🙂

As I was typing this I was listening to Loick Essien – Number One 😀

Have a good week all!

Happy New Year all

Happy New Year

Happy New Year

I’ve not been around the past few months, things got real difficult towards the end of last year. This was for personal reasons.

I just hope all my friends, family and colleagues had a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

I hope this year will be peaceful for all. I’ve got several personal goals to meet this year. Which will be quite challenging. Needless to say, I’m going to be happy to graduate in May. Simply because it’s been a long tough road and I really need something for my efforts and my career now. I will try to update this actively throughout the year as I have so much planned (I’d rather not release everything here). If you want to find out things that I have planned just stay tuned. More to come in later blog posts.

Right now, I’m focused on getting the target grades that I want for my target degree classification! Easier said then done. Wish me luck!

I have some assessments (other students) to give feedback on as part of my third assignment. The whole focus on Humanitarian intervention and the UN’s doctrine on the responsibility to protect has been interesting. Something I will expand upon in a post here when I have time.

Four pictures of what I’ve been up to the past two months (yes, that’s all I have but I’ve done more than that!)

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Whilst writing this, I was listening to Architechs – Body Groove

I will be going back to Oxford quite a bit this year. Got one trip already planned. I really should have gone back there more often! But I’ve been so busy.

I know I say it all the time, but I’ll try to post more often. Happy new year everyone and take care! 🙂

My constant curiosity

Curiosity

I’ve found more and more out about myself this past year. One thing in particular is my constant curiosity.

Ever found yourself wanting to know how a nuclear power station functions, the differences between diesel and electric trains, why a suspension bridge is used over a standard type of bridge, why society is ordered in a particular way in different places? I have and I’ve been more open and accepting of the fact that I am so curious. In the past, I would have hidden away this fact about myself. Almost like I’d be ashamed of my differences.

https://experiencelife.com/article/the-power-of-curiosity/

But yep, I don’t care now. I don’t watch a ton of films or read novels much. If that makes me boring. So be it 🙂

Peace all,

RIP to all those lost in the dreadful attacks in Paris on 13/11/15

The British Public and the EU – Democracy

British and EU flag

Britain and the EU need each other.

It seems a significant proportion of the British public believe we should have a referendum to stay in the European Union.

I will try to answer these the best I can to the extent of my knowledge currently it’s a work in progress as always.

What distresses me is the lack of any intelligent discourse when the subject (The European Union) is debated. This ranges from when the media interviews a member of public on TV or writes an article in a newspaper and let’s just not even mention question time, responses range from; the EU is undemocratic, the EU is a gravy train and what we spend towards the EU budget is too large, and it robs nations of their sovereignty. To add to this, It seems the public still believe lots of the Euromyths that have been proven to be nothing more then myth!

Furthermore, many citizens in other nations (from what I’ve been seeing on social media) now view UK citizens as being uninformed, or trying to hang on to a lost notion of empire, and due to this have many come to the conclusion that the UK is a burden on the rest of the EU.

I also worry just how misinformed the populace are and their opinion on vital constitutional issues, it often decided by the media or fringe/protest political parties. Important policy decisions and constitutional changes seem to be more knee-jerkingly drawn up. Independent research and rational reason seems to have disappeared.

Put the choice to the people they say.

The people have a choice at the ballot box. To vote for a anti-EU party such as UKIP (we can hardly call them Eurosceptic, more anti-Euro?) or vote for liberal democrats for example. Its how our representative system works and its how representative democracy has worked for hundreds of years. We seem to have a proportion of people who believe that unless a referendum is called on such issues there is no democratic choice. Do people now think we should implement direct democracy in this country then? Where a majority of decisions that affect the population is taken to the ballot box at regular referendums? Like the Swiss semi-representative model? Does the general public know the advantages/disadvantages of a direct system or more direct model of democracy?

I’m generally against this form of direct democracy which is often slow. Another drawback are the effects if the population not understanding what they are balloting for clearly enough (voter ignorance), financial imbalance can mess up outcomes, some issues are complex and thus cannot be reduced to a response as simple as yes or no, and question wording might mean the voter not being given the opportunity for their preferred option.

Representative democracy is not perfect but better then the alternatives. The politicians often don’t seem it but they often are the people most qualified to take such decisions. We elect a party (the party leader is chosen by the party) that represents us and who have (hope 🙂 ) qualified people to make decisions on our behalf

The EU is undemocratic.

As the only international government that has some element of democracy in the form of the EU parliament I find this statement odd in the least. To add, When did anyone have a vote on the founding of the UN?

I’m not saying that there is no democratic deficit. There is in the best of democratic parliaments and governmental systems.

Elections occur in every member state every 5 years. Some people on social media say this Jean-Claude Juncker, this Martin Schulz, we never voted for them. But they come through a similar party system as they do in the UK. The largest political group are the European People’s Party (EPP) in the European parliament Jean-Claude Juncker was selected. How both democratic systems work is quite complex and I believe this is one stumbling point between the public as nobody really understands it. I confess, I don’t understand the democratic system fully with regards to the EU, but it’s something over the next few years I’ll definitely understand more.

So, there is a democratic deficit. Just like at Westminster. Where we have a unelected House of Lords, both systems have flaws. No government is perfect but if we want to reduce a democratic deficit shouldn’t we look closer to home first? Westminster is archaic and out of date.

The problem I have with referendums is that they quite often slow down any good governance. The vocal few never are often not satisfied and continue to push for another/other referendums. The method of direct governance has it’s pitfalls, and I don’t think some have been entirely thought through in the past few years.

The UK still faces the possibility of a breakup of the Union in the near future (popularity of the SNP) and calls of another referendum will be on the cards as to whether Scotland should stay in years to come. The very dynamics of the country have changed with elements of direct democracy. Britain a place once known for stable politics within Europe is looking rather different (more like Belgium!), it needn’t be a bad thing though.

There is much more I have to say on this subject (as I do so many!). I’m always open to debate or expansion of points. Please leave a comment below. You can sign in using Facebook/Twitter or register for an account on my blog.

(Published from my iPhone)

Hope you all had a good summer 🙂

DD313 Materials have arrived!

So, my DD313 module materials have arrived! I actually meant to publish this last week. But I’m all ready to start my final Open Uni module in October.

I’m eager to get started. Though I know when the going gets tough, I’ll be looking for the end!