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) –>