Brussels from afar: Interview with Dr. Hardy Ostry from the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS)

Interview conducted by Hannah Rittmeyer from the “Becoming Bruxellois from Afar” project

This article is part of a series of interviews conducted by a group of Groningen students as part of their Eurocompetence II project. The interviewees all work in Brussels institutions and were asked questions related to the Euroculture’s 2020 IP topic: “A sustainability Europe? Society, politics and culture in the anthropocene”. Here, Hannah Rittmeyer asked Dr. Hardy Ostry of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) about his perspective on democratic sustainability, particularly about whether or not the EU faces has a democratic deficit and if the current crisis is a threat or a chance for democracy in the EU.

Hannah Rittmeyer: Could you please provide us with a short overview of your organization and its work in Brussels?

Hardy Ostry: With more than 200 projects in over 120 countries and its headquarters in Sankt Augustin near Bonn and Berlin, the KAS is a worldwide operating institution. 16 offices in Germany alone maintain various projects. The foundation has been named after the first Federal Chancellor, Konrad Adenauer. His principles are the guidelines for of our work. As a political foundation, we nationally and internationally campaign for freedom and justice through political education. Our main focus lies in on cooperation and development towards the promotion of European unification, the consolidation of democracy and the intensification of transatlantic relations. Furthermore, the foundation offers scholarships, not only to German Citizens and has a prestigious literary award. The European Office, located in Brussels, has a team of 11 people. As a consulting agency, we analyse political action and develop scientific reports. In particular, KAS Brussels is responsible for following and processing events at the European level. Our main work lies in organizing events to different (current) topics, networking, reporting, and serving as a melting point for visitor groups from all over the world.  Continue reading “Brussels from afar: Interview with Dr. Hardy Ostry from the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS)”

Brussels from afar: Interview with MEP Daniel Freund

Interview conducted by Michelle Wiesner from the “Becoming Bruxellois from Afar” project

This article is part of a series of interviews conducted by a group of Groningen students as part of their Eurocompetence II project. The interviewees all work in Brussels institutions and were asked questions related to the Euroculture’s 2020 IP topic: “A sustainability Europe? Society, politics and culture in the anthropocene”. Here, Michelle Wiesner asked Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Daniel Freund about his personal experience in Brussels and sustainability in politics, especially regarding corruption.

Michelle Wiesner: Could you please give us a short introduction about your work at the European Parliament, for example in which Committees you are working in? 

Daniel Freund: The two committees I focus on are the Committee on Budgetary Control (CONT) and the Committee on Constitutional Affairs (AFCO). In the CONT committee, I fight corruption and fraud of EU money. In February, we went on a fact-finding mission to Prague, as Prime Minister Babis is suspected of having altered regulations on agricultural subsidies for his private profit. Corruption and fraud are deeply linked with the rule of law. Cronyism reinforces misappropriation of public money and autocratic structures might even be strengthened through EU money. Therefore, I advocate for a rule of law mechanism that conditions subsidies to democratic values. 

As part of the AFCO committee, I was involved in the assessment of the new commissioners’ integrity. In the end, we were able to prevent three candidates, which had severe conflicts of interest. In the long run; however, I fight for the creation of an independent EU ethics body whose purpose would be ensure the integrity of the EU institutions. Another topic that I continue to push in the AFCO committee is the improvement of the lobby register tool in order to make decision making more transparent. I am also in the TRAN committee where our goal is to make transport more sustainable. My favourite project is the expansion of the European night train grid.

MW: Why did you decide to run as a member of the European Parliament?  Continue reading “Brussels from afar: Interview with MEP Daniel Freund”

Brussels from afar: Interview with Lucille Griffon from EuroMed Rights

Interview conducted by Michelle Wiesner from the “Becoming Bruxellois from Afar” project

This article is part of a series of interviews conducted by a group of Groningen students as part of their Eurocompetence II project. The interviewees all work in Brussels institutions and were asked questions related to the Euroculture’s 2020 IP topic: “A sustainability Europe? Society, politics and culture in the anthropocene”. Here, Michelle Wiesner asked Lucille Griffon of EuroMed Rights about her perspective on sustainability, particularly about gender justice, a vital factor in progressing towards a more sustainable society.

MW: Could you please give us a short introduction about EuroMed Rights and its work in Brussels?

Lucille Griffon: EuroMed Rights is a network of around 80 human rights NGOs, located in 30 countries of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. We have 3 offices: one in Copenhagen, the headquarters, one in Brussels and another one in Tunis. We work with country programs: Israel/Palestine and the Palestinians, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Turkey and another Mashrek country, and regional programs: women’s rights and gender justice, migration, economic and social rights, shrinking space. The country programs, migration and shrinking space are in Brussels. The work they do there is mostly related to advocacy towards EU institutions.

MW:  What is your position within EuroMed Rights and how did you get into this working field? Continue reading “Brussels from afar: Interview with Lucille Griffon from EuroMed Rights”

Brussels from afar: Interview with Hagar Ligtvoet from the Permanent Representation of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the EU

Interview conducted by Nadira-Begim Nadyrbekova from the “Becoming Bruxellois from Afar” project

This article is part of a series of interviews conducted by a group of Groningen students as part of their Eurocompetence II project. The interviewees all work in Brussels institutions and were asked questions related to the Euroculture’s 2020 IP topic: “A sustainability Europe? Society, politics and culture in the anthropocene”. Here, Nadira-Begim Nadyrbekova asked Miss Hagar Ligtvoet, working at the Permanent Representation of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the European Union to give her perspective on ecological sustainability in the EU and in the Netherlands and the effects of the corona crisis on sustainability in Europe in the future.

Nadira-Begim Nadyrbekova: Could you please briefly tell us about the Permanent Representation of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the European Union? What is your position and responsibility within?

Hagar Ligtvoet: The Permanent Representation of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the European Union represents and promotes the Dutch interests in the European Union (EU). All ministries are represented at our office in Brussels. I am head of the unit that deals with all issues related to infrastructure, climate and the environment. There are six of us in the unit and we deal with many things, such as the circular economy, air quality, water, land transport, aviation, maritime issues, and more. If there is new legislation on such issues in the EU, we negotiate on behalf of the Netherlands and represent the Netherlands in meetings with other Member States, the European Commission or the European Parliament. We do so based on instructions we receive from The Hague, where the Dutch position is decided in consultation with parliament. Our job is to try to make sure that the Netherlands can be happy with the final outcome of the legislation.

NBN: How does your career path lead to your current position? Continue reading “Brussels from afar: Interview with Hagar Ligtvoet from the Permanent Representation of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the EU”

Brussels from afar: Interview with Eline Schaart, reporting for Politico

Interview conducted by Marco Valenziano from the “Becoming Bruxellois from Afar” project

This article is part of a series of interviews conducted by a group of Groningen students as part of their Eurocompetence II project. The interviewees all work in Brussels institutions and were asked questions related to the Euroculture’s 2020 IP topic: “A sustainability Europe? Society, politics and culture in the anthropocene”. Here, Marco Valenziano asked Eline Schaart, a young female journalist from Politico to give us her perspectives on sustainability in the news.

Marco Valenziano: Could you please introduce Politico and its main objectives?

Eline Schaart: Politico is a global nonpartisan politics and policy news organization, launched in Europe in April 2015. Our European division is a joint-venture between POLITICO LLC, based in the USA and Axel Springer, the leading publisher in Europe. With operations based in Brussels and additional offices in London, Berlin, Paris, Rome, and Warsaw, Politico connects the dots between global power centres. In June 2018, an annual ComRes/Burson-Marsteller survey ranked Politico as the Number One most influential publication on European affairs, for the second year running. Its journalism lives online at politico.eu; in POLITICO Pro, the real-time subscription-based policy news service for professionals; in daily morning newsletters, such as Brussels Playbook and London Playbook; in print via a weekly newspaper; and through live events.

MV: Can you briefly summarize your role within Politico? How your career path led to your current position? Continue reading “Brussels from afar: Interview with Eline Schaart, reporting for Politico”

Interpreting the Polish “Holocaust Law”

By Katharina Geiselmann

The Polish Sejm has passed a Law at the beginning of this year, which makes it illegal to blame Poles for any crime committed during the Nazi occupation. Even though it also covers crimes committed during the Communist era (and war crimes by Ukrainian nationalists), it came to be known as “The Holocaust Law” in the debate that it sparked all around the world. This shows not only the sensitivity of the topic of the Holocaust, but also that 73 years after the victory over the Nazis, it seems the different Holocaust narratives are rather dividing than uniting Europe. Can, and should a consensus be reached when it comes to Holocaust memory? Or is the motto united in diversity a legitimate solution for the European memory? Especially the latest EU-enlargement challenges the concept of a common European memory, as the Western countries have agreed on their memory more or less, while new members have not been included yet, and bring other, fresher memories to the table: the communist past. Considering that the Holocaust, however, is said to be part of the European memory as negative founding myth[1], in cooperating Eastern narratives and agreeing on what and how the Holocaust is to be remembered is an integral part of the integration process. Continue reading “Interpreting the Polish “Holocaust Law””

So, where is Europe?

One week ago, the Euroculture programme was celebrating its 20th anniversary during the Intensive Programme held in Krakow. This time, the theme was “Where is Europe?”, which inspired all students to write papers on various topics, from law and borders to ecology and environmental issues, from linguistics to history, new technologies, multiculturalism and many more.
The Intensive Programme (IP) is the final part of the first year; it summarises all that has been learnt during the first semesters in terms of research methodology, academic writing, discussions, peer reviews, paper presentation. It is also a unique opportunity for all students of the same cohort to meet (again or for the first time). Indeed, it is the only time everyone is gathered during the whole duration of the programme.

Continue reading “So, where is Europe?”

IP Euroculture 2018: The “Backstage”!

 

As the Intensive Programme 2018 is about to start, the Euroculturer Magazine decided to offer you a sneak peek into the most intense, challenging and exciting part of the programme’s 1st year. Senka Neuman Stanivukovic, from the Rijksuniversiteit in Groningen, and Karolina Czerska-Shaw, from the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, accepted to answer a few questions for us…
Indeed, this year’s IP has been co-organised mainly by these two universities – though as you will discover in this article, an IP is never about just one or even two universities’ teams! So, what does the “backstage” look like?

Let’s first look back a few years ago… Can you tell us how and when the Euroculture adventure started in Krakow?
Karolina Czerska-Shaw: “Yes, I remember it well! It started in 2004, when I came to study at the Jagiellonian in the Euroculture programme. It was then a 1-year MA, and the IP was in February. Luckily that year it was in Udine, which was a relief after the very cold winter in Poland… Our Director of Studies (and now the Dean of our Faculty), Prof. Mach, was the man behind the JU’s ‘entrance’ into the Euroculture team, and the rest is history. Well, sort of.

What about the IP, how many times did Krakow and Groningen co-organised or hosted the event? Any funny stories to share with us?
Karolina: “I’m beginning to lose count… 2008, 2014, 2017, 2018. Am I missing one? As for funny anecdotes, funny during or in retrospect? Hmm, there are certainly some, but my mind is a blur. I’m sure the past students have many of their own. Check Facebook!
Senka Neuman Stanivukovic: “I think twice or even three times, I am not sure?! As for anecdotes and funny stories, the IP has nothing to do with fun or funny, it is only hard work, hard work, very hard hard work!

Just in case we were not panicking enough just yet, thank you for the reminder Senka!
But by the way, could you please introduce yourself and the team behind this year’s IP? Continue reading “IP Euroculture 2018: The “Backstage”!”

Missing IP 2012 ─ We’ll Always Have… Bilbao?

I come from a big city in Pakistan but I enjoy roaming around in this small, accessible town. Don’t get me wrong: I’d be the last person to categorise Bilbao as ‘provincial’, but it is, for some amazing reason, free of the worries of life in a big town. The people are happier, the air quality’s superb, and the atmosphere is calm… And slow.

Syed Rashid Munir | srmunir@gmail.com

We’ll always have…Bilbao?

Humphrey Bogart is rolling over in his grave, but I have no qualms in saying so. Bilbao, after all, has been my home away from home for well over a year now, and while it has tested me to the edges of my sanity in one way or another, I have some very good memories of the city. Not only have I made good friends, both in and outside the MA Euroculture programme, but I’ve also met some amazing people and shared wonderful memories with them.

Now, if I were to ask someone to name one thing they know about Bilbao, they would, more often than not, end up mentioning Asier… no wait, sorry, the Guggenheim Museum. But let’s forget about the Guggenheim for a minute, there are plenty of brochures for that. Yes, it is bizarrely striking and there’s nothing else compared to it in the world (let alone in Bilbao); and yes, it is filled with modern masterpieces, which I don’t understand at all but if they float your boat, well… But the beauty of the city is skin deep. Take a walk by the mesmerizing riverside at night, get lost in the cool, breezy streets of the Old Town, hike your way up to the small hills surrounding the city, shop your heart out on Gran Via, or just simply relax and have some pintxos (tapas, but way more fancy) with some delectable wine in one of the eateries near Plaza Indautxu; Bilbao will keep you entertained. Add to that the lovely and hospitable Basque people, who will end up walking with you to the other side of town just to show you the way, and I think Bilbao’s got it pretty much covered.

In the summer, the beaches just on the outskirts of the city are abuzz with hundreds of people who rush to beat the summer sun. The winters in Bilbao, however, are notoriously wet. Keeping umbrellas, plural, handy is a must since the wind will break the feeble, Chinese ones someday. But you will need to shop at the Chinese outlets again, because Bilbao is a bit of a pricey town. The living cost is just a wee bit on the upper side, but if you keep track of sales (and discount coupons handed out at the university photocopy shop, so they say), you shall survive.

Loads of seafood, all kinds of meat, some excellent wine, fresh bread, corn cakes, and the sweet-but-makes-you-gassy-afterwards-coke-and-wine drink, Kalimotxo, make up a large part of the cuisine. The city has its fair share of fast-food chains and kebab places as well. No matter if you’re looking for a fancy cafeteria, a romantic restaurant, a trendy and up-beat coffee joint, a loud alternative bar, or just a plain old, cozy lunch parlour, you can find just about everything in the city. The old people here, surprisingly, are the ‘happening’ crowd. They go out all day and all night long, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. The young ones end up buying cheap drinks either from the bars in the Old Town or from the grocery shops, and are happy with being loud and rowdy on the streets, especially after Athletic Bilbao’s won (or lost) a game (the city’s crazy about its football team). Middle-aged people mostly stay at home with their kids and watch TV. The big shopping centres are outside the town, on certain days there are local farmers’ markets in the neighbourhoods, and on 21 December the entire city gets drunk on the streets (Santo Tomas). Even the professors come into class on that day, are shocked to see the students there, and say “What are you guys doing in here? Go drink and get a life! YOLO!”. True story…

Coming to Bilbao from Pakistan without knowing a single word of Spanish was, if I’m being kind, a baptism by gasoline-fueled fire. A lot of stress, frustration, guesswork, smiles, pointing, conjecture, and kind (and offensive) hand gestures got me through the initial months before I mercifully learnt some words in Spanish class. In cafés and bars people understand some English, but don’t get your hopes up. Tienes que saber español para hacer cualquier cosa (read no Spanish, no nothing). Otherwise, you’d end up in some ‘situations’, like me. My first week in Bilbao, I went out with my roommate. I was keeping to myself, still recovering from the language-shock, when a cute girl at the bar came up and asked, “Como te llamas?” (What’s your name?). I, high as if with the elation of seeing this Basque beauty in front of me, and not from the pot in the air, replied, “Muy bien” (very good). Sometimes, on sleepless nights, I wonder what would have happened if my name really was that…

I come from a big city in Pakistan (Lahore, more than 11 million residents) but I enjoy roaming around in this small, accessible town. Don’t get me wrong: I’d be the last one to categorise Bilbao as ‘provincial’, but it is, for some amazing reason, free of the worries of life in a big town. The people are happier, the air quality’s superb (this from personal experience, after living in Madrid for three months), and the atmosphere is calm… And slow… And lazy too, sometimes. But we won’t get into that. Plus, being a Pakistani here poses its own sets of challenges with the language, the culture and the people, and I have learnt much about inter-cultural communication and interaction here, even though the initial months were quite tough, at a personal level.

As far as being part of MA Euroculture is concerned, I’ve enjoyed the programme a lot throughout the year and, when there have been tough and sad days, I’ve had the good fortune of some excellent company from my instructors and colleagues. I miss all the people I met during the fantastic (and exhausting) Intensive Programme in June, and I hope I will get to meet them again in their successful careers, if not at a common graduation.

So, whether you’re strolling by the beautiful riverside, taking the cable car up to Artxanda for breathtaking aerial views of the city, walking around in the Old Town (Casco Viejo), or just mapping the roads in shopping areas on Gran Via, Bilbao has something to offer everyone. Bilbao, then, is a bit of an acquired taste. At a first glance, it may seem ugly, uncouth and rough around the edges, but when you’ve lived here for a while and experienced the true soul of the city, it will take your heart away.

So, here’s looking at you, kid…

If you liked Rashid’s article, also read Europe: A Short Story

Syed Rashid Munir, Bilbao Correspondent                        

Hailing from Lahore, Pakistan, Rashid has a B.Sc. in International Relations. He is studying MA Euroculture under the cooperation window programme of the European Commission which allows him to stay at the University of Deusto, Bilbao throughout the programme . His research interests lie in post-colonialism, sub-altern studies, cultural and critical theory, and citizenship regimes in Europe. Apart from his love of writing fiction, travelling, and exotic animals, Rashid daydreams in his spare time about a job in diplomacy, and is a big Ingmar Bergman fan.