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? 

DF: Before running for a seat in the European Parliament, I worked at the Brussel’s office of Transparency International where I led the work on anti-corruption in the EU institutions. After a while, I realised that my fight against corruption would be even more efficient if I could change the rules from within. Having worked as assistant in the European Parliament I already had experience with the EU institutions, I thought I could do it and it worked out! As MEP I continue to have close contact with civil society organisations and we cooperate to make EU politics more democratic.

MW: At the beginning of April, you held a webinar on lobbyism in Europe. Indeed, the EU is often criticised to be too intransparent in terms of lobbyism. Is the European Parliament planning any initiatives in this regard and how could they look like? 

DF: Actually, it is a bit ironic that Brussels is always blamed to be intransparent. Compared to many national politics, the EU has already good tools in place like the Transparency Register. Employees of the Commission are requested to only meet registered organisations and members of the European Parliament must publish all lobby meetings if they are rapporteur or shadow for that topic. But indeed: there is much to improve! Why not make it obligatory to publish ALL meetings, even if you are not rapporteur or shadow? Also, the Council still made no official commitment to use the Transparency Register as well. From a more technical perspective, the usage of the register should be more accessible. It should be easy to see which lobby meetings have led to which laws. Regarding this project, I am confident that there will be improvements soon. Together with a cross-party contact group, we are committed to improve lobby transparency.

MW: Looking at the current developments in Hungary and Poland, what is in your opinion the biggest challenge the EU faces in terms of democratic sustainability? 

DF: In Poland, the independence of the judiciary is under attack and Hungary has huge issues with corruption and state interference with the media. To fight these undemocratic developments we need a rule of law mechanism linking EU money to the compliance with democratic values – like the division of powers or free media. However, it will be a challenge to translate this into a law as the support of the national governments and of the more conservative groups like the EPP is needed. However, in the Council there are obviously two countries that have no interest in changing the rules and the EPP already showed its reluctance to fully exclude Orban’s Fidesz from their group.

MW: And the last question, can you please tell us where do you see Europe in five years? 

DF: In my vision, in five years, Europe has come out of this crisis by acting in solidarity. Particularly, the economic consequences of the Corona pandemic will be challenging but I believe that together we can get through this. By then, more people will have realised that the solutions do not lay in de-globalisation but in strengthening cross-border initiatives and co-operation. Maybe the first talks about the Federal Republic of Europe will start in 2025.

Picture credits: Personal file

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”

The emerging role of small states amidst the crisis of multilateralism

By Christabel Fernandez

My time at the United Nations exposed me to the many fascinating facets of multilateralism and international relations. International Organisations like the United Nations are indeed a beacon of hope to peaceful international cooperation and a prevention of a third world war. Yet my time there also exposed me to the almost crippling and unbelievable reality of how IOs operate, and the blatant disregard for international norms and standards that large and powerful countries have. While the criticism against the abuse of power by states like those in the Security Council’s Permanent Five (P5) are widely known, less is known about the camp of small states that are seeing their collective voice grow, and for a more noble cause.  

Coming from Singapore, I have always had a sort of “soft spot” for small states and their struggles in international diplomacy. Their fights are numerous, from overcoming resource limitations, security and trying to gain legitimacy on an international level, and these are just some examples. Singapore, however, a tiny island nation-state, has managed to somehow make a mark in the world today. From leading the UNCLOS negotiations, [1] to holding key leadership positions in international organizations, [2] Singapore and Singaporeans have created a reputation for themselves as small, but capable. There is an affectionate term we use in my country known as being like “chilli padi”, a tiny red pepper with fiery seeds found in Southeast Asia – referring to the ability to pack an underestimated mean punch despite your small size. Continue reading “The emerging role of small states amidst the crisis of multilateralism”

My Third Semester: Internship at the Council of the EU in Brussels, Belgium

Interview conducted by Hannah Bieber

Arianna Rizzi (2018-2020) is an Italian and Swiss Euroculture Student who spent her first semester in Strasbourg, France, and her second semester in Groningen, Netherlands. After studying Communication Sciences at the Università della Svizzera Italiana in Lugano, Switzerland, she applied for the Euroculture MA because she wanted to switch her study path towards political and cultural studies. She also wanted to add an international experience to her resume. For her third semester, she did an internship at the Council of the European Union in Brussels, Belgium.

Euroculturer Magazine: What were your expectations when you applied for the Euroculture MA and does it match the reality at the moment?

Arianna Rizzi: When I applied for Euroculture, I had no specific expectations: I just liked the idea that, as follow-up to my Bachelor’s in Communication Sciences, I could delve into European political and cultural studies. Maybe I expected the degree to be more focused on Europe and the EU in political terms, but in the end I really appreciated its sociological take on many Europe-related issues.

EM: What was the most difficult thing you encountered after starting the program? Continue reading “My Third Semester: Internship at the Council of the EU in Brussels, Belgium”

Report: The Maastricht Debate Aftermath

By Maeva Chargros

On Monday, April 29th, the first official debate of the European elections took place in Maastricht, in the Netherlands. Organised by Politico with their usual partners, it featured five out of the six main groups running for the upcoming European Parliament elections, which are set to happen from May 23rd to 26th.

This debate was meant in every way to target young voters, for a number of good reasons. One of them being that young people are currently getting more and more involved in politics worldwide, be it through the Fridays for Future demonstrations or other “channels”. Therefore, the three main themes of this debate were picked accordingly: Digital Europe, Sustainable Europe, and the Future of Europe. Here are some observations pertaining to the content – but also the general atmosphere impression.

Stable Leader: Frans Timmermans (S&D)

Very honestly, Frans Timmermans was the most well-prepared candidate for this debate. He knew all the topics thoroughly, he was able to articulate specific proposal for each main question, and he did not wasted time on any unnecessary argument. However, it is easy to be in this position for someone who is currently dealing with all these topics as Vice-President of the European Commission. Slight advantage that he definitely seized. Showing leadership at every level, he called for Europeans to “vote Green”, reminding everyone that “there is no competition”. Indeed, the Dutch politician chose to be transparent about his intentions in case he was to become the next President of the European Commission: alliance with the Greens, the Left, and an open-door to negotiations with ALDE. Timmermans did not forget to build on the momentum created by the Spanish general elections on Sunday (28.04) evening – including regarding gender equality, which seems to be among the top priorities of all five candidates.

He is the clear winner of this debate, if we dare to forget his neighbour standing at the centre of the stage. Continue reading “Report: The Maastricht Debate Aftermath”

REPORT: What Happens in Venezuela Does Not Stay in Venezuela

By Maeva Chargros

Everyone should be aware of this fact, after two world wars, many genocides and a major crisis triggered by terrorism worldwide: when something happens in one specific country, the entire region surrounding this country is affected; and when a whole region is impacted, the entire world ends up facing consequences of this local event. It is the principle of the well-known butterfly effect. Therefore, how can we not hear the call for help coming from Venezuelans fleeing their country? How can we ignore the growing tensions on the borders between Venezuela and its neighbours?
Seen from Europe, the ongoing crisis in the north-west of the Latin American region reminds of another crisis that Europeans had to face and are still facing – the so-called “refugee crisis”. One might be stunned by how relevant this comparison is, but also puzzled by what it means for our governments and international organisations. After two resolutions failed to pass at the United Nations in the last few days[1], here is a timely reminder of what is actually happening at the border. Nicolás Javier Pedraza Garcia, currently an exchange student from Universidad Externado de Colombia (Externado University, Bogotá, Colombia) at the Palacký University in Olomouc, Czech Republic, agreed to give his insight to help us understand the situation from a local perspective.[2]

Relations between Colombia and Venezuela are a very good example of what can be achieved when two independent states decide to cooperate for the better good of their respective economies. Who needs a hard border when both populations speak the same language, work and live together, and benefit from this soft border situation? Until the political crisis hit the Venezuelan economy, “the border was just a line”; now, the border area is described mostly as a “war zone”[3], or a “conflict zone”. “The border is experiencing a very bad situation both economically and socially; most of Venezuelans who are fleeing are poor, so they stay at the border and are forced to engage in criminal activities such as drug trafficking or prostitution to survive. We, Colombians, try to help as much as we can, but our local government does not have the institutional nor the infrastructure capacity to attend to the situation. Maybe the situation is better in some other cities, but at the border, it is a crisis situation. We have been asking for more financial and human resources from the national government, but so far we are left alone to take care of these people.” Continue reading “REPORT: What Happens in Venezuela Does Not Stay in Venezuela”

Interview with Michael Hindley – Part 2

Interview conducted by Guilherme Becker

This is the second part of the interview with Michael Hindley. You can read the first part here. In this part, the interview focuses on the border issue between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland following Brexit, but also on Trump, Ukraine, Germany…
We would like to thank Michael Hindley for his time and his insightful answers.
You can also follow him on Twitter and watch his video about Brexit.

B: Moving a bit to the left on the map, let’s talk about Northern Ireland, which also has a feeling of sometimes not being part of the UK at all. But because of the Brexit, is there any chance of another “trouble times” happening again?
H: This often comes up in the present debate on Brexit. I think sometimes it is inaccurate or somewhat hysterical. People on both sides of the border agree that being in the EU certainly helped the Irish/Irish dialogue. Both “Irelands” in the EU helped. There is no question about that. Also, to some degree the EU has guaranteed the peace process. The fact that there was no border helped. If it becomes a “harder border”, I think it is false to assume that it would simply go back to hostilities. Sinn Féin long ago bravely disbanded its link with the IRA [Irish Republican Army]. It is a constitutional left-centre party enjoying shared government in Northern Ireland and has members in the Republic [of Ireland]. So the Party of freeing Ireland by the “ballot and the bullet” has become constitutional. Martin McGuinness (1950-2017) was an active member of the IRA and subsequently shared power with Ian Paisley the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party in the Northern Ireland Assembly. Very difficult if not impossible to go back to the dark days of the “Troubles”. Continue reading “Interview with Michael Hindley – Part 2”