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 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”

Covid-19 also spreads hoaxes: How the pandemic became the stage for a war on (dis)information

By Richard Blais

In a time of global pandemic where a global war is fought against the newest form of coronavirus, another battle regarding information and its usage is at stake. Conspiracy theories and controversial figures flourish throughout the internet and other media, contributing to the overall chaotic situation and possibly serving the interests of some people. This interest of mine for disinformation in time of a pandemic started about a month ago when a classmate sent on a WhatsApp group a message the following information: “According to a friend, a leak from the official Czech government has revealed that when 1,000 cases of coronavirus will be reported in the country, tighter restrictions will be imposed. If you are a smart person you should rush to supermarkets to gather food.” This rumour was proven false in the days that followed, yet this message managed to trigger some fear and added to the overall uncomfortable situation of being a stranger in a country whose culture you’re not completely familiar with. Continue reading “Covid-19 also spreads hoaxes: How the pandemic became the stage for a war on (dis)information”

The true millennium bug

By Guilherme Becker

We were not expecting this. We were not prepared for this. The year was 1999 and the world was faced with one of its greatest expectations ever: the 2000s. The new millennium. A new era. A time forged from the previous decades, especially in the 1990s, but then also completely different. From the 2000’s on, kids would grow up connected to computers and electronic devices with limitless potential. There was the Internet, with a whole new way of communication. Worldwide. Connection. There were cableless tools. There were Nokia’s, Motorolas, Sony Ericsson’s, and then the IPhone, and Android. A beautiful picture.

Those were only some of the expectations of that time. And you could say that indeed we live in this world today. But back then, blocking the door to that new period, there was a possibly huge problem. A problem that could actually stop the development of this beautifully cybernetic world or maybe postpone it for a couple of years: the so-called millennium bug. Continue reading “The true millennium bug”

Pushing the limits of the European Union: What is the Hungarian government really aiming for?

By Dorottya Kósa

Over the past few days, my international friends have been bombarding me with questions concerning the new emergency law in my home country, Hungary. Receiving messages full of worries and having to pick up the phone to answer questions about the collapse of democracy in Hungary encouraged me to write this article. I hope to clarify certain things about the new legal realities and how it in fact did not change Hungary’s political powers.

Crash course on the legal framework of Hungary

Article No. 53 (State of Danger) of the Fundamental Law – the Constitution of Hungary – covers special legal orders for extreme circumstances such as a national crisis or a state of emergency. In a state of danger the government has the power to adopt means to suspend the application of certain acts, deviate from them, and take extraordinary measures. [1] As Article No. 53 declares, the means shall remain in force only for fifteen days, but the National Assembly can extend their power by voting every second week. The fourth paragraph pronounces that “upon the termination of the state in danger, such decrees of the Government shall cease to have effect.” Continue reading “Pushing the limits of the European Union: What is the Hungarian government really aiming for?”

Covid-19: how will Europe get back up?

By Hannah Bieber

Disclaimer: this article was written on March 18th, 2020. Due to the instability of the situation, some of the information it contains might be subject to changes.

A lot of people were expecting it, and it finally happened: the world we live in has been challenged. Not the way we imagined it, not in the circumstances we expected, but it did. Europe is now facing one of its major crises since the day the European Union was created. And all the flaws that we knew that existed blew up in our faces. The demography of an old continent getting older and older, the weariness of our welfare states system, the instability of our financial organizations, the limits of a space without borders and the emergence of nationalism have now all been crystalized by a microscopic organism.

The recent Covid-19 outbreak and confinement measures will give us plenty of time to reflect on the consequences it will have on our societies, especially in Europe. Indeed, this virus is almost harmless for the majority of the population, but can be very harmful for the elderly, for instance. In 2016, one EU citizen out of five was over the age of 65. This is why the virus poses Europe an immense challenge today. But what about tomorrow? What will be the consequences of this crisis for the EU?
Continue reading “Covid-19: how will Europe get back up?”

Is this really the end of the Erasmus Programme in the United Kingdom?

By Gianluca Michieletto

It has been almost five years since my first taste of Erasmus experience in Brighton, United Kingdom. It was a crisp mid-September morning when I flew from “my” Venice to London Gatwick with one of the many flights that connect the two European cities. I was very excited and scared at the same time, trying to imagine how my life would change from that point on. The year in Brighton did not represent my first study-abroad experience, since I had already enjoyed several short language courses in Northern Ireland and England. However, this represented the first long-term experience away from my family and my country, and, for an average Italian youngster, it is never easy to leave your “mamma” and move abroad (I am sure that my Italian fellow students would agree with me on this). Yet, I could have never imagined that Erasmus changed myself and my life so much in such a positive way.

Even though it was only five years ago (2015), things have drastically changed: I was a degreeless 18-year-old boy, my English and life skills were the opposite of flawless, and Brexit had not happened yet. 

On January 9th, 2020, British MPs voted against the possibility of the United Kingdom to continue benefiting a full membership of the Erasmus programme after Brexit (344 to 254 votes). Proposed by the opposition, the “New Clause 10” would have in fact assured the participation of the United Kingdom also for the cycle 2021-2027.

Even though the government has denied the possibility to fully abandon the programme, the decision represents a crystal-clear stance against the EU. As reported by the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, in fact, different conservative MPs have argued that the decision was taken in order “not to have their hands tied in the next negotiates with the EU”.[1] For the moment, the government and the European Union claimed that funds for the upcoming year are secured and will be honoured, as well as the two-year scholarships. After the transition period, however, it is still not clear what is going to happen.

Yet, the United Kingdom would not represent the first country outside the Union to benefit of the Erasmus programme, since countries like Norway, Turkey and Iceland are called “programme members”’ and fully participate in the programme.[2] It must be mentioned, however, that the new British government’s plan aims at cutting all the old relationships with the EU, trying to maintain only economic ties. This currently leaves the UK with only one option: leaving the Erasmus+ Programme. Moreover, as the BBC reported, even though the United Kingdom wanted to renegotiate the terms and re-enter the Erasmus programme, it would not happen until the beginning of the next cycle,[3] meaning 2027.

Thus, there is a not-so-remote possibility that British universities would not benefit from the programme for almost a decade, consequently denying several thousands of students the possibility to enjoy this huge opportunity. At the same time, also students from other EU member states would have more difficulties applying to British universities compared to their previous “colleagues”, since the Prime Minister Boris Johnson will probably not be soft on immigration policies. Moreover, in the case of a “no-deal”, British universities would lose their appeal in the European university market, since European students would be forced to pay higher tuition fees. Indeed, the current agreement between the EU and Westminster “safeguards” member states’ students with a privileged status, thus paying the same tuition fees as British citizens.

On this line, at the beginning of 2019, the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) claimed that EU students have been extremely important in British universities, accounting 5% and 8% respectively at the undergraduate and postgraduate level in 2017.[4] In the same year, moreover, it must be argued that 16.561 UK students enjoyed their semester or year abroad through Erasmus funds, while 31.727 students from other European countries studied in British universities.[5] Since then, the number of incoming and outgoing students have continuously increased.

The decision of the United Kingdom of not renewing the Erasmus+ agreements would deprive students of the possibility to live in another country, to integrate in another culture, to learn a new language, as well as meeting new people and experiencing unforgettable adventures. As the majority of Erasmus students argue, in fact, the Erasmus year represents the best year of their lives and a non-renewal would symbolize only a theft to future generations. Once again, as it occurred in the Brexit election, it is older generations, who never experienced such an opportunity, to decide for our (I also include myself) future.[6]

As already mentioned in the introduction, I consider my Erasmus year in Brighton one of the most important experiences of my life, since it somehow matured me and shaped who I am today. Erasmus is in fact not only responsible for the development of peculiar abilities needed in the university and work environment, but it is essential in the growth of personal skills and values. Indeed, what I did not tell you in the beginning is that the Erasmus experience enlightened my path of life. Some people could argue that it represents a stupid and naive sentence to say, but I am who I am today thanks to Erasmus and all its related experiences.

After my year abroad, in fact, my unconditional support for the European Union, its values and its possibilities, made me understand what I wanted to do after finishing my bachelor’s degree. In 2018, I was lucky enough to enrol in the Euroculture Programme, an Erasmus Mundus Master which focuses on European politics, culture and history. For those who may not know, Erasmus Mundus Masters are EU funded programmes, which give students the possibility to earn a double degree by studying in different countries. As for myself, I studied in Göttingen (Germany), Bilbao (Spain) and Indianapolis (USA).

After explaining my story and my points of view, I feel in the position to state that a possible agreement of the UK to leave the Erasmus Programme could only be considered catastrophic. Catastrophic, not as much for the United Kingdom and the European Union as political entities, but to their future students, who could not benefit from similar opportunities. However, while member states’ future students would continue to benefit from the programme by choosing other university destinations, British students would have fewer opportunities to study abroad, thus being sealed inside their own bubble.

Picture: Dunk, Banksy does Brexit (detail), Flickr

Sources:

Statista Research Department, “Brexit votes in the United Kingdom by age”, Statista, August 9, 2019. Available at: https://www.statista.com/statistics/520954/brexit-votes-by-age/

Bieber, Hannah. “Brexit and the generation that was robbed”, The Euroculturer, October 13, 2019. Available at: https://euroculturer.eu/2019/10/13/brexit-and-the-generation-that-was-robbed/

Cosslett, Rhiannon Lucy. “Thanks to Erasmus programme, my small world grew big”, The Guardian, January 9, 2020. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jan/09/erasmus-programme-year-studying-europe

Adams, Richard. “UK ‘committed’ to maintaining Erasmus+ exchange scheme”, The Guardian, January 9, 2020. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2020/jan/09/uk-committed-to-maintaining-erasmus-exchange-scheme

Tommasetta, Lara.”Brexit, il Regno Unito vota per abbandonare il programma Erasmus. Ma è davvero un addio?”, TPI News, January 9, 2020. Available at: https://www.tpi.it/esteri/brexit-regno-unito-addio-erasmus-20200109525875/

Guerrera, Antonello. “Brexit, Londra non conferma l’Erasmus: Eventuale accordo andrà rinegoziato”, La Repubblica, 9th January 2020. Available at: https://www.repubblica.it/esteri/2020/01/09/news/brexit_il_regno_unito_dice_addio_all_erasmus-245321403/

Reality Check Team, “Erasmus: What could happen to scheme after Brexit”, BBC News, 9th January 2020. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/news/education-47293927

To have more information, look also at: https://ec.europa.eu/programmes/erasmus-plus/about/brexit_en

[1] Antonello Guerrera, “Brexit, Londra non conferma l’Erasmus: Eventuale accordo andrà rinegoziato”, La Repubblica, January 9,2020

[2] Reality Check Team, “Erasmus: What could happen to scheme after Brexit”, BBC News, January 9, 2020

[3] Ibid.

[4] Hannah Bieber, “Brexit and the generation that was robbed”, The Euroculturer, October 13, 2019

[5] Ibid.

[6] Statista Research Department, “Brexit votes in the United Kingdom by age”, Statista, August 9, 2019

Brexit and the generation that was robbed

By Hannah Bieber

Starting my first semester in Uppsala, Sweden, I have encountered a lot of students who came from the United Kingdom to do their Erasmus+ year abroad. We discussed extensively about Brexit and the uncertainties that currently hang over their head. These young British citizens who may be the last to enjoy the Erasmus+ experience as we know it today, have made me realize that students may be the first to suffer the consequences of Brexit.

Brexit and the higher education system

No one knows for sure what consequences a ‘no-deal’ Brexit will have on the British – and European – higher education system. 

First of all, British universities may become less attractive for students from the European Union (EU) countries. In January 2019, the Higher Education Statistic Agency (HESA) published a bulletin which showed that, in the year 2017/2018, 5% of the undergraduate students in the United Kingdom came from EU member states. At a masters level, EU students accounted for 8% of the total of postgraduates. However, previous reports reveal that since the referendum, Britain has experienced a slight but significant drop in the number of EU students enrolled in its universities.

In addition, in the event of a ‘no-deal’, EU students would lose their privileged status. Indeed, as fellow European citizens, they had to pay the same tuition fees as other British students – while international students from outside the EU had to pay twice the price. When Britain leaves the Union, no one knows for sure if EU students will still benefit from this status. If it is not the case, many could be discouraged from turning to the United Kingdom for their studies, as argues a ‘No-Deal Briefing’ published by a consortium of 136 Universities in August 2019.

On the other hand, the question of residence permits might also make British universities less attractive. The government has already promised that, even in the event of a ‘no-deal’, EU students would be able to remain in the country for up to three years. But for these universities, this is not enough. Longer curriculums, such as Bachelors with a year abroad, some Scottish Bachelor and PhD last longer than three years. What would happen to these students? Universities demand more efforts from the government in this respect.

Finally, what makes the United Kingdom such an attractive place for students is the quality of education, greatly due to the high level of research. But this has been reached partly thanks to EU funding, such as the European Research Council (ERC) and Marie Sklodowska Curie Actions (MSCA), as the briefing argues. Without these funds, British research might be hindered and the universities could become less competitive than others in Europe and the world. In an article published in March 2019, the International Students House also pointed out that students were a very benefitting immigration on many levels. Thus, the United Kingdom higher education system has a lot to loose in the event of a ‘no-deal’.

What about Erasmus+?

On March 27, 2019, the European Parliament adopted a regulation to ensure that British students who had started their year abroad could still get their grant even after Brexit and even in the case no deal was reached. Thus, these students are assured to get their mobility grant – on which their entire mobility relies for most of them. But it will not be possible for students to apply for the Erasmus+ grant after Brexit. If their mobility starts after the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the Union, they will not be benefiting from the Erasmus+ program. This could keep many of them from doing a year abroad.

Another downside is the question of residence permits. In countries like Sweden, international students from outside the European Union have to apply for a visa in order to live and study there. These administrative measures make the mobility more complicated prior to the departure, it can also be a drawback for many students in the future.

In February 2019, Universities UK launched a #supportstudyabroad campaign to demand financial support from the government for international mobilities. Apart from the human and personal journey one experiences when they study abroad, this campaign highlighted the fact that students who have spent time studying abroad are more likely to get a first-class degree and have higher chances of getting hired at the end of their studies. In the last three years, British universities have been increasingly pressuring the British government to allot funds that would allow students to do a year abroad, even in the event of a ‘no-deal’, which would mean the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the Erasmus+ program. The recent reports and briefings have been requesting a ‘full-funded replacement scheme to Erasmus+’ to allow students who are supposed to go abroad during their degree to do so. But will this be enough?

The generation that was robbed

What particularly struck me when I met British students here in Uppsala and talked about Brexit is that they did not recognize themselves and their country in this situation. This generation of young people has been growing up in a Europe where they could fly and stay anywhere without residence permits, where they could feel themselves both British and Scottish and European. In a book published in 2019 called Youthquake 2017: The Rise of Young Cosmopolitans in Britain, James Sloam and Matt Henn observed that 80% of the full-time students voted to remain in the European Union. According to the authors, this category of people is more open to cosmopolitanism, mobility and cultural exchanges. In August 2018, the BBC News published a survey that revealed that over 80% of the people aged 18-24 would vote to remain in the European Union if a new referendum was launched. 

The problem is that, at the time of the referendum, most of the people who are now on exchange and did not have the right to vote. This is the frustration that many of those I encountered have manifested. They feel robbed and have also chosen to do a year abroad because they knew that they might be one of the last generations of British Erasmus+ students. This is not to mention that some of the Scottish and Northern Irish think that, since their region voted to remain, it is unfair that they have to suffer of the consequences of the Brexit. 

Many of them also evocated the fact that their last two Prime Ministers – Theresa May and Boris Johnson – had not accessed their position after democratic elections. But more than that, what is particularly difficult for these students right now is the uncertainty. Brexit should have happened in March 2019 and ever since, the situation seems to only get more and more complicated every day. These students do not know if they will have to apply for a residence permit any time soon, or what repercussions a ‘no-deal’ Brexit could have on their year abroad. They are powerless, waiting for a government which they feel does not represent them any more to make decisions that might have a tremendous impact on their life.

No one knows when Brexit is actually going to happen, nor how it will happen. Lately, the British government has been heading towards a ‘no-deal’, but this process is so long and complicated that we may not see the end of it any time soon. However, one thing is certain: these young British citizens will keep on carrying the European dreams and ideas – of freedom, mobility and exchange. Whether they transmit them to the next generations is now up to us all.