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

Against Unpaid Internships – a day at the Global Intern Strike in Brussels

Amina Kussainova

February 20th was quite an ordinary Monday in Brussels: it was cold, grey and windy, a lot of traffic jams, a visit by an important high-level official – this time it was Mike Pence, by the way – in other words, a typical Brussels-like start of the week. Except for one thing – the offices of different organisations on that day were half-empty; something was clearly missing.

On that day, hundreds of interns refused to go to work in solidarity with the first Global Intern Strike. Instead, some of them went to the Schuman circle in the European Quarter to join the protest against unpaid and underpaid placements, and demand quality and remunerated internships for everyone. The event gathered about 100 people chanting “Pay your interns!” and holding placards that said “Interns are not slaves” and “Valuable experience does not pay my rent”. Several youth organisations, such as Global Intern Coalition, the local NGO Brussels Interns and European Youth Forum. The interns were also supported by some Members of the European Parliament as well. One of them, Terry Reintke, who belongs to the Green Coalition in Brussels, spoke at the protest and stated that the whole situation is “unacceptable”.

“[It is] not only because of the conditions interns themselves are facing, but also because of the inequality that this means in terms of who can actually do these internships,” she told Euractiv. Reintke then proceeded to say that unpaid internships create a problem in a broader society and must be “finally banned”. Continue reading “Against Unpaid Internships – a day at the Global Intern Strike in Brussels”