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)”→
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.
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.
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.
The European Union is home to 60 regional or minority languages which are threatened and risk to disappear. Language can constitute more than just a communication tool, as it can be regarded as a bearer of culture and traditions. In such a culturally diverse environment, where the EU can be seen as an engaging multicultural mosaic, is the diversity constituting a key point for our sense of communality? Or is the presence of multiculturalism representing an obstacle for a potential homogeneity?
One of the most varied and endangered linguistic minorities in Europe is the Sami. The Sami is an indigenous people living today in a territory which extends on four countries (Russia, Finland, Sweden and Norway), in a region called Lapland. Sami livelihood and economy was mainly based on the reindeer husbandry, coastal fishing, and hunting. Thus, due to their need to follow reindeers, they have never lived in one and only big community, setting up several smaller communities instead. Consequently, their nomadic life led to the development of different Sami languages, at least ten, which cannot be classified simply as dialects of the same language. Nowadays, the Sami language which counts the larger number of speakers is the North Sami, followed by the Lule Sami and South Sami. It belongs to the finno-ugrian linguistic family and it is commonly divided into three branches, depending on the grade of mutual intelligibility they can reach.
Since the establishment of borders in the Scandinavian peninsula and Russia, the Sami population quickly became a minority and encountered all the correlated difficulties as, for instance, the prohibition to speak their own language and the obligation to learn the new majority (“national”) languages. This was a consequence of the development of the agricultural activities, which implied a progressive settlement in the most Northern-most areas where the reindeers used to graze, and the wish to reach a certain homogeneity amongst the territory after the drawing of new borders. Thus the Sami people was considered a threat to the in-borders safety and homogeneity of the now “national” population. Continue reading “The EU & Minority Languages Promotion”→
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.
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!”
Some people start a new year with new year’s resolutions. Some are just trying to get over their New Year’s Eve hungover. Here in the offices of Euroculture, we have a different tradition to start the new year. I introduce to you: the Management Meeting.
For a Management Meeting, directors and coordinators from all Euroculture universities get on trains, planes and automobiles to meet each other, to battle it out in an arena (meeting room) in one of the Euroculture cities. The upcoming meeting will take place in Göttingen, which means that in between debates we get to regain our strength by eating sauerkraut and drinking beer.
The Meeting happens twice a year: once in January, and once during the Intensive Programme, which also includes delegates from the non-EU partner universities. The January meetings are somewhat bleaker: less sun, less partners, less students (none at all!), which leaves all the more room for what needs to be done: talk, discuss, manage, meet. All work and no play.
So what do we discuss during these sessions? Boring stuff mostly, but vital for a complicated international programme like ours. Important decisions are made here too: which students will get to go to a non-EU partner for the third semester? Which applicants will be selected for Erasmus Mundus scholarships? (Spoiler: none, we’re in a gap year.)
Despite the high level of boring discussions and endless note-taking, I see the meetings as a treat. Not only do I get to see all Euroculture cities, it’s always great to see the extended Euroculture family, meet new additions to the team, and most of all to take part in the best tradition of them all: gossiping about the students we share.
In October 2015, Groningen’s first year Euroculture students went on a three-day study excursion to Brussels. Together with our teacher and organizer of the trip, Albert Meijer, we visited EU institutions, namely the European Commission and Parliament, the EU’s Executive Agency for Education, Audiovisual and Culture (EACEA), as well as two independent associations, namely the European Movement, and the European Network Against Racism (ENAR).
Seventeen first year Euroculture students visiting the heart of the EU: a lot of fun and Belgian beer. But it also entails enriching discussions with EU officials and lobbyists – this year regarding human rights in and outside EU.
Studying Europe from an interdisciplinary perspective is amazing: its cultural, societal, and political integration not only appeals to various interests, but is capable of inspiring new interests within students, leading to almost insatiable curiosity. However, one day most of us will have to leave the academic ivory tower and decide on a concrete working field. For this reason, Euroculture Groningen organizes for each first year student group a trip to the perhaps most attractive destination for European studies scholars: Brussels, the permanent seat of several EU institutions, EU related agencies and innumerable lobbying associations. In other words: the heart of the European Union. For three days, seventeen first year Euroculture students explored this vibrant city, wondering which of them would someday end up in the offices of EU officials and lobbyists.
In view of the topic of the upcoming Intensive Program, “Ideals and Ambiguities of Human Rights in Europe, Past and Present,” this year’s trip to Brussels focused on human rights. For the inside perspective, we met the European Network Against Racism. To explore EU human rights policies outside its territory, we conferred with the European External Action Service (EEAS). For everybody participating in the 2016 IP or just interested in human rights issues, we want to share our experience with you. Continue reading “Defending Human Rights? Euroculture Students on the Track of Human Rights In and Outside EU”→
On a sunny day in Krakow I met with IP organisers Juan, Luc and Karolina at cozy café Karma, one of the favourite hangouts of some of the team members. Here, I had the chance to ask them all about the upcoming Intensive Programme. Because, as we all know, IP 2013 is getting closer. In June, MA Euroculture students will travel to Krakow from every corner of Europe to experience a mind-blowing week full of lectures, discussions, presentations and urban challenges. A week’s worth of memories for every Euroculturer and an excellent opportunity to meet old friends and make new ones. The IP team is working very hard to make this week a great success. Now it’s time to ask them about their experiences with organising IP 2013!
Who is in the IP team?
Karolina (middle), the feminine side and head of the crew, steers and manages all activities related to MA Euroculture and the IP. A Polish-Canadian with a weakness for cinnamon-oatmeal muffins and peanut butter, she brings enthusiasm and comradeship to the team.
Juan (right), one of the few Mexicans dwelling in Krakow, runs the programme’s PR, visual ‘identity’ and acts as a student advisor. He will take good care of you and if you’re lucky (and have a gusto for spicy food) he might allow you to taste some his famous tacos.
Luc (left), Kung-Fu apprentice and an expert on transport and geopolitics of the North, comes to us from Quebec and assists the programme as an internal advisor. His fine sense of humour will guarantee an all-but-boring stay in Krakow.
Hey guys… Uhm, everything under control?
(Whispers amongst each other: “don’t mention the… you know what”)
J: No, all jokes aside, it’s going great!
(All three nod in agreement)
Could you describe IP 2013 in one sentence?
K: A fun opportunity for students to meet, exchange and engage with each other and produce something within their environment, at the local level, and as much as possible in an eco-friendly, gender-balanced, budget-conscious and stimulating way. Oh, and in a fun and welcoming atmosphere!
(But that was two sentences?!)
How did you decide on the theme and subthemes of the upcoming IP?
J: Last summer, we had a few sessions with other people from the institute in which we asked ourselves ‘what are the issues concerning Europe nowadays?’ Those were really nice sessions.
K: One important issue we knew that had to be addressed is of course the crisis, which is hanging over Europe like a dark cloud. However the idea was to reframe it by asking the question: how can we move forward?
L: Yes, we wanted to approach the crisis not as a crisis, but as a period of change and adaptation.
If you had to write a paper yourself for the IP, what would it be about?
J: I would definitely choose the subtheme ‘Change and the City’. What I’m interested in is the link between cities and literature: how the city is imagined and created within literature.
K: I would definitely focus on the subtheme ‘the Shifting Borders of Inclusion/Exclusion’. My own research interest is in integration policies and how such policies construct ‘the other’.
L: I would write something on mobility and transport. In Europe transport is very expensive and there is much discrepancy between people who have access to it and people who don’t have access; between people who control their mobility and who don’t control their mobility. It’s a social and geopolitical issue.
While planning the upcoming IP, what was some important feedback from previous years that you had to take into account?
J: Student engagement and student participation. Students wanted to be more involved and not only listen the whole time; so not only input but also output. Therefore we focused a lot on student engagement and participation. We are quite confident that this indeed will happen.
What distinguishes IP Krakow from the previous IPs so far?
L: We draw on what has already been done before and try to innovate. Every IP has brought something new. I think the key thing this year is the urban challenge. Also, we are working in a different setting and staging, we are trying to make it more cool and fun.
Could you describe the group dynamics within the IP team?
L: Well, we are friends before co-workers. We know each other very well and communication always goes easy. Sometimes we don’t even need words to understand each other. I also think that we have complementary skills and assets.
K: If you find a document that’s color-coded: Luc made it. You see a funky blurry postmodern design? Definitely Juan.
J: Karo brings all the skills together and makes it work. The fact that we are all friends is definitely an extra motivation. By the way, Karo plays basketball at the office; it relaxes her when she’s stressed. Oh…and she has a whip.
What is the biggest challenge in organising this IP?
L+K+J: Money…(rubbing thumb and fingers together).
K: There were also some smaller challenges, but the fact that this year we had a smaller budget definitely caused the biggest challenge.
J: However, because the budget got smaller we were forced to adapt to it and actually became very creative. We have a different mindset now and are adapting very well.
L: In the end, it is OK to have less money. We’ve become quite inventive and discovered that there are still a lot of possibilities with a smaller budget.
Could you tell me why the budget got smaller?
K: (seems a bit reluctant to talk about it) Let’s say for reasons beyond our control. We don’t have any external funding that we usually get.
Students now have to invest more in the IP themselves (like costs for transport and meals). Could you tell me why students should still be excited about the IP despite the financial burden for them? What do you expect students to gain from IP Krakow this year?
J: It’s going to be an unforgettable experience!
K: Well, I would like to rephrase that. The IP has always been the most central event of the MA Euroculture programme. If you miss out on the IP, it’s as if you’re taking the heart out of Euroculture. It’s a way to really experience the mobility aspect of the programme. Also, one should take into account that a few years ago, students relatively paid much more for their IP.
L: The costs should be taken in context. For a ‘real’ conference one would have to pay much more. Also, people have to pay for their meals wherever they are. Besides, Krakow is a cheap city compared to other places in Europe and we have made arrangements with several places wherefore it will be even more affordable.
Could you tell us something about the place we are going to stay?
J: It’s a comfortable place within walking distance from the city centre. During the previous IP in Krakow the residence was up the hill, outside the centre. However, taking into account the themes of this IP, we decided that staying in the centre was more suitable.
What about the lecture rooms?
K: Most lectures will be held in ‘Auditorium Maximum’, close to the city centre. However, there will also be a sneaky special… Namely, in a certain castle up the hill!
(The students who have studied in Krakow will be familiar with this castle)
Could you tell us something about the speakers?
(Luc points at the speakers in the café hanging from the ceiling: “those speakers?!”)
K: Follow the website! A lot of information is already there, also about which speakers will come. We will make one last vignette that contains all the important information.
L: One thing about the speakers though: we’ve made an effort to engage as much as possible with young researchers and also practitioners. So we didn’t only focus on scientists. Also, there will be Euroculture alumni coming to speak, who will also be there during the career day. Don’t be shy to grab them by the elbow and ask them questions! They are resources. Oh, and one more thing: don’t be afraid to challenge the speakers and be critical of what they have to say!
What can we expect from an urban challenge?
L: It’s creative urban planning, done by students. Together students will improvise and generate ideas to creatively solve urban challenges.
What will the gala dinner be like? Do we have to dress fancy?
(Luc imitates a scavenger and jokes about a Flintstones theme)
L: The gala is always a very special occasion; and it has a special place within this IP. It’s an opportunity to meet, talk and share. It won’t be like the Cannes Film Festival, but people are going to dress nice.
If someone wants to travel after the IP to other places in Poland, where would you recommend?
L: The Tatra Mountains!
L: If you have 3 days, I’d say, go to the mountains (Zakopane). One week? Go to Warsaw. Two weeks? Go to Mazury in the North-East of Poland.
K: If you want to undertake some sociological research while on holiday, you should go to the Eastern borderlands of Poland. These places are something entirely different and definitely interesting. Also very interesting is Białowieża forest. It is one of the last remaining primaeval forests of Europe.
One last question… What’s up with the penguins?!
L: They are symbols of change and adaptation, they are… unexpected!
Last special message from Luc for all the upcoming IP participants: The IP is a fantastic opportunity for students to experience a conference, while still being a student. You might find it stressful to present your paper and to participate in the discussions, but remember that everybody has something to say, whatever they work on. Just go and don’t forget that you will have something interesting to say and that people are going to listen, that they are interested. You are a community.
Floor Boele van Hensbroek, Junior Editor
I am Floor, Dutch, and 25 years young/old. I studied interdisciplinary social sciences at Utrecht University before starting with Euroculture. I love travelling, dancing, art, theatre, documentaries, tasty food, classy wine and.. actually a lot of other things. I was born in the bush of Zambia with a bush of black curly hair, although now I’m blond as blond can be. I’m a cynical optimist, that looks for truth even though I believe that all truth is constructed.