You don’t have to murder to call it a burger, but when it comes to dairy, the situation is hairy
A few years ago, I took up the challenge of substituting dairy products with plant-based alternatives. Even though cheese IS life, I have to say I still succeeded in eliminating that deliciousness from my life for slightly longer than one year. It was far from easy, honestly. But, as with every period of our lives, this one also brought new habits, and to this day I still continuously saunter over to the aisles offering plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy products. Needless to say, finding the right substitute to the mouth-watering taste and texture of cheese is not an easy task, especially with a lack of descriptive nomination on product labelling.
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.
Marc Kendil (2017-2019, DK) started his Euroculture life in Groningen and Strasbourg. He completed his third semester by doing an internship at European Movement International (EMI), the largest pan-European network of pro-European organisations, headquartered in Brussels, Belgium, as an EU Affairs Trainee. With his multinational identity and upbringing, he considers himself a child of the EU project. Marc has a background in American Studies with a minor in International Relations, which is rooted in his long-standing interest in North American society, culture and politics. Wishing to bridge the gap between his upbringing and former studies, he took up MA Euroculture and hopes of pursuing a diplomatic career in the future.
Thanks Marc, for taking the time to share your experience!
1. So, why an internship?
I wanted to do an internship during my third semester for several reasons. A research track did not interest me as I do not want to carry on into the field of academia nor do a PhD. More importantly, I wished to acquire some concrete experiences from a professional perspective during my Master’s in order to increase my chances at finding employment/internships right after graduation. Doing an internship during a MA is also incredibly beneficial to supplement the theoretical.
The Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market, commonly known as the ”EU Copyright Directive”, has not been without its fair share of criticism. It seems to be part of a broader strategy by the Commission to capitalize on the Internet’s limitless economic potential more and more, and rightfully so. However, one aspect of the digital space seems to be consistently underestimated by EU institutions: Online communities are generally hostile towards measures that even potentially limit the free flow of data.
It is no wonder that online forums like Reddit as well as larger (oftentimes American) news outlets cried out collectively in fear over potential censorship, the end of creative use, and the death of independent news outlets. Initiatives like #SaveYourInternet claim that the EUCD ”restrict[s] the ability of Internet users to consume content”, turning the newly formulated Internet culture wholly ”bureaucratic and restrictive”. Despite these sweeping (and oftentimes hyperbolic) accusations, the text of the directive itself contains no such intentions. In fact, it claims to have the opposite effect: This legislation would be ”allowing wider access to and use of copyright-protected content”. And in specific contexts, such as increased access to copyright-protected material for scholars, this directive does in fact afford wider access to such material. The real reason behind all this public backlash should therefore not be sought exclusively in what the directive actually does, but more so in what it fails to do. For example, it fails to give examples of feasible measures by which to implement the directive, leaving it unclear to both member states and online platforms where the responsibility for copyright enforcement lies exactly, but it also fails to engage citizens in a dialogue about the nature of the Internet. Continue reading “Hating the Right Thing for the Wrong Reasons: The European Copyright Directive”→
It was on August 28 that the French Minister of Ecology, Nicolas Hulot, announced that he resigned from office. This unexpected turn of events happened on a regular morning in the French political landscape as he was a guest at the morning show of France Inter, the nation’s most popular morning radio show (1). Without any warning, neither to his assistants nor to the President, Nicolas Hulot resigned, with tears in his eyes. This gesture managed to shock the journalists interviewing him, as well as the audience, since no one was expecting such a sincere answer, in one of the nation’s daily exercice of politics.
He justified this spontaneous announcement by the fact he “do[es] not want to lie to [him]self anymore“, since he believed his actions for the environment were undermined by the French political system, as they were often opposed by lobbies and the Macron government which prioritises economy. He stated that he was surprising himself to be “accomodating of baby steps while the global situation when the planet turns into a proofer deserves an assembly and a change of scale, of paradigm“. He claimed his decision concerned himself only and despite the fact he reiterated his sympathy for the government during his resignation, the aim of his gesture was to shock and provoke a reaction from Emmanuel Macron.
Hulot’s resignation took place in a context of growing discontentment towards the French president, who faced during the summer his first major scandal, the “Benalla case”, when Le Monde identified on a footage filmed during a protest a close councelman of the president, Alexandre Benalla, illegally dressed as a policeman and making use of violence towards protestors. Continue reading “Nicolas Hulot Resigns, Shedding Light on Lobbies’ Influence”→
On the 17th of January, a housing corporation in the Dutch province of Groningen will be deciding whether to tear down or completely refurbish close to 400 houses, my own parental home included. This is just the latest in a series of decisions concerning the roughly 150,000 houses whose structure has been compromised in the wake of dozens of unnatural earthquakes that have haunted the area for years. The earthquakes are a direct result of the extraction of gas at Europe’s largest natural gas field in Slochteren by NAM (owned by Shell and Exxon Mobil), which has been putting over €265 billion in the hands of Dutch governments since the 1960s.
It is not completely surprising that the government is reluctant to give up this steady stream of money. While the newest coalition has agreed to dial down the gas extraction a bit further, it is still not at a level which is deemed ‘safe’ by experts in the field. This is, naturally, angering those who are feeling the consequences the most: home owners in Groningen.
On the international level, coverage of the issue is remarkably meagre. While some news outlets have attempted to bring the story to a wider public, the real debate has remained primarily domestic. The EU (more specifically: the DG Energy) has spent most of its time lamenting the decrease of Dutch gas in its Quarterly Reports on European Gas Markets while mentioning the very legitimate cause for it not even once. Continue reading “A Sustainable Future for the EU: Sponsored by Shell?”→
From 28-31 October 2012, the MA Euroculture Groningen class went on an excursion to Brussels. Armed with cameras, (digital) compasses, and semi-rested minds due to the previous week’s reading week (which was by most interpreted as a relaxing holiday), we set off for the six-hour train ride and waved goodbye to some of our teachers.
Floor Boele van Hensbroek | email@example.com
Wildest first impression
After arrival, we dropped off our bags at the hotel and started exploring Europe’s political heart. Most of us had not seen Brussels before and we were surprised by its sparkling beauty. Secretly I had expected to see cold and stately buildings, people in suits with deadly-serious glances but, in reality, Brussels is a charming city with a rich history and a lively atmosphere. After having seen the Grande Place, Rue de Bouchers, Place Flagey and tons of chocolatiers showing off their chocolate in creative ways (chocolate hippos?) we stopped for some vlaamse friet. This gave us renewed strength and good soil for our next destination: Delirium Café. This bar is known for its lo(ooo)ng beer list and, of course, we wanted to grab this opportunity to extend our knowledge of this well-appreciated drink. Beer beyond your wildest dreams flowed from the taps, like cactus beer and spice beer which reminded us of Christmas. We enjoyed listening (and watching) a teenager brass band that had spontaneously dropped in and rocked the café with catchy tunes and a swarm of dancing fans. Brussels kept surprising me! Let’s say: we went to bed satisfied.
The coffee smell from Barroso’s desk: the European Commission
The next day brought with it some serious business. After stuffing ourselves with pain au chocolats at the hotel breakfast, we visited the European Youth Forum: a platform for youth organisations throughout Europe. The forum represents and advocates for the rights, needs and interests of all young people in Europe by engaging and participating in both national and international initiatives. After the Youth Forum, and a quick lunch on the go, we visited the European Commission. I am not sure what we expected but probably some juicier insider information than the general information talk on the European Union that we got. The speaker was however intriguing and he was able to answer some questions. Also, I found it cool to be so close to where the magic happens, if you know what I mean. Secretly, I was quite impressed by the EU’s political buildings, as if I could almost smell the coffee on Barroso’s desk, or as if I was just an instant away from important decision-making processes ready to determine my future (OK, let’s not exaggerate). For the first time, I started to think about a career with the EU. I have always neglected this option as I see myself as non-competitive, a bit weird, and overly chaotic, and for some reason this doesn’t rhyme with ‘EU career’. But well, who knows…? After the Commission we visited the Committee of the Regions, where we were warmly welcomed and informed extensively on the work of the CoR. In the evening we had a splendid dinner at a restaurant called Le Volle Gas, situated at Ixelles Elsene. We walked to most of our destinations, when we had the opportunity see lots of the city and, even better, to question each other about our future dreams, past experiences, opinions and knowledge of silly jokes.
Ceci, n’est pas une histoire: Lobby Planet EU
Early the next morning we visited Musée Magritte. Magritte, you must know from his famous “ceci n’est pas une pipe” written under a painting of a pipe. If you ever go to Brussels, don’t miss this one! Thereafter we had a meeting with Koen Roovers, a University Groningen alumnus and coordinator of an ALTER-EU project (Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation) at CEO (Corporate Europe Observatory). Of this meeting I will tell you some more as it has opened my eyes to the reality of the EU decision-making processes in Brussels.
ALTER-EU consists of about 200 civil society groups, trade unions, academics and public affairs firms that campaign against the increasing influence of corporate lobbyists on the political agenda of Europe, the resulting loss of democracy in EU decision-making and the postponement, weakening, or blockage even, of urgently needed progress on social, environmental and consumer-protection reforms. One interesting phenomenon that ALTER-EU campaigns against is the ‘revolving door’, through which many EU officials go. This means that when they leave their EU job, they soon start working for corporations or lobby firms, often even in the same policy area. It also happens that lobbyists go through the revolving door and start working for the EU. As ALTER-EU itself states “When this happens, corporate groups gain inside-knowledge, vital contacts, and above all, powerful influence”’. An example of a fellow who took the revolving door is Mogens Peter Carl, who was Director-General at DG Environment until 2009 and, only six months later, became senior adviser to one of Brussels’ biggest lobby consultancies which, amongst others, represents a vehicle company. Well that just stinks! Don’t you think? ALTER-EU demands tough, new rules to block the revolving door, such as a ban of at least two years before EU staff can become lobbyists. ALTER-EU offered us a booklet called “Lobby Planet EU”, which shows a map of Brussels with all the lobby firms and large corporations marked on it. Just looking at it makes you think… Brussels really is a wasp’s nest!
Last minute surprise in El Parlamento Europeo
On the same day we also visited the European Parliament. Unfortunately, the information talk was again not entirely adapted to the knowledge we already had on the EU and its Parliament, however we were pleasantly surprised when in the end a Dutch MEP’s personal assistant dropped in to give us some nice insider information on his job. After the visit I asked our supervisor (and ex-Euroculture student), James Leigh, whether he ever considered working for the EU. He answered by describing EU workers as ‘glorified slaves’. Enough said I guess.
At this point it was time to hurry to the train station, buy some last minute chocolates and get back to Groningen. I think we all felt tired, but satisfied. Indeed, we were much more knowledgeable about Brussels, the EU, and definitely each other.
Floor Boele van Hensbroek, Contributing writer
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.