In the context of a destabilization of the West, which includes disputes of trade and policy between Europe and the US, as well as Brexit, and in the wider circumstances of the expanding influence of iliberal countries like China and Russia, we believe that it is important to explore how Europe can forge its own path on the global stage. Thus, under our topic “The EU as a Global Player” we had the chance to travel to Brussels last month to speak with Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), think tanks, NGOs and with a diplomat.
In the morning we met with Reinhard Bütikofer, an MEP from the German party Bündnis 90/Die Grünen, which is part of the Greens/EFA in the European Parliament. We spoke about EU-US relations and with that the rising importance of inter-parliament-dialogue. Moreover, he shared with us his perspective on the influence of the parliament on European foreign policy and his ideas of the economic cooperation but systematic rivalry between the EU and China. To him, a major challenge today is to bring young people back to the polls because they have some difficulties to identify themselves with the EU.
After the conversation with Mr Bütikofer we also had the opportunity to shortly meet Helmut Scholz, an MEP from the German party Die Linke, which is part of the GUE/NGL in the European Parliament. Because of his membership in the committee on International Trade he explained to us his understanding of a good free trade deal, which he would like to have called fair trade deals. These are characterised by a strong focus and thorough implementation of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Furthermore, we discussed his role as an MEP in shaping European international trade policy and EU-Russia and EU-China relations.
Afterwards we were able to watch a plenary sitting in the European parliament which dealt with the “Situation in the hotspots on the Greek islands, in particular the case of Moria”. Katarina Barley, a German politician from the S&D and newly elected vice president of the EP, was leading the session. We also got the chance to witness one MEP using her right to respond which resulted in quite a heated discussion between two MEPs.
In the afternoon we met with Edoaurd Bordier, head of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) liaison office in Brussels. Mr Bordier informed us about the work of the NRC, which is an independent humanitarian organization helping people forced to free. This independence allows the NRC to act in regions no other organization can access, for example Damascus. We talked about how lobbying often has a negative connotation and why the NRC believes it is important to influence humanitarian policy on an European level. Interestingly, Mr Bordier explained to us how NRC lobbies for humanitarian efforts with the information of those who work in the countries affected. The conversation helped us to understand how different actors in Brussels and on European level interact with each other and what role lobbying plays within the EU.
After meeting with Mr Bordier we also had the opportunity to visit the European Political Strategy Centre (EPSC), the European Commission’s in-house think tank, established in November 2014 by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, and operating directly under his authority. We talked to Mr Pawel Swieboda, Deputy Head of EPSC and Mr Ricardo Borges de Castro, the adviser on Strategic Foresight to the EPSC. We discussed the importance of filling the geographical, knowledge and generational gap, which the GOP had outlined and how changes like the technological revolution will impact the EU in the future. Furthermore, Mr Borges de Castro and Mr Swieboda explained to us the artisanship of shaping the future through foresight and the role our generation can and should play in bringing certain topics to the forefront of the European agenda.
In the morning we met with Dr. Cornelia Hoffmann, head of EU Programmes and Democracy at the European Union office and Nora Weis from the Heinrich-Böll-Foundation. They provided us with some background information about the foundation system in Germany and why it is so special. As a foundation associated with the Green Party, they are state-funded, but they are independent from the Green Party on how to use their budget. We discussed topics such as free trade deals like Mercusor from a humanitarian and environmental justice perspective. Additionally, we talked about the dilemma the EU is facing when trying to combine interest-based principles and norms-based principles. In the end, they also shared some "career advice" on how to become involved in the work of foundations like the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung.
Before heading back to Freiburg, we had the opportunity to meet Jonathan Bugge Harder, the Danish Deputy Ambassador to the Political and Security Committee, the part of the EU Council responsible for the EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy (CSFP) and the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). He explained to us the structure and precise role of the PSC in preparing the Council meetings of the Ministers for Foreign Affairs as well as the importance of its “closed door” nature. Furthermore, he helped us to gain a new perspective on the role of the EU as a global player regarding such issues as climate change and the fourth industrial revolution. One key aspect of our conversation concerned the conflicts between ensuring the EU’s global (economic) importance and maintaining European values and the norms-based order. Mr. Harder helped us realize that the EU’s transparency and norms-based procedures can be to Europe’s advantage on the international stage. We also appreciated his advice on pursuing a career in the foreign service.