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Published: October 14th 2010
European Union all day long.....Today was our last day in Brussels and the final stage in our indoctrination into the Euro-perspective. Our morning began with a gentle, yet direct reminder from our fanstatistic city coordinator, Christina that our group had some work to do in the punctuality department. (Right and for everyone who knows me....so far I am not one of the "late" ones. Yet!) With that behind us and our own group organization needing a few moments to recalibrate, we welcomed our first speaker John Richardson, Senior Transatlantic Fellow and former Official at the European Commission.
He painted an overview of the EU challenge, namely to bind regions with different economic interests and different national identities. Mr. Richardson had spent some time in the states so was able to do some compare/contrast as he went along which really was our first glance at a European comparing and contrasting! Not surprisingly, he talked about the difference of the stronger country identity in Europe. As in, the France country identity is stronger than the Maryland identity. Fair enough. One of the key goals of the EU is an integrated economy that will lead to growth. Not a difficult to understand perspective
particularly given the current climate.
A couple of other interesting insights...first of all for the Americans out there not reading the NY Times daily, the EU now includes 27 countries. The Lisbon Treaty of 2007 is the key document driving decisions now and was entered into with force this year. In 1989 Bush made the comment....Europe will be "whole and free." Now, many would say that the goal is to spread those benefits to all EU members. Along those lines, right now the process is focusing on a "bigger and stronger Europe." Certainly key challenges exist toward meeting that vision/focus including the current economic crisis with member states implementing austerity budgets, structural challenges, demographic shift (current dynamic making it difficult to support retirement), defense, climate change and agricultural policy.
We then had a nice, quick break for a long lunch. A few of us hit an open street where cars couldn't go to shop. That whole packing light thing had caught up with me and it's getting cold here so I needed a few long sleeve shirts. Bria would LOVE the boot shopping choices here. I am going to wait until later in the trip to purchase her
tall, brown boots! Brussels isn't the cheapest city either so maybe I'll look in Prague. It was nice to have a mental break and soak in local culture.
Following lunch we had a briefing in an EU building with a local official working in a newly created European External Action Service (EEAS). The purpose of the EEAS is to represent member states externally and to make the EU's external action more coherent and efficient. Certainly a tall order by any standards. We had some discussion on the Lisbon Treaty which clearly helped increase the influcence of member states. The most interesting figure of the afernoon was learning that 12-14 million jobs are counted as part of the trans-atlantic economy. The funniest part of the session included a question posed by our Southern most member of the fellowship team, Brandon Jones from Mississippi, who was attempting to ask a question about the role polling
has on EU members which was translated initially as the role Poles
have on the EU members. It took a few cross cultural awkward moments to ensure everyone had the same understanding of the question!
Next up, an economic briefing by Benedicta Marzinotto, a Resident
fellow at Bruegel, a European think tank working in international economics. She identified the key elements to the economic crisis in Europe: economic and financial as well as a sovreign debt crisis. Greece dominated the discussion especially as the situation was further explained including a lack of accurate budget numbers which a new, incoming government saw in the best interest to correct thereby highlighting historic challenges that were not known by other EU members ini. The presentation concluded with a summary of key challenges: Tehnical--how to determine sustainability?, Political constraint and the question: Does Europe need a debt restructuring procedure in Europe?
One of the unique aspects of the MMF program includes the opportunity to dine with local people. I attended dinner at the home of our program coordinator, Christina an MMF staffer. We were joined by a friend of hers who works with a youth in democracy organization, her boyfriend and another friend who both work for EU members. The discussion was both lively--a bit of a replay of the England/Germany world cup match and life as non-native Belgians living in Brussels.
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