View of Brussels from the Magritte Museum.

EU in Focus Day 3: Down to Business

A group of 20-year olds infiltrated the EU Commission building and held back-to-back meetings this past Monday, October 30th. The young adults were all students travelling in representation of New York University, forming part of the institution’s annual trip to Brussels, Belgium.

“This is an extraordinary group”, reluctantly admitted Professor of Comparative Politics at NYU Florence, Nicolo Conti.

Well, perhaps ‘infiltrated’ is the wrong word. Yet being granted the privilege to take part in a conversation held at a EU conference room felt quite surreal. This is what I mean by infiltrating; we jumped a few steps. We were by far the youngest crowd within a 5-mile radius.

Our first session was held in the Council of the EU at 10:00 a.m. with Maurizio Di Lullo. Di Lullo is a Political Administrator, focusing on climate change, he also takes part in the Coordination and Horizontal Affairs Unit; he is a member of the Environment, Education, Youth, Culture, Audiovisual and Sports Directorate and the General Secretariat of the Council of the European Union.

Throughout the meeting, Di Lullo discussed several characteristics behind one of the most recent outbreaks in Environmental Politics: The Paris Agreement. The speaker put much emphasis on the gravity behind the eminent threat that is climate change and explained the measures the EU is taking to help combat the issue as well.

At the end, several questions were raised by the students; some oriented towards the US’ withdrawal from the Paris Agreement and how the decision might affect the treaty’s effectivity. Di Lullo responded by saying, “I think that there is no way back from the Paris Agreement. Because everybody is in and is convinced that this is the only way. In the US, basically what I see, is some people who are not willing to go along. But that is something that we have seen already for the last 20 years. In the conservative (atmosphere) there is apparently a reluctance to go along with this but what we see in the rest of the US is that action is being taken, what matters the most is not the legal framework”.

Our next speaker was Susanne Nielsen, also a Political Administrator, member of the External Relations, Asylum and Migration Unit, Home Affairs Directorate, and General Secretariat of the Council of the European Union. Nielsen’s focus is immigration policies, a currently very heated area given Europe’s on-going immigration crisis.

Nielsen presented the immigration policies that have sprouted from the EU’s current crisis, and the many issues arising. Nielsen informed the students of the degrading conditions of the Hotspots claiming this to be one of the pressing concerns. Hotspots are locations where the asylum-seekers remain before they are legally transferred into another European country for refuge. In her conference, Nielsen claimed “some have given up, some have asked for voluntary return to their country of origin. Which is why we are seeing very low number of crossings”.

The morning meetings were followed by lunch with Walter Parrs who is a Programs and Exchanges officer at the US Mission to the EU. Parrs had much to say regarding the manner with which the United States is perceived abroad. He re-assured many students that the GOP has not swayed the EU’s willingness to work with the United States, yet that many were left stunned after the elections.

Parrs also touched on his personal experience, explaining how he conceived the position he currently holds.

After lunch, NYU Students had two more presentations to attend, both taking place inside the European Commission building. The European Commission is occupied by what some would call the EU’s ‘government’ as it is the governmental entity in charge of proposing new policies.

At the European Commission, we were greeted by Alexandra Kiel. Ms. Kiel forms part of the Unit Inter-institutional Relations and Citizenship, Directorate- General Migration and Home Affairs.

Kiel’s session focused on European immigration policies and enumerated some of the objectives the European Commission is attempting to achieve, amongst them: “the abolition of people smuggling networks, and emergency relocation proposals”.

To conclude our day, we had Mr. Pascal Delisle walk us through the main characteristics of the Paris Agreement. Delisle went through all the major threats that are direct effects of global warming and emphasized the need of a treaty such as The Paris Agreement.

All conferences were equally valuable, and presented the students with unfathomable opportunities such as visiting these typically off-limits institutions and highly influential officials. When asked about the trip, the NYU Florence Student body agreed on the trip’s effectivity in widening the student’s understanding of the European Union and its institutions.

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