On 29 January, members of the King’s Think Tank European Affairs and Energy and Environment policy centres, and one of the Head Editors visited the European Union institutions in Brussels. Mere hours away from the final vote on the UK’s Withdrawal Agreement from the EU, the visit was one of anticipation, uncertainty, and excitement. Upon arrival in Brussels, we split into two groups: the Energy and Environment policy centre visited the European Parliament, and the European Affairs policy centre first visited the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) and then the Parliament, before reconvening in the afternoon at the European Commission and experiencing the unexpected opportunity to witness the aforementioned vote. Below, the two groups detail their visits.
Aanvi Tandon, Director of the European Affairs Policy Centre:
At the EESC, we were received by Ms Sarah King, who works in the Secretariat of the Workers Group in the Committee. Ms King’s session provided us with an insightful account of the multi-faceted outlook and approach of this consultative body of the EU, which bridges the gap between policy-making at the national and EU levels by involving civil society representatives from all the member states in the decision-making processes of the European Union. Ms King impressed upon us a variety of issues (including identity, climate change, the uncertain future of the UK-EU relationship, and the need for a re-establishment of EU priorities) that threaten certain core values of the EU and the need to tackle them.
Following this, we met with Dutch Renew Europe Group MEP Samira Rafaela and her Policy Advisor, Mr Demeer at the European Parliament. The significance of the historic date of our arrival at the European Parliament could be felt deeply as MEP Rafaela expressed her sorrow at bidding farewell to her British colleagues, and more generally through the bewilderment of all Europeans at this development, which was described as ‘the opposite of what the EU stands for.’ MEP Rafaela spoke about the need to critically evaluate the values that started the European project – solidarity, equality, justice, economic cooperation – and how they affect the identities of different European countries; she further emphasised the need to acknowledge change and include new values such as diversity, inclusion, and transparency, which are necessary to uphold the original promises of the European project. Finally, she discussed how the Conference on the Future of Europe would offer the people of Europe the platform to come together and express their expectations about the future of the EU, giving politicians a much-needed push towards effective policy-making.
Next, we met with Bernard Guetta, a French MEP also with the Renew Europe Group. He raised interesting points about the EU’s role as a normative power in the world, as a symbol of democracy, human rights, and ‘a bunker of civil liberties.’ This was reflected, in his opinion, most strongly in the reactions of politicians and diplomats upon the EU’s declarations during international crises as a re-enforcement of international law. He used examples of the Parliament’s Resolutions supporting demonstrations in Algeria and condemning the Turkish military’s actions in Syria to emphasise the European Parliament’s role in helping victims of human rights violations. He also discussed certain aspects of the EU’s foreign and security policy that need more coherence, especially with regards to the changing dynamics in the US, Russia, and China. MEP Guetta strongly believes that the EU has the potential to be stronger but needs institutional reforms that can provide it more ‘actorness’ in the international system.
Our discussions gave us much to think about with regards to our second term’s themes surrounding ‘European identity’ and European values, and will be sure to inspire more informed policy proposals.
Irina Tabacaru, Researcher of the Energy and Environment Policy Centre:
The E&E Policy Centre first met with Emily Stewart, Senior Policy Advisor to MEP Seb Dance, London’s MEP since 2014. The discussion centred around the future of environmental regulation in the EU and in the UK after Brexit. We learned about the considerable impact of the 2014 “Dance Report”, which allowed for the Sustainable Development Goals to be delivered across the European Parliament, not just by the environment-related committees. As MEP Dance was on the European Parliament Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, we were able to learn more about Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform, European agriculture policy, and the need for appropriate measures to deal with Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG), specifically methane, in the agricultural sector. When a comparison is drawn with the industrial sector, the difference is striking.
Following this, we met with MEP Jutta Paulus of the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance. MEP Paulus shared her knowledge on the themes of environmental regulation and biodiversity protection. She specifically shared her views on how “multi-speed integration” (the problem of member states with slower integration speeds being unable to keep up with leaders) negatively affects European environmental regulation through its lack of appropriate management and enforcement, which she indicated would hopefully be fixed by binding targets and less expectations on voluntary action in the Green New Deal. In her words, ‘There is only one nature, and one climate’. In the context of a discussion of deforestation in Eastern Europe, MEP Paulus explained how there is no balance between preservation of wildlife and economic growth to be found, as preservation needs to be placed ahead of economic growth.
Visit to the European Commission:
During the afternoon, the two policy centres reconvened for a visit to the European Commission, where we were kindly received by Fabienne Timmermans. We met with Michal Tratkowski (Energy Policy), Adrianus Koetsenruijte (EEAS and EU foreign policy), and Mariusz Hubski (International Trade).
Michal Tratkowski began his presentation on European Energy Policy by presenting a positive evolution: the Energy Union was the third priority of the previous Commission, but is now the first priority of the newly appointed Commission. Throughout its existence, the EU’s energy priorities have persisted: to provide European citizens with energy policies that are secure, sustainable, competitive, and affordable. Mr Tratkowski highlighted the importance of an integrated, continent-wide energy system that would operate within the framework of a sustainable economy, promoting an innovative and competitive economic system within which European citizens participate in the energy transition.
Our second speaker, Adrianus Koetsenruijte, is part of the European External Action Service (EEAS), one of the Commission’s committees responsible for the EU’s foreign policy goals with non member states. Additionally, through his roles as former Ambassador to Tunisia and Libya, Mr Koetsenruijte has seen the Commission evolve its foreign and security policy according to global developments. More particularly, he spoke about the need for greater cooperation between member states in the EU’s overall actions towards its external partners. He also emphasized the EU-American alliance and the ambiguities surrounding the future of the transatlantic relationship in light of the upcoming election in the US.
Our third and last meeting at the European Commission was with Mariusz Hubski, on the topic of international trade. We discussed why international trade matters and hence why it remains a central priority of the European Commission, touching on topics such as the increasing importance of Trade and Sustainable Development chapters (TSD) in trade agreements, how the understanding around the impact of trade on the environment and on workers’ rights is shifting, and the evolution of trade relationships between the European Union and the United States. Mr Hubski concluded his presentation with a phrase pronounced by Angela Merkel to Donald Trump: “You can’t do a trade deal with Germany, only the EU”.
Finally, thanks to one of our participants and her aunt, Liberal Democrat party representative MEP Caroline Voaden, we got the opportunity to witness the final vote on the UK’s Withdrawal Agreement from the European Union. This moment was perhaps the most unexpected and yet integral part of our visit. We witnessed British MEPs and their European counterparts experience what can only be described as both the end and the beginning of the UK’s relationship with the rest of Europe. We are truly grateful to Ms Voaden for this experience and could not have found a more impactful way to conclude this trip. We would like to thank our wonderful speakers for receiving us and for the valuable insights they shared with us. We are also extremely grateful to the Department of War Studies and the Department of Political Economy for their cooperation in organising this trip, and hope that despite everything, future generations of students in the UK will get the same opportunity to visit the EU and be as humbled by it as we were.
Written by Aanvi Tandon, Irina Tabacaru, and Julia Sandberg
Aanvi Tandon is the Director of the European Affairs policy centre. Irina Tabacaru is the Researcher of the Energy and Environment policy centre. Julia Sandberg is Head Editor of King’s Think Tank.