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October 14, 2014
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The Commission’s hearings in the European Parliament

October 6, 2014
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Ever since the Commission of Jacques Santer, the European Parliament (EP) has been assessing the competence of EU Commissioners’ candidates in a procedure known as “hearings.” The goal of hearings is to assess candidates’ general competence, their commitment to the EU, personal independence as well as the knowledge of their respective portfolios.

In the last couple of days, the proposed members of the new European Commission (EC), under the leadership of Jean-Claude Juncker, have been under intense cross-examination by the members of the Parliament (MEP), who threaten to use their power to reject the appointment of certain commissioners. The majority of the proposed Commissioners “went through”, however, the possibility of being sent back home still threatens the candidates from Spain and Hungary.

Although the hearings are not yet completed, Juncker might be in a situation to act proactively – to withdraw candidacy for those whose appointment seems questionable, in order to avoid the situation in which the parliamentary rejection of a candidate would have a domino-effect on other members of the EC.

One of these candidates is Miguel Arias Cañete from Spain, a candidate for the EU commissioner for climate action and energy. He has not received the approval of the Parliament yet, since the socialist group of MEPs delayed giving their support. In his speech to the EP, Cañete supported the pipeline network project “Southern Corridor,” since the gas pipeline “South Stream” does not comply with EU regulations.

According to the project, “Southern Corridor” would have two gas pipelines, one from the Caspian Basin and one from the Central Asia, and would arrive from Turkey, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and other neighboring countries, except Russia. This project would be a significant gas supply source for the EU and, importantly, would be independent from Russia.

Cañete sounded fairly convincing when explaining how this project would ensure lower dependence of the EU on Russian gas, arguing that it would strengthen linking of the energy networks of the EU member states. According to him, efforts shall be made not only in ensuring that the EU is not dependent on one external gas supplier, but also to fully develop the internal energy market, with cross-border networks and significantly higher efficiency in terms of energy consumption.

Despite the support of the EP for this project, Cañete’s appointment is still up in the air as he is accused of conflict of interest. Namely, as a Commissioner for climate action and energy, he would need to be in charge of EU climate policy, which is problematic, knowing that he has private financial interests in the oil industry. Numerous German organizations for environmental protection believe that Cañete is a bad candidate since he could undermine the energy changes in Europe, being an oil industry lobbyist. 300,000 people signed a petition against his nomination, including 76 MEPs, mainly from the Green and leftist parties.

Cañete was recently a member of the board of two oil companies (which are usually identified as major air-polluters), being the largest shareholder in both cases. In order to avoid accusations of a conflict of interest, he sold his shares for 437,000 euros to his family members. At the hearing, he was asked about the number of shares his brother-in-law has in these oil companies, but he remained consistent in replying that his wife and son no longer have shares in these two oil companies.

Another proposed Commissioner has had difficult time at the EP hearings as well. Tibor Navracsics, proposed Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth, and Citizenship from Hungary, was vehemently questioned about his competence for this position, bearing in mind that he is a member of the same party as the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, whose government, according to many critics in Brussels, has been working against liberal democracy and freedom of the media and NGOs. Navracsics has been considered a close associate to Orban and was his Minister of Justice, carrying out the reform of the legal system, which was very negatively received in Brussels.

Hearings follow a well-defined structure, and a detailed explanation can be found on this website:
*http://www.elections2014.eu/en/new-commission/hearings

“TTIP and the Importance of Transatlantic Trade Relations”

October 3, 2014
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by Elisabeth Winter

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Last week, the Transatlantic Business Council (TABC), the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, and Eli Lilly and Company hosted an event to inform the general public but in particular Indiana SMEs about the free trade agreement currently under negotiation between the US and the EU, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

On this account, the event started with two very instructive keynote addresses by Dave Ricks, Senior Vice President of Eli Lilly and Company, and by US Congress Congressman Todd Young (R, IN-9), who also co-chairs the Congressional TTIP Caucus.

Next, Tim Bennett, the Director General of TABC gave an informative overview on TTIP, presenting its history, facts and figures about its possible economic impact as well as current challenges within the negotiations.

The following panel focused on the chances TTIP can provide for SMEs based in Indiana. It offered an analytic approach with a discussant from Washington D.C. based ACG Analytics, who provided insightful data on how the U.S. public perceives free trade and a possible free trade agreement with the EU, and an academic perspective on the innovative power of SMEs from Dr. Sameeksha Desai, Assistant Professor at the EU Center at Indiana University.

Kyle Cline from the Indiana Farm Bureau and representatives from two Indiana-based international companies completed the panel with insights from the business world. Finally, Kevin Brinegar, President and CEO of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce gave some concluding remarks.

A central conclusion of the panel was the necessity to approach the two-sided public perception of free trade in the US: The majority generally approves free trade, in particular with Europe. However, the majority is also uninformed about what is currently going on in Washington D.C. and Brussels, and indicated not being aware of the TTIP negotiations. Being from Germany, this is surprising. There, TTIP has been a big issue in the news for months (admittedly, this was stimulated by the recent elections for the EU parliament). Accordingly, many of the challenges for TTIP highlighted during the event are primarily raised by European opponents of TTIP. The most popular one is probably the issue of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). They are mostly prohibited in the EU and many Europeans fear the import of “Frankenstein-Food” from the US.

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As a political science scholar, who traces the development of transatlantic trade relations mainly from the European side of the pond, this event was a great chance to get to know the U.S.-American standpoint in-house. From my European perspective, some of the political aspects highlighted by the speakers were particularly remarkable.

There was a huge common sense among the speakers about the significance of close ties between the transatlantic partners: Not only the ACG analyst emphasized that – though both partners have other economic ties all over the world – the transatlantic partnership remains the “real core economic relationship.” For Dave Ricks, the transatlantic trust is especially significant due to cultural, political, and economic similarities that are much higher than with other countries. Accordingly, Congressman Todd Young indicates that TTIP offers opportunities that are nowhere else.

The speaker agreed that based on these already existing deep relations that characterize the biggest economic partnership on the planet, the TTIP could function as a template-setting arrangement for future agreements of both partners. As one advanced regulatory book, TTIP could secure transatlantic economic advantages in comparison to other countries.

This is of particular importance as with regard to the race between the TTIP and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Young reported. Even though the negotiations about the TPP have been on its way for years, the TTIP is set to connect two much more similar economies when it comes to labor standards or regulations. Hence, he suspects the TTIP negotiations may be closed before the TPP. The winner of this race will then set the road for the other and all future agreements.

The speakers agreed that this race becomes even more important as trade agreements are more and more considered to be critical for political issues as well. While Tim Bennett stressed the geopolitical and geostrategic implications of TTIP, Todd Young underlined more generally that in the 21stcentury, trade agreements are what security agreements had been for the 20thcentury.

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Considering the continuously growing number of trade agreements––not only between developed or developed and developing but also between emerging and/or developing countries––transatlantic trade relations enter the global political stage once again.

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Faculty Announcements

October 1, 2014
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Events:

Department of African Studies, Susan Z. Andrade (University of Pittsburgh) Lecture “Literary History and Uneven Development: An African Example” 4 p.m, Woodburn Hall 218, 10.2.2014

Department of Germanic Studies, Fall Semester Dutch Movie Showing “Daglicht”, 7 p.m, Ballantine Hall 109, 10.6.2014

EURO Brown Bag Seminar, Anthropology PhD Candidate Feray J. Baskin “Immigrant Language: An Accessory?  The Case of Turkish in Alsace” 12:15-1 p.m, Ballantine Hall 004, 10.8.2014

Department of Hispanic Studies, Shawn Loewen (Michigan State University” Lecture “Is Second Language Instruction Effective: Measuring Linguistic Knowledge” 11:30 a.m, IMU Persimmon Room, 10.13.2014

Department of Germanic Studies, “A Swiss Afternoon Without Heidi”, Meet and Greet with Swiss Poet Arno Camenisch, author of “The Alp” IMU Distinguished Alumni Room, 12-2 p.m, 10.16.2014

EURO Brown Bag Seminar, Visiting CEUS Professor Janos Kocsis ” “Stratification and Urban Sprawl: Transformation of Suburbs of Budapest Metropolitan Area” 11:30 a.m, Ballantine 004, 10.22.2014

International Center Presents “Cross Cultural Communications: Workshop on Germany” 8:30-12, IMU, 10.24.2014

Department of Germanic Studies and Institute for European Studes, Tor Einar Fagerland (Norwegian Institute for Science and Techology) “The Bombing of the Government Center in Oslo and the massacre at Utøya Island in Norwegian Memory, 2011-2014.” 6:30 p.m, IMU Dogwood Room, 10.29.2014

Deadlines:

2014-15 Internal Fellowship and Award Deadlines

Graduate Student Announcements

October 1, 2014
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Events:

Department of African Studies, Susan Z. Andrade (University of Pittsburgh) Lecture “Literary History and Uneven Development: An African Example” 4 p.m, Woodburn Hall 218, 10.2.2014

Department of Germanic Studies, Fall Semester Dutch Movie Showing “Daglicht”, 7 p.m, Ballantine Hall 109, 10.6.2014

Herman B. Wells Library Online Graduate Student Workshops “Zotero” 1-2:30 p.m, 10.7.2014

EURO Brown Bag Seminar, Anthropology PhD Candidate Feray J. Baskin “Immigrant Language: An Accessory?  The Case of Turkish in Alsace” 12:15-1 p.m, Ballantine Hall 004, 10.8.2014

European History Workshop “People, Society, and Community: Visions of Political and Social Order in Post-World War I Germany” by Michael Wildt, Humboldt University – Berlin, 10.10.14, IMU Persimmon Room 12-1 p.m.

Department of Hispanic Studies, Shawn Loewen (Michigan State University” Lecture “Is Second Language Instruction Effective: Measuring Linguistic Knowledge” 11:30 a.m, IMU Persimmon Room, 10.13.2014

Herman B. Wells Library Graduate Student Workshops “EndNote: The Basics” 10-11:30 a.m, Ballantine 108, 10.14.2014

Department of Germanic Studies, “A Swiss Afternoon Without Heidi”, Meet and Greet with Swiss Poet Arno Camenisch, author of “The Alp” IMU Distinguished Alumni Room, 12-2 p.m, 10.16.2014

EURO Brown Bag Seminar, Visiting CEUS Professor Janos Kocsis ” “Stratification and Urban Sprawl: Transformation of Suburbs of Budapest Metropolitan Area” 11:30 a.m, Ballantine 004, 10.22.2014

International Center Presents “Cross Cultural Communications: Workshop on Germany” 8:30-12, IMU, 10.24.2014

Department of Germanic Studies and Institute for European Studes, Tor Einar Fagerland (Norwegian Institute for Science and Techology) “The Bombing of the Government Center in Oslo and the massacre at Utøya Island in Norwegian Memory, 2011-2014.” 6:30 p.m, IMU Dogwood Room, 10.29.2014

Deadlines:

2014-15 Internal Fellowship and Award Deadlines

February 2015 European Students Conference at Yale University Application Deadline, 10.27.2014

Europe’s energy dependence and the crisis in Ukraine

September 30, 2014
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The European Energy Security Forum is held regularly every year on September 26th in Brussels, Belgium. This year, however, as a result of the crisis in Ukraine, the Forum drew more attention than in previous years. The Forum’s main topic of discussion was identifying ways in which renewable energy development can be accelerated so that Europe reduces its dependence on energy imports.

Regarding the current state of affairs, the Forum concluded that Europe’s dependence on energy imports has significantly increased in the last ten years. Today, approximately 60 percent of Europe’s demand for energy is covered by imports from other countries, mostly Russia (around 38 percent of gas, 35 percent of oil, and 25 percent of coal).

This extremely high dependence on energy imports means that the use of economic sanctions as a tool of foreign policy towards Russia is greatly constrained. This issue is particularly relevant today when the EU, together with the US, attempts to counter the aggressive behavior of Russia towards Ukraine. Practically, the EU cannot impose sanctions on Russian energy exports without causing a great damage to its own economy. Also, knowing that energy exports account for almost 80 percent of Russia’s total export revenues, it seems that energy is the only sector of the Russian economy where the effect of sanctions would be highly noticeable.

As an escape from this unpleasant state of energy dependence, the Forum suggested creation of a strategy that would reorient the use of energy towards renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Participants of the Forum believe that it is not technology of renewable energy that is an obstacle for this reorientation, but politics. They argue that renewable energy technology is “mature enough” to cover 60 -70 percent of Europe’s energy needs, which would be enough to provide more leeway in the EU’s foreign policy decision making. However, the politicians do not seem to be willing to support this reorientation. For example, Hans-Josef Fell, one of the most notable speakers in the conference, explains that German politicians mostly support the use of nuclear energy, although wind and solar energy are much cheaper. Fell argues that this is the “wrong road”, primarily because the uranium in large part comes from Russia, which further increases the EU’s dependence on this energy powerhouse.

For more information about the Forum, see this website:

http://www.eurosef.org/

Can Europe survive without Russian gas?

Can Europe survive without Russian gas?

Italy’s Concrete Boots

September 30, 2014
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The lore of the mafia in Italy is nothing new. Mob bosses, bootleggers, machines guns, and deceivingly innocuous-sounding nicknames had long ago become staple ingredients of the stereotypical package of Italian corruption. In America, the early twentieth-century threat of the mafia turned from pressing public concern into modern-day legend and hot material for blockbuster films. In Italy, however, “the Godfather” isn’t the former heartthrob Marlon Brando and the corruption is not just a best-selling Hollywood storyline. BBC correspondent Antonia Quirke briefly tackles this subject, taking a look at Sicily, the home of the mafiosi, for an update on the current role of the mafia in Italian life.

According to Quirke, the changes of the 21st century have begun to erode the iron grasp of the mafia bosses on the brazen little island, but have not succeeded in eradicating them. Bold burly men may still be seen collecting protection money on street corners, and locals are still weary of discussing the topic of the mafia. The locals interviewed by Quirke acknowledge that the mafiosi are all around them, but state that they do not know them. Although not as common as they used to be, abandoned half-built high-rises and bridges may still be found in incongruous locations, creating jarring images on the otherwise picturesque Sicilian landscape. For the majority of locals, these are just unalterable facts of life—and their distressingly lethargic attitude towards the ubiquitous corruption seems to be a reflection of the general Italian attitude on the subject. According to Quirke, 16 out of Italy’s 20 regions are undergoing investigations for charges of having misappropriated public funds worth around 60 million euros, and more than half of the country’s population is employed by the government, perpetuating bureaucratic inefficiency and corruption—but what more to expect from a country whose previous twice-elected figurehead was Silvio Berlusconi?

While the stereotype of Italian corruption has, like most stereotypes, been overstated, it nevertheless continues to be based on a very large kernel of truth. With dishonesty, back-room deals, and nepotism as the order of the day, there is little chance for the once-great Italy to regain its footing on the top tier of the European power structure. In fact, this now centuries-old tradition of corruption and public apathy could very well sink Italy to the bottom. Furthermore, the issue of the Italian mafia brings up questions about corruption in Eastern Europe, where countries such as Romania and Bulgaria are not only consistently stigmatized for having high levels of corruption, but also actively kept on the political peripheries of European governance as a punishment for their dishonesty. But is this fair, when a country that is the home of the mafia gets a reserved seat at the table of Europe’s major powers? A comparison between Italy and Romania is particularly interesting, not only because of the cultural, historical, and linguistic similarities between the two countries, but also due to the fact that a 2013 corruption index study by Transparency International shows Italy and Romania being tied with a score of 43 on a scale of 0-100 (0 being highly corrupt and 100 being very clean).

While this certainly raises questions about the hypocrisy of the EU’s leaders in their treatment of East European nations, it is more imperative that this discussion bring about a concerted effort to put a stop to rampant corruption. This comparison proves that this is by no means an issue symptomatic of Eastern history and mentalities, but rather a chronic malady that affects even the more advanced countries in Europe—a malady that will only be fixed by EU sanctions that do not favor some countries over others, laws and good practices that sanctify government transparency, and, perhaps most importantly, an awakening of civic engagement that will shake the public out of its apathy.

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