Transatlantic Partners Raise Awareness of Regional Impact of CAR Crisis

The crisis in the Central African Republic (CAR) is little known, at least compared with other more high-profile humanitarian crises such as Syria. But the impact of the crisis for the people of that country and the potential negative effects across what is still a fragile region have been profound. As of October 2014, more than 425,000 people have fled CAR. They have suffered from intense violence and shocking levels of malnutrition during their long and treacherous journey to find refuge.

Margaret McKelvey, Director of the Office of Humanitarian Assistance to Africa in the Stae Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, speaks at Brussels roundtable on the regional effects of the crisis in the Central African Republic. Photo: USEU

Margaret McKelvey, Director of the Office of Humanitarian Assistance to Africa in the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, speaks at Brussels roundtable on the regional effects of the crisis in the Central African Republic. Photo: USEU

The European Union, under the leadership of former ECHO Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva, has been in the fore the past two years in calling attention to the CAR crisis. The United States is the largest humanitarian donor in the region, providing nearly $150 million inside CAR and for CAR refugees in neighboring countries. Therefore, it is only fitting that USEU together with EU partners and UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) should have joined forces recently to raise awareness of the regional dimensions of this crisis. On October 27, we co-organized a roundtable consultation with key stakeholders to encourage increased attention, and humanitarian and development support, to address the basic and long-term needs for refugees and vulnerable migrants who have sought refuge in the countries surrounding CAR. The day-long event attracted 60 participants from the U.S. Government, the European Commission, EU Member States, NGOs, UN humanitarian agencies, and think tanks, and highlighted the importance of creative strategies to address long-term issues such as promoting refugee self-sufficiency and reconciliation measures. Headlining the event for the United States was Ambassador Stuart Symington, U.S. Special Representative for the CAR crisis, and Margaret McKelvey, Director of the Office of Humanitarian Assistance to Africa in the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration. Ambassador Symington spoke of the importance of creating a feeling of citizenship as a foundation for rebuilding stability in CAR. Ms. McKelvey, who had just returned from the region where she saw firsthand the conditions of refugees and returning migrants in Cameroon and Chad, described how the international community is responding and emphasized that protection and security remain serious challenges. Ms. Carla Montesi, Director for Western and Central Africa in the European Commission’s DG Devco, spoke to the EU response, in particular the Bekou Trust Fund that the EU just launched. (Bekou means “hope” in the local Sango language spoken in CAR.) The Bekou Fund is seeking to link relief programs with development, providing immediate relief to people in need while at the same time supporting the capacity of local authorities to promote peace and to create conditions for long-term development. From the start of this crisis, the EU and the U.S. have been in the forefront the humanitarian response in Central Africa, promoting restoration of security, helping to bring warring sides together, and addressing humanitarian needs both within CAR and its neighbors. The recent roundtable was another step in our joint effort to bring a lasting peace to this shattered region of the world. By David DiGiovanna, Humanitarian and Migration Affairs Officer at the U.S. Mission to the EU

Impressive U.S.-European Law Enforcement Joint Action Takes Down Over 400 Black Market Websites

By Anthony Luzzatto Gardner, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union

This week, U.S. law enforcement worked with 16 other countries and the European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) at Europol, to arrest 17 individuals for involvement in selling illicit goods through a “darknet marketplace.”

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Silk Road 2 was used by thousands of drug dealers and other unlawful vendors to sell kilograms of illegal and harmful drugs, as well as firearms and other dangerous contraband.  In addition to Silk Road 2, hundreds of other darknet marketplace sites were shuttered through this law enforcement action and police confiscated property and illicit cash proceeds.

So, why is this important or newsworthy?  We regularly see law enforcement announce operations against criminal elements and indeed the predecessor Silk Road website was seized last year and its operator arrested in the United States.

This was different because it demonstrated the vitality, and necessity, of the multilateral model of law enforcement, with Europol’s EC3 organizing the efforts of 16 countries in coordination with a massive effort in the U.S. undertaken by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Homeland Security Investigations, and the Justice Department.  What used to take years to organize, took mere months through the working relationship U.S. law enforcement has developed with European authorities.  This is a relationship based on mutual trust and respect that is yielding positive results on both sides of the Atlantic.

This effort was also different because it showed the fallacy to which some transnational criminals cling: that the darknet is impenetrable to law enforcement.  There was a massive multi-state operation undertaken by the FBI to ensure simultaneous arrests and seizures.  And, according to publicly available charging documents, traditional police techniques were utilized including an undercover agent from Homeland Security Investigations, who gained high level access to insiders in the dirty world of internet-based drug dealing.  Not all countries allow for undercover investigations, and while each country’s laws and sovereignty is to be respected, the use of such techniques where allowed and subject to strict judicial oversight, can be beneficial to the entire international community.

Finally, a lesson from this criminal investigation that should not be overlooked is the continued use of some virtual currencies as the payment method of choice in some unlawful activity.  Virtual currencies are an emerging technology with great potential to bring financial services to the underserved, but are also being exploited by transnational criminals in an attempt to evade arrest and seizure of their ill-gotten gains.  To some extent, the lack of universal regulation and enforcement against these virtual currencies contributes to this illegal use.  The United States has undertaken significant steps to regulate and enforce anti-money laundering to curtail such activity and we stand ready to assist all of our European partners as they hopefully undertake similar steps.

I congratulate the men and women of law enforcement from the 17 countries today that have been made safer by their collective and sustained efforts.

U.S. and EU Focus on Evolving Foreign Fighter Threat

On Wednesday, the United Nations Security Council, in a rare heads-of-government session led by President Obama, adopted a binding resolution calling on all member countries to strengthen their domestic laws and other efforts to prevent the travel of foreign terrorist fighters. The resolution attracted 104 co-sponsors, the second-highest number in the history of the UN Security Council.

Panel on "De-radicalization of Foreign Fighters: Comparing U.S. and EU Practices" at the European Parliament on September 23, 2014. Photo: USEU

Panel on “De-radicalization of Foreign Fighters: Comparing U.S. and EU Practices” at the European Parliament on September 23, 2014. Photo: USEU

In the lead-up to this historic measure, USEU partnered with the European Foundation for Democracy to sponsor a series of events in Brussels on Tuesday focusing on the rapidly-evolving threat posed by foreign fighters. At a standing-room only public discussion at the European Parliament, and in other venues for groups of influential policy-makers, U.S. and European experts shared the results of their research, and their experiences in working with returning foreign fighters and those at risk of recruitment.

President Obama chairs UN Summit on foreign terrorist fighters. Photo: State Department

President Obama chairs UN Summit on foreign terrorist fighters. Photo: State Department

During these conversations, the panelists and attendees compared U.S. and European approaches to preventing foreign fighter recruitment and travel, and dealing with the returnees. Much remains to be done, but awareness-raising events like these, and concrete actions such as those called for in the new UN Security Council Resolution 2178, are essential elements in the international effort to combat terrorism.

I was extremely gratified to see the level of interest in these discussions, especially since one of our most important goals here at USEU is promoting transatlantic understanding and cooperation on important security issues such as this. In fact, we first began examining with the EU the potential threat posed by foreign fighters several years ago. Since then our work with the EU institutions and Member States has become deeper and wider-ranging, involving exchanges at all levels, from local community volunteers to President Obama’s summit meeting with the EU last March. USEU has either initiated or supported dozens of such exchanges, and we will continue working closely with our European partners to enhance security on both sides of the Atlantic, in the Middle East and elsewhere.

By Thomas Rogan, Senior Consular Representative/CVE Officer, U.S. Mission to the European Union

U.S. Supports European Asylum Database as Part of Engagement on Refugee, Asylum Issues

Ambassador William Swing, Director General of the International Organization for Migration, has described migration as a “megatrend” of the 21st century, affecting hundreds of millions of people. The United States and the European Union face similar challenges managing and protecting migratory flows while safeguarding our external borders, which is one reason we have my office, part of the State Department’s Population, Refugees and Migration Bureau (PRM), here at the U.S. Mission. The U.S. and EU also share fundamental values of freedom, democracy, and rule of law, among which is the obligation of states to grant asylum to those in need of international protection.

Syrian refugees. Photo: PRM

Syrian refugees. Photo: PRM

The EU has made great strides over the past decade in establishing a Common European Asylum System (CEAS) that aims to ensure that asylum seekers are treated in a dignified manner and that their cases are examined so that, no matter where an applicant applies, the outcome will be similar. However, divergent interpretations of the CEAS across the EU and inconsistencies between CEAS and international refugee law are still to be overcome.

The United States is constantly seeking ways to engage with the EU on migration and asylum issues and to support, as appropriate, the ongoing implementation of the CEAS. As part of those efforts, this week USEU provided a grant of $24,820 to the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), a pan-European alliance of 82 NGOs protecting and advancing the rights of refugees, asylum seekers and displaced persons.

Our grant will support the ongoing operation of ECRE’s European Database on Asylum law (EDAL). EDAL is a pan-European on-line database that provides interested stakeholders free access to texts of key judicial decisions relating to EU asylum law in 17 Member States, as well as decisions of the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). In this way, EDAL helps ensure consistency and quality in judicial interpretations of EU asylum law in the varied Member States. EDAL also includes a section that provides continually updated legal commentary on important European legal judgments in asylum matters.

The U.S. Mission and PRM are proud to be partners with ECRE and the EDAL initiative. We have a long-standing and extensive relationship with the EU on humanitarian and migration issues, which makes sense when you consider that the U.S., the European Commission and EU Member States together provide over 60% of all global humanitarian assistance funding. Our grant is part of an effort to build closer partnerships with Brussels-based humanitarian and migration NGOs, and is provided under the Julia Taft Refugee Fund program, which helps U.S. Ambassadors respond to critical gaps that are not addressed in larger U.S. humanitarian funding programs. In Fiscal Year 2013, Taft grants supported projects in forty-six countries, although this is the first time the U.S. Mission has provided a Taft Grant to a local partner here in Brussels. We look forward to continued cooperation with ECRE and other EU-based partners as we work to enhance refugee protection worldwide.

By David DiGiovanna, Humanitarian and Migration Affairs Officer at the U.S. Mission to the EU

A Summer of Business, Diplomacy, and Networking

Ambassador Gardner meets the summer interns. Photo: USEU

Ambassador Gardner meets the summer interns. Photo: USEU

The U.S. Mission to the EU has been in the middle of the action this summer: President Obama was in town for the G-7 summit, Secretary of State John Kerry was spotted at the Embassy prior to his visit to NATO in June, and USEU officials were heavily involved with the sixth round of the history-making Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) negotiations. Being a college student who has only studied international relations and the EU in the classroom, it has been an invaluable and exciting opportunity to experience diplomacy firsthand, especially in light of the many world events that have recently taken place.

My internship experience has been quite different from the others at USEU, as I am the only intern with the Foreign Commercial Service (FCS). The FCS helps American companies do business in the EU by advocating for their business interests and assisting them with support and information about EU legislation. Companies interested in exporting to the EU come to our office with inquiries that are responded to by one of our many specialists, whose areas of expertise vary from market access to product standards. As the intern, I work alongside everyone in the office, and thus have worked on a wide breadth of disciplines throughout the past 10 weeks. There is no typical day as a FCS intern. I had the opportunity to attend several conferences around Brussels with stakeholders and EU officials, I participated in meetings with representatives from American companies, and I researched EU legislation relating to sectors such as chemicals, machine safety, and medical devices.

Emily Schultz, intern with USEU's Foreign Commercial Service. Photo: USEU

Emily Schultz, intern with USEU’s Foreign Commercial Service. Photo: USEU

I particularly liked representing the FCS at conferences that were hosted by EU institutions and think tanks. Besides enjoying complimentary meals and caffeinated beverages, as well as networking with stakeholders, I also gained a more cohesive perspective about how the work of FCS fits into what else is happening in Brussels. One event detailed a comparison between electronic payment methods in different countries, while a working lunch reflected upon ways that the U.S. and EU can collectively achieve more energy efficiency. My favorite conference, partially because of the fancy coffee machines, but also because of the lively discussion, was hosted by the European Center for International Political Economy and explored how the interests of various global European cities relate to T-TIP. Cities serve an important economic function; as they become increasingly populated there is a need for job growth, environmentally sustainable practices, and product innovation. I found it particularly interesting to approach T-TIP from a different angle and to consider global cities as an integral unit of the international political economy.

One of the major themes of my internship was the importance of strengthening the transatlantic connection between the U.S. and the EU. A transatlantic trade partnership can create huge benefits for both American and European businesses. The FCS has the important role of fostering diplomacy and cross-cultural connections through facilitating international business relations.

By Emily Schultz, intern with USEU’s Foreign Commercial Service.

The Importance of Economic Partnership in Confronting Obstacles and Opportunity

In recent months, Secretary of State John Kerry has reiterated the importance of the U.S.-EU partnership and called for a “transatlantic renaissance,” which he describes as “a new burst of energy and commitment and investment in the three roots of our strength: our economic prosperity, our shared security, and the common values that sustain us.” These three roots have been at the foundation of my work in the U.S. Mission to the EU’s economic section this summer.

Harvard Kennedy School Juster Fellow, Amy Larsen, at USEU

Harvard Kennedy School Juster Fellow, Amy Larsen, at USEU. Photo: USEU

Over the past several months, I have had the opportunity to contribute to advancing the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) in several ways. One of my tasks was to develop a more nuanced understanding of Europeans’ thoughts, concerns, questions, and expectations relating to T-TIP. In thinking about how to approach this task creatively, I began by conducting a number of interviews with individuals from the business sector, EU institutions, and think tanks. I also decided to reach out to new sources that might be untapped, some of which would fall within my own demographic of young professionals, in order to add a broader perspective to the discussion.

In addition, I helped support the 6th Round of the T-TIP Negotiations held in Brussels in mid-July. Pictured below is the T-TIP Stakeholder briefing, during which stakeholders from various industry, civil society, trade organization, government, and NGO backgrounds were invited to share their questions, comments, and concerns about the T-TIP negotiations directly with Chief Negotiators Dan Mullaney (U.S.) and Ignacio Garcia Bercero (EU). These sorts of interactive briefings, along with presentations made by the stakeholder participants earlier that morning, are an integral part of the process, since at the end of the day, T-TIP is only as valuable as the positive impact it will have on citizens.

T-TIP Round 6 Stakeholder briefing held on July 16 2014 in Brussels. Photo: USEU

T-TIP Round 6 Stakeholder briefing held on July 16 2014 in Brussels. Photo: USEU

Throughout the summer, I have also been able to participate in several aspects of the formulation and implementation of sanctions against Ukrainian separatists and Russian supporters. This has similarly proved to be an invaluable learning opportunity as well as a chance to enhance an already extremely strong transatlantic partnership. These experiences have further impressed upon me the necessity of maintaining a close, yet flexible relationship with our European partners, as the importance of alliances in a world characterized by diverse and often unpredictable threats and opportunities cannot be overstated.

Of course, even the closest of partners sometimes disagree. The United States and our European allies are no different in this regard. But our differences are not so great as to challenge the “roots of our strength,” the depth of our history together, or the strength of our commitment to a secure and prosperous future for both of our peoples. With a foundation like ours combined with a “transatlantic renaissance” defined by continued energy, commitment, and investment, there are few obstacles or opportunities that our partnership will be unable to overcome.

By Amy Larsen, Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) Juster Fellow in USEU’s economic section.

Democracy in Action in the (Other) Capital of the EU

When I first started learning about the European Union as an undergraduate, the dominant opinion in the political science literature that I read was that the European Parliament (EP) was a training ground for promising but untested future politicians or a victory lap for those who had finished their national political careers—an institution with little actual power that did not attract serious interest from mainstream parties back in the Member States.

Outside look of European Parliament

Outside look of European Parliament in Strasbourg

In the five years since the entrance into force of the Lisbon Treaty in 2009, a whole new kind of Parliament has emerged, one that not only has broader official power but that also continuously works to raise its profile and carve out an increased role for itself within the EU institutional framework.  The U.S. Mission to the European Union views a strong and close relationship with the EP as a key part of its broader engagement with EU institutions on the full range of transatlantic issues.

Watching the Parliament’s July 14-17 plenary session in Strasbourg from the diplomatic viewing area as part of the USEU team, I sat on the edge of my seat listening to the enthusiasm with which Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) from across the political spectrum defended their constituents’ interests during debates—from Italian leather shoe production to the imprisonment of Irish teenager Ibrahim Halawa in Egypt.

In the face of repeated claims from academics and commentators of the EU’s “democratic deficit,” the EP certainly appears to have become a more visible forum for representative democracy in Europe.  It took on a much greater role in the selection of the European Commission President, it will hold hearings for all the Commissioners-designate, and it has argued for advice-and-consent power even in areas like security and defense policy, as it did in the recent case European Parliament v. Council of the European Union before the European Court of Justice.

The floor of European Parliament

The floor of European Parliament in Strasbourg

Some commentators have called these changes the “Americanization” of the EP, but seeing MEPs in action on the floor of the hemicycle leaves no doubt that this infusion of direct, constituent-focused democracy into EU institutions is done on European terms and rooted in European political culture, with all the vocal dissent, rhetorical skill, and diversity of political ideology that you would expect—all happening in 24 languages!

And, even as academics continue the debate on whether the EU’s “democratic deficit” is growing, shrinking, or actually exists, the clear recognition not only in the Parliament but also the Commission that everyday citizens’ voices have a rightful place within the machinery of the EU challenged my own pre-Lisbon assumptions of the EP’s potential power and left me feeling energized and excited about the dynamism of today’s European Union institutions.

 By Jake Nelson, Pickering Fellow in USEU’s political section