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 

EU Interns: Giving Them Croissants & Food for Thought

Ambassador Gardner with EU and U.S. interns. Photo: USEU

Ambassador Gardner with EU and U.S. interns. Photo: USEU

Croissants, stagiaires, and visitor badges: What do these things have in common? They can all be found at the briefings I helped organize this summer for EU stagiaires (interns) to help them learn more about transatlantic relations.

Since starting my Public Affairs (PA) internship this summer with the U.S. Mission to the EU (USEU), I’ve realized that youth outreach is an important part of the Mission’s work. The Mission has various programs that are focused on youth and aim to foster better relationships between the U.S. and the EU.

One program that has been helpful building these relationships is the breakfast briefing series for EU stagiaires, which is organized by PA interns like myself. These briefings give some 20 EU stagiaires an opportunity to discuss current issues of U.S.-EU interest with U.S. diplomats over an informal meal of croissants and coffee.

Coffee and croissants at a briefing for EU interns. Photo: USEU

Coffee and croissants at a briefing for EU interns. Photo: USEU

This summer, I helped organize three breakfast briefings and one half-day briefing for stagiaires from the EU Commission, Council, and Parliament. The topic for the first breakfast briefing was climate with Susan Vesel, USEU’s Science and Technology Officer. The second briefing with David DiGiovanna, Humanitarian and Migration Affairs Officer, focused on migration issues.  The last breakfast briefing was a tag-team affair with Political Officers Zia Syed and Matthew Lehrfeld. This was a fun event for the stagiaires because they had the opportunity to have discussions on the opportunities and challenges of the transatlantic relationship with two officers over breakfast. The response was enthusiastic, and for each event I had to start a waiting list because so many people wanted to be involved.

USEU Political Officers talk to EU interns about the benefits and challenges of the transatlantic relationship. Photo: USEU

USEU Political Officers talk to EU interns about the benefits and challenges of the transatlantic relationship. Photo: USEU

The big finale was a half-day briefing that included a Q&A with Ambassador Gardner. It was very exciting – and a bit nerve-wracking – to plan an event with someone as high-level as the Ambassador. But in the end it all went well. He was a great speaker and connected well with the stagiaires (as you can see in the top photo), perhaps in part because he had once been in their shoes as an EU intern himself.

Planning these events has been a great learning experience. Not only did I get a chance to make contacts within several EU institutions, but I learned a lot from hearing the diplomats speak about the issues they work on. The feedback from the stagiaires was very positive, and they really enjoyed getting the chance to visit the Mission. It felt great to be trusted with the responsibility to plan these events, and it didn’t hurt to get a nice cup of coffee and a hot croissant in the process.

By Kristine Marshall, intern in USEU’s Public Affairs Office

A Day at the European Court of Justice

As the legal intern here at the U.S. Mission, I am tasked with analyzing European Court of Justice (ECJ) judgments that have a nexus with U.S. policy. Last week, I had the opportunity to travel to Luxembourg to observe an oral hearing at the EU General Court, a lower court that is part of the ECJ system. As a law student in the United States spending my summer in Brussels, I was thrilled to have this opportunity, as it allowed me both to understand how EU court hearings operate, and to pinpoint certain differences between EU and U.S. law.

Andrew Schlossberg visits the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. Photo: USEU

Andrew Schlossberg visits the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. Photo: USEU

The hearing I observed involved a Belarus businessman challenging his listing on the EU’s restrictive measures list. The EU (like the U.S.) places economic sanctions on individuals and entities that support oppressive regimes. Recently, however, many parties have successfully challenged their listings in EU courts. This particular businessman brought an action alleging that the EU failed to obtain sufficient evidence linking his company to support of the Lukashensko regime in Belarus; thus, his listing must be annulled.

As soon as I arrived in the courtroom, I noticed an obvious difference between EU and U.S. court hearings – the translation issue. An applicant can bring a case in any of the 24 official EU languages, so interpretation boxes filled the outside portion of the courtroom. This particular case was argued in French, but I listened to most of it in English through an ear piece. With the presentation of complex legal arguments, I initially thought I would miss key concepts lost in translation, but found that the interpreters were excellent.

Secondly, both parties presented their arguments to the judges and then engaged in a Q&A session, mostly regarding factual clarification issues. This is a stark difference from oral hearings in U.S. courts, where frequently an attorney can hardly get a sentence in before being cut off by an inquisitive judge asking a long-winded hypothetical question.

In terms of substance, however, many of the legal arguments paralleled those given by attorneys in the United States. First, both sides referred to precedents in other ECJ sanctions cases, a common technique used in U.S. courts. Also, the Belarussian businessman’s attorney argued that each factor alone demonstrated no link to the Lukashensko regime, whereas the Council (EU) attorney argued that the Court must look at the totality of the circumstances in deciding whether to annul the listing. This line of reasoning is quite similar to what I used in mock oral arguments during this past year in law school.

I enjoyed spending the day at the Court of Justice, and hope I have been able to contribute to our Mission’s understanding of how EU courts operate and how their judgments affect U.S. interests. In addition, since the U.S. is very interested in tracking EU sanctions litigation, I hope the reporting I did following my trip to Luxembourg will further our understanding of how EU courts treat future sanctions cases.

By Andrew Schlossberg, Legal Intern, Executive Office of the U.S. Ambassador to the EU

Supporting Afghanistan’s Political Transition and Post-2014 Economic Development

Four weeks ago, millions of courageous Afghan men and women participated in presidential elections to determine the first democratic transfer of power the country has ever seen, and demonstrated, once again, their commitment to a peaceful and democratic future for Afghanistan. Yet even as we recognize steps forward, we are mindful of the challenges that remain, including the evaluation of allegations of electoral fraud.

(Left to right) Chairman of the Free and Fair Elections Foundation of Afghanistan Ahmad Nader Nadery, Ambassador of Afghanistan Homayoun Tandar, Ambassador Gardner, Karel Lanoo of CEPS, and EEAS Director for South and Southeast Asia Ugo Astuto discuss Afghanistan’s progress and prospects. Photo: USEU

(Left to right) Chairman of the Free and Fair Elections Foundation of Afghanistan Ahmad Nader Nadery, Ambassador of Afghanistan Homayoun Tandar, Ambassador Gardner, Karel Lanoo of CEPS, and EEAS Director for South and Southeast Asia Ugo Astuto discuss Afghanistan’s progress and prospects. Photo: USEU

As the Political Officer covering the EU’s relations with countries in South, Central, and East Asia, I proposed that the U.S. and EU highlight our support for Afghanistan’s political transition, economic development, and regional integration through a public panel discussion in Brussels, which USEU hosted July 9 at the Centre for European Policy Studies. USEU Ambassador Gardner’s opening remarks emphasized the leading role the EU and its Member States play, and the long-standing partnership between the EU and the United States in assisting Afghan efforts toward peace and prosperity into the Transformation Decade.

Chairman of the Free and Fair Elections Foundation of Afghanistan Ahmad Nader Nadery. Photo: USEU

Chairman of the Free and Fair Elections Foundation of Afghanistan Ahmad Nader Nadery. Photo: USEU

Chairman of the Free and Fair Elections Foundation of Afghanistan Ahmad Nader Nadery, whose travel to Brussels was sponsored by Public Affairs, and the Ambassador of Afghanistan to the EU, Belgium, and Luxembourg Homayoun Tandar acknowledged that while Afghanistan is still a poor country, thanks to development assistance from the United States and the international community, Afghanistan’s per capita income has increased more than five-fold over the last 12 years, the number of universities in the country has increased from one to 100, and civil society and a free media have flourished.

Ambassador Tandar said that Afghanistan’s future lies with the region. To assist with Afghanistan’s regional integration, the U.S. and the EU are working together to support regional energy projects such as the Central Asia-South Asia electricity distribution project CASA-1000, and the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India natural gas pipeline. We are linking youth and entrepreneurs and helping to strengthen Afghanistan’s rule of law, democratic institutions, border management, and the capacity of its national police to build upon the gains Afghanistan has realized over the past decade.

As USEU prepared to host the panel discussion, I was reminded of my experience observing national elections in another South Asian country. In February 2008, Senators Joseph Biden, John Kerry, and Chuck Hagel came to observe polling stations in Lahore during Pakistan’s 2008 Parliamentary election – when we witnessed the peaceful transfer of power from a military dictatorship to a democratically-elected government. Back then, the U.S. Embassy worked closely with observers from the EU and its Member States to help ensure that Pakistan’s election was free, fair, and credible. Then and now, there is scarcely an issue or region of the world where the United States and the European Union do not work together. After the United States, the EU is the largest contributor of assistance to Afghanistan, and together, we are supporting the Afghan people and their desire to live in a safe and secure country where their human rights are respected and their votes matter.

By Lisa Buzenas, USEU Political Officer