#MIRinBrussels- Master in International Relations Brussels Trip 2019
After two intensive terms of in-class work and solid theoretical learning, the IE Master in International Relations class of 2019 took to Brussels, Belgium to explore the practical side of their recently acquired knowledge. Visiting the headquarters of the European Union Commission and Parliament, as well as the European Political Strategy Centre, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the American Chamber of Commerce, Uber and the economic think-tank Bruegel, students were able to apply their understanding to real-life scenarios, observing and experiencing first-hand how the concepts, frameworks and dynamics of the study of international relations play out in different contexts, some of them involving high pressure. In the Belgian capital, home to some of the most significant decision-making venues in Europe and around the world, the class took the opportunity to hear from specialists, brainstorm, address important current issues and discuss solutions to European and global problems.
On the very first day, the MIR class was welcomed by the American Chamber of Commerce to learn more about how United States’ companies are able to lobby for their interests in Europe, in a relationship that spreads across the Atlantic to stand as one of the most important global partnerships between like-minded allies. By being an American voice for U.S. businesses in Europe, the Chamber negotiates policies and cooperation agreements, ranging from trade, financial services and the energy sector, that allow mutual interests to thrive.
On the second day, the issues of migration, security and geopolitical interdependence took the central stage as students gathered for three sessions at the European Commission. The first, led by Esther Pozo Vera — deputy head of unit “Migration management support” at the Directorate-General “Migration and Home Affairs” — touched upon the migration crisis that has reached Europe with the escalation of the Syrian Civil War. Pozo Vera provided data and comparative analysis to illustrate the issue; she said that the number of migrants approaches 1.8 million and that in 2015 that influx reached its highest point at between five and ten thousand per day.
Pozo Vera added, however, that the influx is mainly a matter of perspective, with questions such as how many, in how much time and to where being relative. She also explained how the system of receiving and allocating migrants needs some fixes in order to reach balance; while Southern countries such as Greece, Italy and Spain are overwhelmed with the pressure of initially receiving irregular migrants, others in Northern Europe deal with most of the pressure to integrate them, such as Germany, Austria and Sweden. Pozo Vera ended by saying that as of now, Europe has patches, and structural solutions are needed.
Next, Alison Weston — policy officer of the “Secretariat of the Task Force on Security Union” at the Directorate-General “Migration and Home Affairs” — spoke on how to tackle security threats while upholding European values, dividing the priorities into three main areas. First, fighting terrorism and preventing radicalization, then fighting organized crime, and also paying special attention to cybersecurity and cybercrimes. She shared that a strong link has been proven to exist between organized crime and terrorism, and explained how disinformation campaigns have increasingly become a type of hybrid warfare. Weston also emphasized the importance of media literacy to combat the issue, emphasizing that simple rebuttal of fake news is often not enough, but cautioning that the EU is not a ministry of justice and does not want to dictate what are good or bad news or media sources, but let citizens decide for themselves. The day at the European Commission was concluded by a talk from Adrianus Koetsenruijter, head of the division “South America — AMERICAS.3” on the European strategy in times of geopolitical interdependence.
Before concluding day two, MIR students were able to visit the European Political Strategy Centre and understand more about the process of being a think-tank advisor to the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker. During the visit, students discussed both at large and in individual groups how current global trends would affect specific regions or countries of the world in the upcoming years, addressing concepts including demographical changes, energy, European Union partnerships and more.
A visit to the European Parliament kicked off the third day in Brussels, and the class had an in-depth overview of how legislation is passed through the ordinary legislative procedure, commonly known as OLP. The specifics of the step-by-step process were addressed before students were able to have a personalized talk with Javier López Fernández, a Spanish politician and member of the European Parliament. Fernández discussed the tasks and challenges that his job entails, providing a comprehensive insight into the day-to-day of EP members. Before leaving, students were able to visit one of the parliament chambers and stand in the room where some of the most important decisions regarding the European Union are taken. Decorated by a gallant EU flag taking center stage, highlighted by an architecture design and lighting choice that guides the eyes toward it, the room stood monumental.
Before gathering for a networking cocktail at night, students made a visit to the Uber headquarter in Brussels to learn more about the company’s strategy in the country as well as in Europe. The main takeaway, beyond Uber’s new service soon to hit the market — a red rentable bike, branded as Jump — boiled down to the different changes the company has had to undergo in recent years, and the mentality behind it. Being the first of its kind, Uber had to learn and adapt as they grew, always keeping the innovative and creative mission at the forefront, often having to abide by rules that were simultaneously being written at the same time as they were expanding.
The highlight of day four was the MIR visit to NATO, where four sessions with prominent figures in the organization were held.
The first, with Carmen Romero — deputy assistant to the Secretary-General – focused on NATO’s political agenda, and Romero highlighted the importance of consensus and solidarity in order to keep the organization and its spirit alive. Providing a historical overview of NATO, which started with the purpose of deterring the Soviet Union and has shifted focus towards collective defence and crisis management, she explained that the sharing of intelligence is key especially in current threats to the balance of power, involving less conventional threats such as cyber and hybrid.
After Romero, senior policy advisor Ruben-Erik Diaz-Plaja addressed NATO’s current challenges, reinforcing the risk brought by hybrid warfare and also talking about the imbalance on defence spending by different members. Diaz-Plaja also stressed that sometimes a good military investment is precisely paying so you do not have to use it; “how much money is saved by doing coordinated defence as an alliance, as opposed to unilaterally?” he asked. While most of NATO’s focus on previous years had been Russia and the Middle East, he also said that China is now creeping in, raising more questions and demanding a re-assessment of issues and priorities. Before concluding the NATO agenda, students heard from Joaquín Molina — an officer at the Partnerships and Cooperation Directorate — about the issue of projecting stability worldwide, and from the permanent representative of Spain to NATO, Belen Yuste, about the country’s particular role in the organization being the seventh biggest contributor.
The MIR class gathered later in the day at La Quincaillerie Restaurant, in a night of celebration that involved bonding, discussions about the trip and the organizations visited, impressions of the city of Brussels and some talks about the future ahead, with graduation lurking just around the corner. It was also a moment to relax and enjoy a nice dinner, with the whole group coming together to laugh and make memories to one day look back to.
On the last day in Brussels, students visited the think-tank Bruegel and were able to witness a fascinating and engaging talk about the processes and implications of economic research, as it relates to influencing policy-making in the hub of international organizations. As the day progressed and students enjoyed the last bits of Belgian fries, waffles and chocolate, the MIR class got ready to board the flight back to Madrid and promptly start the third and final term of the program, re-energized and re-inspired.