Layman’s notes on #EUCON16

This weekend, for the fourth time, the students of the Harvard Kennedy school (et al.) put together the European Conference. A conference dedicated to European politics. First of all I should commend the students for bringing together a impressive set of speakers, among others, former president to the European Comission, Jose Manuel Barosso as keynote speaker.

Below are a few observations I made as an outsider and concerned European citizen, albeit with enough ‘little grey cells’.

On optimism and the state of the EU –  First of all, the keynote of Barosso underscored the success of the EU despite the setback of the economic crisis. Irrespective of this event, and the rather grim predictions by economist world wide, the EU grew in numbers instead of falling apart. However, he was correct to note that the current migrant crisis might pose a bigger threat to EU integration than the economic crisis. He warned for growing xenophobia in member states, not in the least more recent ones which often don’t share the common historical context of both World Wars, and to cite Kathe Kollwitz, the general sentiment of “nie wieder krieg (faschismus; by extension)”. In general Barosso’s keynote was thought provoking, yet rather positive. Given the tumultuous state of the EU I hope that Barroso was right in citing Jean Monnet “People only accept change when they are faced with necessity, and only recognize necessity when a crisis is upon them.”

On TTIP and trade agreements The panel discussion on (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) TTIP provided me with some new insights as well. For one, the panel was unfairly balanced in favour of TTIP, with only Dan Mauer providing some push-back. My most “memorable” moment was the rather gratuitous cop-out by the EU ambassador to the US, David O’Sullivan, on a question regarding transparancy of TTIP. A member of the audience commented on the fact that TTIP is unprecedented in it’s transparency during negotiations, and how this was perceived by negotiating partners? As mentioned ambassador O’Sullivan reposted that, indeed, the negotiations have been relatively open, if not forced due to an initial leak, but that this has little value as most people would only find the documents boring – as such still no full text is provided only legally void position papers and summaries. This rather jaw dropping statement is not only elitist but does injustice to any democratic principles. A surprisingly cheap cop-out to a valid question, and concern that many EU citizens share. I would have expected a more coherent response from O’Sullivan. This lack of respect for genuine concern by citizens, as well as the lackluster response of the EU to increase transparency, is a testament to what I would call a forced hand, rather than due diligence on part of transparency. Sadly, I fear that underhanded changes, such as recently highlighted in TPP, will sure make it’s way into TTIP without full transparency.

On privacy and Safe-Harbor In a post Snowden age it’s clear that the US will have to start thinking about privacy as a human right. The panel seemed to agree that this is a demand of both industry as privacy NGOs. The panel was in consensus that this should happen in the near future, although current implementations such as Privacy Shield (Safe-Harbour’s replacement) is equally dead on arrival – say this isn’t the final solution. The main take home message is that action will be required in the US, if not forced by the EU. Little was mentioned on how this would interface with for example TTIP, if at all. Yet, overall the outcome for US citizens will only be for the better.

Anyway, back to the business of the day – modelling ecosystem responses to climate change.