The semester is already well underway and the stress of school is beginning to hit me. I am taking quite a few more classes than what is required of me as a CBYX participant, and on top of this I am trying to take them in hopes of receiving some credit from my university in the states, so I am definitely feeling the challenge. I have some classes in English, but with others still instructed in German or with German discussions, there are days where I ride my bike back home mentally exhausted.
I am currently taking a class on the European Union and it is really helping me understand and analyze the major issues that are affecting this continent as well as some of the history behind some of the current events taking place here in European politics.
Just the other day we had an interesting discussion because the newspapers headlined a major decision in EU organization since the Lisbon Treaty was officially signed by the president of the Czech Republic solidifying the new format in the European Union beginning extremely soon on December 1st. In short, this treaty [also referred to as the reform treaty] is a new protocol creating prominent changes in the European Union including a new majority vote procedure for the Council of Ministers, increased involvement in the European Parliament in the legislative process, and the creation of the President of the European Council.
Quite honestly the historic event of the Czech Republic adding the last signature to the treaty would have gone largely unnoticed by me if I wasn’t taking the course and becoming more informed about the structure and role of the EU in European Society. In fact, a classmate and I had volunteered to be the first presenting group of the semester, and my project addressed some of the issues that were faced within this current reform of the EU.
My project was the early years of European integration and was titled “Reconstruction, reconciliation and integration 1945 – 57” and discussed the difficult process that took place to bring together a war torn Europe after WW2- complete with many hardened relations in the continent with bordering nations- and how series of events led to the very profound event of a unification of Europe [many years later becoming the EU]. The report took place over the entire class period, meaning over an hour long, and was an early sample for me of the differences in course work at German institutions [not nearly as much small work, papers and projects as American University courses, but instead many more student led discussions and presentations making many courses essentially graded by one speech and one paper with tests not always part of the syllabus – very different for me to get used to so far for sure].
In brief, my presentation was about the Schuman Declaration which was the landmark decision, led by Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman, for France and Germany to cooperate in steel production and trade [European Coal and Steel Community]. It was the events around this decision that made the event so influential for the unification of Europe. After all, it was a huge leap for the reconstruction of Germany, after years of being demilitarized and controlled by the allied powers. On the same thought, it was possibly even more incredible that France was a part of this event in history since France carried a heavy resentment towards Germany after years of being destroyed by its bordering neighbor.
[ Signing of the Schuman Declaration, 1950 ]
In other topics, events including the influence of Winston Churchill from Great Britain as well as the Marshal Plan from American to promote a renewal in European economies was all part of the great debates that surrounded European Unification.
[ Marshal Plan promotion poster ]
One particularly interesting fact from my research actually dealt with the region of Saarland and Saarbrücken which was a big surprise for me. I remember when I lived in Saarbrücken that the region used to be part of France and later returned to Germany, and that the region was also rich in coal productions. Little did I know until this report that this region was a key player in these series of events within Europe, especially the skepticism of trust between France and Germany that ultimately led to the realization that economic cooperation was the only way to secure peace and modern industry within European nations.
The little side asterisk may seem trivial to most, but the history caught my attention and was yet another reminder that every day living abroad this year I am making more connections and learning more about politics, history, and current events through little details such as these.
My project also addressed the philosophical split that took place in Europe in discussion of unification with some striving for a collaborative constitution – a very radical idea of a binding constitution in a continent that just suffered two world wars in one century – alongside a more nationalist perspective recognizing the sovereignty of each individual state. These debates are still taking place today, and was part of the main reason that the president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Klaus, was hesitant of signing the treaty – simplifying this event, Klaus was wary of new voting procedures in the new EU and felt that there was now a higher possibility for nations – using Germany as an example which had disputed territory with the Czech Republic after WW2– could essentially reclaim territory through a democratic process.
It is topics like these that make learning about the EU so interesting and unlike any other political institution in the world, and also what makes taking the class while in Europe surrounded by so many different foreign students from other nations in heated discussion such a great opportunity and learning experience.