Czech President Signs Lisbon Treaty

Vaclav Klaus

Photo taken by Agence French Presse

Czech President Vaclav Klaus made headlines today when he signed the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty. The Czech Constitutional court ruled earlier that the treaty did not conflict with the Czech’s constitution. The Czech Republic made headlines last year when their government fell while the Czech Republic held the rotating EU Presidency.

Europeans negotiated the Lisbon Treaty for almost a decade.

The Czech Republic is the last country to ratify the Lisbon Treaty. The Irish and Czech had EU officials sweating all last year when they failed to approve the treaty.

Many countries requested opt-outs over social issues such as gay marriage and abortion. Britain won assurances that EU law would not prevail over its own legal system.

President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso welcomed the evening’s decision, comparing the Lisbon Treaty’s journey to a marathon.

“I would like to congratulate the Swedish Presidency on a job well done. It has been hard work getting everyone to agree, but tonight we have cleared the last political hurdle. This is a very important agreement”, said Mr Barroso.

So what does all this talk about Lisbon mean for Americans?

The Lisbon Treaty aims to give the EU more foreign policy force. Europeans will be able to speak with one voice–even if not everyone likes it. The treaty will replace the EU Constitution and aims to streamline the workings of the complicated EU. In addition, the EU will be able to approve more decisions by majority vote rather than unanimity.

According to writer Soeren Kern in an article written on October 16 in World Politics Review, “In the United States, there are currently two main schools of thought vis-à-vis the Lisbon Treaty. On the one hand, there are many analysts on both sides of the political spectrum who believe that European unity is a generally positive development for the United States. This view is based, among other things, on the idea that in a globalized world, the United States needs a strong partner in Europe in order to effectively tackle global problems such as climate change, terrorism or organized crime.”

On the other hand Kern also writes that some American analysts are hostile to further European unification, largely because they suspect that the main motivation behind the Lisbon Treaty is an attempt to “counterbalance” the United States. They say that a more powerful EU is not in the U.S. interest because its main raison d’être will be to limit America’s freedom for global action, especially in the military realm.

So will Lisbon strengthen transatlantic ties? Will it make Europeans a stronger American partner from across the Atlantic?

Ultimately, Lisbon is likely to be good for trade. It may increase our trade partnerships with Europe because American companies could get products approved through a single entry-point rather than through all 27 countries. This has already happened in some cases, but not for critical products like pharmaceuticals.

Europe is already a critical partner for the fight against terrorism and global warming. We need Europe and Europe needs us even if we tend to fight the partnership. The Lisbon Treaty marks the beginning of an exciting time in transatlantic relations.

If you’d like more background on the Lisbon Treaty, the BBC has a great overview here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/6901353.stm

Coming up: On Friday, November 6, US Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano will meet the Parliament’s US delegation and the Civil Liberties Committee, followed by a press conference.

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The Art of Belgian Beer

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Given the title of my blog, I think I am long overdue for a posting about one of my favorite Belgian things: beer.  I love that chocolate, cheese, beer, and wine are an art in French/Belgian culture.

The presentation and service are often just as important as the beer itself.  Each beer in Belgium comes served in a glass unique to that beer.  It is sacrilege for the Belgian’s to drink beer out of the wrong glass. The streets of Brussels are lined with cozy cafes and bars filled with hundreds of varieties of beer.  The Belgians love to lounge for long hours sipping on beer and chatting the day away.

One of my favorite Belgian beers is Tripel Karmeliet. Tripel Karmeliet is still brewed using the same recipe from 1679 developed in a former Carmelite monastery.  It is made with three kinds of grain: wheat, barley, and oats.  The beer has hints of vanilla and citrus.  Try it if you ever get the chance!

My other favorite beer is a classic Trappist monk beer called Westmalle Tripel. Westmalle Tripel is a clear, golden yellow Trappist beer that undergoes a secondary fermentation in the bottle (9,5% alcohol). It is a complex beer with a fruity aroma and a  hop scent. This beer is much newer and only dates back to 1934 when the new Trappist brewing hall came into use.  This beer also has a light touch of vanilla.  I guess I like those vanilla beers!

My favorite bars in Brussels are Brasserie De L’Union in St. Gilles and Bar Des Halles in the trendy Saint Gery district of Brussels.

If you ever have a chance to sample a Belgian beer I highly recommend it.

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The Long Road to Doha

Pascal Lamy, Head of the WTO

Pascal Lamy, Head of the WTO

I first learned about the Doha Development Round  for the World Trade Organization when I was studying abroad at the Danish School of Journalism in Denmark.   The round began in 2001 with a meeting in Doha, Qatar. The Doha trade agreements aim to lower agricultural subsidies in developed countries.  Many developing countries view these subsidies as trade barriers.  The major developing countries in Doha are India, Brazil, China, and South Africa.

According to WTO reports the U.S. and the EU each contributed a little more than a third of the total subsidies in 2001.  Most recently, Doha negotiations broke down in July of 2008 because the U.S., China, and India could not agree on agriculture import laws.

If passed, Doha would revolutionize world trade.  It would open up developing markets even more, allow great use of patented medicines by the developing world, and increase our dependence on developing countries.  For example, we could import sugar for ethanol from South America instead of using corn made in Illinois.  Of course, farmers in states like Illinois do not like Doha.

Right now, the U.S. imposes heavy taxes on sugar imports to make sure that we protect those farmers in Illinois and the Midwest.

It was fascinating to attend the World Trade Committee steering group overseas.  Many people are either pro or anti-Doha.  Many socialists and human rights activists say Doha will ruin the culture of developing countries by putting Wal-Mart in tiny rural African villages.  They say Doha will replace African markets with Target.  Pro-Doha activists say that Doha will increase the wealth and prosperity of the developing world.  It will increase job opportunity and improve health for children around the world.

Most recently, G20 leaders pledged to complete the Doha Development Round.

What do you think?

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A few photos of the European Union Parliament Buildings

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A Little EU background to kick it all off…

The European Union was originally a coal and steel partnership designed to enhance trade after WWII.  Today, more than 27 nations make up the EU, and each document (and most meetings)  are translated into 23 official languages.  Whew!  That makes for a LOT of translators. In fact, the European Union is the largest employer of translators in the world!!

Three main institutions make up the European Union: The Parliament, the Council, and the Commission.  (More about that later…)

I worked for the parliament, the only directly elected body of the European Union.  Each country elects a number of representatives proportional to the population of the nation.  (Sort of like our House of Representatives)

This means that tiny countries like Slovakia and Slovenia are not quite the powerhouses that Germany, France, Italy and the United Kingdom are when it comes to voting.

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are aligned by party, and not by country.  However, sometimes an MEP will break party lines to vote for something that is a country line.

The largest parties of the European Union are the European People’s Party, the Socialists, and the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats.

The EU has three main jurisdictions: Brussels, Luxembourg, and Strasbourg.  This makes for a very complicated and expensive track from Brussels to Strasbourg once per month!!

That’s all for now…watch for pictures of the parliament buildings in the future.

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