The European Union has expanded its role on the world stage in recent months, according to speakers at a panel discussion last night.
One professor and two E.U. officials discussed various aspects of the organization in a panel on “The European Union: Sharing Responsibility for a Secure World,” which was sponsored by the Yale International Relations Association, before an audience of 40 students.
The three speakers — Fernando M. Valenzuela, the E.U. ambassador to the United Nations, David Cameron, director of undergraduate studies in the political science department, and Stefaan De Rynck, spokesman for the European Commission of the European Union — rarely clashed when discussing U.N. reform, the E.U. constitution and the E.U.’s military significance, although they came from very different backgrounds with regard to the institution.
Valenzuela began by emphasizing the E.U.’s efforts to reform the United Nation’s managerial system and their support of the U.N.’s role as the “nucleus” of international relations.
“We expect others, such as the United States, to commit themselves as well,” Valenzuela said. “The challenge of reforming the U.N. is that it needs to be really inclusive and transparent … otherwise, it will be universal in name, but not in reality.”
Cameron, director of the Yale Program on European Union Studies, echoed Valenzuela’s belief in the E.U.’s potential.
He was quick to point out general American misgivings with the E.U., but he then proceeded to debunk them with his observations of the E.U.’s recent strides in military capacity and overall mobility.
“There has been a dramatic development of institutional resources and capacity for action within the E.U.,” Cameron said. “The story that’s unfolding and the one that Americans will come to see is that there’s been significant development.”
De Rynck, who is a Yale World Fellow, added an internal affairs perspective to the discussion, commenting on the E.U.’s efforts to promote global security with its “European Neighborhood Policy.” Through this policy, De Rynck said, the E.U. has sought to promote security in regions surrounding Europe by providing these countries with limited access to E.U. markets in exchange for leverage in political reform.
“It’s rather a new policy, and it’s important not just for the regional stability, but for global stability, as some of these surrounding countries are issues of worldwide security,” De Rynck said.
Throughout the panel, those same issues weaved in and out of the discussion, while students’ queries brought attention to other topics such as Cyprus, European public opinion of the E.U. and the impact of the new Democratic Congress.
Michal Benedykcinski ’09, chairman of the YIRA Speakers Committee, said the group plans to host a series of lectures focusing on Europe for the duration of the school year in order to inform a campus that he thinks currently lacks knowledge and interest about the continent.
“Being European myself, I feel there is not much dialogue happening on campus on European issues at large and about the European Union as a regional institution,” he said.
But Cameron disagreed, saying that student enthusiasm for the European Union and European studies was not lacking. But he did allude to general disinterest in European affairs, stemming from the popularity of studying other regions.
“I think Americans in general are focused much more these days on India and China, especially,” Cameron said. “It’s interesting to see how many students, when asked who America’s most important trading partner is, won’t say ‘Canada.’ ”
YIRA member Anne Xu ’09 said she would like to see new discussion formats featuring more debate if the audiences for YIRA’s events grow.
“I didn’t see enough undergraduates,” Xu said. “I think the format lends itself to interested students coming in and asking questions, but as we get more interest, I think we should have presentations that involve more debate, as well as the U.S. institutional perspective and different areas.”
Xu and Benedykcinski said the best part of the panel discussion was the experience of hearing from diverse perspectives on the E.U.
De Rynck said he learned from the discussion, too.
“It’s always interesting to hear questions, just to see how people perceive the E.U. and topics related to foreign policy and enlargement in the way they frame their questions,” De Rynck said. “Sometimes you risk losing that perspective when you’re too close to working with the E.U., when you’re too embedded.”