CEPI Fellows Gather in Brussels

BRUSSELS (September 7, 2014) – Senior US and EU legislative staff members convened in Europe’s capital for the final leg of the 2014 Congressional European Parliament Initiative (CEPI) to cement closer links between their legislatures while exploring EU activities in international trade and e-governance.

The CEPI delegation, comprising ten fellows from the US Congress and ten from the European Parliament, met with politicians, non-profit organizations, international institutions, the diplomatic community and other stakeholders to gain a better understanding of how EU policy initiatives are developed and implemented. These meetings involved more than just listening exercises. Exchanging experiences and ideas on issues common to staffers on both sides of the Atlantic was prevalent in every engagement.

The seminars, held in Brussels on September 2-6, commenced with an address by Marietje Schaake, member of the European Parliament (MEP), who highlighted the importance of the trans-Atlantic bond, particularly in the context of economic crises and Russian incursions in Ukraine. Ms Schaake, who was once a policy fellow in the office of former US Congressman Tom Lantos, serves as an example of the benefits that emanate from trans-Atlantic partnerships. Following the opening reception, Financial Times Brussels Bureau Chief Peter Spiegel and MEP Alexander Graf Lambsdorff delivered a joint keynote address on the state of European political and economic affairs. Their remarks underscored the immense challenges that lay ahead for governments on both sides of the Atlantic and set the scene for the discussions the fellows would have throughout the week.

The CEPI group followed two programs tailored to the staffers’ policy expertise. Trade fellows focused their attention on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), while e-governance fellows devoted their time to the ongoing debate in Europe about data protection, privacy, disclosure of threats, and the impact of the NSA scandal on US-EU cooperation in the cyber-sphere.

The trade delegation’s meetings on TTIP covered the full spectrum of views on this potential agreement. Staffers spoke with the key stakeholders ― including representatives from the Directorate General for Trade, labor unions, the Green Party and the office of the US Trade Representative ― who will ultimately determine TTIP’s viability. The e-governance fellows had an equally diverse schedule. Fellows were briefed on the challenges that the private sector faces in navigating the legislative landscape while protecting customer data. The cyber division of the European External Action Service highlighted the complexity of coordinating cyber policy across all 28 EU member states. Cyber fellows were also given a taste of the legislative process in Europe as they attended a hearing during which the European commissioner for home affairs delivered testimony before a parliamentary committee that touched on data-protection and privacy issues.

This year marked the fifth anniversary of the CEPI program which has now fostered close political and personal ties among more than 100 staff members in Europe and the US. A new delegation will be selected early next year, and the program will commence again in May 2015.