Simulating the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council, Part 2

Today we have the second of two posts from Nicholas Wright, of the political science department at University College London. He can be reached at nicholas [dot] wright [at] ucl [dot] ac [dot] uk.

Some key insights from the simulation:

  • Talking to colleagues matters. While all students produced negotiation briefs, very few used their briefs as a basis for preliminary discussions with colleagues. Some did seek to build alliances with like-minded partners, but few outside the formal leadership group of HR/VP, Presidency and institutions attempted to build bridges to those they thought would have opposing positions. All recognised the importance of knowing what their partners wanted, but not all acted on it. Those that did felt better prepared for the meeting.
  • Respond to the draft agenda. Several students felt that the agenda did not sufficiently reflect the issues. However, even though it was circulated well in advance, none of the member states engaged directly with the HR/VP to discuss whether it could be amended, even though it was deliberately anodyne to enable flexibility.
  • Time flies. Everyone felt the pressure of time, especially in the second hour. They all thought they had more time for discussion than they did and did not consider time allocated for the debrief. Despite the Chair encouraging them to move as swiftly as possible to the second question, it was neglected.
  • Being heard matters . . . but so does taking part. With any group of students there will be those who are more forthright and vocal, so part of the challenge is to encourage everyone to participate as fully as possible. Ultimately, the time is theirs and this year everyone made at least some contribution. France, Germany and Hungary were all quite active, while Ireland less so. The UK representative struggled to get the attention of the chair, partly because of the table layout, but also because she felt constrained by the impact of Brexit—thereby, wittingly or not, reflecting the reality of these meetings since 2016!

I drew three lessons from the simulation that I can apply to the future:

  • Picking a good leadership group matters. This is quite a challenge as roles are assigned early in the term and it is not always clear at that stage who will have the requisite skills to manage the meeting. But this year, I feel my choice was vindicated – the HR/VP was effective and was ably supported by the EEAS and Commission.
  • Time management is crucial. This year I deliberately reduced the number of questions to two to allow even more time for discussion and negotiation, but did not anticipate that the discussions would become so dominated by the first question. Next year I will reduce the initial tour de table from 3 to 2 minutes and in the pre-briefing with the HR/VP really emphasise the need to be strict on time. We’ll see if that makes a difference.
  • Build on the negotiation component of the module. There is an opportunity to include more training in negotiation prior to the simulation. Adding a short exercise in preceding weeks that deals with specific negotiating scenarios would improve the practical aspects of the module and probably the simulation itself.

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