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The General Affairs Council is one of the oldest configurations of the Council. Since June 2002, as the General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC), it holds separate meetings on General Affairs and on External Relations respectively. It meets once a month. Meetings bring together the Foreign Ministers of Member States. Ministers responsible for European Affairs, Defense, Development or Trade also participate, depending on the items on agenda. Several changes took place at the GAERC, following the Lisbon Treaty, including the establishment of a President of the European Council.
At its sessions on General Affairs, the Council deals with dossiers that affect more than one of the Union’s policies, such as negotiations on EU enlargement, preparation of the Union’s multi–annual budgetary perspective or institutional and administrative issues. It coordinates preparation for and follow-up to meetings of the European Council. It also exercises a role in coordinating work on different policy areas carried out by the Council’s other configurations, and handles any dossier entrusted to it by the European Council.
At its sessions on External Relations, the Council deals with the whole of the Union’s external action, including common foreign and security policy, European security and defense policy, foreign trade and development cooperation. A priority in recent years for the Council, in cooperation with the Commission, has been to ensure coherence in the EU’s external action across the range of instruments at the Union’s disposal.
The rationale underlying the simulation was to allow students to experience, practice and experiment in an interactive way the proceedings, negotiations, policymaking methods and content of the Council of Ministers of the EU, as well as the pitfalls and prospects of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). By applying the concept of a scientific laboratory, the simulation engaged the students in the capacity of Foreign Ministers participating in a meeting of the GAERC. Each participating student researched the GAERC, the CFSP, the specific country it represented, as well as the agenda. Participants then took on the role of Ministers and diplomats and jointly explored international, bilateral and regional issues, debated, deliberated, consulted, and then developed solutions to the issues at stake. During the simulation, students employed a variety of communications and critical thinking skills to defend and advance the policies of their respective country.
Participants and organization:
The simulation was held at the Maiersdorf Club in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. It was organized as a one-day simulation by Lior Herman from the Hebrew University. Two preparatory meetings were held with the Israeli students prior to the simulation, and included introduction to the GAERC, negotiations skills, resolution-writing and rules of procedure. The students participating in the simulation had initially submitted a 2–3 pages outline of their respective simulated countries’ positions with regard to the proposed agenda.
Three guest-experts participated in the simulation: Louis Bernard (France), Harald Wilkoszewski (Germany) and Christine Polsfuss (Germany). Each of the guest-experts, including the Chair has 10 years’ professional experience in simulations. The guest-experts contributed significantly to the success of the simulation, made it real and shared their professional and academic experience. Students noted that guest-experts’ participation had a very positive impact on the success of the simulation.
The roles simulated included all 27 member states, as well as the High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy.
The simulation was launched with greetings by Ms. Catherine Hirschwitz from the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, and Lior Herman on behalf of the European Forum.
Although, officially taking place on December 9th, the simulation began a week and half earlier, when all participants received a preliminary agenda from the Council Secretariat. The agenda included several scenarios, which consisted of major international developments to which the EU is expected to respond to. While these events were counterfactuals, they were highly consisted with current issues facing EU foreign policy-making. The usage of counterfactuals was methodologically done in order to force participants to adapt their positions (to which they were learning and preparing) to developments and constraints as if in “real-time” diplomacy and to make them think how their country will respond in such a situation.
In the period until the simulation began, students extensively interacted with each other via emails (through a special system designed for the simulation) already negotiating prior to the GAERC simulated meeting. Several hundred emails were sent bilaterally or multilaterally between students, including proposals, coordinating positions, statements, drafting and declarations of common positions. Students were very effective in negotiating and forming coalitions and alliances.
The scenario consisted of two issues, dealing with different geographical regions, while all relating to the issue of common foreign and security policy. Although all these issues had differential importance to the EU and its Member States, they were also closely related to current developments. These issues were: (1) Response to what was seemingly an internal Turkish affair between the political apparatus and the army. This was strongly tied with review of Turkish EU accession; (2) Clash and escalation in the Arctic Region, including sovereignty claims, economic disputes and the Northern Passage.
The Preliminary Agenda included the two scenario items, defined broadly, so as to allow each participant to develop appropriate positions. Other items on the agenda were proposed by participants themselves.
The simulation itself was opened with a round of official statements from all participants, revealing partially or wholly their true interests. Later and following an “agenda-setting” process, the participants negotiated the adjustment of the agenda according to their interests and began with deliberations and negotiations, in line with the specific Rules of Procedure that governs Council meetings. Negotiations were conducted in three manners. The first manner which was used was official debate, according to a speakers’ list and other formalities. The second manner, which was mainly used toward consensus-reaching, was informal debate, which allowed more flexibility and less formality at the negotiation table. The third manner of conduct took the form of informal caucusing, whereby participants left the negotiations table to informally and intimately discuss the debated issues, form coalitions, draft and crystallise proposals and break ice.
At the end of the day, participants managed to reach a common position regarding Turkey and its accession process. Nevertheless, the inter-linkages with other agenda items and diversity of positions prevented them from completing the agenda they set and an informal understanding was adopted concerning the Arctic Region. As a written outcome, a declaration was adopted based on negotiation of several proposals by groups of Member States.
The simulation was concluded with a “reality-check” session of discussion between all the participants. The guest-experts and chair reviewed and noted participants’ performance and discussed by what means the negotiated issues and the deliberations were in accordance with the actual real conduct in the Council of Ministers. The discussion also highlighted negotiation skills acquired during the simulation.
The simulation was highly successful in meeting its goals, as described above. Students’ performance was based on thorough prior-learning and participants’ performance was exceptionally well and inclusive. Participants in the simulations have submitted a 2–3 pages report on their experience from the simulation and its outcomes. Students’ feedback to the simulation and its results were very positive and many of them noted that they have learned in two weeks, as much as they would have in a yearly course.