Michael Fürmann and Laura Winninger are exchange students from the University of Vienna. Pursuing a law degree at their home university, they currently benefit from an exchange with the Master of European Affairs Program at Sciences Po Paris
« Can’t we simply call it an instrument? »
After three hours of intense negotiations, the representatives from three different universities are in the middle of a heated debate. Should the new measures and competences in the sensitive field of taxation become part of a DG and thus the Commission? Or should they be decentralised in an agency? Is there maybe a middle way, which would allow for a more balanced solution?
This year the course « Rebuilding Europe », held at three different campuses, charged more than 50 students of Sciences Po Paris, the University of Gothenburg and the Charles University with the difficult task to find a solution for the so-called Greek crisis. For over 8 weeks, the students met over and over again in changing line-ups ranging from small working groups to big plenaries. In a first step, they were asked to find a common position at their respective universities. In a final session held online, the representatives of each university discussed and drafted a common final proposition.
« What is Paris’ stance on this? »
With currently 28 member states coordinating vast parts of their policies, negotiation skills are part of the fundamental tools, which are necessary for everybody interested in working on European issues. Whether one wants to analyse the political process on the European level or to prepare for a career within the institutions: gaining personal experience is key to better understand the functioning of the Union’s complex political clockwork.
The course “Rebuilding Europe” gave the students the chance to experience different aspects of group dynamics in different negotiation settings: Whilst working in small groups in the beginning allowed for relatively open and extensive discussions, the plenary sessions at a later stage of the course forced each and everybody to be more concise and result-orientated. Finally, the cross-campus negotiations enabled the students involved to experience negotiations under the constraints of a limited mandate.
In doing so, the representatives were caught between two chairs: Firstly, their task was to increase the leeway granted by their mandate; secondly, they were to convince the other representatives of their group’s position. Balancing these two factors determined the overall satisfaction with the final product.
« Do you think that’s possible? »
A particular challenge was the relative openness and liberty of the result as far as both the content as well as the form were concerned. Since the final position paper was supposed to be adopted by a constituent assembly, the students were not bound either by the treaties, nor political majorities. Consequently, almost everything was open for discussion.
The approaches of the three different campuses were thus very different: While the first one tried to cover as many aspects as possible, the second one focused on a few areas, and the third one introduced a detailed concept in one single field of action. These different points of departure allowed for a complete final position paper, which proposes concrete and detailed measures, while at the same time taking into account the broad picture.
During the negotiation, it also turned out to be very important to be prepared on every single aspect of the negotiation, and have ready-made substantial concepts: Under time pressure, some measures proposed were adopted rather fast, simply because there was no other concept for this particular field of action. At the same time, vague measures were taken out quickly since there was no time to develop a more concrete plan of action.
« Shall we have a vote on this? »
It is worth noting that an integral part of the training provided by this course was the necessity to discuss and to agree on a procedure. Who speaks when and about what? How shall decisions be taken?
The lack of concrete rules allowed for two effects: In the beginning, the flexibility fostered fast progress by limiting procedural necessities to a minimum. Common positions were found and adopted quite easily – these decisions did not even require a formal vote.
Yet, as soon as there were substantial disagreements, there were no stand-by tools, no foreseen procedures to find a solution. This was when we had to change the strategy and developed our own tools to find a common position supported by the majority, namely by voting and regrouping the issues and questions at hand.
“So what’s the result?”
The final position paper comprises EU level proposals as well as recommendations for actions to be taken on the Greek level. It combines short-term objectives, such as debt restructuring, with long-term measures, such as changes in the educational and tax system.
To finally answer the initial question: Yes, we called it an instrument. Yet, no, this was anything but simple. If you want to learn more about what it includes and what else we jointly propose to solve the Greek crisis, just click here.