It was a grey Saturday in late February on the UW campus, and ordinarily Mary Gates Hall would have been as silent, and about as sparsely populated, as the average tomb. But the West Coast Model EU Summit – project learning at perhaps its most innovative – was happening inside, and the stately building was bursting with more than sixty of the youngest aspiring diplomats one might hope to see.
The EUCE, or European Union Center for Excellence, is a select grouping of ten U.S. universities that are leading the way in teaching and researching the European Union. The University of Washington numbers among the members of this consortium and hosts a EUCE under the auspices of the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies. One of the flagship programs of the center is the West Coast Model EU, in which students from universities from across the western U.S. and Canada gather to play the roles of EU member state delegation teams, European Central Bank, the European Commission, and the European Parliament.
The Flip the Media editorial team had been apprised of this event through an encounter with Tony Lockett, Deputy Head of Unit – Communication (Regional Policy DG) at the European Commission and visiting EU Fellow at the Jackson School, at this year’s in-nw conference. Lockett is a passionate advocate of social media in diplomacy, and his blog is a trove of information about social media topics in the world of international diplomacy.
For all that, though, during his address to students Lockett stressed that diplomacy comes down to people skills. “Negotiations are human interactions,” he said. Despite its usefulness in facilitating background discussion, social media has its limits in real time diplomacy because of logistical issues. “Imagine how much more difficult if would have been if you’d been speaking 23 different languages through interpreters,” Lockett told the students, adding that “There would be about 1500 journalists waiting and you’d have to summarize for them, then at home summarize and justify actions to your parliament, your party, and your country.” (File this under “Apps we’d love to see!”)
The student delegates, in formal business attire, won praise from Lockett for their obvious preparation and ability to embrace their assigned roles. “You all really got into your roles, playing the parts of ministers and heads of state,” he told them.
Many of these students hope to go on to careers in diplomatic service. Mark Winters, a political science major with a focus on international affairs, attends Western Washington University. Winters has attended several EU conferences as part of his preparation for his dream job, working for the Foreign Service under the aegis of the State Department. Representing Slovenia as Minister of the Interior, he and his team partner had spent many hours researching the positions of the countries they represented at the conference. “We learned a lot here this weekend,” he said. “This is a very realistic experience.”
Peter Kerstens, Economics and Finance Counselor at the Delegation of the European Commission to the USA and the keynote speaker, echoed Lockett’s praise in his concluding remarks on Sunday afternoon. “You were all very engaged and presented your positions very well,” he noted, adding “I think you’ll come to see this experience as very enriching.” He recalled one of his colleagues from when he’d participated in a model EU summit as a student. “He didn’t do that well, so take heart if it didn’t work as you’d hoped,” he reassured the students. Now what was that unfortunate student’s name? Oh yes – “-it was Nick Clegg,” confided Kerstens.
Perhaps if Mr. Clegg had been able to avail himself of social media…