by Paul Christianson
José Manuel Barroso, the current President of the European Commission, described the European Union in 2007 as, “a very special construction unique in the history of mankind ... Sometimes I like to compare the EU as a creation to the organization of empire. We have the dimension of empire…What we have is the first non-imperial empire. We have 27 countries that fully decided to work together and to pool their sovereignty. I believe it is a great construction and we should be proud of it.” The EU is an increasingly important and influential set of institutions that more and more represents a full-fledged government. Its combined members boasted the largest GDP in the world in 2012, and this growing influence makes understanding how this quasi-government functions more and more imperative.
The Model European Union registered student organization (RSO) at the University of Illinois represents an opportunity for students to learn more about the EU and how decisions are made beyond the classroom while travelling, practicing public speaking, and developing other skills. A relatively new RSO on campus, we travel to conferences around the US hosted by other universities, recently participating in our inaugural conference at the University of Pittsburgh from February 15-16. New members of all majors, backgrounds, and interests are always welcome; in fact most of the group that travelled to Pittsburgh had no experience in these types of conferences prior to the event. Outside of conference activities we usually have the chance to tour the host city and socialize with each other and students from the other universities attending the conference. We are currently prepping for our next conference, April 11-12 in St. Louis. Conferences can feature the simulation of any number of EU institutions, and Pittsburgh featured the simulation of a European Council summit. Each EU country was represented at the conference, of which Illinois participated as four: Austria, Cyprus, Ireland, and Malta. The Austrian delegation consisted of junior Pathik Patel and myself; senior Samantha Taylor and sophomore Noe Navar attended as Cyprus; senior Connor Christensen and junior Michael Normoyle represented the Irish presidency; and junior Nicacio Corral and sophomore Sarah Bahn played the part of the Maltese delegation.
The purpose of these simulations is for each delegation to accurately portray its country’s position regarding a particular issue. The conferences provide an opportunity to learn about European countries and gain practice in public speaking. Students do light research on their country’s position prior to the conference. The Pittsburgh agenda consisted of three items: the Arab Spring, the Roma controversy, and the democratic deficit in the EU.
The conference began with each country introducing its position on Friday night, and deliberations commenced Saturday morning and afternoon. The Council spent most of its time discussing the Arab Spring and after a few hours was able to pass a resolution giving the European External Action Service the task of recommending changes and incentives for European Aid to these countries based on democratizing progress, but French concerns over its national security prevented much progress from being made in other areas.
The conference ended Saturday afternoon with the presentation of awards. Countries are judged based on several criteria, including knowledge of country and topics, speaking ability and use of diplomatic language, and ability to pass resolutions, negotiate, and caucus in an effective way. One of Illinois’ own delegations, Austria, won an honorable mention for best delegation from a small country, and all of our delegations performed strongly in the club’s first official conference. After the conference the entire group got to tour and experience Pittsburgh with other students from the area. Michael Normoyle, who was new to conferences, described it as, “An amazing experience to travel across the country with people from different backgrounds who have numerous similar interests and hobbies only to meet even more people from different backgrounds who have numerous similar interests and hobbies. The whole experience helped me learn how to properly research topics, debate, and public speak comfortably and confidently. Opportunities like these come far and few between. EUC is a genuinely fun and eventful group to be a part of.”
Paul Christianson is an undergraduate senior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign majoring in Political Science and History, with a focus on international relations for both. He spent much of 2012 studying international organizations and diplomacy in Vienna before experiencing firsthand the European Union in the University of Washington’s Summer EU Studies Program. After returning the Urbana-Champaign in August, he felt the inspiration to form a Model EU organization at the University of Illinois. The organization meets weekly on Wednesdays and can be contacted through its email address at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tuesday, March 5, 2013
by Paul Christianson