BSoG professor coordinates Team Belgium at Council simulation exercise

On 12 September 2022, the Flemish Interuniversity Council (VLIR) was invited to be part of a European Council simulation for students, called ConSIMium. This simulation was launched by the General Secretariat of the Council (GSC), serving both the Council of the EU and the European Council, and took place in Brussels on 2-3 February 2023. The objective was to build partnerships and engagements with key audiences in order to contribute to building a European civic space and to help Europeans understand the political processes within the EU. Students were to simulate the work of the Council of the EU and the European Council on the one hand, and to interact with EU officials, allowing them to learn about career pathways available in the institutions.

The participating students representing Team Belgium were selected nationwide and were coached by professor and former Director of the Brussels School of Governance's LLM programme Servaas van Thiel. Professor van Thiel has worked for the EU Delegations in Vienna and Geneva, the EU Council of Ministers, the European Court of Justice, the IBFD and the UN Economic Commission for Africa, and has also been a judge at the Dutch Regional Court of Appeal. His role was to coach the national team, to liaise with the GSC, provide ad-hoc training to the participants and to accompany them to Brussels during their simulation. The students of Team Belgium came from several Belgian universities: two national experts, Anouk Verhaege (KUL, International Politics) and Mira Jablonska (Uhasselt, International Law), one Permanent Representative (Ambassador) Paula Notivoli Cabezas (ULB, European Studies), one Minister for EU Affairs Paula Verschaeve (Ugent, European Studies), one Prime Minister Ines Tourdot (UCL, European Studies), one Journalist Luisa Gambaro (ULB, European Studies). Team Belgium was assisted by team facilitator Charlotte Marie Dooms (Brussels School of Governance, Marketing & Communications Team). 

To get to know each other and leaf through the extensive texts our national team received from the Council, Team Belgium kicked off its first virtual meeting on 15 December. In total the team would have 13 hours of meetings and many more hours studying the presidency handbook at home, all during their exam period. The students very actively prepared for their respective roles, both as regards the substance of the files, the possible national positions (preferred, compromise and red line positions) and the necessary practical skills (public speaking and negotiating in an international setting). During the simulation exercise, our Team was challenged to come up with policy strategies to meet the objective of a climate-neutral EU by 2050 in line with the Paris Agreement. As their coach teaches the LLM course “Global Governance and Sustainable Development” at the Brussels School of Governance, this was a huge asset, as the course assesses whether international rules and institutions are capable to address the global challenges identified in the 2030 Agenda, one of them being protecting the environment (Conventions of Climate Change and Biodiversity, MEA and rules on pollution and emissions).

The pilot project of ConSIMium was perceived very positively by all members of the team. Professor van Thiel thanked the European Council for the unforgettable experience saying 'ConSIMium was an exciting and realistic experience and as such a great addition to our learning process. We enjoyed ourselves greatly, both during the preparations and while at the Council premisses. We really hope that this pilot project will be positively appreciated by the Council and that it will become a regular EU decision making simulation, which will serve as a necessary and welcome addition to the other international simulations that are so well known'. Our students called ConSIMium 'a mind-blowing learning experience' (Mira, expert). When I asked them what their most memorable lesson was our professor taught them, they said 'to continously create new connections with other participants and the importance of informal moments' (Luisa, journalist), Mira added they learned 'how to navigate in a diplomatic manner'. To conclude this article, I would like to end with a hopeful message from Anouk (expert): 'I think it is amazing how 27 countries with widely diverse interests can come together and engage in joint decision-making. Though the EU certainly has its flaws, I believe in its power for unity and cooperation. I learned that preparation, cooperation, and coordination make a really great delegation'