This is the last week of the Winter Quarter at the University of Washington, and I can’t believe that I have completed almost half of my fellowship here already!
The highlight of last week was the completion of the “Task Force” that I was involved with, together with Professor Sabine Lang and 17 senior undergraduate students from the Jackson School of International Studies. The students had less than ten weeks to produce a hefty 300 page report with policy recommendations on their chosen topic – “Empowering European Citizens”. They presented the report on Friday 15 March to their evaluator, Connie Reuter (Secretary General of Solidar and President of the EU’s Platform of Social NGOs).
This was a challenging (and sometimes stressful …) exercise in collaboration, teamwork and getting to grips with complex issues in a short timeframe. It obliged the students to apply their academic learning to real-world issues, and to try to put themselves in the shoes of policy-makers. These are all useful skills that will hopefully serve this group of bright and enthusiastic young people well, whatever they go on to do in their professional lives.
I also got a lot out of the experience. The Task Force touched on many of the issues that I plan to focus on with my students during the Spring Quarter. Does the EU suffer from a democratic deficit? Is there such a thing as a European Public Sphere? How are regional, national and European identities developing? What role can digital media play in (re)connecting people with the European project?
It was a great pleasure to work with Professor Sabine Lang. I admired her balanced pedagogical approach, providing guidance where necessary but also allowing students the space to think for themselves and develop their own ideas. Sabine’s new book “NGOs, Civil Society and the Public Sphere” is definitely part of my personal reading list for the next couple of weeks!
I was also very happy to see Connie Reuter for the first time in more than fifteen years. Connie represented the French youth organizations in the early 1990s when I worked for the European Youth Forum. We both found it amusing that we had to come to Seattle to bump into each other again! (More proof of the small world theory?)
Connie and I also both remembered being inspired by François Mitterand’s speech at the European Youth Forum’s General Assembly in his last months as French President in 1995. He spoke about the historic achievements of European integration, but also stressed that a new generation of young leaders should take responsibility for building on that heritage and guiding the European project in the face of new challenges. Those sentiments seem equally relevant today.