Following the unfortunate surge of the global Covid-19 pandemic, the Munich European Forum e.V. decided to cancel the Spring 2020 Brussels European Forum. However, in an effort to maximize the resources and motivation of the MEF council, members of the MEF devised a strategy to host an adapted event that rivaled the quality of the residential Brussels European Forum.
The result was the Virtual European Forum 2020 – a month-long experiential online simulation conference. Throughout four consecutive weekends, 13 participants from 8 different countries took on roles within either the NATO Summit or Activist Group, preparing position papers and negotiation strategies while learning how to collaborate both virtually and cross-culturally. In the first three weeks, participants took part in discussions with experts in various fields, with the fourth weekend peaking in a two-day negotiation session within the simulated committees.
In order to prepare the participants properly for the negotiation weekend, the MEF team created relevant assignments for participants and invited several highly ranked and experienced professionals to speak to the participants about their fields. The invited speakers included:
- Lieutenant General Scott A. Kindsvater, Deputy Chairman of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Military Committee, held a briefing on NATO and an extensive Q&A session
- Bruce Hough, member of the MEF’s Academic Council, lead the insightful discussion on negotiation strategy in business and politics
- Marie Wilson, expert on human rights’ activism, held an insightful talk on activism strategies and how to influence policy
- Ionut Sutea, expert on open-source intelligence gathering, held an interesting presentation on intelligence gathering strategies
- Kenneth Wallace, member of MEF’s Academic Council, brought in his expertise on the rules of procedure that he personally helped design
- Jeremie Joubert, member of MEF’s Academic Council, shared his expertise in types of negotiation and his support during the preparatory phase of the VEF
All of these speakers enriched the preparation phase and helped the participants to broaden their understanding of the VEF topics and agenda. Both committees were able to ask personal and professional questions as well as inquiries related to their committees’ objectives. Speaking of which, both committees reported insightful feedback and great successes following the speaking engagements.
The NATO Summit’s agenda included classic topics like the adaption of organization to cyber and hybrid threats and cooperation with China and Russia. The participants discussed these topics in formal negotiation sessions following the rules of procedure – abiding by a speakers’ list, bringing in formal motions and using established vocabulary. Nonetheless, the committee sessions were filled with laughter and the stiff framework did not stop the members from forming lasting relationships and sharing funny moments.
All participants were willing to hear out the Activists’ recommendations and included them in their resolutions and final communiqué. The chairs summed up their participants’ performance as followed:
“The participants and chairs fostered an atmosphere during the program of utmost professionalism. The delegates were able to lead fruitful debates and find comprehensive solutions to each agenda topic.”
The Activist Group members were free to decide on their pseudonym and objective, many of whom chose ambitious human rights advocates. As the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility. The activists took their roles very seriously and were able to find an advocacy group focused on cyber education and equality. Through personal (virtual) contact with selected NATO members as well as short blog posts they were able to influence the decision-making progress and outcome of the resolutions.
Just like the chairs of the NATO Summit, the Activist Group’s chairs were very content with their team’s performance:
“During the four weeks of the conference the Activist Group became a cohesive unit, able to advocate for their cause, report on breaking news, pursue sources of information and act ethically. They also grew comfortable with the act of confronting member of other committees, hold them to account and press them on important issues.”
In conclusion, the Virtual European Forum 2020 was an immensely successful pilot project that emerged from a place of uncertainty and will continue to be part of the Munich European Forum’s event schedule. Stay tuned for the VEF 2021 and become part of the experience!