Desktop diplomacy

60 European diplomats gathered for the first module of the 21st European Diplomatic Programme (EDP).

60 European diplomats gathered for the first module of the 21st European Diplomatic Programme (EDP)., © AA

03.11.2020 - Article

It is a strange time to be holding an international training session. With Covid-19 not only on their minds but also dominating their day-to-day experiences, 60 European diplomats gathered for the first module of the 21st European Diplomatic Programme (EDP).

And where did they gather? Online, of course. From the very outset, it was a challenge to make the event informative, interactive and captivating despite the digital format. We wanted it to stand out in comparison to the many video conferences all of us have experienced throughout this pandemic. Following the motto of European collaboration, the teams of the Foreign Service Academy and the Global Diplomacy Lab rose to the challenge. “I have to admit that the idea of two days of 8h videocalls had made me a little weary the days before the first module” says Christine, a participant from Germany. “Well, I was quickly disabused of this idea.”

The big questions covered by the training sessions helped to keep everyone focused: What would be a vision for transformative leadership for successful multilateral crisis management? How can we use past conflicts for a stronger future? And what is the EU’s role within the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development? These were the three main ideas that the session chairs, Global Diplomacy Lab members Susanne Salz, Sabrina Schulz, Marina Rudyak, Amarachi A. Igboegwu, Stefan Cibian, Banu Pekol, Julie August and Vesna Teršelič used for their training sessions. As renowned experts in their respective fields, they proved that they indeed succeeded to convey their expertise in a vivid manner. One of the reasons for this was also the diverse formats used during the sessions. Daniel, a member of the Spanish diplomatic service points out: “If I had to highlight one experience from the programme, I would consider the small groups discussions to be the main takeover”. He adds that “the opportunity to discuss in a relaxed and confident way with colleagues from all over the EU was an unmatchable experience.”

At the end of the day, this was desktop diplomacy.
At the end of the day, this was desktop diplomacy.© AA

Not surprisingly, the intimate atmosphere provided room for dissent. The workshop “Transformative leadership for successful crisis management and effective multilateralism” revealed the different views of diplomats from all across the EU. It became a lively debate. Nóra from Hungary remarks in her field report: “I found it interesting how diplomat colleagues view the obstacles of multilateralism” and Silke from Belgium confirms that there was an “engaging group discussion”. More debates were inevitable, especially in the context of the training session “Dealing with past conflicts and ongoing emergencies for a stronger future”. “How to promote democracy when faced with an authoritarian regime?” is hence one of the questions that Daniel from Spain poses. Turning from the past towards the future was therefore the task of the third workshop “The 2030 Agenda and multi-stakeholder partnerships: Europe’s recovery for global sustainable development”. It was Paula Caballero, a Columbian diplomat, who came up with the idea of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and drafted them in 2011. These 17 goals now form the basis of the United Nations Agenda 2030. Kirsti, a diplomat from Estonia, pays tribute to her: “I find it very inspiring how one person can contribute so much to making a change and this also gives me more confidence in myself, my country and the EU as a whole in changing the world for the better”.

One of the highlights of the EDP was definitely personified in Magdalena Wiegner, a young illustrator from Berlin. She accompanied all of the sessions, listening carefully, and recorded the contents in three drawings. These marvellous live graphic recordings are a wonderful tool to help understand the underlying messages that the EDP conveyed: united in diversity, multilateral instead of unilateral and dealing courageously with the past as we move towards a sustainable future. Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas embraced these thoughts in his speech for the opening of the new European Center of Excellence for Civilian Crisis Management to which the participants were invited, another highlight during the programme.

The first module of the EDP has shown that diplomacy and multilateral networking are not paralysed by a pandemic – online events can serve as effective platforms for fruitful debates and outcomes. “The workshops reminded me how often we limit ourselves to a certain set of ideas about the world or our possibilities within it, and highlighted the importance of exchange and creativity while addressing the challenges we are currently facing,” Christine from Germany concludes. People from all over Europe came together, they got to know each other, they got to learn about the topics of the training sessions, and they used this opportunity to chat, to debate, to cross-fertilise and to show their respect for one another. At the end of the day, this was desktop diplomacy.

(By Daniel Jochum)


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