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Brexit: students from l’X simulate the European Council

On January 14th, a group of École Polytechnique students played the roles of Heads of State and Government in order to imagine the extraordinary European Council held on February 18th and 19th, 2016. During this "summit" they discussed about the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union, called Brexit.

They lived their experience from the inside. Thursday, January 14th, 2016 twenty-two students from École Polytechnique entered in the European Union “matrix” aiming to understand the negotiations which will be set at the European Council held on February 18th and 19th, devoted to the issue of the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union, commonly known as Brexit.

This simulation of the European Council was suggested as part of the introductory course to the Challenges of the European Union taught during the second year of the Ingénieur Polytechnicien Program.

Adrian Fauve, Doctor of Political Science associated with the International Research Centre (CERI), and Samuel Faure, PhD candidate at Sciences Po Paris and CERI, both professors associated with École Polytechnique Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, directed the experiment. "The idea is to get students to be involved in their learning," says Adrian Tan, also engineer in the Forccast educational innovation project. To grow into their roles, the students developed their characters for a week before the European Council simulation. "We encouraged them to communicate in an informal way before the simulation during our working sessions, but also via a closed Facebook group and on Twitter, with a dedicated hashtag #BreX2016, says PhD candidate Samuel Faure. All these concrete actions aim to personify political processes that seem cold and too technical, and are indeed removed from reality."   

Develop the know-how and life skills

Thursday, January 14th, the group of twenty-two students tried on suits of Heads of State and Government, boys were wearing dark suits and ties and girls had two-piece outfits. Yassine Kadiri, second-year student, chose the role of the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherini. "It’s quite an interactive exercise and it allows to put into practice the knowledge acquired during the previous nine theoretical sessions," says Yassine Kadiri. In order to practice such an exercise it is necessary to understand the rules, actors and processes beforehand, and to take into account the complexity of Brexit issues: growth, monetary policy, refugee crisis, security, etc. These questions mobilize knowledge acquired during the European law, Statistics and Migration Management Tools classes. "Students develop their knowledge through this active learning, but above all their know-how and life skills, says Adrien Fauve. They acquire behavioral skills, essential for their future professional life." For Yassine Kadiri, this exercise was an opportunity to develop confidence in speaking, extremely important for successful negotiations."I was a moderator and had to give the floor and manage the time. I had to interrupt when necessary and to spare the feelings of small countries such as Estonia, who complained because of its little participation, remembers the student. A Head of State is often a person with a particular way of thinking and interacting, this factor has to be taken into account during the negotiations."  

Embody the reality of political relations

The main purpose of the exercise is to make students understand the sociological dimension of politics. "Social relations matter in understanding of the European council functioning," states Samuel Faure. On January 14th, the German Chancellor arrived late to the simulation. According to Samuel Faure, this delay gave the Chancellor an "incredible" advantage regarding his counterparts as he could speak after the British Prime Minister and confuse thus the protocol order. "If we restrict ourselves to the formal framework of the European Council, we lose a part of history," says Samuel Faure insisting that the Council cannot be reduced to a bargaining lasting three hours or two days. In order to understand the negotiations, "it is essential to place them in the longest continuous history, political and diplomatic relations, and take thus a step back from the media time," he continues. By teaching students to manage the complexities of media and scientific reasoning, for Adrien Fauve, "this experience contributes to the renewal of forms of democratic debate". This exercise allowed Yassine Kadiri to destroy some clichés and prejudices about the EU, to "understand thus the complexity of different issues and to obtain a more realistic representation" of the institution. This course encouraged him to continue the exercise and participate in École Polytechnique student association "X on the MUN" which organizes simulations of UN meetings. "I chose l’X precisely for this openness to other disciplines, here one does not just learn scientific subjects," adds the student. 

After this simulation, the participants have come to a compromise. Will it be a sign for the true European Council meeting held on February 18th and 19th?