European politics is no longer something which only happens in Brussels. The current financial difficulties facing some members of the Eurozone illustrate very graphically how, in an integrated world, what happens in one part of Europe impacts on all members. EU decision-making clearly has consequences across the EU. This was played out on the floor of the Senate Chamber when teams of three students took on the roles of government ministers from each of the 27 EU Member States. In addition, students from Victoria College took on the important role of the European Commission. The simulation kept as close to the actual Council meetings as possible, where reaching consensus is the order of the day.
Topical events drove the agenda at Stormont with students debating the topic of migration with all its benefits and potential 'downsides'. The other principal theme concerned the implications of online communications and privacy issues around social networking sites such as Facebook.
David Alderdice, Director of the British Council Northern Ireland, said: "This project provides the participants with an opportunity to engage with real European issues beyond their everyday experience and stretch their skills as debaters and young leaders. In their role for the day as European ministers, the students brought passion to the debates while also seeking a positive shared result through compromise and diplomacy. The day really allowed the students to spread their wings and experience a new dimension to their education - an international dimension - that we know from experience really benefits them as they develop their place in our society."
The mock Council involves schools from across Ireland, providing a valuable north-south dimension to the dialogue.
Head of the European Commission Representation in the United Kingdom, Jonathan Scheele, gave students the benefit of his own insights into the workings of the Council of the European Union meetings. Mr. Scheele said: "The EU has had a massive impact on life in Northern Ireland. The challenge now is to deepen Northern Ireland's engagement with Europe, allowing it to integrate fully with the rest of Europe and to play its role successfully on the European stage. It is important, therefore, that young people get to debate major European issues and find out about the workings of the EU. The mock Council provides an ideal forum for students to get a taste of what it would be like to represent their Member State at European level."