Open Europe’s first ever simulated negotiations over the UK’s future in the EU have generated a lot of buzz. Check out this awesome #EUwargames twitter conversation for example.
— Stuart (@magicmacca) December 11, 2013
We very much appreciated all the positive feed-back. However, there was something a bit “duck-like” about the OE team ahead of the event: calm on the surface, paddling like the dickens beneath.
In fact, organising #EUwargames left a few of the team rather shell-shocked. Here’s the run down:
1500hr: Our French negotiator – in the form of former Europe Minster Pierre Lellouche – drops out (due to a combination of the French local elections and the crisis in the Central African Republic). Murmurs about surrendering before the negotiations prove false…
1600hr: The Nordic negotiator – Swedish shadow Foreign Minister Urban Ahlin – is forced to cancel due to having to fly out to Johannesburg to attend the Mandela memorial service. (Unlike some other leaders, we’re yet to receive photo evidence of this…).
1615hr: Cue furious attempts to find replacements.
0800hr: An emergency COBRA team meeting is called. With less than 48 hours before the event, the Open Europe team launches its contingency plans to replace our two casualties.
1300hr: After a flurry of phone calls and emails, no luck.
1900hr: Now with many OE team members on numerous MPs blacklist for essentially stalking them, still two negotiators down.
0800hr: With less than 24 hours to go, the French and Nordic replacements are still yet to be secured – jittery times in the office.
1200hr: Panic spreads. OE team member found rocking and crying in the corner of the office…we won’t name names.
14:00hr: With some 15 hours left to launch, finally a breakthrough. We’ve managed to conscript one or our original top choices Vivien Pertusot, who heads the Brussels office of the French Institute of International Relations.
15:30hr: Another break-through. Ebba Busch, a prominent member of the governing council of the Swedish Christian Democrats, picks up the mantle and hops almost immediately on a plane to London. Fantastic news and (as they both proved in the event) more than adequate replacements.
0600hr: Three hours before launch, the phone rings. Fog in the channel (Heathrow), Europe cut off! British weather seems determined to sabotage the event with Ulrich Speck, our German negotiator, grounded in Frankfurt.
0700hr: Open Europe team gathers (eventually, note the empty seats…) in the headquarters for a pre-game briefing. Mood is cautiously optimistic, but the ‘German question’ remains unresolved. The COBRA unit decides that our moderator John Hulsman, who has lived in Berlin for some time, steps in to play a holding role.
0800hr: Concerns that the ‘war games’ concept could send the wrong message is taken on board but aggressively dismissed.
0830hr: Negotiators gather for a pre-game briefing to set the rules of engagement. Anticipation growing. Someone seems to have had some fun with the seating, with the UK and France directly opposite each other and Germany at the top of the table.
0930hr: Let the games begin! Negotiations start, but the German representative remains in a holding pattern above Heathrow. Maybe this is part of a cunning plan to let the others duke it out in the early stages…
1030hr: Britain’s Andrea Leadsom opens with a broadside against the EU’s inefficiencies and bloated bureaucracy – but ensures the tone remains one of reforming the EU to improve it for all. With negotiations in full flow, Germany arrives! Ironically fashionably late.
Although the actual negotiations did get a bit feisty – France was unsurprisingly hostile to any UK demands – thankfully no blood was actually shed, with John Hulsman doing a good job of keeping the peace around the table.
|EU War Games in full flow (no helmets necessary)|
Meanwhile the Open Europe team (below) was on standby to provide assistance to the negotiators, much like Sherpas would do in real EU negotiations. Fortunately no-one was required to hide under the table, as in the Major days.
|Dictionary Corner: the Open Europe team on standby to check
trade figures or the precise wording of the Lisbon Treaty
To add a further dose of realism negotiations drag on longer than expected as Open Europe’s best laid plans and timelines go out the window – why buck the trend?
Despite this the negotiators made good progress though certain Continental habits took hold.
1500hr: Following a cabinet reshuffle during the lunch break, negotiations over a ‘Brexit’ commence. Despite another strong opening from the UK, this time represented by David Heathcote-Amory, a sombre mood prevailed with many players regretting the UK decision to exit. Hans Kundnani, now playing Germany, brightens the mood evoking the spirit of Merkel and reminding all that he is “a rational woman”.
After eight hours of gruelling negotiations the second scenario finally wraps up. With lots of ground covered and the negotiators suitably spent from battle everyone retires to the pub for a debriefing – peace breaks out over beer as is the age old tradition.