KAAD Seminar in Brussels: The EU as a Blueprint for an Arabic Union?

In the midst of the confusion caused by Brexit,the rising of national populism in Europe and the up-coming European elections, KAAD scholars gathered together at the KAAD seminar taking place from February 3rd to 7th 2019 in Brussels (led by Dr. Nora Kalbarczyk and spiritually accompanied by P. Prof. Dr. Thomas Eggensperger) which aimed at giving the scholars an insight into the work and character of the European Union. The participants mainly came from the Near and Middle East and sought to answer the question of how – despite all the ongoing criticism of it- the European Union might serve as a role model for the Arabic world or rather for the idea of an Arabic Union.
In the first part of the seminar, the group focused on the EU’s history and its institutions which was deepened further by a visit at the EU Commission and talks with representatives of various departments. Vassilios Kanaras, Directorate General for Communication, gave an introductory speech on the role of the European Commission as the EU’s political executive. Afterwards, Alexis Yamajako (DG Economy and Financial Affairs), presented the Monetary Union and the European financial policy. Diplomat David Tunney from the European External Action Service (the European “Ministry of Foreign Affairs”) provided an insight into the European Foreign and Security Policy. In the following, the scholars got an overview of the EU’s enlargement policy by the coordinator for interinstitutional relations, Jiří Hladík. On the next day, this visit and the newly acquired knowledge about the EU was further deepened and discussed during the workshop „The European Idea and its Realization“.
Central to the next days of the seminar was the renowned Egyptian intellectual Prof Dr. Hassan Nafaa, a retired political scientist of the University of Cairo. The basis of his lecture was one of his publications dealing with the topic of “the European Union and its lessons for the Arabic world” which was met with great interest and vividly discussed afterwards by the seminar’s participants. In his analysis, Prof. Nafaa compared the regional and global underlying conditions facilitating the foundation of the European Coal and Steel Community (1951) with the given conditions which hampered or are still hampering the establishing of an Arabic Union. According to Prof. Nafaa, one of the EU’s success factors was the idea of a specific economic factor which was decisive to the decision on war or peace and the idea of a gradual enlargement of the Union to other countries and branches. This idea then could serve as a connecting factor for an Arabic Union. However, the basis for any kind of successful efforts to form a union lies in democracy and rule of law of the respective countries which is also stated as a binding guideline for the enlargement of the European Union.

Another highlight of the programme was the visit at the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community (COMECE). Secretary General Fr. Olivier Poquillon OP warmly welcomed the KAAD group and explained the role of the Catholic Church as an actor in the European Union. Taking part in the policy-making of the European Union, the COMECE aims at redirecting the view at the main aspect of the small things and at focusing on the common good. Dialogue, partnership, solidarity, integrity of creation and the promise of peace are some of the keywords that prompted the scholars to think not only about the role of Christians in Europe but also about their very own role as future leadership elite. Finally, together with some of the EU representatives the group celebrated the Holy Mass in the chapel of the COMECE.

Certainly, there was also time to discover Brussels in all its historical, cultural and culinary variety during a guided city tour or on one’s own initiative: Discovering the city’s history and its landmarks, tasting the famous Belgian waffles and chocolate or just finishing off the day in a typical Belgian pub are just some examples of how to enjoy the many facets of Brussels. Consequently, the visit in Brussels left lots of new impressions on all seminar’s participants that will probably shape their way of thinking in some respects.