The 8th Genshagen Trilateral Summer School: The EU and its Neighbors in Times of Uncertainty

The views represented in this opinion piece do not necessarily represent those of the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy.


Starting in 2012, the Genshagen Trilateral Summer School has brought together 24 students from German, French, and Polish universities to the Genshagen Castle to discuss a topic of European relevance. The 8th Genshagen Trilateral Summer School “The EU and Its Neighbors- Enlargement and Neighborhood Policies in Times of Uncertainty” was held on August 19th-28th, 2019. The event was dedicated to challenges the EU faces regarding the expansion of the Union as well as its neighborhood policy and potential policy responses to them.

On one hand, EU enlargement that was once followed enthusiastically no longer has a clear path in the Western Balkans and its integration is in doubt by major EU member states like Germany and France.  There is ‘enlargement fatigue’ on the current member states’ side and ‘reforms fatigue’ on the EU membership candidates’ side. On the other hand, many observers believe the EU Neighborhood Policy is far behind the expectations, in both Eastern Partnership (EaP) and in its southern dimension. The policy was designed to reshape and influence the EU neighborhoods according to the EU norms and values but it has not gained much success. Russia has challenged the successful implementation of the policy as it started to feel threatened by EU enlargement towards East, considered to be followed by NATO membership. Moreover, new influential players such as China and initiatives like The Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) have emerged to offer a competitive model of economic cooperation, without any ‘conditionality’. This emerging model is not only threatening the Western liberal democracies in general, but also is endangering the EU-specific ‘normative power’ to influence and shape its periphery according to its values.

The Summer School consisted of lectures, workshops, panels with experts from academia, think tanks, businesses, government, and NGOs at the national and EU level. Through lectures held by scholars with specific expertise on the sub-topics, the Summer School provided in depth-knowledge on the various aspects of its themes. In afternoon workshops, which was aimed to build thematically on the respective morning lectures supervised by the lecturers, participants took the opportunity to practically apply their knowledge and to gain further insights into the sub-topics. The final activity of Oxford-style debate on topical controversies surrounding the EU’s enlargement and neighborhood policies showed the variety of answers available to the same questions and once more proved the importance of leadership and sound policy-making to choose the optimal policy responses to the EU challenges in a time of uncertainty.


Genshagen Foundation; Encounter, Dialogue, and Art as an Opportunity for Europe

The Genshagen Foundation is a successor of the Berlin-Brandenburg Institute for Franco-German Cooperation in Europe. The Foundation is almost as old as the Weimar Triangle- the political initiative to promote closer cooperation among Germany, France, and Poland after the end of the Cold War- and celebrates in 2018/2019 its 25th anniversary. The Genshagen Foundation is a non-profit foundation funded by the Federal Government from the budget of the Ministery of State for Culture and the Media (BKM) and the State of Brandenburg.

The Foundation is based on the notion that Europe is a political and a cultural project and tries to serve these fundamental aspects of European integration as a place of encounter and dialogue between politics, art and culture. As an interface between civil society and the state, since 2009 the foundation has been active with different projects under the two clusters of art and cultural mediation in Europe as well as the European Dialogue – Thinking Europe Politically.

A very interesting fact about the Foundation which distinguishes it from any other one is its venue, the historic Genshagen Castle. The castle in its present form was built in 1878-1880 on the foundation of an approximately 1700 mansion and served as the mansion of the Baron von Eberstein. From 1910 to 1912 it was rebuilt, expanded and renovated fundamentally in 2004. It is surrounded by a 7.5-acre English landscape park in the beautiful village of Genshagen; a very spectacular venue to the 8th Genshagen Trilateral Summer School.


The 8th Genshagen Trilateral Summer School

The event was organized in 10 days comprised of stimulating lectures, workshops, discussions, debates and visits. After the reception, welcome and short introduction by Theresia Töglhofer, project manager and academic supervisor of this year’s event, teambuilding activity was facilitated by Jenna Büchy from IFOK Consulting using creative methods of gamification which introduced the participants with the topics through games and interactions.

On the next day, the keynote lecture was delivered by Dr. Florent Marciacq from Austro-French Centre for Rapprochement in Europe and Centre international de formation européenne (CIFE) in reshaping neighborhoods and transforming and the neighbors with a focus on the EU stake. In his insightful lecture, Dr. Marciacq explained the different perceptions of the EU with their respective theoretical foundations as well as the policy implications each would entail for the EU neighborhood and enlargement policies. Is it the matter of protecting the ‘EU fortress’ from the outsiders based on a neo-Westphalian notion of European governance, or it is about the EU re-shaping and re-forming its neighborhood-based of European values such as democracy, rule of law and protection of human rights? What are the challenges of each perception?

On the third day, Dr. Natasha Wunsch from European Politics Research Group, ETH Zürich gave a lecture on ‘The EU’s Enlargement Policy towards the Western Balkans’. She discussed the EU’s double objective of stabilization and association explaining the dilemma the EU is facing in its enlargement policy in the Western Balkans. On one hand, democratic transition and deepening the EU reforms in such societies with a poor background of democratic governance are required in order to let them fit into the Union’s standards and benchmarks, and on the other hand, democratic liberalization has amounted to some sorts of instability, corruption, superficial reforms and patronage system. How should the EU tackle the dilemma and re-calibrate its current Western Balkans enlargement policy in order to meet both the needs of democratization and stabilization simultaneously?

The next sub-topic of the Summer School focused on Eastern Partnership (EaP) after 10 years delivering on the state of play and its future perspectives which were introduced by Dr. Cristina Gherasimov from the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP). With the EaP, the EU tries to set its neighborhood policies regarding the 3 east-Europe countries of Ukraine, Belorussia, and Moldova as well as the 3 Caucasian countries of Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. The initiative was adopted in Prague Summit 2009 in order to promote resilience, democracy, and economic prosperity in the regions and after 10 years, it is time to evaluate the success of the policy.

Notwithstanding, there is seemingly not much of the EU policy success to celebrate, many observers believe. There is a sense of ‘partnership fatigue’ on both sides without tangible results. Russia has shown up as a strong challenger of the policy success regarding the stability and security issues and other platforms such as the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) have emerged meanwhile, offering a single market and trade union without expecting democratic reforms from the member states and having human rights concerns about them.

The discussion was followed the next day on the Southern dimension of the Neighbourhood Policy and the role of the EU by Dr. Sarah Wolff from Queen Mary University of London. The conditionality tool and its success was critically discussed more thoroughly by Dr. Wolff who argued the EU norms have been neglected in its relations with the southern neighbors in favor of more pragmatism to tackle the issue of immigration.

During the following days, the member states’ perspectives on the EU’s Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policies, focusing on France, Poland and Germany were discussed by Dr. Magdalena Góra from Jagiellonian University Cracow and Dr. Elsa Tulmets from the Europa-Universität Viadrina. This was complemented by Dr. Esther Ademmer, from Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel who gave a lecture on Russia’s specific interests and the rival role it plays in the East-West Europe politics.

The Summer School program was completed by two cultural and study trips to Berlin. The study trip included visiting the Federal Foreign Office and meeting with Thomas Motak, Deputy Head of Department E12 EU External Affairs discussing topics such as ENP, Enlargement and External Financing Instruments. The other part was visiting the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) Berlin office and meeting with Almut Möller, head of office & senior policy fellow. The study trip to Berlin provided the students with the opportunity to get familiar with viewpoints of diplomats in the German Federal Foreign Office as well as the EU policy experts in a Europe-dedicated think tank on the most challenging topics of EU enlargement and neighborhood policies they learnt during the summer school.

Follow Mostafa Bostani:

Mostafa Bostani is an MPP candidate at the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy. He earned his LL.B and LL.M in international economic and trade law from the University of Tehran and spent the next four years working as a lawyer in both public and private sectors in Iran. His areas of interest include international politics, foreign policy analysis, and the EU-Middle East relations.