This year the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF) has once again teamed up with Humanity in Action (HiA) and welcomed a new cohort of human rights activists, who arrived in Brussels to undertake a three-month professional fellowship at the heart of European politics. Six fellows from around the world joined the offices of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) or local NGOs to expand their experience in EU public affairs, international relations, and civil society activities. One of the fellows, Joanna Kopacka from Poland, did her fellowship at the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom.
Before starting the Brussels-based program, the group completed an extensive program in minority rights advocacy. From Washington and Atlanta to Warsaw and Paris, each fellow took part in a month long academy, learning about human rights violations and tools to effectively address them. Although interested in different problems and policy sectors, they all shared one objective: to become better informed agents of social change. Building on intersectional approach to discrimination and developing a network of actors with diverse backgrounds, the program helped the fellows achieve just that. And while the Humanity in Action model is based on connecting them with established experts and decision makers around the world, the Pat Cox Fellowship focuses on the European Union and pan-European civic participation.
The Fellows in the MEP’s offices had the chance to experience the daily life of the European Parliament, while those working with NGOs saw the so-called “Brussels bubble” from a different perspective. Joanna, the fellow at the FNF, supported the foundation in its day-to-day activities. Her tasks included carrying out research, managing events and providing social media content, as well as assisting international delegations in Brussels, and arranging meetings with EU officials and experts. Thanks to this experience, she gained invaluable insights into the inner workings of the EU and learned how to navigate the network of European institutions and civil society actors in Brussels. In addition to their daily tasks, the fellows participated in weekly lectures and meetings with major stakeholders of European politics. This included officials from the European Commission and the European Ombudsman’s office, journalists from POLITICO, as well as policy officers from various civil society organizations.
The three month fellowship was finalized with a formal closing event, which was hosted by and took place at the Friedrich Naumann Foundation. This was a chance for the fellows to organize and facilitate a debate on a topic of their choice. Joanna, the FNF fellow, took the opportunity to coordinate and lead the planning process for this event. The dialogue focused on a recently launched European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) named “We are a welcoming Europe. Let us help!”.
A European Citizens’ Initiative is in and of itself the most visible and legally binding tool for direct democracy in Europe. If one million EU citizens sign it, the European Commission is obliged to respond to its demands. “We are a welcoming Europe” ECI calls for a change in the EU legislation, so that humanitarian workers are not punished, victims of abuse and exploitation at the borders are protected, and citizens can support refugees without restriction. The event provided an excellent opportunity to discuss this initiative and together with the ECI coordinators from the Migration Policy Group (MPG), who participated as speakers in the discussion, the fellows managed to create a platform for a fruitful debate. The former President of the European Parliament and the liberal group, Pat Cox, the fellowship’s patron, concluded the event with his own commentary and endorsement for the Initiative, and so marking the end of the 2018 Pat Cox Fellowship.
Joanna Kopacka, FNF Intern & Pat Cox HiA Fellow