Training for EU officials
The experience gained from running seminar events for lawyers and government officials in Germany was employed as the basis for the implementation of a training program for European Commission staff in Brussels. This was initially commissioned by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency and was developed in partnership with the Agentur für Bildung – Geschichte, Politik und Medien e.V. The initial project ran from December 2013 to September 2014.
The aim of this project was to make participants aware of the significance that the Holocaust can have for compliance with, and the protection of, human rights in current administrative actions. The concept was first tested in June 2014 with a study day on “Holocaust and Human Rights” for EU Commission officials in Brussels, which generated a good deal of interest. Further study days took place in Brussels as part of the professional development of EU officials. These were held in January 2015, 2016, 2017 and last week on January 30, 2018 in order to mark Holocaust Memorial Day. Approximately 60 officials, including a representative of the European Commission’s Coordinator for Combating anti-Semitism, took part in the latest event. The Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, Vera Jourova, was involved in evaluating the events in 2016 and 2017 and closed this training by opening an exhibition on the genocide of the Roma.
The aim of the daylong training was not only to raise awareness of connections between history and human rights matters, anti-Semitism, and antiziganism, but also to promote intensive debate among the multinational audience regarding the variety and meaning(s) of “cultures of remembrance” in Europe. The training program made use of contemporary documents, eyewitness accounts, and photographs to open space for reflection and prompt a discussion that would bring in the participants’ own present-day scope for action against the backdrop of historical examples.
At the heart of this process, therefore, lies the recognition of the choices open to an individual within an institution. This recognition encompasses the sometimes-invisible influence that officials may have, as well as the dangers represented by an abuse of power and potential approaches to, and early recognition of, undemocratic (i.e. undesirable) developments in the EU and its neighboring states.
After an extensive evaluation of the first trainings, an „e-education” program was developed to function as a building block for the historical-political education of members of the EU Commission. The module made use of the “Learning from History” web portal, developed by the Agentur für Bildung. Especially relevant to the domain of genocide and mass atrocity prevention, the English-language section of the program’s resources has included an online module entitled “The Holocaust and Fundamental Rights: Case studies for reflections on the work of officials” since September 2014.
The introductory section and various subsequent chapters offer the opportunity for individual continuing education and are also useful for preparing and implementing further seminars. Looking forward, the program will be used to raise awareness of “Human Dignity in the Past and Present” as a topic area, as well as highlighting the efforts that the EU and the Council of Europe are making towards constructing appropriate safeguards for human dignity and human rights. The history of the Holocaust is also discussed with specific reference to the Wannsee Conference.
In January 2016, against the background of the current refugee debate, a working group was also put together on the Evian Conference of July 1938; this used eyewitness accounts and the official papers to discuss the approach taken at that time to refugees from Germany and Austria. Furthermore a working group on continuity lines of antisemitism has been prepared and used for the first time in this seminar.
The project was very positively received in the EU Commission. Operating alongside the publicly-accessible online module, such training events in Brussels should be regularly employed as a part of the continuing professional development programs offered to EU officials. Currently, this effort is actively being championed by the Directorate General for Justice and Consumers.
Dr. Hans-Christian Jasch
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