During my 10-week long stay in Prague, I am working for the Europeum Institute for European Policy, one of the main (and few) think tanks in the Czech Republic. The Institute particularly focuses on European integration and thus cooperation with other EU member states, but also conducts activities related to influencing the Czech political discourse on Europe, informing the Czech public about the EU and offering policy alternatives to the Czech government with the aim of strengthening the country's position within the European context.
The organization is quite small, with five more or less permanent experts and five longer-term interns, all from the Czech Republic. However, it shares its offices with the Department of European Studies at Charles University, out of which it emerged about 10 years ago, and often cooperates with the academic faculty. For me, it is very interesting to experience a working environment that is so self-directed and flexible. As most of the work is computer/internet-based, the staff members can easily work from home as well as from the office. The working time and amount is further very much project dependent - if there is nothing left to do, there is no reason to stay, but if something needs to be finished, everyone is expected to stay for as long as needed.
Most of the organization's activities are either joint publications (mostly policy papers) with other public policy institutes or conferences, seminars and roundtable discussions. Entering EUROPEUM means entering the world of the much heralded (Eastern) European civil society with its own lingo and rules - a world of structural funds, of project reports and project proposals, of Open Society initiatives, Eastern Partnership programs, expert working groups and EU Neighborhood Policy. A world of 'enhancing the public debate' and 'assessing expert opinions' and 'providing platforms for constructive discussion'. It is sometimes a challenge for me to see the political challenges and problems that represent the basis of all these activities. But they are there - in the legislative proposal for lobbying regulation, in evaluations of the Czech EU presidency - but often several degrees removed. A paper evaluating the Czech EU Presidency after all in fact addresses the success of the Czech leadership to strengthen European cooperation and integration which in turn at the bottom aim at improving the life of Europe's citizen and are hardly an aim in themselves.
As opposed to the academic work I am used, the papers and publications Europeum publishes have to some extent political ambitions - they intend to influence policy, or debates about policy, rather than simply being theoretical analyses. Part of being a think tank involves filling the niche between policy-makers, mainstream media, citizens, academia and issue-based NGOs. And yet, it strikes me how this environment not only exists in this self-sustainable, interrelated sphere that is neither the state nor the public, but also how it in many ways reflects the problems the EU itself is currently facing - a bureaucratic reputation, lack of popular interest, internal divisions, the lack of definition and overt focus on form rather than content. As I am thinking more about this, a longer post will follow. For now, I am enjoying the experience of catching different glimpses on the organization's work, its partnerships and the issues it addresses.