In the first part of our mini-cycle A Month of EuH Conversations we would like to introduce to you Martin Vokálek, a graduate of the Faculty of International Relations at the University of Economics and Business in Prague, majoring in International Studies and Diplomacy. He is also one of the co-founders of our European Horizons (EuH) chapter in Prague and the Deputy Director at the EUROPEUM Institute for European Policy. Martin gladly accepted our invitation to the interview and will talk about founding EuH, its mission and his current work. The interview was conducted by Jindřich Slunečko, our Head of Publications.

Martin, there are many student organizations that have been recently established at the University of Economics and Business in Prague. What was your motivation to establish a brand new chapter of the already existing organization European Horizons? Whose idea was it?

 This idea came primarily from Jana Stehlíková, who participated in an Exchange study programme at the Sciences Po in France and she was inspired by the emerging European Horizons network. Before founding a new chapter, Jana was firstly looking for suitable people for the team. Fortunately, we knew each other from the Academic Senate, so Jana approached me because of  my focus on European politics. Furthermore, together we managed to find other students who helped us with the start of the entire organization. Namely Kačka Bambásková, Michaela Janošková, Jana Kleščová, Kačka Vencbauerová were with us from the beginning. Also our academic advisor, Josef Bič, played an important role. Gradually, more members joined us.

Regarding my motivation to establish EuH, I had been missing a student organization at the University of Economics and Business in Prague that would focus purely on European politics, transatlantic relations and which would offer something extra for the students of European Economic Integration or Diplomacy or for the students with a similar focus. Furthermore, compared to the already functioning student organizations, I truly found it great that it would be an organization connected to the entire network of chapters from all over Europe, the USA and currently also Asia, and that is the reason why we decided to establish a chapter of the already functioning European Horizons network. It was a great value added for us. Last but not least, my motivation was also to leave something behind at our University and I am glad that it happened with the currently functioning EuH chapter in Prague.

Where do you see the importance of European Horizons? What is the main mission of EuH?

In my opinion, it is networking and creating new contacts. Those connections between students, not only at the University of Economics and Business but also with the other foreign universities, with which we have the opportunity to cooperate, are very valuable. It is great to meet people who have a similar approach, deal with international relations and are also interested in European issues and transatlantic relations. Of course, it is also a huge experience for students, as they can already make some recommendations themselves through the creation of various policies. Thus, they can look into the practice itself and influence what is happening around them. Last but not least, they can try to organise the events of various formats and even participate in foreign conferences.

In the course of your membership in EuH, you also participated in international conferences at Yale University in the USA and the College of Europe in Bruges, in Belgium. What experience did these conferences bring you? Did you find any friends there in such a short time?

These conferences gave me a lot of experience. I learned how such famous universities work and, generally, it was a great enrichment. I also appreciated the opportunity to meet people who already had something behind them. At that time, a large part of the students had already completed most of their studies and, at the same time, were working in the field of international relations or diplomacy, just like me. I think that, thanks to this, we had already been able to create a certain relevant output that could have influenced something. Regarding networking, I would not say that I have found lifelong friends, but, of course, from time to time we run into each other with some participants in our working lives. It is great that we already know each other.

Are you still in contact with current members of the Prague chapter of EuH or with Alumni EuH?

Yes, I am in contact with the current president of the Prague chapter of EuH, Kristína Chlebáková, who is currently on an internship in EUROPEUM. I am also in touch with Jana Stehlíková, the founder, Milan Kalců, EuH treasurer and also with the academic advisor of EuH Josef Bič, who coincidentally participated in a research internship at the EUROPEUM office in Brussels. Furthermore, I am still in friendly contact with Alumni members of EuH, most of all with the co-founders

Retrospectively, how do you see your membership in EuH and how has it helped you in your future professional career? Would you recommend current students to join these student organizations?

I was surprised how quickly time had flown in EuH. I participated in the already mentioned conferences abroad, we also organized several interesting events at the University of Economics and Business and we successfully managed to implement EuH among the other student organizations. However, it must be said that I was already working in EUROPEUM and studying at that time. So, I was quite happy, due to my time constraints, that EuH has successfully put down its roots and I was able to leave with a clear conscience.

Overall, it was a great experience for me to establish a completely new student organization, organize student events at the University of Economics and Business or create policies related to European affairs and transatlantic relations. I would definitely recommend all students to do something extra and ideally, in the field in which they want to develop their further professional career. Student organizations can also provide them this opportunity. In addition, this experience can play a big role in the first interviews in professional life. Last but not least, I would recommend everyone not to be afraid to establish a new student organization, if it seems to anybody that a certain organization is missing at the University of Economics and Business.

You currently work as Deputy Director in EUROPEUM, Institute for European Policy. Could you please introduce the organization itself and your role in it?

EUROPEUM is a non-governmental, non-profit and non-political think-tank founded in 1998, which deals with European policy and related topics. Our organization is composed of an international team that works and is based in Prague and Brussels. Our goal is to bring the visions of both the Czech Republic and the V4 closer to Brussels and vice versa. Every year, EUROPEUM organizes over a hundred public events, debates or seminars, and our research team publishes a huge number of publications and is involved in many international research projects focused on European topics. My current position is a Deputy Director and I am responsible for the organizational and project aspects of the organization.

How has the coronavirus affected your work and your work habits?

Coronavirus significantly disrupted the normal functioning of our Institute, as most of the events, debates or seminars were previously in-person and we had to transfer all these events to an online form. Fortunately, we managed to organize most of the events and I am glad that we managed it very well. On the other hand, internally, the coronavirus did not affect us so much in our Institute, as our international team is used to working via online communication platforms.

What has changed in great parts are my working habits. I had to create a stricter personal schedule at home office, even though I prefer to do certain working tasks from home because I am able to better concentrate myself. However, I must mention that in general, I have been missing daily contact with people and, quite often, it is better to consult specific agendas face to face than via social platforms. This has been probably the biggest challenge so far for me – learning to delegate efficiently and solving team tasks online.

In the past two weeks, EUROPEUM organized two major events, the Prague European Summit and the final round of the EuropaSecura competition.

Could you firstly introduce the Prague European Summit?

The Prague European Summit is the largest summit focusing on European topics in the Czech Republic. Every year, around 600-700 experts, politicians or members from non-profit organizations gather in Prague to discuss the most important European topics and related issues. This year we organised the 6th edition of the Summit which was, as usually, organized by the EUROPEUM Institute and the Institute for International Relations Prague in  cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, the European Commission and other institutions. However, the coronavirus did not allow us to organise the Summit in its traditional form so we decided to come up with a hybrid form of the whole event. We created two digital studios in the Czernin Palace, the seat of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic.  There we were joined in person by some guests from the Czech Republic and surrounding countries, but also online by guests and speakers who had to stay abroad. I believe that it was a unique format for the Summit and it was a privilege to have important guests such as Federica Mogherini and many other personalities from the field of international relations.

On purpose, I would like to ask you about the EuropaSecura competition separately, as I participated in it myself and went through all the rounds. Thus, I can say without exaggeration that it was a great experience that gave me a lot and I appreciated its complexity the most. Physical readiness, soft skills or hard knowledge. Could you introduce this project?

EuropaSecura is a competition for high school students interested in international affairs and is intended for those who are not afraid to experience something unique. It is a multi-round competition organized by our Institute in cooperation with the Czech Army, the Czech Ministry of Defense, the Eurocentres of the Czech Government, the European Commission and with the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic and the foundation Hanns-Seidel-Stiftung. The first rounds focus on basic knowledge of NATO and other international issues, followed then by an expert thesis on international conflict, with subsequent discussion with the best teams in each region, where they defend and explain their positions. The whole competition culminates with my team and members of the Czech Army in the Brdy military area, where a several-day competition tests all participants in a really comprehensive, adventurous and educational way. A reward in the form of an excursion to Brussels is then prepared for the three most successful teams. Of course, this year was again affected by the coronavirus and we had to cancel the national final round in Brdy at the last minute. On the other hand, we tried to do our best and created the national final round online. If the epidemiological situation allows, the reward, in the form of an excursion to Brussels for the best teams should take place next year. Thus, I definitely recommend all high school students to participate, it is a truly unique experience, as you say and you can confirm!

What advice would you give to current students if they wanted to follow your steps in your professional career?

The first thing, as I mentioned, is definitely doing something extra. Every activity counts and may come in handy in the future. The second one is to try to do the extra things that can help you develop yourself, especially in the field you want to work in the future. Thirdly, try to create a network of contacts. However, do not force yourself to make contacts just for contacts themselves, but surround yourself with people who can somehow help to enrich and develop you, ideally just like you do for them. Because every such person can bring you a new perspective of life or open a new door, which already happened to me many times.

Martin, thank you very much for accepting our invitation to our mini-cycle A Month of EuH Conversations and we wish you good luck in your personal and professional life!

I also thank you for the invitation and I believe that EuH will continue to develop successfully. I’ll be happy to see you as soon as the epidemiologic situation allows!