A BRIEF OVERVIEW OF MAC BILBAO
Model Arctic Council Bilbao (MAC Bilbao) is a simulation of the real-world Arctic Council. Established in 1996, the Arctic Council is devoted to advancing international cooperation and good governance across the Arctic. Around its table sit not only the Arctic States—Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the USA—but also Arctic Indigenous peoples organisations representing the Aleut, Athabaskans, Gwich’in, Inuit, Saami and the many peoples of the Russian North.
Held at Colegio Ayalde in the vibrant cultural capital of Bilbao, Spain, MAC Bilbao is one of the few diplomatic simulations of its kind in the world ever held at secondary-school level. Before becoming an educator, MAC Bilbao Director Dr Anthony Speca lived and worked in the Arctic as a senior policy official with the Government of Nunavut, one of Canada’s Arctic territories. Since 2016, he has launched a number of Polar Aspect MAC conferences, both in-person and online, in order to share his enthusiasm for the Arctic with youth, and in the hope of inspiring them to learn more about this unique region and its peoples.
Whilst pupils with experience of Model United Nations may find some aspects of the conference familiar, MAC Bilbao offers an exciting new format of model diplomacy. The Arctic Council is unusual not only in promoting the active involvement of indigenous peoples alongside states, but also in making all decisions by consensus rather than majority vote. The Arctic Council is also well-known for collegiality and consensus-building even during times of tension between participants elsewhere in the world—valuable lessons for life after school.
PARTICIPATING IN MAC BILBAO
Participation in MAC Bilbao is open to pupils from any secondary-school around the world. Schools are invited to send one or more delegations of two pupils each to play the role of representatives from one of the eight Arctic States or six Arctic Indigenous peoples organisations. As with most other model diplomacy conferences, MAC Bilbao delegates are usually aged 15 to 18, though some may be younger.
At the MAC Bilbao conference, delegates will grapple with the challenge of reaching consensus on some of the most pressing challenges facing the Arctic, and by extension the world as a whole. Whether an experienced ‘MUN-er’ or a newcomer to model diplomacy, all prospective delegates can take advantage of Polar Aspect’s online OMAC Delegate Training as part of their preparations for MAC Bilbao, should an OMAC Delegate Training round be scheduled.
However, no special training, or even prior experience of the Arctic or of model diplomacy, is necessary to participate in MAC Bilbao. Delegates will be provided with a Delegate Guide and Research Guide in good time to help them prepare. The MAC Bilbao Secretariat will also be on hand before and during the conference to answer any questions. Scheduled ‘reflection’ sessions will help delegates pause to consider the progress of the conference, and to transform their experiences into learning.
Since MAC Bilbao operates by the rule of consensus, delegates will find their diplomatic skills stretched and improved. Unlike at other model diplomacy conferences, MAC Bilbao delegates do not debate pre-prepared resolutions. Rather, they rise to the challenge of negotiating mutually agreeable ‘declarations’ in real time. To assist with the process of consensus building, each delegation is requested to provide a very brief discussion paper a week or two ahead of the conference, which will be circulated to other delegations.
THE MAC BILBAO EXPERIENCE
Just as the Arctic Council is unique amongst international organisations, MAC Bilbao is unique amongst diplomatic simulations. Four characteristics make MAC Bilbao special:
- Consensus. All decisions of MAC Bilbao, whether substantive or procedural, must be made unanimously. There is no option for a majority vote even if consensus is elusive. For this reason, MAC Bilbao delegates do not debate preprepared resolutions, nor lobby for signatures as at Model United Nations. Rather, they rise to the challenge of negotiating mutually agreeable declarations in real time.
- Collaboration. The Arctic Council has a reputation for collegiality. The MAC Bilbao Secretariat exists only to facilitate cooperation between delegates, who are encouraged to use their privilege to discuss issues and negotiate solutions informally. There will also be time for spontaneous interaction with other delegates between meeting rounds and during breaks. Cultivating positive working relationships with other delegates is important.
- Indigenous participation. Unusually in model diplomacy, MAC Bilbao delegates have the opportunity to play the roles of Arctic Indigenous peoples’ organisations, as well as Arctic States. Playing such a role illuminates what small but determined group of people aware of their rights can achieve on the international stage. It also reveals the Arctic as a homeland—and even delegates representing Arctic States should be aware of what it means to be an Indigenous person and to have Indigenous rights.
- Thematic focus. Unlike Model United Nations, which can be thematically diffuse, MAC Bilbao offers delegates an in-depth engagement with one of the world’s most fascinating and fast-changing regions. There are only eight Arctic States and six Arctic Indigenous peoples’ organisations, so MAC Bilbao conferences are also small and intimate. Delegates get to know the issues, and their fellow delegates, more closely.
MAC BILBAO STRUCTURE
There are three parts to a MAC Bilbao conference.The first part simulates meetings of two of the six Arctic Council Working Groups, which attempt to lay the groundwork for a common approach to pressing Arctic issues assigned in advance of the conference. The second part simulates the work of Senior Arctic Officials (SAOs) as they negotiate a political declaration based on that common approach. The third part simulates a Ministrial meeting at which the political declaration is decided, should the SAOs have been successful.
At the end of each day of the MAC Bilbao conference, delegates gather for ‘debriefing sessions’ with the MAC Bilbao Director. At these sessions, you reflect on the progress of discussions and negotiations, aiming to transform your experience into new knowledge about the Arctic, about diplomacy and international affairs, and about yourself as an effective communicator and collaborator. There are two debriefing sessions each the end of the first two days, one for Arctic State delegates and one for Permanent Participant delegates. The debriefing session after the Ministerial meeting is a plenary session involving all delegates.
MAC Bilbao also shares social events with MUN Bilbao. Delegates will be able to enjoy the atmosphere of a large and buzzing MUN event whilst at the same time taking part in an intimate and innovative conference like few others in the world today. Make a journey to the far North with MAC Bilbao!