ACDMAECI


Italian Spouses Association of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

25 years of EUFASA – a brief EUFASA history

Prague April 27-28, 2009


The starting point:

Between 1980 and 1983 informal meetings of Spouses Associations of Ministries of  Foreign Affairs were organized by the FFD (the German Association) and by Alloquium  (the Belgian Association).

In the first semester of 1985, when Italy had the Presidency of the so called  “European Political Cooperation” (the EEC was then composed  by 12 Countries), the Italian Spouses Association,  having acknowledged through a questionnaire sent  to the representatives of all EEC spouses Associations, the analogies and the similarities of the problems affecting all diplomatic services families, conceived and organized a meeting to be attended by a representative of each existing European Association

A “Symposium” centered  on the “European Dimensions in the Diplomatic Service – Family implications” was  organized and held in Rome on June 10th, 1985, in the historical  Villa Madama.  All the existing EEC Spouses Associations were represented by delegates from 10 European capitals and, in addition, representing  the French diplomats’ spouses, a delegate from the “Bureau d’ Information” . Presentations were  prepared by the Italian Association and discussed during the meeting.

Let’s go briefly through the 25 years of  EUFASA following a few threads and pointing out some important events in its life.

First thread: the membership.
The founding members, ten in 1985, (Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, The Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and U.K. ) were joined very soon by Luxembourg and France in 1989 to complete the European panorama. With the growing of  Europe, in 1997, Austria, Finland and Sweden became members, in ’98 the EU Commission External service  spouses Association joined too.

After the collapse of the Eastern block of Europe, a huge and generous effort was made by existing  EUFASA Associations to connect with and encourage the spouses of the MFA’s of the so-called “Candidate and Accession” countries, to form new sisters associations and to adhere to  EUFASA.

Meetings were held in each EUFASA national Association with the spouses of the Chiefs of Mission of those countries and they were informed about the EUFASA and on how to form a spouses association. Such information was published on our EUFASA public web site and it is through this instrument  and also thanks to the contacts that were established in 2003 in  Prague, that spouses/partners associations  were founded and in the following years started to join EUFASA.  In fact in October 2003,  a presentation of the different types of Spouses Associations was organized by the British Spouses Association, in collaboration with Italy and The Netherlands, on the occasion of a meeting in Prague of the British Human Resources Directors and the Chiefs of Staff of the MFAs of the accession countries.  

Cyprus, Hungary and Poland, then the Czech Association and Lithuania, Romania and finally Estonia Spouses Associations, became EUFASA members. It should also be mentioned that three Associations of non EU countries have been  following closely, almost from the beginning, the activities of EUFASA :  Iceland, Norway and Switzerland, called “Privileged Observers” and sharing some membership rights.


The second thread I would like to follow through 25 years of EUFASA, is its way of working:

During the first five years of  ECDSSA (European Community Diplomatic Service Spouses Association), the communications between Associations were limited to exchanges of questionnaires and letters: the Conferences were usually organized entirely by the host Association that was also in charge of all the presentations.

Then in the Nineties, a useful tool was adopted by ECFASA (European Community Foreign Affairs Spouses Association), the comparative charts, where few fields of interest were identified and  updated year after year. Those first charts pointed out the difference of treatment of spouses among countries in the Foreign Service. This was an important achievement because it gave to our Associations a real support in obtaining attention and recognition from the MFA.

Another useful practice was progressively adopted: working in team, the working groups. The communications improved, first by fax, and, after more or less fifteen years, the era of computers and e-mails started. 

The advent of Internet for EUFASA (European Union Foreign Affairs Spouses/Partners Association), in the year 2000, changed dramatically its way of working and not only, also its way of being an International Association.

A reserved area, a forum where to exchange opinions and where to work on common topics of interest was built and this really gave a new birth to EUFASA. Lots of useful information and documents were stored there and in particular the extended Charts of our Associations became a source of  information envied even by the Foreign Affairs staff. A public website (www.eufasa.org) was created after the Conference in Dublin, 2004, and in September this year an improved version of the EUFASA website will be made available.

Should we say that from now on, EUFASA is its website? We would be tempted to do so, but fortunately we have still a physical place to meet, the annual Conference that brings together delegates from the European Capitals for two days not only to work, but also to better know and understand  each other, with different histories but with similar ways of life. 

Finally the third thread through the existence of EUFASA is  the development of our “concerns.”
Reading  again the acts of the Symposium in Rome,  we notice that our concerns of today were exactly the same 25 years ago.

The main topics of interest of EUFASA, since the first Conference have been : “Health”, “Insurance”, “Education”,  “Families’ crisis”, “Pensions for spouses” , now especially: “Spouses employment”  which seems to have gained importance on  “Spouses role”, or “Legal status of spouses/partners”  that have been recurrent concerns in our history.  Then other subjects emerged as: “Security at posts”, and “Foreign Born Spouses”, who have become a growing phenomenon among the families in the Foreign service.

The core of  EUFASA’s activities is the discussion of our concerns, common to  all the members associations, and the recommendations that after the annual Conference are made by the EUFASA Chair to the top officials of the Ministries for Foreign Affairs. The possibility of comparing different situations, leads to the identification of the best practices in Europe and thus to the opportunity of presenting them to our Ministries: some remarkable achievements (as for instance the increasing number of  bilateral agreements) were reached by few Associations through this mean. In particular the Association that organizes the Conference, is traditionally blessed by some rewards in term of support and recognition and popularity.

These instruments: the Charts, the identification of the best practices, sharing useful information, promoting our role as active players, and  the recommendations of the EUFASA Chair to the MFAs,  have been the achievements of EUFASA,  it is up to us now to find other ways to profit from this institution.
A sign on how to take advantage of EUFASA comes from a subject introduced recently by France, “Voluntary Work” which is leading EUFASA to produce a concrete service to spouses, a Certificate that has been presented in Prague.
As we experience that our National Associations increase their membership if they offer useful services to their public (as pre-posting  courses or post reports) we will maybe find that EUFASA too could become a pole of attraction of new members if it becomes a source of services (as i.e. the databases on school, jobs providers etc.)

So, to conclude this fast run through the history of our Association,  we cannot avoid an incursion into the future: from history to hopes!  We are an international organization which is transversal: nothing divides us, we are all in the same boat, we cannot become an “Union” in the proper sense (we have no legal recognition at least till now), but we have a formidable network (even if virtual) of persons constituting EUFASA (the spouses and the partners).

EUFASA shall in the future use more this network, the basis of all our Associations, as our national associations should be doing. Through the web we can get in touch, we can exchange opinions but not only, we can help each other, as Associations and as individuals. I am convinced that we were offered a great occasion, to adhere to Internations*  and to make of it another forum open to all the MFA spouses, partners, families. This mean of communication, for us EUFASA and for the members of our Associations, has not yet taken off.  I guess that  this depends a lot on ourselves and on our guidance: if we trust on the possibility of  becoming  a trans-national community not only depending on the good will of our spouses/partners employer (the MFA), but capable of helping ourselves with our experiences of a special and finally enriching way of life, we should be able in the future to use this tool (Internations or any other dedicated forum) to our profit!

(Francesca Vattani)


*Internations is a forum for expatriates and people with a “global mind”. The access is by invitation.