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Sunday, 24 February 2013 13:33

The Europe we want for our future

Imagine travelling across Europe for one month by train to talk to people, and find out young people’s vision of Europe. It's not as impossible as it sounds. Last December six people travelled the old continent to meet students and young people and discuss their thoughts on the future of Europe, on topics such as politics, education and sustainability. The project Europe on Track was created by AEGEE-Europe (European Students' Forum) and sent out two teams of young people (the Red Team and the Blue team) to travel over 9000km in 27 days. The Red Team was travelling mostly through Western Europe, while the Blue Team was travelling towards the East all the way from Brussels to Istanbul. E&M interviewed Mathieu Soete, member of the Blue Team and experienced youth activist in AEGEE, to get an insider view of this adventure.

mathieu
Photo: AEGEE Europe
Mathieu Soete, 26, tells us about his adventure

E&M: Mathieu, what motivated you to spend one month travelling across Europe by train?

MS: There are a lot of moments where you can talk with people in certain environments like the one that exists in a European youth organisation such as AEGEE, but there's never enough time and you're always in a sort of "European bubble", where you don't meet with people in their own realities. You get to learn much more about people when you go out to meet them. This project had two aspects: travelling and discussing. For me it was not the travelling that attracted me, it was not to see that part of Europe that I decided to go to, but it was because I thought with my prior experience I really had an idea of the topics discussed and could get into some great discussions. Visiting people, finding people, and giving them the opportunity to talk, not only to us but to everyone who is listening – this was my main motivation.

E&M: What was the main idea behind the Europe on Track project? And by the end of it all, do you feel that you've reached your goal?

MS: The main idea of the project was to link young people in Europe with European policy-makers in Brussels, to give them the possibility to speak up and reach "Brussels". We'll see how many policy-makers we can reach in the end. There is a real need for them to get to know the opinions of young people, more than they can learn from surveys or opinion polls. In that respect we have succeeded in collecting a good number of stories of people on their experience with (non-formal) education, politics and sustainability, what is working, what is not working. What I really wanted to do was to go ahead with an open mind and gather the real impressions of people, not just steer them towards what we already believe in, but rather record what people are really thinking. I think we've managed to do this.

Sunday, 16 September 2012 08:56

European identity is a sandwich

European identity is a sandwich. That was one of the conclusions from the "Does Europe lack cohesion?" event organised by the Körber Foundation, Eurozine, Europa neuer Ideen e.V. and E&M as part of the series Europe@Debate. A sandwich because you can add different layers - such as local, regional, national or European identities - and because adding one doesn't mean you need to take out another. That is, European identity is diverse and not exclusive.

The metaphor was created by Croatian journalist Slavenka Drakulić when Matthias Naß, International Correspondent for Die ZEIT and the panel moderator, asked the participants how they would describe the European identity they define themselves with. Drakulić brought up the sandwich, E&M's Julia Schulte mentioned politics as in the achievement of democracy and freedom of movement, and Saila Huusko, from FutureLabEurope, explained it was something she first felt when she was studying abroad in the US. The truth is, it is the eternal question in Europe, and the answers always seem to be highly dependant on metaphorical references like that of Drakulić's sandwich.

Philosophical symbols vs tangible experiences

In a previous article, Mourad Mahidi came up with the idea that European identity is a rooftop built upon national identities gathering the values they have in common. "It is more like a philosophical concept," he said. And looking at Hamburg's event, European identity was indeed seen as a set of values rather than tangible common experiences.

Drakulić and Schulte both agreed that all national identities are an artificial construction, and that what Europe needs is a leadership that takes those values and convinces the citizens to adopt the construction. "If big parties don't address this, nationalists or extremists will take their place," warned Drakulić.

Published in Imagine Europe
Friday, 06 April 2012 08:41

Get to know your neighbours!

Ever heard of Council Regulation 36/2012? Wondering what 2011/782/CFSP refers to? Exactly. EU-Officials are struggling to foster people's interest in European affairs. Meanwhile, young people have become fully fledged Europeans on quite a different level. 

The founders of InterRail got it right when they initiated the Europe-wide train pass that allows young people to travel conveniently across our continent. In 2012 they celebrate InterRail's 40th anniversary and still carry some 250 000 travellers each year. The idea is simple: Get young Europeans to explore their neighbouring countries. This is not only an affordable way to spend enjoyable holidays abroad, but it furthers the travellers' awareness of what binds people together in Europe. A conversation with a random foreigner tells you much more about a country than any political communiqué or travel guide. Exploring the similarities and differences between European countries through travelling is the most obvious way to find out what Europe really is. At the end of the day, a European identity can only grow from within the population, not through regulations and policies. 

While governing politicians across Europe are pushing for further integration in order to overcome the debt crisis, the people are not necessarily so enthusiastic, as the success of Eurosceptic parties demonstrates (in the upcoming elections in France, Eurosceptic parties from the extreme right and the left are expected to gain about 30%). Worse, most European citizens know little or nothing about what is going on in Brussels. European representatives lead a shadowy existence, remote from the public. Apparently, the EU is an attempt at European governance without a people that is interested - without a "European people." This unbalanced situation does not exactly help to increase support for the European project.

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