by: Laetitia Sengseis
For two and a half days the European Parliament in Strasburg opened its doors for more than 5000 young people from all over Europe providing space for debates and discussions about critical issues and their possible answers. The venue was packed with people eager to share their vision for the future of the European Union and to discuss their concerns regarding the worrying situation of unemployment in Spain, rising right-wing tendencies on the political floor in Europe, the crisis in Ukraine, and many other issues.
As a young citizen of the European Union, I consider myself very lucky to live in a country where I can enjoy a high standard of living, free access to education and social security. However, observing recent developments and in these times of crisis, I am concerned that those privileges might be endangered for the generations to come. At the event I met young students and activists that shared the same concerns and told me about the critical situation in their countries. Nevertheless, one could sense hope among the crowd of young and clever minds, who were willing to learn more and understand what the European Union and the upcoming elections mean for their future. Inspired participants shared their experiences in the field of entrepreneurship and suggested that young people need to be more encouraged to take on risks, open businesses and become entrepreneurs.
I came to participate in the event as I’m very interested in the matters concerning the European Union in general, but in the neighbourhood and foreign policies in particular. During the 1st semester of my studies at the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy I had the chance to deepen my knowledge on these respective issues during seminars on European Neighbourhood Policy and border policies, which helped me understand more about the institutions and politics in the European Union.
At the European Youth Event (EYE), I participated in role plays and simulations, where we were able to put ourselves in the shoes of members of parliament or heads of state. Simulating the European Parliament, we discussed the cocoa agreement between the European Union and cocoa producers and voted on amendments. The debate was heated when deliberating issues such as trade and its implications for child labour, human rights and the environment. Activities and events were organized in a way that everyone could raise their voice, participate and share his or her ideas. I was inspired by the enthusiasm that the young people brought with them, their excitement to be part of shaping the future of the European Union and the way they actively promoted their ideas.
The European Youth Event was set up as part of the European Parliament’s mission to engage people in the months leading up to the European elections with the aim to inform and encourage young people to participate and vote in the next elections that will take place May 22-25, 2014.
During the last European elections, only 29% of people age 18-24 participated. It is yet to be seen what impact the EYE gathering will have on the voting behaviour of young people in this election. The European Youth Event 2014 was certainly a great promotional campaign, but it only reached a tiny fraction of the large number of young people able to vote. And with the changes to the Lisbon Treaty in 2009, the European Parliament has gained important competences, which makes it even more important to go and vote.