Charlemagne Youth Prize for Europe on Track

By | May 26, 2013 at 4:34 pm | Network | Tags: ,

On May 7th 2013 AEGEE reached another milestone in its history when Europe on Track – Capture the Future of Europe won the Charlemagne Youth Prize for best European youth project. An achievement with great international significance and which, when you look at it in a broader perspective, provides us with a variety of promises and opportunities. Mathieu Soete: “Getting this kind of high-level external validation is quite exceptional”.

The winners of the Charlemagne Youth Prize with Martin Schulz

The winners of the Charlemagne Youth Prize with Martin Schulz

A big reward
Luis Alvarado Martinez, present on behalf of AEGEE at the awarding ceremony in Aachen, tells winning the prize immediately opened doors. “We had the opportunity to publicly ask Dalia Grybauskaitė, president of Lithuania and winner of the International Charlemagne Prize, to stand for young people in the current EU budget negotiations and we were invited by Martin Schulz to a meeting in Brussels. We have used this opportunity very much to put youth on the agenda of the European Parliament and to have a dialogue with influential people”. In the days after the victory, Europe on Track appeared in numerous publications all over the continent and AEGEE was congratulated by many external partners.

Dear winning team, you have given a very fresh and optimistic message about Europe, you used all the multimedia channels for young people, you have worked with many different countries, and you contribute to the EU 2020 strategy.” –Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament

The secret of Europe on Track’s success
Many people contributed to the success of Europe on Track. Of course InterRail and the ambassadors and the team in Brussels, but the locals were just as important. Mathieu Soete, one of the ambassadors: “Towards the end of our journey we could really start to see the enormous added value they offered to the project, organising group discussions, media coverage, and even city tours. Also, when you are changing language and currency every other day, it’s nice to have some stability and local knowledge to see you through the day. So AEGEE-Leuven-Tilburg-Enschede-Berlin, -Poznan, -Katowice-Praha-Brno-Wien-Bratislava-Budapest-Zagreb-Cluj-Napoca, -Bucuresti, -Sofia, and -Istanbul: thank you, this is also your prize!”

Team Blue in Katowice

Team Blue in Katowice

“We see it is very important for our projects to tackle things that are currently going on in society in order to maximize their impact” – Luis Alvarado Martinez

Why has Europe on Track won? We can distill several ingredients from the concept  that reveal the secret. Its biggest strength appears to be its ability to voice the opinions of young people about their European future and to inspire them to re-engage with the European dream. And by explicitly linking it to the Europe 2020 strategy, it is very relevant to current European politics. In times where faith is waning and Euroscepticism is growing this must have sounded like music to the ears of European leaders.

A promise for AEGEE’s future
What does this mean for AEGEE? Of course it means visibility, prestige and money, but there is more. Mathieu put it into words: “It means that we still have the knack for developing and executing big projects with European and external relevance. Over the past years a lot of people have said that AEGEE is increasingly turning inwards, but winning the Charlemagne Youth Prize for the second time shows that the recent drive for more thematic content and external representation is starting to show results”. Luis adds that “Europe on Track shows that when we work as one united network, we can achieve big things”.

Team Red in Toulouse

Team Red Toulouse

The future of Europe on Track, bright but undecided
The cycle of the project has not finished yet; Luis: “We want to use the prize money to produce a youth documentary which we will show in the European Parliament”, and also the survey is still ongoing, but the brainstorming phase for the next edition has already started. Most importantly the conditions of the travelers have to be improved, and the need to extend the project both geographically and in terms of topics and the team is also mentioned. The plan of the CD is to make Europe on Track a self-sustained and annual concept, just like the Summer University project.

Great plans of course, but not everyone sees this put into practice easily. Benjamin Battke, one of the ambassadors of the project: “I think the Europe on Track project will lose its attraction if carried on the same way. Except if the events would be huge, but that would be unlikely in my experience. It would need a very clear and significant objective, which I don’t know yet”. He raises a valid point. Europe on Track has proven to work as an instrument to address European leaders, but how to continue this momentum? Luis: “In order for the project to stay relevant, it has to stay connected with “hot topics” in Europe. By having different themes, and by proving to young people that this project is effective in delivering their message to decision makers, we will be able to make this initiative sustainable”. Topics that are brought to the table are for example Euroscepticism in the UK, Elections 2014 and the accession of Croatia to the EU. Brainstorming has started on the facebook page, where everyone is welcome to join.

“For me, a good project makes people think about their ideas of Europe, however a project that is kept inside the organisation has little chance of winning”. – Mathieu Soete

Benjamin explaining the map

Benjamin explaining the map

What can we learn from this?
All in all, this project means three things to AEGEE. Firstly as Mathieu mentioned, a recognition of the work we are doing and the path we are taking as a network. Secondly it is a challenge to our network to think about how we want to manifest ourselves in the future, what topics we want to tackle and which messages we want to spread.  And last but not least, Europe on Track serves as an example and encouragement for new ideas. In the end it is our thematic delivery that keeps AEGEE alive, so AEGEE has to carry on providing an inspiring and stimulating environment for new ideas. All our projects have a chance of winning as they have a clear European perspective, and as Benjamin very well said: “I am sure someone in AEGEE already has the next winning idea in mind”.

Pictures on the courtesy of Luis Alvarado Martinez and Europe on Track

Written by Marije Arentze, AEGEE-Leiden


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