How to be a good delegate

Agora Rhein-Neckar is coming up in a few weeks. Every local has selected its delegates, all proposals and candidatures are published and now it is time for the delegates to prepare themselves. Being a delegate is a responsible task; you have to represent your local in the broadest sense of the term and this year’s Chair Team will be more demanding than before. They are taking some measures to ensure a very productive Agora and are expecting all delegates to be well-prepared. But what does that mean, being prepared? And why is it so important? How can you be a good delegate? 

Chair table at Agora Budapest

During a prytanium at Agora Budapest a delegate from a small local approached me and asked: “Marije, please tell me what I should vote, I have no idea what this discussion is about”. I asked him about the opinion of his members, and he looked at me with a face that said: “How should I know”? I explained shortly what the proposal was about to help him form his opinion, but still he had no clue what to vote for. In the end I just told him to vote with the majority, which he did without further thinking.

Good news for unexperienced delegates: examples like these are the reason the Chair Team wants to help delegates where possible at the upcoming Agora. “Together with the CD we want to ask delegates and envoys where they have problems, give this feedback to their locals and maybe cooperate with the Network Commission in order to solve these problems in the future. We also want to plan a moment during the Agora to explain why it is so important for delegates to actively take part in prytania”, says Vice-Chairperson Paul Smits.

The importance of prepared delegates
“AEGEE is an organization believing in and promoting a Europe standing for democracy and the rule of law. Therefore it is expected from us all to set an example to the world and to respect our democratic structure”, stated the Chair Team in an e-mail to the Network.  Democracy is a great thing and AEGEE is an opportunity for students who lack democracy in their own country to experience it. With our work and our lobbying we are striving to influence democracies all over Europe, so we’d better set a good example ourselves. Besides that AEGEE is a vast network-based organization, and in order to keep track with developments in European politics it is important that our democratic decision-making process runs as smoothly as possible. One of the key values of democracy is the equal representation of every individual, and therefore the importance of good delegate-preparation for Agorae cannot be emphasized enough.

Rule no. 1: Stay awake

The delegates and envoys of locals to the Agora of AEGEE-Europe are elected by the local Agora of the respective AEGEE local.
– Working Format of the Agora Art. 3.2

Every local sends at least one and at most three delegates, elected in the local Agora. The number of votes per AEGEE Antenna depends directly on the membership fees paid to AEGEE-Europe.– Statutes of AEGEE-Europe Art. 14.3

According to the abovementioned articles from the CIA (Corpus Iuridicum AEGEEnse, the European rules that each local should keep to), delegates need to be chosen democratically. A small questionnaire among locals from different parts of the network indicates that the way this issue is dealt with varies per local. In some locals delegates are chosen by the board instead of elected by the local Agora, and in some locals the opinion of the board about elections and proposals outweighs the opinion of other members. Not very democratic, you might think, since a delegate represents every member of his local individually, not only his board. Moreover, as you can read above locals are actually paying for their voting rights, which is one more reason to take the job seriously.

How can you be a good delegate?
Enough with the sounding like a moralistic professor. Imagine you are a freshman on your first Agora, and your local board made you a delegate in the absence of more experienced members. They pointed out your responsibilities, gave you a big pile of paperwork with all the proposals and candidatures and wished you good luck. And then you sit there in a prytanium, between all those experienced members, and while you are trying hard to follow the discussion the responsibility towards your local suddenly weighs heavily on your shoulders…

Participants’ badges at Agora Budapest

Being a good delegate contains two key points:
1. Knowing what the discussions are about and
2. Knowing what the members you are representing think about the subjects. It’s about understanding the value of democracy. And in fact you can learn very much from taking part in a discussion in a prytanium.

Here are some tips:
1. Read everything beforehand, you don’t have time for that during the Agora.
2. Ask experienced members if there are things you don’t understand. They are always willing to explain things (but don’t let them tell you what to vote, it is your choice).
3. Make sure your local board organizes a consultation event where you can collect the opinions of as much members of your local as possible. This way you have the opinion of your members to fall back on if you don’t know what to do and this also creates new involved members in your local.
4. Dare to speak up and be critical in prytania, it is always highly appreciated. You are never the only one with this criticism.
5. For the sake of democracy, please keep far from voting arrangements.
6. After returning back to your local after the Agora, make sure you report about your activities as delegate. It is very useful to get feedback from your members.

And last but not least: have fun. You’d be surprised how fascinating it is to discuss with young people from so many different cultures. The first time it might be a bit scary, but if you’re over that is is actually quite awesome to ask a question in front of so many people.

One more note: I made a mistake by telling the guy from the story to vote with the majority. If you really, really don’t know what to think of something, voting abstention is the best option. Because for democracy, giving a hollow and unfounded opinion is much worse than giving no opinion at all.

Pictures on the courtesy of AEGEE-Enschede and Dasha Onokhova

Written by Marije Arentze, AEGEE-Leiden