Y Vote 2014
The second Y Vote Convention took place in Las Palmas de Gran Canarias, Spain. The topic was EU democratic gap. What is EU democratic gap (or democratic deficit)? It is the distance between the EU institutions and the European citizens, who feel that the decision-making is too complex and that the EU is too far away to impact their lives. Why is it an issue? Because European Parliament (EP) elections are coming and, firstly abstention is predicted to be historically high, secondly because polls show that people will vote significantly for far right parties. AEGEE-Europe’s “Y Vote 2014 – it’s up to You(th) !” project thus aims to raise awareness on the EU in order to encourage participation in the EP elections. The team’s first meeting took place in January 2013.
The convention was greatly orientated towards turning participants into actors of their experience. Indeed, many sessions took the form of workshops where participants were putting their ideas together, discussing in groups about the issues the EU faces.
The aim of each convention is for all participants to issue recommendations to Members of the European Parliament (MEP) at the end of the conference. In Las Palmas, participants discussed three EU issues in small groups and proposed recommendations to the whole group at the end.
These examples show one of the features that made this convention a success: empowering participants, treating them not as people who need to learn something from “experts” but as people being able to discuss about the EU democratic gap and proposing solution based on their perspective and experience.
Following this path, the rest of the article allows space for participants and organizers’ voice.
Voices from participants and organizers:
Leo Büsch (participant, AEGEE-Aachen) talks about his experience: “I feel more European when I know that I’m not the only one out there and we are many people to participate and actively construct the European integration.”
Ola Kluczka (Y Vote team, AEGEE-Krakow) also enjoyed exchanging ideas with other young people from all across Europe, and she was very happy with the group of participants who were “really active, willing to contribute to the discussions and daring to ask challenging questions”.
Highly experienced Menchu Martín Ceballos (local organiser, AEGEE-Las Palmas) was one of the main organizers of the convention. Thanks to her and her team, the convention was a great success. She too was happy that participants were so eager to get involved, contributing to making the convention interesting.
Javier Castillo Fajardo (not in AEGEE…yet) was helping with the PR video material and says that he gained “friends, knowledge, work, interests, possibilities, responsibility, union feeling, European feeling… the feeling of being part of something bigger: Europe.”
All their points of view converge towards the same ideas: the EU convention was a success and contributed to foster and/or reinforce the European feeling, the cornerstone of AEGEEan spirit.
Impacting EP elections through Y Vote
“I think voting is not just filling a blank space, but having knowledge of how politics work and make the proper decisions.” (Javier Castillo Fajardo)
Leo Büsch felt the conference had an impact on the participants but as he recalls “most of the task is up to the participants now as they need to raise awareness about the EU and the upcoming elections. Only then will we be able to measure the actual impact of the convention.”
Ola Kluczka stresses out: “The presence of guests (notably President of the Cabildo of Canaries Islands: José Miguel Bravo de Laguna Bermúdez; Secretary General of the International Union of Socialist Youth Beatriz Talegon, and MEP Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar) and the media coverage (Canary TV, etc.) for sure raised the visibility of our project, but more importantly, the message we are trying to spread. Moreover, we also had outdoor activities in order to have some interaction with the local people (…) However, the most important outcome of the convention was drafting recommendations on the topic of EU democratic deficit. The participants came up with great ideas, which altogether with the recommendations from other Y Vote conventions will be incorporated into the Students Agenda for Europe. We hope this document to be a set of guidelines for the EP candidates and later on to the newly elected MEPs, reminding them, which vision for Europe the students expect.”
Factors behind EU democratic gap
For Menchu Martín Ceballos, the democratic gap is even more present between Brussels and the peripheral regions: “that’s why we wanted this event to focus on this, because living in a peripheral area allows you to be aware of these factors.” A distance that is not only physical but in people’s mind as well: “My experience as a person from Canary Islands (peripheral region) is that people think we’re so far away that we’re not really even from Europe, or they know we are but they don’t feel the same way as we (AEGEEans) do.”
Menchu Martín Ceballos’s highlights show how pertinent was the choice to host this very convention in Las Palmas.
Tackling EU democratic gap
For Ola Kluczka, solutions can be taken at the institutional level: “I’d like to see Commissioners being chosen by the European citizens in direct elections. Also, giving the European Parliament the legislative initiative, as well as more transparency in European Council’s decisions, would be milestones in order to diminish the democratic gap.”
Leo Büsch highlights another tool to fight democratic gap. For him “information, information, information” is the key. This was also mentioned by the rest of the participants during the convention. Sometimes, mistrust in Europe results from the lack of knowledge about what the EU actually does. That is why, providing the public with information will allow them to foster their own and informed thoughts about the EU and the 2014 elections.
For Menchu Martín Ceballos, AEGEE members have a key role to play: “we should spread this European feeling that we all share, we should just inform people and make them realise that we’re in Europe (…) now we need to teach younger generations what Europe is, inform them of all the advantages that being European has, make them love that continent that our grandparents dreamed unified.”
Javier Castillo Fajardo believes the solution lies is changing the way politicians deal with Europe: “Politicians need to take responsibility of their own decisions and acts.” For us, members of AEGEE and youngsters in general, Javier Castillo Fajardo says: “making noise is the proper way to get heard.”
The Y Vote team is composed of:
Léa Charlet – Project Manager, AEGEE-Paris
Javier Mendoza Jiménez – Content Manager / Responsible for the Voting Guide, AEGEE-Tenerife
Aleksandra Kluczka – Content Manager / Responsible for the Youth Agenda, AEGEE-Kraków
Katarzyna Białożyt – Content Manager / Responsible for local activities, AEGEE-Poznań
Esperanza Rodríguez – Financial Manager, AEGEE-Las Palmas
Alma Mozgovaja – Quality Assessment Manager, AEGEE-Riga
Lucille Rieux – Capacity Building Manager / Secretary General of AEGEE-Europe
Miguel Gallardo – EU Political Manager / Projects Director of AEGEE-Europe
Luis Alvarado Martínez – EU Political Manager / President of AEGEE-Europe
Upcoming Y Vote conventions:
Berlin (Germany): Austerity vs solidarity – saving the eurozone? 28/01- 2/2
Barcelona (Spain): Sustainability 5 – 9/2
Paris (France): Gender equality 18 – 23/2
Alicante (Spain): Internet Governance 26/2 – 2/3
Krakow (Poland): Education, research and mobility 4 – 9 /3
Wien (Austria): Model and role of the EU in the world 14 – 18 /3
Cluj-Napoca (Romania): Pluralism on the media 25 – 30/ 3
More info at:
Don’t forget to vote
EU elections – 22 and 25 May 2014
Written by Léa Hannaoui-Saulais, AEGEE-Lille
Picture credit : YVote Conference ‘EU Democratic Gap’ AEGEE-Las Palmas Facebook Page