YVote 2014 Convention in Wien

Earlier this month, 32 young people from all around Europe gathered in one of Europe’s economic, political and cultural capitals, Vienna, to participate in the sixth Y Vote 2014 Convention, the topic of which was about the role of the EU in the world. A very important subject since, in the context of eurocrisis and rising euroscepticism we are facing nowadays, it is vital to not only reflect on the reforms that need to be implemented within the EU, but to think about the image and position we, European citizens, want to show the world.

Under the lead of the Y Vote 2014 Project Team as well as supported by the members of AEGEE-Wien, participants were able to enjoy three full days of sessions, workshops and panel discussions revolving around possible future scenarios for Europe. In order to understand the topic better, the genuine purpose of the EU was reminded: in times of its creation, the EU’s goal was to bring peace and stability, and to promote democracy, not only on the continent itself, but also elsewhere in the world. Half a century later, the EU still stands firmly when it comes to its values: promoting democracy, human rights and stability through development, sustainability and trade, as well as developing its foreign and external policy. Now, the real question is: how do we adapt these values and goals to a world that is ever changing, and does not reflect the same situation as the one we were in at the starting point?

Being passionate about the subject, it was soon understood that the EU and its institutions have a very complex way of functioning. Once again, one of the biggest issues was identified to be the lack of information. EU citizens and, more specifically, young people, think that the EU is a very abstract construction, that it does not have a concrete and direct impact on their everyday lives, and this is one of the main reasons for them not to take an active role in political life.

However, the approach of the Y Vote Convention was – as it has been for all the conferences so far -based on the non-formal education and focused on letting the voice of the youth be heard. During all the sessions participants could ask questions, state their opinions on concrete issues and discuss them with the content team, as well as with the whole group. In this way, participants became more involved and acquired a strong sense of awareness that their opinion counts. We are able and we need to let the institutions that are supposed to reflect our will know that we can propose solutions based on our own perspectives and experiences; this is a right we are given as citizens of this common space we call home.

The moment we were all waiting for with great excitement was the panel discussion with Members of the European Parliament (MEPs): Jörg Leichtfried (SPO – S&D), MEP Candidate Madeleine Petrovic (Green – EFA), MEP Candidate Miroslav Hajnoš (EDP) and Ex-MEP Friedhelm Frischenschlager (former LIF and FPO – in EP for ALDE). Participants were truly excited about this unique opportunity and hungry for some answers and direct debate with these MEPs, especially bearing in mind that both experienced and relatively young politicians were present. However, this panel discussion turned out to be somewhat disappointing, for the simple fact that we felt like the MEPs were not really sharing their knowledge and were acting like mere politicians – managing questions very diplomatically by turning the answers in a completely different direction. In my opinion, this is precisely where the problem lies: how can we have more transparency and a better communication between the EU and its citizens if the system is so bureaucratized? All the official speeches are wrapped up in beautiful diplomatic discourse, but in the end they are so shallow and empty that they fail saying anything relevant. I dare to say this is not the Europe we want, and hopefully we will be able to make a clear statement about it and take some small steps in order to change things through this kind of events.

Luckily, more interesting sessions followed – we looked at different visions of the role the EU should play and display in the world. Should it focus more on developing a common diplomatic system, like the European External Action Service or EEAS (created in 2010, thus still in a developing process), or strive towards a more European level when it comes to external relations or, on the contrary, should it give more importance to independent foreign policy of its Member States? Is Europe supposed to act as a regional factor, having a say in conflicting situations that touch its interests directly?

These were just some of the questions participants faced when drafting recommendations that will be handed to the candidate MEPs before the elections take place. In groups of several people, we tried to make concrete proposals and to come up with realistic solutions that could really be put into practice. Nevertheless, it was genuinely hard to formulate well-defined and tangible suggestions that could be taken into account by the EP.

These different visions of the EU lead us precisely towards the next Y Vote convention in Brussels, when young Europeans will continue discussing different aspects of the EU integration process in order to decide which Europe we, the present and the future of our continent, want for ourselves.

 See you there and do not forget to vote!

 Written by Hana Hudak, AEGEE-Paris