As every year, the European Charlemagne Youth Prize (ECYP) took place in the city of Aachen, under its 7th edition. After Europe on Track’s major success last year, some AEGEE members gathered in Charlemagne’s city in order to know which project would be its successor. Youth unemployment, selfies, remarkable guests, journalism and the situation in Ukraine have just been some of the major highlights of this event that took place in late May.
1. Our Europe takes the legacy of its predecessor, Europe on Track
Denmark was the winner of this year’s edition of the Charlemagne Youth Prize, with the project Vores Europa (‘Our Europe’). This project consisted of a 12-month long journey taken by Peter Laugesen and Elena Askløf, who travelled through 24 European countries and interviewed young people about their expectations and wishes for Europe. They published radio podcasts, films, articles, interviews and pictures on their website, and even took up a experimental Skype session in collaboration with 21 Danish schools, involving 2,800 young students whom the creators talked to. It was a truly outstanding project, self-funded by its own creators and it was certainly one of the ‘favourite ones’ to achieve the biggest prize.
The story of Our Europe might seem familiar to many of you… yes! Many of us recalled the Europe on Track project of AEGEE-Europe, which won last year’s Charlemagne Youth Prize. Looks like the recipe for success in a ECYP candidature is very simple: involve young people from several countries, talk about their concerns and reach the policy-makers with audiovisual material and social media.
2. Youth (un)employment, the hottest topic
One of the biggest topics addressed by the Danish Our Europe project was with no doubts youth unemployment, which has reached staggering figures in countries such as Spain or Italy. However, this topic was the main issue by several of the 28 projects presented. Both the second and third place winners of the ECYP, the Netherlands and Cyprus, had youth unemployment as their focus.
On the one hand, JouwDelft & Co., the Dutch national winner, hosted a European youth congress in November 2012 which aimed to find local-scale solutions to reduce youth unemployment in Europe and brought young active citizens and policy advisors from several countries together. The outcome of the conference was a resolution on these recommendations, which was issued to the European Parliament in November 2013. On the other hand, Youth Dynamics is a Cypriot youth organisation that hosted a training course in April 2013 that involved seminars, presentations, workshops and discussions based on the same topic, gathering 26 participants from nine EU countries.
3. EBM Valleta, our AEGEE Representative
Mariella Rapa (AEGEE-Valletta) was the representative of AEGEE in the list of nominees for the final Youth Prize, representing the European Boards’ Meeting that took place in Valletta in February 2013, which gathered around two hundred AEGEEans under the topic of ‘the future of Europe’.
Previously interviewed by our journalist Cosmina Bisboaca (AEGEE-Torino), AEGEE-Valletta stated that it was “a very big honour” to be the National winner in Malta, especially taking into account that other strong organisations such as JEF Malta submitted their projects too.
Chucky Bartolo told Cosmina the reasons why EBM Valletta decided to run for the Charlemagne Youth Prize: “The organising team that worked on the EBM spent a lot of their time and energy to make the event as great as it could be. Knowing that we had worked so hard to make an event like this meant that we were able to recognise that the EBM was worth submitting. Inspired by the success of “Europe on Track”, we submitted the project for the Charlemagne Youth Prize”. Despite not making it to the ‘final three’, Mariella got the National Award out of the hands of Anni Podimata (vice-president of the European Parliament), and showed the pride of the whole local for being among the 28 finalists.
4. Youth at the back… but not afraid to ask
The 28 national winners of the Charlemagne Youth Prize were afterwards invited at the Charlemagne Forum, which gathered several ‘top’ guests. Unfortunately, the young representatives were forced to be sitting in the back, whereas the jury and guests were right on the front, sitting comfortably and having snacks and drinks next to them. For many, that was the vivid image that young people were merely playing a secondary role in this Charlemagne Prize, but we were not afraid to take the driver’s seat, ask questions and confront the opinion of the older experts… even if we had to stand up and there was no microphone available for us at first.
Especially significant was the speech given by Luis Alvarado Martínez, president of AEGEE-Europe and representative of Europe on Track as the ECYP winner of 2013, who encouraged the organisers of the Charlemagne Youth Prize to involve young people more actively: “It’s them who should be sitting on the front”. Moreover, he suggested the idea of them selecting the winners of the ECYP – after all, what is a ‘youth prize’ if it is not selected by youth representatives?
5. ‘Top’ guests… taking AEGEEan’s selfies
Besides Ms. Podimata, who was replacing the president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, there were other remarkable guests among the visitors in Aachen. One of them was the former president of the European Central Bank, mr. Jean-Claude Trichet, who was taking part at the panel discussion of the Charlemagne Forum. But specially striking was the appearance in the middle of the Forum of Herman van Rompuy, president of the European Council. During the question round, two AEGEE members (Anna, from AEGEE-Barcelona, and Erik, from AEGEE-Bratislava) were sending their questions to the pannelists, when all of a sudden people started to applause. Van Rompuy arrived, the question round was interrupted and he gave his speech where several topics such as the previous Sunday’s EP elections were tackled.
In fact, Mr. Van Rompuy embarked in a small inter-generational dialogue with our AEGEEans Luis and Mariella, when they asked to take a selfie with him. “You mean, the picture that you take yourself, right?”, rumour has it that he asked.
6. The situation in Ukraine in the Charlemagne Youth Prize
Once Herman Van Rompuy had arrived at the Forum, Luis asked him about the situation in Ukraine, and he gave an answer paraphrasing Tolstoy (“we, Europe and Russia, have one thing in common – Christianity”), that our member of AEGEE-Bratislava, Erik Redli, reported perfecty in his article at Foreign Students.
Those were not the only remarkable guests of the week – in the Charlemagne Prize ceremony, there were the prime ministers of Moldova and Ukraine, Iurie Leanca and Arseniy Yatseniuk, right on the aftermath of the Ukrainian elections. In fact, the event gathered a few hundreds of protesters from Ukraine and Russia in the main square of Aachen, protesting against the war – but from different sides. Both were divided into two blocks and the police had to intervene, as reported by our friend from OneEurope Yuliya Kosharevska, even though there were no major incidents.
7. AEGEE-Aachen and OneEurope, a top cooperation for a ‘top event’
Under the special request of the city council of Aachen, AEGEE-Aachen organised a ‘side event’ for journalists who would cover the Charlemagne Youth Prize for their national media and other internet platforms, in order to give more visibility to a prize which has proven to be of a major importance. Our ‘polar bears’ seeked the cooperation with the OneEurope magazine, who also reported actively about the happenings in Aachen and brought their expertise in journalism.
The atmosphere between AEGEE and OneEurope members was great and it truly felt like a real newsroom sometimes. Moreover, AEGEE-Aachen provided a wonderful social programme with a city tour around the city, a party with the national winners of the ECYP… and the members of OneEurope could experience for the first time what a European Night was. Congratulations, AEGEE-Aachen, and thank you for such an effort!
And next year… it can be you! This year’s Charlemagne Youth Prize event has proven that a project that gathers young people from several European countries, that deals with some of the ‘hot’ topics in European youth and also involves policy-makers and advisors can be eligible to win. It is acknowledged that we have taken part in many AEGEE projects with a big potential that comply with these same characteristics. So, what are you waiting for? Maybe the next Charlemagne Prize could be in AEGEE’s hands again!
Written by Anna Gumbau, AEGEE-Barcelona