Before anything, I feel like I need to introduce myself. I am Pablo Palazón, Network Commissioner (Bergamo 2016-Enschede 2017) and this article is to express my very own and personal opinion about AEGEE. Many of my colleagues in the Network Commission, as well as many fellow AEGEEans, will disagree with me, and I kind of like that. That is what, I think, AEGEE should be— disagreements and agreements while respecting each other.
Sharing my opinion on this topic has long been in my head and I hope that it will generate some debate or at least some thoughts. When I first heard about AEGEE, four years ago now, I loved the idea. Young people fighting for a borderless Europe, fighting for the construction of bridges between cultures and fostering the European identity is just a gorgeous idea. My first Summer University only confirmed my love for AEGEE and how much I wasted my time before! But now, after four years, that teenager crush for this organisation evolved to something more like “I love you despite yourself”.
My first Agora was quite shocking: 800 people gathering together! Well, not really… Just about 100 paying attention, about 250 sleeping or taking selfies (#Agora #SavingEurope) and 450 not even present, visiting the city or cities nearby. Why would AEGEE make the effort to organise such a big event and gather so many people? Finally, we understood it— the Agora Reform Task Force is working on improving it and there is some progress, but the core problem remains there and I doubt it is going to be solved. In general, Agora is quite boring. Is it a problem of the Agora itself? Is Agora too long? (Agora Enschede will last five days. Crazy, right?) Are we having too many discussions about non-crucial things and not enough about important stuff? Would it be better to have way shorter Agoras, to give one afternoon off for social programme and have most of the voting online or done by other means? Would that change the experience of the participants?
I feel Agora is the biggest show of AEGEE. The image towards externals is quite good. Local newspapers cover it like a massive gathering of youth working to make Europe a youth-friendly continent. The city mayor gives an amazing speech empowering youth. But what I see when I go to an Agora is the gym divided in “Spanish Federación”; “Italian Mafia”; “Greek ghetto”, etc… I see plenaries and prytannia half empty. I see people approving activity reports that basically say: “Well, we did not do much this year”. I even feel a little concerned when I see the after movie, and most of it is based on clips from the parties at the Agora. The best part of the Agora is not the Agora, and that is scary!
And the worst part of the problem is that Agora is just an example. Than, Network Meetings where we have 9 hours of training per day. We make the effort to go to amazing cities and wonderful places and we spend 20 hours on trainings. Is that again too much? Would it be better to have fewer sessions and make NWM more appealing? For me, it is not a matter of trying to show how to improve your local and how to benefit from projects in one weekend. It is the perfect place to actually network, to get to know people from other locals, to share problems and solutions. The most common feedback that I generally get from NWMs is that it was a pity not having time to visit the city where the NWM was hosted, or hike around the accommodation if it was away from the city. If we want to empower people and make them more aware of what AEGEE is and how awesome the network is, maybe it is about being more relaxed about training and focusing more on making people enjoy it on a different way. Weekend events with 20 hours of training do not generate active members, they generate sleepy people.
The level of complexity that AEGEE has reached is a problem. People involved in European Bodies or Projects are asked to spend hours and hours on internal issues. We fail to foster the organisation of thematic events and we are seeing how the number of locals decreases. We suck the energy from the most active people and we ask them to give even more free time than they are keen on giving away. AEGEE’s backbone is a bunch of people stressed by the amount of work they need to do. Again, have we grown in a too complex way? Are we, by trying to achieve too much, not achieving enough? Is the amount of work we ask from CD and active people in AEGEE just unbearable?
I am a biologist and I have seen it before. It is a common rule in ecology- when a system becomes too complex, it collapses and needs to restart from scratch. How to regenerate the system? Mother Nature does it with natural disasters. And I fear that AEGEE will need a natural disaster to fix its complexity. But the question is: is the natural disaster already occurring in AEGEE? Maybe it is just in front of you and you have not seen it yet.
A few months ago we (and I say “we” because we voted it at Agora) started an amazing thing called European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI). We aimed to reach 1.000.000 signatures to push the European Parliament to put Civic Education on their political agenda. We knew it would be difficult and we thought: even if we don’t succeed, we will be raising awareness about it, at least. A few months later, we have just a little more than 700 signatures (www.morethaneducation.eu if you have not voted yet). Not even people present at Agora, where the ECI was approved, have signed it! I do not want to be in the position to explain to people that AEGEE is an organisation that cares about Civic Education (since it has been one of our focus areas for the past three years and will be for the upcoming three years), meanwhile I can’t get my members to spend two minutes filling a form for the European Parliament.
AEGEE needs to rethink what it is and what it wants to be. And it might need to simplify things and change lot of stuffs. Those changes will be controversial for sure, but they will need to happen. What is clear to me is that, when Franck Biancheri founded our beloved organisation, AEGEEans could save Europe. In contrast, now I have the feeling that we would rather enjoy the very last European Night while Europe is collapsing. The beauty of AEGEE is that in 5 years time, just a few of us will still be an active part of AEGEE, but whatever step we take now will influence the future generations. I think it is time to act and ask ourselves: AEGEE, where are you going?
Written by Pablo Palazón, AEGEE-Manchester