If you have attended EPM Zagreb 2017, you might have assisted to the final round of the debate competition organised by the Civic Education Working Group. The debate in Zagreb was just the last step of a journey started last year in November when Balint Toronyai from AEGEE-Budapest and Doro Harles from AEGEE-Mannheim, members of the CEWG sent an open call for topics. We spoke with them to understand how the competition went.
Why did you decide to do the competition?
Bálint: We participated in some amazing debates during the Summer University of AEGEE-Warszawa last summer. We experienced how competitive debating can improve complex and critical thinking in a really fun way. After both of us joined the Civic Education Working Group we decided to organise this competition to strengthen civic competencies and promote debating in the AEGEE community.
How did you select participants?
Bálint: The application for the competition was open for every AEGEE member; however there were two conditions: the applicants had to be available in Zagreb during the EPM where the final debate took place and they had to apply in pairs (or pair-up with the other single participants) as the debate format and the winning prize were created for such teams. The applicants had to write about their motivation, debating experience and answer some other simple questions, but the true selection was coming in the pre-round of the competition.
Who were the teams?
Bálint: Most of the teams were formed by people who already knew each other, with one exception where we matched two single participants. It was a really diverse field, seven different AEGEE antennas were proudly represented: Skopje, Heidelberg, Osnabrück, Nijmegen, Bilbao, Zaragoza and Ljubljana. It is easy to say that it was a truly European debate competition.
What was the structure of the debate?
Bálint: There were two rounds of the debate competition. The pre-round was an online round, where the teams had to prepare video statements with their arguments and send them to us and to their debate opposition. This online way of debating was far from optimal, but it was a compromise we had to take for a Europe-wide debate. The best four teams of the pre-round qualified to the live final which took place at EPM Zagreb. The format of the final was the classical British Parliamentary debate, where two teams have to compete with each other both on the government and the opposition side. This complex way of debating makes it possible to approach issues from multiple angles.
What were the topics debated?
Doro: In the pre-round, there were three topics, in debates called proposals, debated on: “This house believes that (THBT) migration should be promoted in the EU”, “THBT an unconditional basic income should be established in the EU” and “THBT people older than 70 should not vote”. The topics were chosen from a bunch of ideas send from the Network in an open call for topics. The proposal at the final was “THBT referendums should be forbidden in national democracies” and fitted to the topic of the EPM “Populism and Anti-European Agitation”.
What was the reaction? Are you satisfied with the result?
Doro: The audience at the final was interested in the topic and the format used to bring the topic closer to people. They could also participate in it by voting before and after the debate which side they were on: for or against the proposal. After the debate, more people were for the proposal than before. In general, the audience liked the event. The participants could develop and practice their skills in public speaking during the competition and all managed the speech in front of a big audience well. We are very satisfied with the development that our participants made over time and that people were interested and not super bored by debating. About the result in the sense of the winners, we cannot say that we would have liked one time better than the other. We are delighted with the winners who are happy about winning the two interrail tickets.
Would you replicate it in other events?
Doro: We were already thinking about it because a competition is a good way to show that debating can be interesting. Yet, we need to have a fitting event, time to prepare it and find a good prize for the next time. Maybe we are going to do it a bit smaller than this time. Nothing is settled yet but we are working on it.
Is there something you want to add?
Doro: Maybe people got inspired by the debate from EPM and want to organise one in their locals or somewhere else. We have updated the debating toolkit and people can find all relevant information there. Check it out!
Written by Erika Bettin, AEGEE-Verona