The countries on the European continent have been through a lot – war, economic crisis, ideological conflict, social tension – to name just a few. Several problems that appeared to be insurmountable have been overcome, but many others still persist. What is the answer to these issues? Or maybe it’s better to ask – who? If Europe is still under construction, as many people say, then who are Europe’s construction workers?
We like to perceive ourselves as precisely that. Our vision for Europe is an inclusive one, with equality and mutual respect for all. This also means that we don’t stop at the borders of the European Union. AEGEE consists of a network of local antennas in cities all over the European continent. All these antennas are treated equally. Unfortunately the reality is that the people in the different antennas do not face equal opportunities in life. There are differences everywhere, but most notably we witness today a gap between the western and the eastern parts of Europe. The EU also acknowledges this, and started the Eastern Partnership (EaP) in 2009. The members of AEGEE soon realized that we were in a perfect position to complement this EU program with a more grassroots level approach, to reach students in particular. After all, we already had antennas in the Eastern Partnership countries for many years, and had established close friendship and cooperation within the network.
Our Eastern Partnership Project Team, consisting of people from both EaP and non-EaP countries, was born in 2011 and immediately started off with high ambitions. We held congresses, workshops, and panel sessions; we organized action days, a summer university, multiday conferences and events. After a year, we came together for a team meeting in Brussels, and proudly reflected on our successes; but also on our disappointments, which mainly had to do with a bar that we had set too high for ourselves when we started. We drafted a revised thematic focus for 2012-2013 with narrower specified aims and goals, and we’ve been working hard on it ever since.
So what are we currently working on? With the underlying ambition of creating equal opportunities for youth across the European continent, and the ideal of a deepening European integration, we have three main goals. To begin with, we strive to promote political awareness of EaP countries in non-EaP countries. Furthermore, we aim to promote European values (such as democracy and human rights) in EaP countries, and increase people’s knowledge about these values. Last but not least, we seek to contribute to conflict resolution processes in the EaP countries and to increase mutual tolerance. We mean to implement these goals in several ways. We already have three conferences in the planning; two election observer missions; a two-week bus ride across Poland, Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova; a one-week peace academy; and we always encourage AEGEE antennas to organize EaP related events and help out wherever we can.
We recognize that these aims and goals are ambitious. We do not claim that we will reach everybody. However, we strongly believe in our work and we believe we can make a difference. We are therefore deeply honored and very happy with the recent acknowledgement of our efforts by European Commissioner Stefan Fule for Enlargement and European Neighborhood Policy. This message of support has motivated us even further and we will keep on working towards a peaceful, inclusive Europe with equal opportunities for all!
Written by Anne Stikkers, Eastern Partnership Project