Position – AEGEE-Europe | European Students' Forum AEGEE (Association des Etats Généraux des Etudiants de l’Europe / European Students’ Forum) is a student organisation that promotes cooperation, communication and integration amongst young people in Europe. As a non-governmental, politically independent, and non-profit organisation AEGEE is open to students and young people from all faculties and disciplines – today it counts 13 000 members, active in close to 200 university cities in 40 European countries, making it the biggest interdisciplinary student association in Europe. Fri, 08 Dec 2017 19:38:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.5.12 Policy Paper on European Citizens’ Initiative /policy-paper-on-european-citizens-initiative/ Mon, 23 Oct 2017 14:19:33 +0000 /?p=7203 By Júlia Hanesz

Introduction

AEGEE / European Students’ Forum is a non-governmental, politically independent, and non-profit student organization, which has around 13,000 members from close to 200 cities and almost 40 countries all over Europe. We strive for a democratic, diverse and borderless Europe, which is socially, economically and politically integrated and values the participation of young people in its construction and development. Our main mission is to strengthen mutual understanding among young Europeans and bring Europe closer by empowering them to take an active role in the society. For this reason, AEGEE aims to create a space for dialogue and learning opportunities for young people as well as act as their representative to decision makers.

 

Civic Education has become an important topic for our organization, while having a twofold approach and purpose. On the one hand, we aim to increase the civic competences of AEGEE members to enable them to become responsible citizens. On the other hand, we aim to put civic education on the political agenda at all levels. In 2008, AEGEE with other organizations lobbied for the introduction of the European Citizen’s Initiative (ECI) as the first transnational participatory democratic tool of the EU. We contributed to it by initiating a project called “Take Control – Ways to democracy in Europe”. Additionally, AEGEE took part in The ECI Campaign[1] together with many organisations such as Democracy International. Eight years later, AEGEE used the ECI to raise awareness on the topic of civic education by launching the “More than Education – Shaping Active and Responsible Citizens” European Citizens’ Initiative. The project has allowed us to develop our own civic competences and is, therefore, a great example of informal civic learning. Furthermore, the purpose of using the ECI tool has been to assess its strengths and the limitations as a tool for European citizens.

 

The following policy paper aims to achieve three things. First, the paper will highlight the importance of such a participatory democratic tool. Secondly, there will be a summary of the experience of young Europeans dealing with the ECI and lastly the paper will outline possible improvements for the ECI.

During the preparatory phase of the project we discovered some imperfections of the tool, therefore the development of this policy paper started in the initial stages of the ECI – More Than Education campaign.

The European Commission decided to address the issues related to the ECI and launched an official consultation process, which AEGEE also participated in. As we are primarily an organisation that focuses on youth, this policy paper highlights a youth perspective of the ECI. Moreover, we mention future activities that will form part of an overall strategy.

 

In the first section of this paper, some aspects of the wider social and political context are described, which highlight the relevance of the ECI and other forms of democratic innovation and citizen participation. This follows a short section characterising the most important details of organizing an ECI.

The relevance of direct participation in policy making, tools like referendums and citizens’ initiatives was examined in a survey among AEGEE members. Its results and implications are presented in the third section.

Following this, the story of the “More than Education – Shaping Active and Responsible Citizens” ECI organized by AEGEE members is detailed. Based on a questionnaire and interviews with members involved in the campaign, the main benefits of the tool are described and faced obstacles are identified in order to form recommendations for further improvement of the tool.

As a conclusion, the final position of AEGEE and recommendations towards the European Union and member states for the development of the ECI are stated in the last two sections.

 

01| Contextualisation

 

Today’s Europe is a multicultural society that is experiencing constant changes in terms of various socio-economic factors such as the intensive migratory flow to Europe from non-European countries as well as migratory flows between European countries. Furthermore, effects of the financial crisis of 2008 are still perceptible in many regions. Potential radicalisation among marginalized groups and the extremist movements have become a serious threat to Europe. The EU as an actor has an important role to play in tackling cross-border challenges. However, the EU itself is challenged by other issues (for instance by the Brexit) and this puts any further development of the EU into question.

 

Although 68% of the Europeans identify themselves as citizens of the EU, only 56% are optimistic about the future of the EU and less than half, 42%, think that their voices count on the EU level [1]. This shows that many Europeans are still not fully aware of the European civic identity. The democratic governance of some European countries was challenged through social movements like the 15M in Spain or the Syntagma protests in Greece, which strived for better political representation. These revealing issues or even crises of European democracy contributed to the rise of populist politics.

It seems that to face these challenges a great amount of flexibility is required and new political, economic and social solutions need to be found. Direct democracy can play an important role in these processes at the local, regional, national and even European level. However, we should be aware that direct democratic procedures have a long-term political cultural learning effect. People have to first acknowledge and practice such forms of decision-making, in particular with the help of public debates. During this process they are likely to develop a different and more cooperative view on their life, community and society they are living in [2].

 

If bearing in mind the literal meaning of the word ‘democracy’ as the rule of the people, ‘direct democracy’ aims to achieve the most direct translation of the people’s will into political decisions that is practically possible [3]. Therefore, direct democracy can be described as a political system, which enables citizens to decide for themselves whether to adopt or change laws [4]. Similarly, participatory democracy is founded on the action of citizens who can exercise some power directly and decide on issues affecting their lives, however, this does not involve voting on specific policies [5]. Most importantly both concepts allow citizens to participate directly in law and decision making processes in addition to the right to vote during elections for representatives in the parliament. Examples for direct democratic tools are referendums, recalls and examples for participatory democracy are citizens’ juries, town meetings or citizens’ assemblies and initiatives. The ECI is also considered to be a participatory democratic tool, since it enables the citizens from all member states to propose legislation to the European Commission, but it does not include voting on a given issue [6].

 

02| The European Citizens’ Initiative: One year, one million signatures

 

The ECI was introduced in 2012. Since then, more than 50 Citizens’ Committees have tried to launch their own initiatives and collect the million signatures required. Any ECI can be successful if at least one million signatures are collected. So far four of them succeeded. In the following section the procedure of the ‘One year, one million signatures’ is described.

 

The main body that manages the whole procedure of an ECI is the Citizens’ Committee, which consists of at least seven EU citizens coming from minimum of seven member states. They have to request the European Commission to register their initiative. The Commission has two months to decide whether the proposed initiative complies with the requirements set out in the Regulation[2] 211/2011 on the citizens’ initiative. In the meantime, the organisers have to set up a collection system and have it certified. If the aforementioned conditions are met, the Commission registers the ECI and the collection begins. One million EU citizens have to endorse the related idea of an ECI within one year from the date of registration for it to be successful. A minimum number of signatures[3] has to be met in at least seven member states – these countries being at the choice of the Committee. Organisers can collect the signatures, to be seen as statements of support, either online or on paper. Citizens who want to support an ECI must be eligible to vote in the European Parliament elections. After the one year period has expired, the organisers have to have the offline signatures verified by the national authorities of individual EU Member States. Only then can the ECI be submitted to the Commission.

 

The consequence of a successful ECI is the following: Representatives of the Commission have to meet with the organisers to allow them to further explain their objectives, the organisers can present their ECI at a public hearing in the European Parliament and finally, the Commission must respond to the ECI. The response needs to spell out arguments for the Commission’s decision whether to act on the ECI or not. The Commission is not obliged to take any positive action regarding the subject-matter of an ECI which, as will be further explained, presents one of the biggest issues in the current regulation.

The tool itself has provided a new platform on which Europeans can share their ideas and spread their beliefs. Yet, the before mentioned procedure is fraught with technical, administrative and legal difficulties that potentially inhibit the usefulness of the tool.

 

03| Relevance of the European Citizens’ Initiative in the eyes of young people

 

In order to find out AEGEE´s position on the matter of direct and participatory democracy in Europe, a survey was conducted among 124 AEGEE members from 20 countries.

More than 70% of the participants believe that it is important to be actively engaged in politics on local, national or international level. However, only 5,6% of the respondents thought that they can have a big influence on European politics in general. The majority believes that young people can have only a little or some influence.

Having the possibility to participate directly in the legal decision making processes and to vote during elections was important for 75,6% of the participants. Only 12,1% of participants stated that it was not important at all or less important. Answers were similar when participants were asked about having this possibility at the European level. One of the participants highlighted two main reasons behind the importance of such a tool. For instance the control of the governance and the possibility to raise awareness about certain topics: “The only way a real democracy can work is by having the correct tools to control what politicians make. There should be a way to let our governments know that we do not agree with decisions they have made and to put on the table something that is being ignored.”

 

The results regarding the specific types of direct or participatory tools are more heterogeneous. 42,7% of the respondents thought that referendums are very or rather useful, 31,5%, stated that referendums are rather unuseful or not useful at all, and the rest 25,8% were neutral on this question. These results might be influenced by the recent use of referendums in some European countries with controversial outcomes, such as the Brexit or the referendum carried out in the Netherlands on the approval of the Association Agreement between the European Union and Ukraine.

 

In contrast to referendums, the European Citizens’ Initiative was generally a more favoured tool among the participants of our survey. 86,83% of the respondents thought it is very or rather important than unimportant to have a right to start an ECI. “Although I’m not particularly in favour of a direct democracy, having a road into the political structures of the EU is very important. This can provide information about interests, wishes and red lines from the general population”- wrote one of the respondents. Others also identified that the ability to make your voice heard is a very important aspect of the ECI, which can also encourage people to be active citizens since they can change things through it. “The right to start an initiative is important because the motivation for many citizens to keep themselves informed about politics is directly linked to the degree of self-involvement that it requires.” In other words, an ECI can empower citizens since it also “…brings people together and motivates them to fight for their dreams/opinions/projects and not just cast a vote” and “…it also strengthens the feeling of having your voice matter and thus improves the general feeling about democracy in the EU.”

 

          Although the above listed comments definitely support the ECI, many participants described their concerns about the actual impact of it: “The question, for me, however is the extent to which decision-makers actually change their opinions about it. I’m not certain of the answer to this question, but that does not mean that I don’t believe that the opportunity should be cherished and used maybe more often by Europeans citizens.” Similarly: “It is important, but it requires a huge effort and the result (examination by the Commission) does not have a particular impact.”

 

To summarise, young people find it relevant to have an opportunity to be involved directly or through participatory tools in the decision making process in the European Union. In contrast to referendums, which seem to be controversial among young Europeans, they favour the European Citizens’ Initiative, even though its impact is still questionable. We cannot conclude from this that more direct or participatory democracy itself would help young people to feel more involved and get more engaged in politics, but it could be one possible way to it. Improving the ECI tool itself, therefore, could be a significant step in fighting the challenges that Europe is facing.

 

04| Case study of the AEGEE ECI

          The ECI “More than Education – Shaping Active and Responsible Citizens”[4] was registered on the 6th October 2016, with the following subject matter and main objectives:

 

Subject Matter:

A set of incentive measures, including support and monitoring, to develop citizenship education in curricula on all levels of formal education throughout Europe, aimed at shaping democratic citizens.

 

Main objectives:

A democratic society relies on the citizens’ participation, shared values and capability of critical thinking. The Commission should support member states in their responsibility to enable young people from all backgrounds to develop competencies for participating responsibly in society. To promote cohesion, action should be coordinated throughout the Union, by setting a long-term agenda, creating benchmarks, providing support to states, doing periodic evaluations and sharing best practice.

 

The preparation for this ECI started more than a year before registration by gathering a motivated team, later called the ECI task force. At the beginning, the team consisted of seven people, and later on other people joined to fulfil a certain task for a longer period or to participate in a specific project or event for a shorter time. Some people also left the task force throughout the preparatory phase, due to lack of time or losing motivation. It is important to highlight that all organizers participated in the campaign as volunteers, dedicating their time and effort to the project next to their studies and other duties. Results of the online survey conducted among 18 AEGEE members actively involved in the campaign showed that the main motivation behind joining the team was first of all the topic of civic education and secondly that they could get familiar and use the ECI. Even though for many of them this was the first time working with the tool, it brought a great opportunity to learn a lot and to educate AEGEE members about it. Therefore, when examining the development of the work and the results of this ECI, we should keep in mind the aspects of voluntary work and youth involvement.

 

During the preparatory phase, the task force consulted various experts such as professors, partners, civil servants and other ECI organizers. For instance Carsten Berg (the ECI Campaign) helped us to get a deeper understanding of the procedure and requirements of carrying out a ECI. Although, some of them emphasised that it is not worth the effort and the ECI should be improved in many aspects, we decided to continue keeping in mind that apart from the signature collection, our experience with the ECI could be a case study for further development of the tool. The consultations with many academics working on their masters and PhD theses on the ECI, showed us that there is a big interest in revising the tool.

 

On the 7th of July 2016 the ECI was registered by the European Commission for the first time. The announcement of it came as a surprise and because of technical difficulties with the online collection system, and because it seemed more feasible to start the campaign after summer, the AEGEE ECI had to be withdrawn.

The withdrawal from our side was met with concern from the European Commission’s side as the Commissioners had their meeting during which they decided to allow our Initiative around the same moment we sent our withdrawal statement. A phone call from the Commission asking us to reconsider our withdrawal suggested some political interest in our ECI, but the ECI was withdrawn nonetheless.

During the next three months a new website was created and the collection system hosted by the European Commission was set up by the task force and audited by the Luxembourgish authorities. For this audit, the organisers had to come up with a security policy, write a business impact assessment, risk assessment, and risk treatment plan, which was a challenging process in order to conform to high security standards. In this process, collaboration with the technical department of the European Commission went smoothly. However, it was difficult to understand what was happening on their side, as they take care of the development, installation and auditing of the software and servers.

 

Brainstorming for the campaign itself started as well. During summer events, some AEGEE members were introduced to the ECI and learned more about our own initiative. Finally, in October 2016 the ECI was registered for the second time and the signature collection could be started.

It was clear for the core team that for reaching one million people willing to sign the initiative a much bigger team was needed. Hence at the beginning we tried to focus on motivating AEGEE members to join the task force or organize a local signature collection and inviting other NGOs to set up coalition to do the ECI together. However, we met a very reluctant reaction from the civil society, emphasising that ECI is not worth the effort and it has no actual impact.

Motivating others can be difficult, especially if the goal of reaching the one million signatures seems impossible to them and it was not really the aim. The Activity Plan of the Civic Education Working Group of AEGEE, which started organizing the initiative stated: “Note that it is not feasible to collect a million signatures this year. However, we are going to start collecting signatures and involve the Network in that.” Considering the ECI as a great opportunity to promote the importance of civic education turned out to be a difficult way to encourage young people to join.

 

When asking members of the task force or other people involved in the campaign whether at the beginning they believed in reaching the needed number of signatures, out of 18 nearly 40% (7 people) believed in doing so. Other four people (22.2%) did not believe in collecting that many, and the rest was aware of some difficulties, but still hoped for success. On the contrary, 16 people would probably or for sure do it again.

Most of the respondents highlighted that they learned a lot, and that the ECI offered them the opportunity to raise their voice for an important topic for them, that they could be part of a big scale initiative. One of the team members said: “It made me aware of the fact that to voice something that needs to be changed it takes a lot of effort to get people to become aware of the topic. It takes a lot of communication, motivation and good will from a good team of people to be able to do something. It also made me believe that as young students you can voice something and it can be heard by the politicians.”

 

One of the aims of an ECI is to raise awareness about an important issue. This was fulfilled in the case of the “More than Education” ECI. Even though due to the lack of financial resources we were not able to run a traditional campaign, we were able to discuss civic education with many European students within AEGEE on various occasions, such as during ten network meetings reaching 400 members or at conferences of 1000 people, while all of them learned about ECI. The fourth edition of the project Europe on Track[5], thanks to ECI, was committed  to raising awareness on this topic. The task force was present at the Yo!Fest in Maastricht, organized by the European Youth Forum and other external events presenting the ECI. In May 2017 we organized an event in the European Economic and Social Committee with the title: ‘Mind the gap – how to strengthen civic education for all throughout Europe’ and as an opening eventhosted in Budapest the Franck Biancheri Award Conference ‘Education for the present- Democracy for the future’ at the Central European University tackling the topic of civic education and its role in building a strong democracy.

 

The impact of the ECI could be seen in the launch of new cooperation with many external organizations working on the topic too. In other words, it became an important promotional and networking tool for AEGEE. We could spread our views about the need to improve civic education in Europe and because of the ECI many organizations reached out to us and this opened new doors. One great example is be the cooperation with the European Economic and Social Committee. Other than hosting our event, they supported our work by helping to translate materials for us, gave us an opportunity to be present and introduce our views during the ECI day organized by them and included us in the meeting of the ECI ad hoc group and further collaboration is planned as well.

 

While working on the ECI and during the signature collection events, the people involved identified some obstacles. Maybe the most crucial part was the lack of financial resources. The project was only run from the budget of AEGEE and some small online donations all in all less than 500 Euros. Other than that, the long and complex administrative process and setting up the IT infrastructure caused a delay in starting the campaign, what resulted in some people losing motivation and leaving the team, as well as a problematic planning for further steps.

When asking organizers of signature collections about their experience, they highlighted that the ECI in general was not known by citizens, so first they had to explain this concept in general before starting to explain our particular ECI. They also mentioned that both the online system and the paper forms are not user friendly and caused a lot of confusion during the campaign. Some obstacles were: filling the online form took a lot of time and the platform is not mobile friendly; in case of paper forms the required data differ in each country and the text itself is very small, signatories made a lot of mistakes during filling them in. Moreover, organizing a signature collection in a public place in some countries requires registration at an administrative body. However, in some cases even competent officers were not sure how to proceed with it.

Another aspect of the whole ECI process is the communication with the Commission, which was not ideal. Although, our ECI is not going to reach the one million signatures, and by that call the European Commission to put the improvement of civic education on their agenda, we were happy to see that many new initiatives on the topic of education are being prepared, such as the public consultation: Promoting social inclusion and shared values through formal and non-formal learning[6]. However, since we showed interest in the topic, and are willing to be actively included in the process, we were not informed about the ongoing work at the time of the registration.

 

Next to the ECI, an online petition[7] has started as well, so AEGEE members who come from non-EU countries can be included in the campaign too. However while this is useful to get support from the non-EU members, these statements of support do not count in the one million needed for a successful ECI.

 

05| Position of AEGEE-Europe

 

Today’s Europe is facing many challenges that cannot be adequately tackled by single countries only. AEGEE believes that a better integrated and borderless Europe is possible and that the creation of active, responsible and democratic citizens are key elements of it. These citizens should be able and willing to participate in the changes and to find solutions for current issues.

Having the opportunity to raise awareness and call policy makers to action regarding issues that concern each citizen on local, regional or national levels is important. But AEGEE also believes that it is important to engage with people from other countries. AEGEE advocates for democratic tools which will enable every European citizen to participate in the decision making processes at local, national, but also European levels.

The recent survey among the AEGEE members showed that many of them question the use of referendums; therefore the European Citizens’ Initiative represents a more relevant participatory tool for them.

 

Based on our experience, the ECI is a great opportunity to promote a topic and raise awareness about an issue that matters to citizens. Throughout the year of collecting signatures, thanks to the ECI we were able to reach out to many stakeholders dealing with civic education. However, our example also shows that collecting one million signatures for a youth organization relying on voluntary work is not possible yet. Reasons behind could be the lack of funding and a need for specific knowledge and experience but also the user friendliness and possible results of using the tool. For instance, some contacted NGO partners refused to cooperate with us, due to previous experiences with campaigns and they found the tool not worth to invest time and financial resources in it.

 

AEGEE is motivated to take an active role in shaping the future of Europe.  Therefore, we call for a revision of the ECI to make it more accessible and usable for young Europeans. Fighting challenges faced by Europe nowadays is possible when every citizen feels responsible and is willing to bring their contribution to find solutions. Including more people – especially the youth – in policy making is a step towards in the development of a common European identity which is necessary for tackling common issues .

As we believe in the ECI is as an important tool, we

argue that it should be promoted and reshaped to a form, which truly enables citizens to raise their voices, influence policies and assist in creating a democratic Europe.

 

 

06| Recommendations for improving the European Citizens’ Initiative

 

AEGEE advocates for the following measures in order to make the ECI more accessible and usable for young Europeans.

 

6.1. Recommendations for the European Union

  • The Commission should enter into dialogue/meet with organizers, not only at the end of the successful initiative but at the beginning of every registration in order to foster debate with citizens. The EC should be proactive in information the organizers on ongoing processes connected to the topic of their ECI and related issues.
  • The Commission should provide the online platform for the online signature collection, so the technical side of the signature collection would not cause too much inconvenience to the citizens.
  • Allow Citizens’ Committees to choose the starting date of the signature collection after the ECI has been registered, and within a certain period of time, in order to give them the opportunity to finish all the preparations and plan the campaign in detail. This would make it easier to apply for funds, since the organizers would be sure that the ECI is registered.
  • Improve the platform where all ECIs are listed, by integrating information on European processes concerning the topics of the respective initiative.
  • Offer financial support for Citizens’ Committees and/or financial advice on planning a campaign and applying for funds.
  • Harmonize the minimum age of the signatories at 16 years of age in order to encourage young people to be active citizens from an early age onwards.
  • Create a more user friendly platform for the online signature collection, which is easier to fill in, applicable for different websites and is accessible on mobile phones as well.
  • Simplify and restructure the paper forms for offline signature collection, such as not having only three signatures per paper.
  • It is of crucial importance that citizens of successful initiatives feel heard, taken seriously and are recognised in their efforts. Therefore, the hearing at the European Parliament should only be focused on them and other relevant experts and stakeholders that the Citizens’ Committee puts forward, even though this may not ensure a fully balanced debate with opposing viewpoints. But the Commission has other means at its disposal to ask for opinions from other stakeholders (such as a public consultation). Furthermore, the follow-up for successful ECIs should be improved: more details and fact-based answers from Commission should be given.
  • Give a positive experience to unsuccessful ECI organizers: the Commission should address them personally in order to recognize their efforts and lay down the EU’s current actions related to the topic of the registered ECI. In order to recognise the efforts of organisers and to enhance the visibility of the ECI as a tool, the Commission should communicate via its own channels when ECIs reach certain numbers of signatures – milestones. Other than that, more information about the ECI should be given through (the channels of) national level authorities.

 

6.2. Recommendations for the Member States

  • Harmonize the process of signature collection in the member states, such as the amount and type of personal data required to be filled in on the paper forms.
  • Take an active role in informing citizens about the ECI and promoting it as a participatory democratic tool at the EU level.
  • Create a user friendly environment for the ECI signature collection and offer country-specific advice for Citizens’ Committees, such as easily understandable and accessible guidelines.

 

References

[1] Standard Eurobarometer: Public opinion in the European Union, First results (87), pp. 21- 38.

[2] Dirk Berg-Schlosser (2007): Direct-democratic procedures as corrective mechanisms in consociational systems or for clientelistic structures—some brief remarks. In: Pállinger, Z., T., Kaufmann, B., Marxer, W., Schiller, T.  (2007): Direct Democracy in Europe. GWV Fachverlage GmbH, Wiesbaden.

[3] Marxer, W. (2004): „Wir sind das Volk“ — Direkte Demokratie: Verfahren, Verbreitung, Wirkung. Beiträge Liechtenstein-Institut Nr. 24. Bendern.

[4] Lakoff, S. (1996): Democracy: History, Theory, Practice. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

[5] European Institute of Public Administration (EIPA), Maastricht (NL) Best, E., Augustyn, M., Lambermont, F. (2011): Direct and Participatory Democracy at Grassroots Level: Levers for forging EU citizenship and identity? European Institute of Public Administration (EIPA), Maastricht (NL).

[6] Altuna, A., Suárez, M. (Eds.) (2013). Rethinking Citizenship: New Voices in Euroculture. Groningen: Euroculture consortium.

 

Annex:

 

  1. Details of the survey: Relevance of the European Citizens’ Initiative as a direct democratic tool

 

  • Conducted between 20th March and 3rd August 2017.
  • Total number of respondents: 124. 119 AEGEE members + 5 non-AEGEE members
  • Answers from 20 European countries: Belarus, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, Ukraine.
  • Average respondent’s age: 23 years; median age: 23.
  • Gender characteristics: 50,4% females, 48,4% males and 1,5% other or preferred not to share their gender.

 

Figure 1: How important is it in your view that citizens have the possibility to participate directly in law- and decision-making processes on EU level in addition to the right to vote during European Parliamentary elections?

PP CE 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 2: Do you believe referendums are generally useful direct democratic tools (at either the national or the European level)?

PP CE 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 3: Do you believe it is important for EU citizens to have the right to start a European Citizens’ Initiative?
PP CE 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Details of the survey about the ECI conducted among the task force and other AEGEE members involved in some project during the campaign

  • Conducted between June 9th – August 8th 2017.
  • Total number of respondents: 18.
  • Answers from 10 European countries: Belgium, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia.
  • Gender characteristics: 72,8% females, 27,8% males.

 

[1] More: http://www.citizens-initiative.eu/

[2] http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:02011R0211-20150728&from=EN

[3] http://ec.europa.eu/citizens-initiative/public/signatories

[4] More details: https://morethaneducation.eu/ https://ec.europa.eu/citizens-initiative/REQ-ECI-2016-000004/public/index.do

[5] The “Europe on Track” project was launched to capture young people’s vision and wishes for Europe in 2020. It is a youth-led project where six young ambassadors across Europe with InterRail passes for one month informing and interviewing young people about their vision of the Europe of tomorrow. In order to do so, they participate in local events bringing content and creating spaces for dialogue and discussion with a main focus that changes every year, achieving a bigger impact through a travel blog, videos and social media.

[6] More: https://ec.europa.eu/info/consultations/public-consultation-recommendation-promoting-social-inclusion-and-shared-values-through-formal-and-non-formal-learning_en

[7] More: https://www.openpetition.eu/petition/online/more-than-education-shaping-active-and-responsible-citizens

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Policy Paper on the Summer University Project and the recognition of AEGEE as a provider of short-term youth mobility programs /policy-paper-on-the-summer-university-project-and-the-recognition-of-aegee-as-a-provider-of-short-term-youth-mobility-programs/ Sun, 11 Jun 2017 13:49:50 +0000 /?p=7076 01 | Introduction

AEGEE-Europe / European Students’ Forum is a non-governmental, politically independent, and non-profit student organization which has around 13000 members from more than 200 cities in 40 countries all over Europe.[1] The mission of AEGEE is creation of borderless Europe, which could be implemented by giving the young people opportunities of cultural exchange, integration and travelling.[2] Visiting different countries is the best way to broaden the mind and share cultural diversity. However, quite a lot of destinations are still rather problematic for young people to reach, mostly due to bureaucratic (visas) and financial (high ticket prices) barriers. Moreover, many opportunities are missed due to lack of information: Most young people have only heard  about Erasmus student exchange, although  there are  a lot of other possibilities (for instance, the Youth Exchange Training Course, EVS, the EU Aid volunteers, etc.). Since the foundation of AEGEE many steps towards broader availability of travel have been taken, especially in the Schengen Area. However, there are still many obstacles to mobility in Europe: As 25% of the AEGEE network is outside the European Union, visa problems can sometimes be substantial.

In the following paper the importance of youth mobility will be explained in terms of the biggest and most significant project of the organization: the Summer University. While long-term mobility programs supported by universities (like Erasmus) are broadly recognized, there are still short-term mobility programs supported by international NGOs, which also contribute a lot to creating European citizens. First of all, in section 3 the essence of the Summer University project will be described, as well as its history, development, purpose and diversity. Further, in section 4 the methodology of the research will be explained. The research presents the results of a questionnaire conducted among members of AEGEE on the impact of participation in and/or organization of a the Summer University on their life and personality, and also the statistic and description of various mobility barriers faced by members of the organization  when trying to reach the place where the SU will take place..

Based on the results and statistics of the survey and the position  of AEGEE, illustrated in section 5, recommendations about possible measures concerning visa procedure and possible international support of NGOs (as stakeholders in organizing mobility projects and events) from the institutions and local governments will be given in section 6.

02 | Context       

The issue of youth mobility programs is as urgent as ever, especially taking into account not only the question of individual development but also the social situation in Europe, decrease of the level of European identity and solidarity, and raising Euroscepticism.

To the question concerning the Erasmus program (which “enables European students to spend part of their studies at another higher education institution or with an organisation in Europe”), a large majority of Europeans express a positive opinion about it (86% ‘positive’); just 5% have a negative opinion, and 9% are unable to answer.[3]

The essence of the Erasmus program – as well as its main benefit – is its contribution to creating European citizens in the sense  for which the whole European policy strives: democratic, tolerant, open-minded, with a wide range of interests. The importance of this program cannot be understated (especially in view of the rise of populism, nationalism and Euroscepticism), but we must keep in mind that Erasmus is not the only mobility program which can help to achieve this aim. There are many other long-term and short-term mobility programs with various contents  but with a common result. One of these programs, coordinated by AEGEE-Europe, is the Summer University project  (detailed in section  3).

One undeniable advantage of the Summer University project over the Erasmus program is that it is open  to absolutely all young Europeans regardless of background or whether they are studying at university (only students can take part in the Erasmus program). Besides, not all European countries are involved in the Erasmus program so far, whereas the Summer University project is accessible for citizens of any European country  (both EU  and non-EU).

 

03 | The Summer University Project

AEGEE provides young people with a lot of opportunities for travelling and self-development by organising various international projects and events. The biggest and most significant project, which is described in detail below, is Summer University.

The Summer University project was established in 1988 and this is one of the largest and most successful youth exchange independent short-time mobility volunteering project organized by an NGO.[4]

Summer Universities are events which  take place during summer for between one and four weeks in most of the cities in which  AEGEE is present. Understanding and exploring the multicultural dimension of the European continent, overcoming national and cultural stereotypes, fighting for tolerance and creating open-minded citizens are some of the reasons why 20 to 50 young Europeans from all over Europe come together in each Summer University.[5]

The second part of its name – “University” – is not simply a word, it is very significant, concerning AEGEE’s aim of non-formal education and being realized with workshops, discussions, presentations or even projects provided by either experienced members of AEGEE or by other partner institutions.[6]

The idea of this project belongs to Daisy Kopmels (member of AEGEE-Amsterdam, 1988). First Summer Universities were 10 language courses offered to 320 applicants, taking place in Bellaterra/Barcelona, Madrid, Sevilla, Heidelberg, Kiel, Milano, Amsterdam, Orléans, Paris and Toulouse. The languages which were studied at these courses were Catalan, Spanish, German, Italian, Dutch and French.[7]

The following timeline illustrates the development of the  project:

  • 1989: The number of courses reaches 16 and, for the first time, it was possible to study Greek and Computer Sciences
  • 1991: The first SUs in Eastern Europe take place
  • 1992 : The first 5 TSUs (Travelling Summer Universities) are organized
  • 1994: SU Types: Summer University, Summer University +, Travelling SU, Summer Camp
  • 1995: The fee is now 100 ECU[8], raised many more times after.
  • 1996: Summer Events are introduced
  • 1999: Electronic applications replace paper forms
  • 2000: Webpage: (www.aegee.org/su). Fee is now paid in Euro
  • 2003: Applications now via website
  • 2004: The SU on its peak: 96 SUs! The first SUPS (Summer University Project School – a training for future Summer University organisers) took place[9]

The Summer University project suggests a big variety of themes, which can help its participants in developing new competences, gaining useful skills and knowledge. For example, there are such topics as History and Local culture, Civic Education, Sports, Language, Art and Creativity, etc. Apart from the cultural exchange these Summer Universities also include sessions and trainings on different topics, provided in an interactive way and based on the principles of the non-formal education.

Summer Universities are currently divided into Summer Course, Summer Course Plus and Travelling Summer University.

  • Every Summer Course is characterised by:
    • A duration of between 11 and 28 nights; exceptions for a duration of minimum 8 nights can be made by the SUCT (Summer University Coordination Team) for organising Locals which have not been granted this exception the previous year;
    • At least 14 hours of tuition per week;
    • A minimum number of 15 participants.

The course should be about main subject/roof topic, classes about related topics are possible.[10]

A Summer Course Plus is an intensive course on any subject. These courses are officially recognised and supported by the university, the educational institution in which they take place or AEGEE-Academy (a  training association within  AEGEE-Europe, formed by members of Locals interested in trainings) and lessons are taught by professional teachers or trainers approved by AEGEE-Academy. A proof of the teachers’ or trainers’ qualification and experience is to be provided to the SUCT (Summer University Coordination Team, responsible for the good functioning and for the development of the project).

  • Every Summer Course Plus is characterised by:
    • A duration between 11 and 28 nights;
    • At least 20 hours of tuition per week on average;
    • A minimum of 15 participants;
    • A minimum of 4 cities visited.[11]
  • A Travelling Summer University is a cultural travel through Europe. Every Travelling Summer University is characterised by:
    • A duration between 14 and 28 nights;
    • At least 20 hours of tuition per week on average;
    • A minimum of 15 participants.[12]

According to CIA (Corpus Iuridium AEGEEnse, General Rules of AEGEE-Europe, version 27, July 2016) the Summer University participation fees are set to a maximum of 14.00 Euros per person and per night, in which at least two meals per day (of which at least one is warm), all lodging, transportation, tuition and activities are included. Fees set by the preceding SUCT can be increased by a maximum percentage based on Eurostat Euro Area annual inflation statistics of the calendar year[13]. Locals are encouraged to set the fee as low as possible in order to  encourage and foster travelling according to the aims of the SU project.

In summary, the Summer University project is AEGEE’s longest-lived and most successful project, which has evolved and taken many shapes over its history and throughout its different instances , even though the basic concept has remained the same: summer events organised by and for young people from all over Europe, with both educational content, cultural exchange and with room for fun and leisure. In the past year 2016 the total number of SU applicants was 2767, the number of Summer Universities was 75, the number of organizing locals was 101 and the total number of places was 2181. 30 countries[14] were involved in the organizational process.[15]

 

04 | Analysis and Overview of the Mobility Survey Results

In order to present the most topical information about the impact of the SU project on the young people and the mobility barriers, a questionnaire was conducted  among all members of AEGEE from 13th of March and 8th of April. 122 members from 20 different European countries[16] took part in this survey.

The questionnaire had the following aims:

  • To find out the influence SU participation has on young people;
  • To find out and classify all mobility obstacles AEGEE members had faced while getting visas and reaching the place of the SU, as well as financial barriers;
  • To clarify the reasons for these obstacles.

While answering 16 questions the participants could evaluate the impact of the participation or organization of the Summer University on their life and personality from 1 to 7 (1 – do not agree at all, 7 – agree completely), report about any difficulties (problems getting visa, lack of financial means, etc.) reaching the place of the Summer University, and also give their comments and share their opinions regarding all these questions.

The survey shows the following results:

1) Concerning the impact of participation in the SU project on the personality and life of AEGEE members, 83,6% have participated in the SU; 36,9% – several times (two or more); 72,1% have been organizers or helpers in this project, besides, half did it after being a participant. These numbers brightly illustrate the positive impact of the SU project on the activity of the previously not too active young people, who start their acquaintance with this project from simple participation and then become inspired and start organizing something by themselves, taking responsibility.

According to the statistic, SU had the biggest impact on the development of such qualities as language and communication skills (79,5%[17] agreed with this statement to different extents) and self-confidence (81,9%[18] of participants feel like that). 84,4%[19] agreed that their participation in the Summer University had made them more open-minded, and 75,4%[20] are now feeling more European.

“Of course I’m more open minded now, meeting specially those from super far away countries (Armenia, Russia or Ukraine) helped a lot to destroy stereotypes and indeed made me feel more European to have friends scattered all around the continent and beyond.”[21]

“As participant, it engaged me in European / Political issues, by meeting people from other countries.”[22]

 Soft skills (like event management, team management, time management) were also quite strongly developed, especially among organizers and helpers: 73,8%[23] of the respondents have agreed with this statement.

“My Summer University experience … opened me the door to improve all soft-skills people can find in AEGEE by the willing to do something for the organisation after SU. I took role of an organiser after my SU experience and it developed all my pack of soft-skills for 100%.”[24]

“As organizer, I developed skills I wouldn’t have without this project.”[25]

Apart from the above-listed results, 39,3%[26] marked that after participating or organizing the SU they feel better prepared for the labour market.

“I would say that I developed all the soft skills on the list and more, therefore I consider I’m better prepared for the labour market.”[27]

As organizer I’d put ‘7’ because I’ve got a lot of soft skills and become prepared for the labour market being organizer.[28]

2) Concerning the necessity of visa for reaching the place of the SU and related problems, as well as any other obstacles, 37,7% of the AEGEE members needed visa for participating in the SU. Almost a quarter of them faced various problems while getting their visa, for example: slow and expensive procedure, lots of documents needed, unexpected costs, applying several times, etc.

“It was always some problems with docs/invitation so I needed to apply several times.”[29]

For another SU (Russia), the procedure to get the visa was slow and expensive.[30]

“I had to prepare too many documents and make a lot of appointments plus spend a lot of money on these issues.”[31]

 One quarter of the members who faced these problems could not finally solve them: they either had to pay much more money than what they expected, or even had to cancel their attendance to the SU.

“The solution was paying the fast visa transmit, that was more expensive.”[32]

“So I didn’t go to SU.”[33]

 Regarding financial barriers, one third of the respondents could not go to the SU due to the lack of financial means.

“Financial issues is the real barrier. …I really spent a lot of money on the tickets. …all summer is high tourist season, so it also influences the price and the speed of the disappearance of cheap tickets. So, this year financial issues really prevent me from going to any SU.”[34]

“The most important thing that prevented me from participating was lack of money. And the most expensive thing about going to a summer university is travelling to the place.”[35]

 

Some respondents pointed out that financial barriers and challenges are to be found not only on the side of participants, but also on the side of organisers. Given the limitations that our internal regulation puts on the fees for SUs, it makes it exceedingly difficult for certain AEGEE locals to organise them and to compete with other “cheaper” locations.

“Money is a barrier but 14 euro per night at summer is nothing. Most of the locals can’t fit into that price but it’s a HUGE mistake to settle the budget based on probable fundraising.”[36]

 Based on statistic, we can conclude that participation in or organizing the Summer University project has a huge positive impact on the personality, makes people feel more open-minded, more European, and also allows gaining and developing different soft skills, useful for the labour market (e.g. time management, event management, conflict management, the ability to turn the ideas into reality), broaden the mind and rise the level of tolerance in Europe.

“Both when participating in and organizing a SU, all the experiences are totally valuable in so many ways. I would not like to miss any of those experiences – whether good or bad ones. Participating and organizing is a totally different experience regarding for example responsibility, yet it’s the same feeling you have after the SU: feeling united, having new friends, having broken stereotypes, having overcome own fears, knowing a new culture, language, cuisine, places … all that helps oneself to grow as a person, and in this environment it works so much better than in any other (forced) environment.”[37]

To sum up, the real value of the Summer University project is that all soft skills, language skills, perception of peculiarities of lots of various cultures are assimilated in an informal atmosphere but at the same time this atmosphere, this event are organized so properly by volunteers who do believe in values of borderless Europe and the necessity of youth development and international connection, that all these skills, knowledge and tolerance become a natural part of the participants.

At the same time quite a lot of young people still face mobility barriers like unexpectedly long and expensive procedures for obtaining visas or extremely high prices for the tickets to particular destinations. Often the first issue causes the second one, as visa participants cannot buy cheap tickets in advance due to the uncertain situation of their visa application. When they finally receive an answer from an embassy, it is often too late to buy tickets for an affordable price, so young people have either to waste much more money than they had planned, or just miss the opportunity to take part in such a promising and useful Summer University project.

05 | Position of AEGEE-Europe

AEGEE believes in the importance of youth mobility, which is one of the pillars in the forming of the world for which we all strive: a democratic, diverse and borderless Europe without national levels posing obstacles in the way of mobility, valuing and  encouraging young people to contribute in its development. The young people are going to take part in forming such a society very soon (and some of them are already involved in this process).

Youth mobility in a friendly atmosphere unites and connects young people from completely different countries with absolutely dissimilar social and economic background; and such connection is what forms groups and personalities who sincerely desire to achieve a democratic, diverse and borderless Europe and contribute in the process of its development. Especially taking into account the current rise of populism, nationalism and Euroscepticism, the possibilities and undertaken actions for creating young European citizens with fresh views should not be neglected.

AEGEE provides opportunities for self-development of the youth, especially with such interactive and effective methods like travelling, intercultural exchange and volunteer organization of events internationally (all of which are fully included in the Summer University project). From our side – the side of AEGEE-Europe – we always take all possible measures in order to facilitate the process of obtaining a visa for those participants who need it and to minimize the prices for participating in the SU. However, our opportunities there are limited and AEGEE members are forced to waste a lot of  time in the  collection of all required documents (even several times), unexpectedly pay money, or even refuse participation in the event.

Following the evidence previously provided and the importance of this topic in European society today, AEGEE calls for the recognition of AEGEE and other international youth NGOs as providers of short-term youth mobility programs. AEGEE also calls for providing equal opportunities of participation in mobility programmes for visa-countries.

06 | Recommendations

AEGEE advocates for the following measures to be taken in order to involve NGOs and official stakeholders when talking about organization of international mobility programs, and also to simplify visa procedure and encourage young people to travel to all destinations within Europe without exceptions.

 06.01 |  Recommendations for the European institutions

  • calling for the recognition of AEGEE and other international youth NGOs as providers of impactful short-term youth mobility programs;
  • structured inclusion of AEGEE and other international youth NGOs in the dialogue on the development of policy proposals related to youth mobility programs and related matters;
  • creation of an enabling environment within AEGEE and other international youth NGOs when it comes to providing youth mobility opportunities, including providing financial support.

 06.02 | Recommendations for the National parties

  • creation of an enabling environment within AEGEE and other international youth NGOs when it comes to providing youth mobility opportunities, including:
    – providing support for young people in order to overcome visa barriers;
    – working towards simplifying and reducing visa procedures and obstacles;
  • involvement of young people in the parties concerned about the discussion over visa procedures and mobility obstacles and over actions for creating the desirable mobility.

References

  1. About Summer University. (n.d.). Retrieved from www.zeus.aegee.org: http://www.zeus.aegee.org/portal/projects/summer-university/about/
  2. Europeans and the Erasmus programme: awareness and opinion. (2016, November). Standard Eurobarometer: Public opinion in the European Union, First results (86), pp. 34-35.
  3. Gagarkina, Y. (2015-2016). Summer University – AEGEE Superproject. Key to Europe, 91.
  4. Juridical Commission: Claudio Gennaro, G. L. (Ed.). (2016, July). Article 5: Summer Course. Corpus Iuridicum AEGEEnse(27), p. 76.
  5. Juridical Commission: Claudio Gennaro, G. L. (Ed.). (2016, July). Article 6: Summer Course Plus. Corpus Iuridicum AEGEEnse(27), p. 76.
  6. Juridical Commission: Claudio Gennaro, G. L. (Ed.). (2016, July). Article 7: Travelling Summer University. Corpus Iuridicum AEGEEnse(27), p. 76.
  7. Juridical Commission: Claudio Gennaro, G. L. (Ed.). (2016, July). Article 9: Summer University Participation Fees. Corpus Iuridicum AEGEEnse(27), p. 77.
  8. Statement of Principles. (n.d.). Retrieved from www.aegee.org: https://www.aegee.org/about-aegee/statement-of-principles/
  9. Summer University 2016. (2016). Retrieved from www.projects.aegee.org: http://www.projects.aegee.org/suct/su2016/statistics2016.php
  10. What is AEGEE? (n.d.). Retrieved from www.aegee.org: https://www.aegee.org/about-aegee/

[1] What is AEGEE? (n.d.). Retrieved from www.aegee.org: https://www.aegee.org/about-aegee/

[2] Statement of Principles. (n.d.). Retrieved from www.aegee.org: https://www.aegee.org/about-aegee/statement-of-principles/

[3] Europeans and the Erasmus programme: awareness and opinion. (2016, November). Standard Eurobarometer: Public opinion in the European Union, First results (86), pp. 34-35.

[4] About Summer University. (n.d.). Retrieved from www.zeus.aegee.org: http://www.zeus.aegee.org/portal/projects/summer-university/about/

[5] About Summer University. (n.d.). Retrieved from www.zeus.aegee.org: http://www.zeus.aegee.org/portal/projects/summer-university/about/

[6] Gagarkina, Y. (2015-2016). Summer University – AEGEE Superproject. Key to Europe, 91.

[7] About Summer University. (n.d.). Retrieved from www.zeus.aegee.org: http://www.zeus.aegee.org/portal/projects/summer-university/about/

[8] European Currency Unit, a former basket of the currencies of the European Community, precursor to the euro

[9] About Summer University. (n.d.). Retrieved from www.zeus.aegee.org: http://www.zeus.aegee.org/portal/projects/summer-university/about

[10] Juridical Commission: Claudio Gennaro, G. L. (Ed.). (2016, July). Article 5: Summer Course. Corpus Iuridicum AEGEEnse(27), p. 76.

[11] Juridical Commission: Claudio Gennaro, G. L. (Ed.). (2016, July). Article 6: Summer Course Plus. Corpus Iuridicum AEGEEnse(27), p. 76.

[12] Juridical Commission: Claudio Gennaro, G. L. (Ed.). (2016, July). Article 7: Travelling Summer University. Corpus Iuridicum AEGEEnse(27), p. 76.

[13] Juridical Commission: Claudio Gennaro, G. L. (Ed.). (2016, July). Article 9: Summer University Participation Fees. Corpus Iuridicum AEGEEnse(27), p. 77.

[14] Spain, Italy, Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Greece, Russian Federation, Turkey, Serbia, Romania, Azerbaijan, Slovenia, Ukraine, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Portugal, Slovakia, Austria, Latvia, Finland, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Belgium, Georgia, Hungary, Republic of Moldova, The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro

[15] Summer University 2016. (2016). Retrieved from www.projects.aegee.org: http://www.projects.aegee.org/suct/su2016/statistics2016.php

[16] Belarus, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Spain, Turkey, Ukraine

[17] The sum of the respondents who chose “5” (27), “6” (22) and “7” (48) divided by the whole amount (122)

[18] The sum of the respondents who chose “5” (21), “6” (34) and “7” (45) divided by the whole amount (122)

[19] The sum of the respondents who chose “5” (21), “6” (25) and “7” (57) divided by the whole amount (122)

[20] The sum of the respondents who chose “5” (21), “6” (26) and “7” (45) divided by the whole amount (122)

[21] The respondent from Spain, 22 years old

[22] The respondent from Germany, 25 years old

[23] The sum of the respondents who chose “5” (27), “6” (25) and “7” (38) divided by the whole amount (122)

[24] Respondent from Russia, 28 years old

[25] Respondent from Germany, 25 years old

[26] The sum of the respondents who chose “5” (25), “6” (10) and “7” (13) divided by the whole amount (122)

[27] Respondent from Spain, 22 years old

[28] Respondent from Russia, 23 years old

[29] Respondent from Russia, 23 years old

[30] Respondent from Spain, 30 years old

[31] Respondent from Turkey, 27 years old

[32] Respondent from Spain, 29 years old

[33] Respondent from Turkey, 22 years old

[34] Respondent from Russia, 28 years old

[35] Respondent from Belarus, 24 years old

[36] Respondent from Russia, 28 years old

[37] Respondent from Germany, 23 years old

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STATEMENT: AEGEE-Europe reacts to the ‘Brexit’ referendum results /statement-aegee-europe-reacts-to-the-brexit-referendum-results/ Fri, 24 Jun 2016 12:38:15 +0000 /?p=6618

Following the results of the UK referendum on EU membership, with 52% of citizens voting ‘Leave’, AEGEE / European Students’ Forum states that we respect the results and the will of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. However, as a Network and a family of young Europeans who dream and strive for a democratic, borderless Europe, today we are sad and disappointed with the referendum results.

The referendum in the United Kingdom proves that the process of European integration can also regress, and it will unquestionably have drastic consequences – especially for the youth in the UK, the majority (75% among the Brits 24 and younger, according to YouGov’s exit poll) of which have casted their vote in favour of the ‘Remain’ and will be the ones living with such consequences for the longest, and we are saddened by the fact that people aged 16 and 17 were blocked to cast their vote. We also regret the rhetoric of the campaigns, who have lacked facts and used the European Union as a scapegoat, with some sectors pointing their fingers to the migrants from other countries in the United Kingdom, who will also face big challenges and uncertainty from now on.

Being mobility and intercultural dialogue in the core of AEGEE’s identity, and being this one of the aspects most valued by young Europeans, this poses a threat to free movement for citizens in the United Kingdom and the other way around, and we demand that such positive aspects of European integration are kept and facilitated, in spite of the ‘Leave’ result.

Nonetheless, we shall not see the results solely as a disappointment, but also as an opportunity. We undoubtedly believe that the European Union in its current state needs a wide reform. Therefore, the results of this referendum must be a wake-up call for the European institutions and its Member States to reflect on their mistakes, evaluate the current status of democracy and governance within the EU for the better, and spark the political imagination to reconnect Europe with its citizens.

May this also be the chance for the European civil society to take the ownership and the lead to a stronger Europe of citizens. In order to achieve this, the joint efforts of political institutions, trans-European movements, educators and the media are needed: lack of information, education and awareness is one of the key challenges that the European Union is facing, and so we call for the need of a real civic education to shape active and well-informed citizens in our continent to counter misinformation by fostering critical thinking. After all, the European Union is a project of peace, freedom and cooperation – values that can never be stressed and promoted enough, nor taken for granted.

Last, but not least, we would like to acknowledge and wholeheartedly thank the AEGEE members in the United Kingdom, who have shown a strong commitment, campaigned actively, and who have joined efforts to raise awareness of the consequences that the referendum would have – regardless of the outcome and the results. Therefore, we encourage our members in the AEGEE Network to take action together: let’s keep spreading the positive narrative, promoting the values of cooperation, tolerance and open-mindedness that unite us and let’s keep showing the opportunity that a borderless Europe built by citizens, for citizens can bring.

EMI Brexit Position

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Position of AEGEE to the deal between the United Kingdom and the European Union and to the Referendum on EU membership /position-of-aegee-to-the-deal-between-the-united-kingdom-and-the-european-union-and-to-the-referendum-on-eu-membership/ Fri, 03 Jun 2016 14:25:28 +0000 /?p=6569 Adopted at Spring Agora Bergamo, May 2016

On the 19 of February 2016, the European Council published the conclusions adopted during their last meeting, explaining the new member status agreed with the United Kingdom, which David Cameron will present to his electorate before the Referendum on EU membership [1]. The EU Referendum will be held on June 23rd in the United Kingdom, asking citizens whether the UK should remain a member of the EU or leave [2].

AEGEE strives for a diverse and borderless Europe, socially and politically integrated, and we see our vision of Europe seriously challenged by this agreement and the negative consequences of Britain potentially leaving the EU.

The United Kingdom’s position within the European Union has always been one of the most emotive issues in British minds. It was already the subject of the first ever UK-wide referendum in 1975. Today, this issue is back with a call for Referendum by British Prime Minister David Cameron for the 23rd of June 2016 [2] and an agreement with the European Council concerning a new settlement for the United Kingdom within the European Union [1]. The impact of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union and the subsequent period of uncertainty and negotiations until the effective withdrawal takes place would be devastating for the European project, and would have severe consequences on fields such as youth mobility and freedom of movement. In fact, the whole process constitutes a step back in Europe’s political integration and sets up a dangerous precedent that can lead to similar processes in different Member States. This will foster the fragmentation of the single market and threaten the principle of equal rights for all the citizens within the EU. Furthermore, the vast majority of young British citizens favour staying in the European Union [3]. Yet, even the new settlement for the United Kingdom within the European Union, as the alternative to a Brexit is not compatible with the ideal of AEGEE-Europe’s vision of a democratic, diverse and borderless Europe, and challenges our principle of inclusive society where citizens enjoy equal opportunities and rights.

The new agreement states that “It is recognised that the United Kingdom… is not committed to further political integration into the European Union” [1]. In AEGEE we believe that the construction of an integrated Europe is key for the development of the European Union. All the 28 states of the European Union should work together on the direction of a better union. One of the members not participating into the integration process will result into the failure of this integration and the progressive exclusion of the United Kingdom.

The new settlement for the United Kingdom within the European Union challenges the notion of equal rights between European Union citizens in two aspects:

The free movement of workers within member states is challenged by this new deal by giving the Member States, under certain conditions, the power to restrict the rights and entitlements of EU citizens working in other Member States. Such a statement has raised our concerns on how this will affect youth employment and youth mobility, limiting the access of young Europeans to other Member States’ job market. Also the limitation of access to in-work benefits for a period of four (up to 7) years buries the principle of equality that is key for the construction of the European Project [1].

In more, we are concerned that this agreement will seed the ground for further agreements fostering the disunion rather than the union between Member States.

First, AEGEE-Europe encourages UK citizens to vote to remain in the EU. AEGEE further recommends policy makers to be aware of the serious implications and negative consequences of a potential Brexit.

As AEGEE-Europe, we believe it is crucial for both the UK and all other 27 Member States that the UK stays part of the EU. Only together can we respond to Europe’s most pressing problems. Nationalism and isolation will not be capable of responding to today’s and tomorrow’s challenges in a globalised world: only together do we have the resources and the influence to cope with them.

Finally, all Member States are encouraged to participate in the political integration of the European Union.

While the EU is certainly not perfect, the best way to reform it is from within. Only together, young citizens from all over Europe, can we call for the changes needed to realise a democratic, borderless Europe. We firmly believe that the stability and the image of a European Union unified in diversity will only be achievable with compromise and commitment from all Member States, elaborating common policies and sharing common responses to international issues.

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Policy Paper on Civic Education /policy-paper-on-civic-education/ Tue, 31 May 2016 08:07:35 +0000 /?p=6562 AEGEE-Europe Policy Paper on Civic Education

Adopted in Spring Agora Bergamo, May 2016

01 | Summary

AEGEE-Europe / European Students’ Forum strives for a democratic, diverse and borderless Europe, which is socially, economically and politically integrated, and values the participation of young people in its construction and development. We consider that civic education is fundamental in order to achieve this vision, and we have chosen it as one of our main areas of work since 2014. AEGEE believes that civic education should be included in the political agenda at all levels in order to ensure that all individuals become active, democratic, responsible and critical citizens. AEGEE is a non-partisan interdisciplinary youth organization gathering 13.000 members from 40 different European countries. Despite of our diversity of cultures, backgrounds and ideologies we share the perception and demand that more and better civic education is needed.

We advocate for the following measures to improve civic education in Europe:

– More time and attention should be dedicated to civic education at all levels of education, with a particular emphasis during secondary education.
– A change in the methodology to teach civic education should take place to use more participatory and practical approaches, such as non-formal education methods.
– Increase support for mobility programmes and opportunities, such as Erasmus+ and international projects organized by youth organizations.
– Promote and support the participation in volunteering and youth organizations as places for citizenship learning.
– Improve the training of teachers so they are prepared to teach about civic education and transmit civic values.
– Increase the possibilities for the participation of students in the decision-making of the class and the organization of schools and universities.
– Provide opportunities for encountering people with different characteristics than theirs (ethnicity, gender, religion…) in the school and other contexts.
– Support non-formal education courses about civic education topics in order to complement the formal education that students receive.
– Improve the preparation of those who appear in the media so they transmit civic values and attitudes.
– Improve education especially in the following topics: intercultural communication, media literacy and hate-speech online, interreligious communication, functioning of EU institutions, political knowledge, critical thinking, participation in elections and democratic decision-making, environmental sustainability, citizens’ rights and duties, and global education.
– Specific civic education should be provided to groups with special needs, mainly migrants and refugees and children at risk of social exclusion.
– There is a need for more education on non-discrimination, especially of immigrants and refugees; LGBTI people; and people from frequently discriminated ethnicities and religions.
– A bigger sense of both European and global citizenship should be promoted.
– Learn about social and humanistic sciences, such as history, from multiple perspectives, not only the own national one.
– Emphasize the importance of the arts and humanities (such as music or philosophy), whose presence in the curriculum is being reduced in some countries, for the civic and comprehensive development of people.

AEGEE calls upon the different education stakeholders, and mainly policy makers and educators, to contribute from their area of action to the implementation of the recommendations collected in this Paper.

02 | Contextualization

AEGEE understands civic education as the education which aims at learning the competences, i.e. skills, knowledge and attitudes, required to be an active, democratic, responsible and critical citizen. Its ultimate goal is to educate the population on democratic citizenship and make them aware of their rights and responsibilities. In this Policy Paper, civic education is considered as synonymous of citizenship education, term which is used in other instances. Our idea of civic education is not restricted to formal education, but includes also non-formal education and practical experiences contributing to develop civic competences.

The results of the ICCS 2009 study [1] showed big disparities of civic knowledge between countries; and that while students in lower-secondary education in most countries endorsed democratic values, they presented several deficits in civic attitudes. Meanwhile, the PIAAC study of the OECD [2] has shown that highly educated adults are more likely to participate in volunteer activities, trust others and feel that they have a say in government. However, the mere participation in education is not enough to develop civic competences to a satisfactory degree and specific civic education is needed. As the 2012 Eurydice report on Citizenship Education [3] indicates, civic education is part of national curricula in all EU countries (as well as others as Turkey), either as a subject in itself, as part of another subject and/or as a cross-curricular dimension. The level of presence in the curriculum varies a lot from country to country, though.

Since 2001 the European Union has identified active citizenship as one of the four objectives of education and lifelong learning [4]. In 2006 the European Parliament and the Council included social and civic competences as one of the 8 Key Competences of its Reference Framework of Competences [5], competences which should be developed by all the students during their school education. This support for civic education by the EU has been kept in policy documents as the strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training (‘ET 2020’) which indicates that “Education should promote intercultural competences, democratic values and respect for fundamental rights and the environment, as well as combat all forms of discrimination” [6].

More recently, in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in France and Denmark of early 2015, education ministers of the EU countries gathered and signed the Paris Declaration [7] on the 17th of March 2015, calling to reinforce the education on citizenship and the acceptance of common fundamental values to lay the foundations for more inclusive societies. One year after it, Eurydice published a new publication to evaluate the degree of implementation of the Paris declaration in EU member states [8]; with many countries reporting the development of new education policies since then. While the terrorist attacks has meant a reactivation of attention upon civic education by national and European politicians, AEGEE identified civic education as an important area of policy improvement already in 2013, so our interest and demands in this area come from an intrinsic belief that the topic of civic education needs improvements and deserves more attention.

Meanwhile, the Council of Europe (CoE) has been a great supporter of education for democratic citizenship since 1997. In 2002 the Committee of Ministers adopted a declaration [9] which recommends national governments to make education for democratic citizenship a critical objective of their education policies and reforms. Later on, in 2010 the CoE and its 47 member states, adopted the Charter on Education for Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights Education [10]. Recently, the CoE gathered representatives from education ministries from all over the continent to adopt a new document which outlines the “competences for democratic culture” [11]. These competences bring together the values, attitudes and skills as well as the knowledge and critical understanding necessary for the exercise of democratic citizenship and intercultural dialogue.

At the same time, many civil society organizations have published positions and documents to support civic education during the last years. Of particular interest here is the Policy Paper on Citizenship Education by the European Youth Forum [12], representing the views on the topic of 100 international youth organizations and national youth councils.

03 | Position of AEGEE-Europe

Civic education, as education in general, is a national competence and the situation regarding civic education varies from country to country. Therefore, the experiences with civic education are not the same among all the AEGEE members. In a similar way, their perceptions about the quality of civic education are not the same either. However, there is a general opinion among AEGEE members that there is quite a lot of room for improvement and that there is a need for more and better civic education.

AEGEE advocates for a lifelong learning approach to civic education, which covers all the stages of formal education, but that also includes non-formal education and informal learning opportunities; as recommended also by the Council of Europe [9]. AEGEE believes that more time should be dedicated to civic education in the education at all levels; although some of our members put the emphasis on improving the quality and the methods used, more than increasing the amount of time dedicated to it. We see the need for more civic education especially for students aged 12 to 18 years old (stage many times called Secondary Education). We alert about the fact that students under 18 years old in Vocational Education and Training are not receiving the same civic education as other students in the academic path. It might be difficult to find enough time to dedicate to civic education among other education priorities and topics. However, we think that civic education should be considered as a priority and that enough time should be dedicated to it. Nevertheless, we also find that there are other measures which are even more important in order to improve civic education.

AEGEE advocates for the following measures to improve civic education:

Participation in exchange programmes. The participation in international events, conferences and training courses has a big influence in opening people’s minds to other cultures and realities. The support to mobility programmes and opportunities as the ones offered by Erasmus+ or organizations like AEGEE should increase in order to allow that everybody has the opportunity to live an international experience.

Participation in volunteering and youth organizations. The EU Youth Strategy 2010-2018 [13] already indicates how volunteering and participation in civil society activities contribute to the development of civic skills. Through involvement in youth organisations, such as AEGEE, young citizens get practical experiences with democracy, decision-making, taking responsibilities and initiatives, etc.; complementing this way the more theoretical civic knowledge provided by formal education. We recommend to promote and support the participation in volunteering, a bigger cooperation between formal education institutions and youth organizations, and to integrate volunteering in education with experiences as service-learning.

Change the methods used to teach about the topics related with civic education. In order to improve the methods used to teach civic competences in formal education, we would like to have more interactive lessons and practical activities which connect with the everyday life of students, with activities as simulations and study visits to institutions and NGOs. This can be achieved through the use of non- formal education methodology, which is learner-centred and takes a participatory approach.

Improve the training of teachers so they are prepared to teach about civic education and transmit civic values. All the teachers need to be prepared to teach in multicultural classes as well as fostering the development of civic competences, since civic education should be also addressed with a cross-curricular point of view from different subjects. This preparation should focus both on content related to civic education, as well as on methodology and methods, for which teachers should get familiar with non-formal education approaches. The 2012 Eurydice report on citizenship education [3] alerted of the need for improving teachers’ skills for teaching about civic education.

Increase the participation of students in the decision-making of the organization of schools and universities. This goes together with the overall vision of AEGEE of a Europe where young people take active part in its construction. Students and young people should be given the opportunity and be empowered to take part in decision-making as relevant stakeholders, such as in students councils and co-decision boards; since this helps them to learn about participation and why it matters. Having a situation where students have little power to influence decision-making in schools and universities contradicts the idea of promoting democratic participation.

Provide opportunities for encountering people with different characteristics than theirs (ethnicity, gender, religion…) in the school and other contexts. In order to learn to treat others as equals it is essential to have a direct contact with people different than themselves. This way, AEGEE favours having diverse schools, where pupils need to coexist with people from other cultures; as well as providing similar opportunities outside the school or university.

Support non-formal education courses about civic education topics. Non-formal education can complement the formal education that students receive by providing alternative methods and opportunities to develop civic competences. It should be considered here that youth organizations are the main providers of NFE for young people.

Transmission of civic values and attitudes by the media. The media are an important source of learning for many people, and we consider that those who appear there, including journalists and political leaders, should be aware of their impact and receive appropriate preparation in order to transmit civic values and attitudes. In order to ensure that students receive civic education, AEGEE thinks that it is useful to have a separate subject about it, although it should be complemented with a cross- disciplinary approach, contributing to develop civic competences from different subjects. Additionally, AEGEE considers that specific civic education should be provided to groups with special needs, mainly migrants and refugees and children at risk of social exclusion.

Among the topics connected with civic education which would need improvement, we would like to highlight the following ones:
– Intercultural communication
– Media literacy and hate-speech online
– Interreligious communication
– Functioning of EU institutions
– Political knowledge
– Critical thinking
– Participation in elections and democratic decision-making
– Environmental sustainability
– Citizens’ rights and duties
– Global education

AEGEE considers that there is a need to increase the competences about intercultural communication and interreligious communication in order to enlarge understanding of other cultures and religions, avoid prejudices and make people to be able to live and work together in a world which is increasingly mobile.

One main area for improvement is media literacy and hate-speech online, especially since internet can be a source of non-civic attitudes, violent ideologies and indoctrination. Students should learn to be good citizens both online and offline. Students should also learn how to question media coverage, consult and compare different sources of information, base knowledge in science and facts, etc. For all that it is essential to improve the critical thinking of students.

We also consider that students need more political knowledge in order to understand better political systems, how democratic institutions work and the importance of voting; what would ease the participation in elections and democratic decision-making, as indicated by the AEGEE Position Paper on Recognition of Volunteers [14]. This is especially the case with the functioning of EU institutions, which are perceived as more distant by many Europeans. AEGEE has contributed to promote political knowledge about EU and participation in European Parliament elections with projects as YVote [15].

In the current world, it is essential to increase education for environmental sustainability, developing a sense of consciousness on the impact of human action in the environment and the need to make a responsible and sustainable use of resources; as indicated by the AEGEE Position Paper on Education for Sustainable Development [16]. Global education, which is explained by the European Youth Forum as “opening people’s eyes to the problems of the world”, is also needed here. Students should develop an understanding about global affairs and how the world works and be able to critically evaluate global issues.

Finally, it is essential that citizens know their rights and duties, as it is a core aspect of civic education that people learn how to defend their rights as well as knowing what their responsibilities in different circumstances are.

AEGEE members also see the need to improve education for non-discrimination, especially of the following groups: immigrants and refugees, LGBTI people, and people from frequently discriminated ethnicities and religions.

Connected with intercultural communication and global education, a bigger sense of both European and global citizenship should be promoted. AEGEE supports learning more about social and humanistic sciences from other perspectives than the national one, like through worldwide and comparative history.

At the same time, the presence of the arts and humanities (as music or philosophy) in the educational curriculum of some countries is being reduced. AEGEE would like to highlight the importance of these areas for civic education and the civic and comprehensive development of people.

04 | Recommendations for improving civic education

AEGEE calls upon all the education stakeholders to:
– Contribute, according to their possibilities for action, to implement the recommendations which appear in this Policy Paper.
– Consider civic education as a priority and make an effort to improve its learning outcomes.
– Increase the cooperation with other education stakeholders in order to maximize the effectiveness of the measures adopted.
– Support youth organizations, mobility opportunities and non-formal education courses, as important settings for civic learning.
– Increase the resources, economic and human, dedicated to civic education and to measures which contribute to the development of civic competences.

AEGEE recommends the European Union to:
– Promote civic education through the European Commission programmes Erasmus+ and Europe for Citizens.
– Strengthen financial support for consultation and networking projects in civic education policy.
– Increase the allocation of money aimed at education, training, youth and sports in the next Multiannual Financial Framework.
– Support member states to develop better civic education policies and practices by offering platforms and resources which help them to cooperate and share best practices among them.
– Define a long-term agenda and set benchmarks and indicators to evaluate the performance of member states.
– Have working groups dedicated to civic education in the ET2020 and future frameworks.
– Realize the importance of civic education, keeping its attention and support to it in a long-term basis and not only when particular events (as terrorist attacks) demand it.
– Keep a good cooperation with the Council of Europe in the field of civic education.

AEGEE recommends the Council of Europe to:
– Continue their efforts supporting education for democratic citizenship.
– Strive to ensure a successful impact on civic education of the competences for democratic citizenship framework.
– Keep a good cooperation with the European Union in the field of civic education.

AEGEE recommends European countries to:
– Ensure the presence of civic education in the national education curricula at all levels and that enough time is dedicated to it.
– Reinforce the presence of the arts and humanities in the curriculum in case it is being reduced in that country.
– Provide specific civic education to migrants, refugees and children at risk of social exclusion.
– Improve training of teachers to prepare them to teach about civic education and transmit civic values.
– Providing structural and economic support to youth organizations as places for experiential learning of citizenship and democracy as well as providers of non- formal education in different aspects connected with civic education.
– Provide enough economic support to Erasmus+ and other mobility programmes.
– Increase the cooperation between education stakeholders, with an important emphasis in the participation of representatives of students and young people as the main receivers of civic education.

AEGEE recommends education centers and educators to:
– Improve the methods used to teach civic education issues by adopting more practical, participatory and student-centered approaches.
– Collaborate with non-formal education providers, as youth organizations, and be open to the use of non-formal education methods.
– Increase efforts to constantly enhance teachers’ competences to teach about civic education topics.
– Allow and encourage the democratic participation of students in the decision- making of the school or university.
– Promote and support the participation in volunteering, and integrate volunteering in education with experiences as service-learning.
– Opt for having diverse education centers where students can coexist with people with different characteristics than theirs (ethnicity, gender, religion…).
– Transmit more knowledge about other cultures and global issues; and promote a bigger sense of both European and global citizenship.
– Adopt a diversity of perspectives (not only a national one) when teaching about social and humanistic sciences, like, for example, through worldwide and comparative history.

 

 

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Policy Paper in Transition from Education to Working Life /policy-paper-in-transition-from-education-to-working-life/ Sat, 15 Aug 2015 12:02:03 +0000 /?p=5794 Policy Paper in Transition from Education to Working Life

by Pablo Hernández Rodríguez

 

01 | Introduction.

AEGEE (Association des Etats Généraux des Etudiants de l’Europe/European Students’ Forum) was created in 1985 with the vision of creating a unified Europe, based on democracy and a respect for human rights, by bringing together students with different cultural backgrounds. Today, AEGEE is Europe’s largest interdisciplinary youth organisation with 40 countries, 200 cities, and 13,000 friends. The extensive AEGEE network provides the ideal platform for young volunteers to work together on cross-border activities such as international conferences, seminars, exchanges, training courses and case study trips. To combat the challenges young people are currently facing in Europe, AEGEE’s work focuses on four main areas: spreading “Europtimism”, improving youth mobility, increasing youth employment and promoting civic education.  

One of the biggest challenges that youth is facing today is the economic and social crisis, a scenario that has had a major impact on the life of all European youngsters, challenging them to struggle with unacceptable youth unemployment rates and the decrease of quality education, training and job opportunities. These facts have  intensified the difficulties a young European person faces when transitioning from education to working life.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states in its article 23.1 that “Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.” In this sense, AEGEE as a European organization focused on students, develops policies, activities and recommendations aiming to reduce the existing barriers between the education system and the labour market.

 

02| Current practices and challenges for transition from education to working life among the members of AEGEE.

Recent statistics show the poor employment situation that European youngsters are suffering, including youth unemployment rates over 50% in some European regions and the increase of temporary jobs since the beginning of the crisis. Another notable worry for today’s society is the amount of the so-called NEETs, people who are not in education, employment or training.

AEGEE has carried out a research determining the challenges of its members when it comes to transition from education to working life. The purpose was to identify the overall situation of this target group and to present recommendations that would empower them and improve the current situation.

The first challenge that is shown is that nowadays formal education systems are not fully providing the skills needed by the job market, thus more than 85% of the people consulted believe that non formal education should bridge this gap. This data shows the need for adaptation of the formal education system to the needs that young people have when transitioning to the labour market. Non formal education providers should not be left alone in the provision of those skills. In this sense, it is needed to teach transversal skills, those that could be applicable to a broad number of occupations not entirely leaving this task to non-formal education institutions.

Secondly, internships in Europe are in a critical situation having several challenges to be faced. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) alerts that around half of internships are unpaid, and among paid internships, 45% pay too little to cover day-to-day living costs. As such, about three-quarters of European interns are not able to make ends meet, and two-thirds of them must fund their placements through parental help. In response to this data, around 85% of the people consulted in AEGEE’s survey stated that internships should be paid. Beside this, almost 4 out of 10 young people think that internships are overused by companies that are not looking for educating their interns but for replacing a real job for a cheaper one.

Thirdly, one of the recipes that are given to solve youth unemployment is entrepreneurship as the process of starting a business that is seen for 57% of the people consulted as their possible future career path. The analysis of the results of the opinion of AEGEE members show that the actual situation is very discouraging, as more than 6 out of 10 people that think it is not easy to start their own business. The challenge that entrepreneurship has to deal with is the lack of support that is given to the ones willing to create their own business.

Furthermore, the transition from education to working life is a process that is not escaping from discrimination on the grounds of sex, race or any other. Over 60% of the consultants think that there is discrimination in the job market, something that has worsened since the beginning of the crisis as external research shows. The same study states that “the lack of official comparable data makes it very difficult to assess the extent of discrimination in employment in Europe”.

Current situation leads to many more challenges and practices that should be shaped or changed to fit them in the constantly changing context. AEGEE’s research shows that half of youngsters do not have financial independence and most of the people consulted do not think that they will be in their job of future job for more than five years. These new trends are forcing the stakeholders involved, including AEGEE, to respond with measures and strategies that fit in the current context.

 

03 | Position of AEGEE / European Students’ Forum.

AEGEE is a students’ organization that empowers young Europeans giving them a platform for debate and personal development as well as stands for their rights. One of the main challenges that every European citizen has to face with is the serious unemployment and underemployment situation, specially for those coming from minority targeted groups.

AEGEE is one of the main stakeholders in the design of packages and reforms that should be taken in order to solve the current situation that is unacceptable. There must belong-term planning, allowing all social actors to intervene in modeling a system that involves main fields of action such as bridging the skills mismatch between formal education and the labour market; implementing a sustainable entrepreneurship atmosphere; providing quality jobs; establishing a quality and useful internships system; and easing the inclusion of minorities.

Regarding the relationship between the skills and competences provided by formal education and the skills and competences needed in the job market, AEGEE believes that the universities must be the place for both professional and personal development. In this sense, curricula should not be oriented to create the so-called “Homo Economicus”, that is to say, students with knowledge only applicable to the needs of a concrete job market, but oriented to form citizens that complement each other in their communities.

AEGEE stands for education in transversal skills moreover living in a fast-changing society in which technology creates new job niches. These skills should be gained through vocational training, dual education and non formal education, providing to the students with experiences valuable for their future work. In this sense, AEGEE understands that non-formal education must complement formal education in order to obtain the skills required for the proper development of their future job. Regarding this object, AEGEE advocates for the recognition of volunteering: “valorising volunteer activities as a real and worthful experience, which can be presented by young people in their future steps of their career”. AEGEE is a provider of non formal education, as this association empowers members and other agents involved with tools and opportunities to develop skills by doing giving them experiences valuable for their career.

AEGEE promotes quality internships as a means for the intern to gain practical or applied education in a career field. In order to shape a quality system, there should be an implementation of compulsory internships within the framework of the higher education. AEGEE remarks the importance of allowing the students to acquire relevant experience in their placement both during vocational training schemes and during their University studies. These internships should be based upon a series of core principles such as equal opportunities for everybody in the same situation, focusing on the inclusion of minorities; the use of them must not replace a job. In order to improve this situation, higher educations institutions and policy makers in relevant European countries must implement a learning methodology in all internships by, for example, having an assigned tutor and training courses to develop the skills and competences required; and there must be a compensation to the intern for their work including remuneration, access to social protection and workers’ rights.

Apart from providing the necessary skills, in order to fight against unemployment and mainly against youth unemployment, AEGEE proposes to establish a sustainable atmosphere to allow youngsters to become entrepreneurs. In this sense, it is needed to ease the requirements for starting a company, making it accessible and user friendly, as well as to provide information on which steps to take. There must be a strong dialogue among all the stakeholders in order to develop a proper entrepreneurship ecosystem that provides easy access to information on how to become entrepreneurs as for example happens with the MY-WAY project in which AEGEE is part of that aims on creating a support system for young people to become entrepreneurs. This atmosphere should include public facilities to be used by young entrepreneurs to develop their ideas as well as proper funding opportunities that gives the possibility to quality proposals to become real. In the basis of the encouragement to young people to become entrepreneurs there should be the introduction of an entrepreneurship spirit and knowledge through the incorporation into formal education.

AEGEE believes that besides entrepreneurship, there should be good labour perspectives. That is to say, the chance to have a decent job in which the skills and knowledge of the person are recognized.  AEGEE stands for the development of policies that foster youth employment creating full time, permanent jobs and reducing the number of part-time and temporary jobs, ensuring quality conditions for workers including a decent salary, a proper usage of the skills of the employee and security in terms of proper future expectations. In order to fully achieve this goal, it is crucial to promote measures to make young people more employable by avoiding austerity measures as there have not been empirically proven their relation with lower youth unemployment but have a high risk of pushing young people into poverty and social exclusion.

Finally, for AEGEE it is essential to advocate for equal opportunities for all, thus inclusion of minorities is a milestone in the construction of proposals and recommendations that empower young people with tools to smooth the transition from education to working life. The promotion of measures that, for instance, empower women to become entrepreneurs would foster the whole European youth employment creating also a more integrative and stable social situation.

 

4 | Recommendations for the ease of transition from education to working life.

04.01 |Recommendations for educational centres

AEGEE-Europe recommends that universities, highschools and other educational centers bear in mind the responsibility they have in providing to their students’ with knowledge, skills and opportunities valuable for their future career. The educational centers are the main stakeholders in the transition from education to working life as they build the background that every young person has when trying to access to the labour market. In this sense, there should be a coherent and omni-comprehensive approach to the formal education system in order to empower these young people with the best possible tools.

First, AEGEE-Europe encourages the educational centers to open up the catalogue of extracurricular activities, enabling every student to make his/her own career path. This catalogue of activities should be composed out of both courses directly oriented to the maximization of opportunities for young people to be hired in future; and also another set of activities oriented to develop personal skills useful for the society. In order to fully achieve this recommendation, it is needed to have a proper representation of the students in the institutions through students’ councils making them able to prioritize their needs and adapt their education to their preferences.  

Second, the entrepreneurial spirit should be introduced from early ages as another form of future employment. AEGEE encourages to these institutions to foster creativity and entrepreneurial mentality as an alternative to traditional employment. Moreover, the universities should create incubators, coworking spaces and have mentoring services that would enable their students to start their own businesses and put in practice their projects.

Third, AEGEE-Europe beliefs that educational institutions must, in conjunction with policy makers, provide an adequate system to gain employability skills and practical knowledge on the needs of a job seeker by ensuring extra-curricular activities in their centers.

 

04.02 |Recommendations for policy-makers

AEGEE-Europe understands that some regulations should be implemented in order to ease every stage of the transition from education to working life. The different policy making institutions involved should work together towards the creation of a renewed framework for young people that would foster their future employability and establish quality job and internship standards.

First, AEGEE-Europe recommends to regulate the situation of interns as one of the possible paths in the transition to full employment taking into consideration that bad practices might exist such as using internships to replace regular jobs. AEGEE-Europe proposes to establish fiscal advantages and favourable taxation to those companies that after the period of internship, finally offer an employment contract and, by contrast, penalizing those that use this system as cheap labour force. Another measure that must be implemented is the inclusion of internships in higher education curricula as a way to provide all the students with professional experience before they finally look for a job. As a complement to this, there should be a quality assurance service in charge of following up how employers are putting in practice this program, establishing minimum standards that have to be accomplished. This last recommendation can only be correctly developed after the recognition in the European level of the definition of quality internships and its indicators thus there can be a proper impact measurement of the different employment policies.

Second, local governments and other territorial administrations should empower their citizens to be self-employed giving them an alternative to paid employment. In this sense, the process of starting a business should not be a barrier to the goals of young people, thus AEGEE claims for the reduction of bureaucracy and transmit to face with when starting a company. Additionally, there must be a good provision of facilities and assessment that would allow young people to commence running their businesses. AEGEE encourages policy makers to set business incubators gathering local governments and universities creating a sustainable transition to autonomous labour life.

Third, AEGEE-Europe is also concerned about the lack of formation for employment. AEGEE believes that governments should deliver courses at educational centers teaching on a practical base essential skills such as writing a CV or a cover letter, how to do a proper job hunting or how to be interviewed. Those courses should not be only run at Universities but at earlier education stages as they are skill that are needed by any person.

Last but not least, AEGEE-Europe thinks that it is needed an adequate funding to the different measures suggested so they can become really effective. The Youth Guarantee scheme is a stand out of the proposed solutions to the transition from education to working life, concretely to the high rates of NEETs, that, due to the lack of money allocated to it, does not have an adequate impact in society.

 

04.03 |Recommendations for companies

AEGEE-Europe believes that the private sector must be a cornerstone in the design of policies and mechanisms to ease and improve the European unemployment situation as the public sector cannot entirely absorb the impact of the crisis and, as it has been shown, there have been huge cuts in public hiring.

Companies have the responsibility to modernize their recruitment strategies getting adapted to the actual labour framework. AEGEE recommends them to set training programs in order to form their own workers in the skills that are going to need in their future job and recognize the ones gained outside formal education institutions. Additionally, AEGEE encourages companies to approve internal binding norms including regulation on quality working standards together with their workers.

 

04.04 |Recommendations for youth

AEGEE-Europe would also like  to involve the main stakeholder in youth unemployment and transition from education to working life which is the youth itself. As a heterogeneous collective, it is needed to have an integrative approach including those coming from the most diverse backgrounds. AEGEE/European Students’ Forum has assumed the responsibility of stepping forward in the defense of youngsters’ working rights. Consequently, AEGEE encourages its members to have a proactive mentality and use the resources and the platform offered by the organization to turn their ideas into reality (e.g. getting informed by the YuE project or organizing an event about employability skills in collaboration with that project).

AEGEE recommends to every European student to actively seek for their own career path complementing their formal education with non formal education and training in soft skills and transversal skills in order to foster their employability. AEGEE-Europe encourages the youth to keep informed of the opportunities they have in the local, regional and European level using public information means and actively engage in a dialogue with policy makers and companies.

Finally, AEGEE believes that every person should have same opportunities regardless of their origin, race, sex or any other source of discrimination, thus integration of minorities must be a priority in the design of any kind of measures that aim to smooth the transition from education to working life. In this sense, the collaboration with International Non-Governmental Youth Organizations (INGYOs) is crucial in order to come up with solutions that help to put into practice the previously quoted article 23.1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
4 | References

1 Eurydice – Facts and Figures, 2014/15,  National Student Fee and Support Systems in European Higher Education 2014/15

Eurostats.  December 2014, Unemployment Statistics,

3  AEGEE / European Students’ Forum. Strategic Plan 2014­2017. Focus Area II. Youth Employment.

4  Dataset: LFS ­ Employment by Permanency (Dataset Level Metadata TEMP_I)

5 Interns are workers, too. Ben Lyons, Co­Director, Intern Aware, ©OECD Yearbook 2013

RESEARCH PAPER No 14, Guidance supporting Europe’s aspiring entrepreneurs, Policy and practice to harness future potential, Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union, 2011

Racism and discrimination in employment in Europe ENAR Shadow Report 2012 ­ 2013

Position paper on Recognition of Volunteers, November 2013.

9 Youth in the crisis. What went wrong?, page 11, 2014 European Youth Forum

10 Position paper on Recognition of Volunteers, November 2013.

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Position paper on sustainable universities /position-paper-on-sustainable-universities-2/ Tue, 18 Nov 2014 10:06:40 +0000 /?p=5595 1. Introduction

The history of the concept of sustainable development goes not far back in time. In 1987 sustainable development is defined by the Brundtland Comission as follows: Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs[1].

The need for sustainable development was recognised by political leaders in 1992 during the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. The Agenda 21 was adopted during the conference. This document stated that action was needed towards a more sustainable developed world[2]. The Agenda 21 is not fully implemented yet, and due to economic challenges the attention of world leaders towards sustainable development has decreased in the recent years. This does not mean that the need for sustainable development has disappeared. With the ongoing exploitation of the Earth, the visibility of the limits of our resources and the tangible effects of climate change, the need for sustainable development is more urgent than ever.

As young people are the present and the future and have the ability to make a change for the better, the university has an immediate impact on the present and the future. A university is a state or private owned knowledge centre where young people are educated. A sustainable university is defined as a higher educational institution, as a whole or as a part, that addresses, involves and promotes, on a regional or a global level, the minimization of negative environmental, economic, societal, and health effects generated in the use of their resources in order to fulfil its functions of teaching, research, outreach and partnership, and stewardship in ways to help society make the transition to sustainable lifestyles[3]. In this position paper the focus lays on the environmental impact a university has.

”Sustainability means to me making sure future generations will still be able to enjoy the nature of our planet”[4].

2. Position of AEGEE-Europe

The start of the shift to a sustainable society starts with educating people[5], and practicing a sustainable lifecycle as a university has to complement any inclusion of sustainability in the curricula. AEGEE-Europe considers that universities, as innovative knowledge and education centres, have the duty towards society to educate young people in a way that makes them conscious of their lifestyles and give them the knowledge and the opportunity to make their lifestyles more sustainable. This must be done not only by educating students in a formal and informal way, but also by being an example to the whole society. Students are the present and give shape to the future. The shift to a more sustainable lifestyle becomes more realistic by educating students and showing them what a sustainable lifestyle is.

3. Sustainable Universities in Europe

Sustainability of universities and the value given to sustainability differ very much among countries in Europe. When the country itself values sustainability, this is reflected in its universities, which are more sustainable than average. It seems that the combination of the knowledge on sustainability, the power to change and interest in sustainability is what forms the three pillars for a sustainable transition[6]. Not all the universities have an awaiting approach. There are several universities, mainly in Western and Northern Europe that are taking responsibility for putting an emphasis on sustainability.

”I didn’t even learn what sustainability is at my University[7].”

4. Recommendations

4.1 Recommendations for NGOs

There are several organisations that are working towards more sustainable universities. The exchange of knowledge between them and cooperation among them would strengthen the message and actions that are taken.

Furthermore, the bottom up approach which ensures change driven by the activation of students of that specific university has proven successful in the cases where it has been implemented. The university usually listens to students if they raise their voice. In case the university does not, students are inventive enough to make sure that the university will listen.

Next to this, the bottom up approach in combination with including the value of sustainable lifecycles within the university and sustainable education in the policy of the university is the most successful combination. In this way the students are the driving force behind the change and the implementation of sustainability in the policy of the university ensures permanence of the values.

4.2 Recommendations for students

Students are important stakeholders in the university. Students are more powerful than they believe, especially if they form a group together and stand behind a common idea. Students can take care of education on sustainability in a formal or non-formal way or make the university more sustainable at own initiative. The education towards other students can occur if the university sees no need in taking the responsibility, or as a replenishment to the existing education. In this way students can teach others and create support and acknowledgement in the university as well.

4.3 Recommendations for awarding of sustainable universities and including sustainability in rankings

There are prizes and rankings for the most sustainable universities. It would be an opportunity to spread the importance of sustainable universities and to create more willingness in the universities itself to become more sustainable if these sustainability rankings where more known and the prizes where more prestigious.

However, sustainability is not included in the overall ranking of universities. There are several rankings of universities available, to name a few: U-Multirank, Shanghai Ranking and the Times higher education ranking. Rankings of universities should not only consist of the level of teaching and the facilities the university has, also the sustainability of a university should be taken into account. The sustainability of a university could be measured out of the average hours of education on sustainability at each study every year, the sustainability of the building and the catering, the existence of a committee on sustainability and the inclusion of sustainability on the policy of the university.

About AEGEE

AEGEE/ European Students’ Forum is a European Student organisation striving for a better Europe, including a more sustainable Europe, and believes in the power of young people. AEGEE was born in 1986 with the vision of creating a unified Europe, based on democracy and respect for human rights, bringing together students with different cultural backgrounds. Today, AEGEE is Europe’s largest interdisciplinary youth organisation: 40 countries, 200 cities, 13.000 friends.

This network provides the ideal platform for young volunteers to work together on cross-border activities such as international conferences, seminars, exchanges, training courses, and case study trips. In line with the challenges young people are currently facing in Europe, AEGEE’s work is focused on three main areas: promotion of youth participation, development of European relations with its neighbours, and inclusion of minorities.

AEGEE’s work on environment and sustainability is relatively new. Its diverse membership however, provides a great potential for the development of cross-disciplinary efforts in this field — a role taken up with increasing success since the creation of its Environmental Working Group in 2007, the Sustaining our Future project in 2008-2009, and since 2012 its Policy Officer on Sustainability.


[1] Brundtland Report, 1987. Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development.

[2] United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs Division for Sustainable Development. Sustainable Development in the 21st Century (SD21) Review of implementation of Agenda 21 and the Rio Principles Detailed review of implementation of Agenda 21. January 2012.

[3] Velazquez, L., Munguia, N., Platt, A., & Taddei, J. (2006). Sustainable university: what can be the matter?. Journal of Cleaner Production, 14(9), 810-819.

[4] Survey on Sustainable Universities, AEGEE 2014.

[5] See the position paper: AEGEE Position on Education for Sustainability.

[6] Csurgó, B., Kovách, I., & Kučerová, E. (2008). Knowledge, power and sustainability in contemporary rural Europe. Sociologia Ruralis, 48(3), 292-312.

[7] Survey on Sustainable Universities, AEGEE 2014.

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Position Paper in Youth Participation in Democratic Processes /position-paper-in-youth-participation-in-democratic-processes/ Tue, 18 Nov 2014 09:54:54 +0000 /?p=5590 01 | Introduction.

The AEGEE (Association des Etats Généraux des Etudiants de l’Europe/European Students’ Forum) was created in 1985 with the vision of creating a unified Europe, based on democracy and a respect for human rights, by bringing together students with different cultural backgrounds. Today, AEGEE is Europe’s largest interdisciplinary youth organisation with 40 countries, 200 cities, and 13,000 friends. The extensive AEGEE network provides the ideal platform for young volunteers to work together on cross­border activities such as international conferences, seminars, exchanges, training courses and case study trips. To combat the challenges young people are currently facing in Europe, AEGEE’s work focuses on four main  areas:  spreading “Europtimism”, improving youth mobility, increasing youth employment and implementing civic education.

As an organization that promotes and supports the involvement and engagement of young people in their communities all around Europe, AEGEE­Europe is concerned about the difficulties that citizens face participating in every stage of the political process. Active political participation of all citizens, and especially of all young people, is the basis for a well functioning European society. Based on the provisions of the article 10.3 of the Treaty of the European Union, which recognizes every citizen’s right to  participate  in  the  democratic  life  of  the  European  Union,  AEGEE­Europe  aims  to  be  a non­governmental organization that empowers well­educated and informed citizens to have an active role in developing political actions and policies.

02| Current practices and challenges for youth participation in democratic processes among the members of AEGEE.

Recent studies have shown that the earlier young people are acquainted and engaged with democratic participation and democratic processes, the higher their level of satisfaction and involvement with their community[1].

In 2014, AEGEE carried out research determining how often its members participate in the democratic process, and to understand the challenges that prevent them from participating efficiently, in order to illustrate the main barriers to real political participation of young people.

In spite of increased interest and use of alternative and innovative ways of participation, voting is still seen as the main instrument of participation for young people participating in the study. Yet, it is important to stress that although they consider voting to be the main participation tool, they do not necessarily believe it is an efficient tool. The results of the European Parliamentary election demonstrate this contradiction perfectly, with only 29%[2] on young people taking part in the elections across the EU.

Another relevant form of participation is through Local, National or Regional Youth Councils, which serve as intermediaries between young people and political representatives. In many countries with an established youth council, the latter has become a respected and efficient tool to advocate for, and represent the need of young people. Our research analysis shows that classic forms of youth participation in democratic processes, such as belonging to a political party, are seen as less efficient than participating in Youth Councils in the current political climate. Youth platforms are not taken into account seriously for policy development, even in the case of youth specific policies. Further, they are not provided with the necessary economic means that would allow them to work professionally to advocate for youth needs.

Another interesting research finding is the affirmation that geographical proximity to an issue results in higher youth engagement. For this reason, participation in democratic processes at the local level is believed to be more efficient than at the international level, where youth believe that they have low impact. One of the factors that drives this situation is the complex processes and the bureaucracy that young people have to face in the EU and at the international level, where decision­making is more complex and less accessible to the average citizen.

The dissatisfaction with politicians, together with the lack of trust towards the governments, is seen as the strongest barrier to participation that young people face; around 40% of the respondents expressed that this is their main obstacle to participation in democracy. Other studies covering European youth, such  as  the  one  published  by  the  London  School  of  Economics  in  2013[3],  have  found  similar percentages. In addition, AEGEE members believe that they do not have a direct influence on politics (63% think that their opinion is not taken into account) but that they are able to lead initiatives (48%). These figures show that youth are capable of having an active role in policy­making and that platforms need to be improved to express their opinions. The feeling changes depending on the area of policy making; the participation potential in decision­making processes on the local level is higher than on the the international level, where it is seen as very difficult.

AEGEE members also expressed their lack of time for participating in a more active way in politics (25%),  which  could  be  related  to  the  fact  that  policy­making is  built  upon  a very passive and institution-­dependent system rather than a more participative one. At this point, the results reflect that young people see lack of information as the biggest problem for not participating more actively in society (14,3%).

03 | Position of AEGEE­Europe

AEGEE strives for a democratic, diverse and borderless Europe, which is socially, economically and politically integrated, and values the participation of young people in its construction and development. Youth participation is understood as the commitment of young people to have an active role in the topics and decisions that affect their lives.

AEGEE believes that young people are major components of the society and are crucial actors in the process of building of their future. Our goal is a system in which young people are allowed to have a direct impact on the decision­making process, sharing the political arena with adults. The tools that are now available due to the Internet and new technologies provide opportunities for all to express more easily their opinions and have a say in the different issues in which they are directly involved to. A sustainable democratic system, with a focus on the integration of minorities, is seen as a feasible scenario only if governing institutions stand for a renewal in the standards of participation strengthen the renewed framework for European cooperation in the youth field (2010­2018) signed by the Council of the European  Union  where  it  is  stated  the  willingness  to  support  “young  people’s  participation  in representative democracy and civil society at all levels and in society.”

In order to achieve a healthy, participative and strong governmental system, a proper education with an emphasis  on  democratic  participation  is  crucial,  as  well  as  introducing  measures  to  avoid  the manipulation of the students. The collaboration of all responsible institutions is needed in order to shape a plural, independent and not politicized teaching curriculum that provides the necessary information for young people about the options they have to influence their society. Working towards this goal will result in empowered youth, with participation competences and open minds that more easily accept collective decisions and strengthen of the sense of community as it is recognized by the provision 5.b of the Recommendation CM/Rec(2010)7 adopted by the Committee of  Ministers of  the Council of Europe when it is stated that “education, especially in the field of citizenship and human rights, is a lifelong process.”

AEGEE also wants to welcome projects, such as the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI), as a way of enhancing the participation among Europeans in EU policy­making, which will bring their concerns closer to the EU representatives. Another remarkable example of these projects is the Structured Dialogue as a mechanism to recognise young people as key actors in the development of policies suggested by the trio presidency.

4 | Recommendations for the increase of youth participation in democratic processes.

04.01 |Recommendations for educational centres

AEGEE­Europe recommends that universities, high­schools and other educational centers provide the students’ community an ideal foundation for prejudice­-free discussion and self­organization, particularly through the creation of associations and participation in the councils of the institution. Because young people’s early involvement in the processes is a key element of their belief in democracy, these centers are also called to facilitate a valid platform in which their students can get informed about the political happenings and the way they can participate. AEGEE­Europe wants to promote the implementation of elements that would improve the current democratic system among the students leading to a greater engagement of the society with the political order and the democratic procedures.

First, AEGEE­Europe encourages the educational centers to empower their students’ councils with expertise on topics that concern the institutional organization, and also on speaking and voting rights on all issues with which students are involved. This would ensure a co­-decision process where the voice of students are not only heard but, above all, taken into account.

Second, all democratic processes are based upon the principles of freedom of expression and a right to objective information. On  the one hand, AEGEE­Europe believes that educational centers should promote debates among their students providing them with spaces, facilities and means to do so in an open minded atmosphere without discrimination for  any of  the parties. On  the other hand, these institutions should provide fair information to all their students, offering them the possibility to get involved in any democratic process.

Third, the introduction of a course dedicated to democracy is a step that governments should reinforce by allocating means and human resources that guarantee a quality and independent teaching method. Thus, AEGEE­Europe demands that all the educational centers assure the training of their staff by providing them with specialized knowledge and promoting the introduction of non­formal education through the collaboration with local and international NGOs.

04.02 |Recommendations for policy­makers

AEGEE­Europe believes that one of the most important faces of youth participation in democratic processes is the possibility to take part in the development of the policies that affect them. Policy­ makers at European, national and local levels play an essential role in this.

Currently, there are mechanisms of youth participation that increase the possibility that young people have a say. Nevertheless, these mechanisms have to be developed by integrating a more efficient and continuous form of participation in which youth becomes a main stakeholder.

First, the low representation of minority in the parliaments causes their exclusion from the political debate. This situation decreases their opportunities to influence policy­making processes and have a say in  the development of  policies that directly influence them. AEGEE­Europe, with the purpose of increasing the representation of young people in decision­making forums, recommends that governments lower the voting age to 16 as countries such as Austria have already successfully done.

Second,  AEGEE­Europe  proposes  that  policy  makers  open  new  forms  of  e­participation  and strengthen the existing ones. Online tools are a basic tool for the inclusion of minorities, as they facilitate direct feedback from people of every background in society. E­voting as the flagship action in relation to e­participation is a necessary step that local, national and international governments have to take in order to provide a secure and trustworthy system. AEGEE notes that it will be needed to provide facilities, such as public computers with Internet connection, to allow the voting and other means of participation.

Third,  AEGEE­Europe  understands  that  young  people  should  have  proper  information  about democracy, human rights and how to participate in society. Consequently, it is recommended that political education becomes mandatory at school. However, we stress the importance of properly preparing the professoriate, as it is critical to have teachers with knowledge and experience in the field of civic education or education for democracy, such as work with NGOs and Informal tools.

Fourth,  in  order  to  place  young  people  as  a  main stakeholder in the decision­making process, AEGEE­Europe recommends an increase in the number of  young people involved in the political institutions, including the governmental positions. To achieve this goal, full transparency in the election process and in the administration period is needed.

Fifth, in order to increase participation among young people, AEGEE recommends a reduction in bureaucracy and a simplification of processes. A well structured and user­friendly system that enables participation in all fields of the democratic process is needed in order to encourage people to join all the options they are offered. Specifically, AEGEE demands that governments to improve the remote voting procedures and implement online tools aiming on increasing the current low participation in voting from people living abroad.

Finally, as was mentioned previously, ECI and Structured dialogue are a great chance for citizens to take an active position in policy making. Nevertheless, AEGEE has followed the implementation of these tools and concluded that there is still room for improvement. On the one hand, ECI is presented as a means for deeper citizen involvement in EU decision­making, whereas in reality even when an initiative achieves the criterion of having at least one million signatures, it can be turned down by the European Commission. AEGEE believes that there should be a stronger commitment from the EC to take into account the concerns of citizens. Until now, the only ECI that has prospered is one about water quality where the parliament has launched a consultation on this issue[4]. Moreover, AEGEE recommends that the European Parliament provide support and guidance to ECI proposers with the objective of presenting solid and valuable initiatives, and increasing the options and members to be taken into account.

On the other hand, the Structured Dialogue process is a very important tool for the contribution of young   Europeans   to   the   policy   development.  In   order  to  become  influential  stakeholders, AEGEE­Europe recommends fostering a greater involvement of the decision­makers during the whole process, in order to have real discussions and joint recommendations that could be usable by the EU and National governments. Likewise, AEGEE sees the need for better dissemination of the European Commision recommendations, paired with the Presidency of the EU’s inclusion of a direct method to transform the EC’s recommendations into policy. These measures would transform Structured Dialogue into an efficient tool for participation, which would allow young people to believe in their ability to influence policy. In addition, AEGEE­Europe encourages all national governments to implement a similar process within the sphere of their internal competences.

In conclusion, AEGEE­Europe believes that youth participation is one of the main pillars of a healthy and strong democratic system where there is mutual understanding between people and institutions. Democratic processes are presented as a basic tool for a sustainable society and young people have to be closely linked to them.

[1] Page 9, EACEA 2010/03:  Youth Participation in Democratic Life, Final Report, February 2013, LSE Enterprise Limited. London.

[2] Data from the article from the YFJ about “High youth absenteeism at the European Parliament elections is directly linked to the failure of political parties to address young people and youth issues”.

[3] EACEA 2010/03:  Youth Participation in Democratic Life,  Final Report February 2013, LSE Enterprise Limited. London.

[4] http://ec.europa.eu/environment/consultations/water_drink_en.htm

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Position paper on Education /position-paper-on-education/ Thu, 13 Nov 2014 09:58:08 +0000 /?p=5557 Introduction

AEGEE-Europe is belonging to the group of European students’ non-governmental organisations. It represents 13 000 students in 40 countries in Europe. Its members are young people that are involved in the higher education institutions and therefore are the main beneficiaries of the education systems in Europe. AEGEE together with its members strives for equal and quality education in Europe that does not set additional barriers for students to study and cares about students’ educational needs. Therefore, it is relevant for AEGEE to take a position about higher education in Europe in order to bring student perspective to its advocacy processes. This position of AEGEE-Europe covers three areas of international aspect of higher education in Europe. First, existence of European mobility programmes for students and their perspective on them. Second, the implementation of the Bologna process in various parts of Europe. Third, the role of international youth organisations in higher education. These three fields are influencing members of AEGEE-Europe in their everyday student lives. It is, thus, of high importance to present their opinion about these topics. Moreover, AEGEE developed many successful higher education projects in the past and had an experience of tackling the topic of education and mobility[1]. This position is based on an internal survey of AEGEE-Europe. It was launched at the beginning of September 2014 and every AEGEE member had an opportunity to contribute to it. Altogether, there were 168 valid answers. Average age of respondents was 23.4 years and average mark given to the importance of education was 4.6[2]. Moreover, 47 % of respondents claimed that they have conducted their studies in at least two countries. The survey consisted of combination of closed and open questions. Simple statistics and content analysis were used as methodological tools during data analysis of the responses. Based on the survey results from AEGEE members, we drafted three recommendations related to European mobility programmes, the Bologna process and the role of youth organisations in Higher Education. These recommendations serve as a basis for advocacy work of AEGEE in the field of Education once they are approved by the General Assembly of AEGEE-Europe.

Context

The emphasis on ‘a knowledge-based economy’ presented in the Strategy of Lisbon[3] gives the education policy a big role to play in order to achieve global competitiveness and Education has been heavily promoted as a means to prevent the growing unemployment as a result of the present financial and economic crisis. Those different elements have characterised the development of a European agenda for education policy and the Education and Training 2020 strategy, which has as one of its objectives to “make lifelong learning and mobility a reality”[4]. With the signing of the Bologna Declaration in 1999, both EU and non-EU Member States committed themselves to coordinate education policies and pursue specific common objectives. They aimed at creating a European Area of Higher Education, in which the diversity of the Education system is conserved, but tools are implemented to ease the recognition of diplomas/qualifications between countries. AEGEE welcomes the improvements which have already been implemented, but regrets that some barriers remain. It is important to ensure mobility in the frame of the studies to be enjoyed fully by all young Europeans. Implementation of the Bologna process has gone further. The creation and implementation of a European Higher Education Area (EHEA) changed the face of higher education in Europe. Last EHEA Ministerial Conference, organised in Bucharest in 2002, set clear goals to be achieved – widening access to higher education, quality assurance, and recognition of foreign degrees together with student-oriented perspective[5]. It is true that in the past years, the mobility experience through the academic cursus has become an increasingly valued element in the students’ path. Several studies carried out by youth organisations and completed by EU publications, stress the positive impact of mobility in terms of skills development, both on personal and professional level. Moreover, AEGEE recently carried out a research called Erasmus Voting Assessment that proves that the experience of Erasmus students living in another EU country has a positive impact on the voting behaviour of young people in European elections. The new EU mobility programme Erasmus+ will undoubtedly enable a growing number of young students to carry out part of their studies in another EU country, and we welcome the 19 billion Euros budget allocated, and the objective of 3 million higher education and vocational training students to enjoy mobility programmes.

Data analysis

Since the survey covered three topics of the international dimension of higher education in Europe, the structure of the analysis follows the same line.

Topic: Mobility programmes in Europe

According to results of the survey, AEGEE members are aware of the Erasmus mobility programme (the number is close to 98 %). As a second comes Leonardo da Vinci mobility programme with 57 % of respondents being aware of the programme. Other mobility programmes like Comenius, Grundtvig, Jean Monnet or CEEPUS are recognised by less than 30 % of AEGEE members. 58 % of respondents feel to be personally encouraged to go on mobility programme by their home university in comparison with 31 % that do not. And when it comes to information about different mobility programmes, 61 % of respondents are feeling informed about their possibilities in comparison with 34 % that do not. Most of the information AEGEE members get from their friends (51 %). As a second comes information channel from university office (43 %) and then information from students NGOs (36 %). 43 % of respondents participated in mobility programmes, majority of them through the Erasmus programme (56 out of 72 respondents). Main purpose of the mobility was mostly study exchange. 70 % of the cases got their academic work recognised by their home university, but 30 % did not. In 90 % of cases there was a Learning agreement or other learning objectives signed before the mobility took place. A slight majority of respondents (55 %) found it easy to access the mobility programmes in comparison with 42 % that did not. Among the challenges for accessing mobility programmes, academic, administrational and financial obstacles were equally represented (about 25 % of responses). That means that AEGEE members find it hard to access mobility because of insufficient recognition of credits, slow processes of signing a Learning Agreement, too much paperwork before mobility, insufficient financial support and/or late payments. AEGEE members emphasise problems with communication between students and their universities or students and teachers about mobility programmes, recognition of credits, bureaucratic processes and lack of options to go on mobility.

Topic: Bologna Process

75 % of respondents are aware of the Bologna process and a majority of them claim that their universities are implementing the scheme of bachelor – master – doctoral degree. However, a slight majority of respondents (57 %) consider the Bologna process as a positive development, while 20 % of the respondents have a negative opinion and 23 % have a neutral one[6].

Topic: Role of international youth organisations in higher education

AEGEE locals as international youth organisations are cooperating with universities in 66 % of the cases and only 12 % is not. In two third of the cases, AEGEE members use skills which they acquired in AEGEE during their studies at higher educational institutions. Only 9 % claim otherwise. 26 % of respondents claim that they have the opportunity to get ECTS[7] credits outside of their formal education. Those who do not have this opportunity or do not know about it make up 57 % of the respondents. On the other hand, 57 % of the respondents would argue that their skills learnt in international youth organisation should be recognised by Higher Education institutions. Only 17 % of respondents would not argue so.

Recommendations

Topic: Mobility programmes in Europe

  1. Improve communication about mobility programmes at universities

Almost 50% of the respondents say that they have heard about a mobility programme through friends. This answer sheds light on the importance of the peer group in the level of information, and can raise concerns regarding the information level of young people with fewer opportunities, who might not benefit from this peer influence. Therefore, we recommend the European Commission, and especially the information providers (such as Eurodesk, European Youth Portal), but also the Higher Education Institutions, to increase the promotion of all existing mobility schemes, to provide students with all the information needed to make choices regarding their studying path.

  1. Increase recognition of academic work after mobility took place

The successful implementation of the ECTS has drastically facilitated learner mobility, making it possible to transfer and recognise credits gained in another institution. The Erasmus scheme has brought huge improvements in terms of automatic recognition, thanks to the recognition tools such as the Learning Agreement, the Transcript of Records together with the Recognition Document in the case of mobility for studies. However, the current situation is still far from perfect. This can be done by strengthening the cooperation between universities and full implementation of ECTS credit framework throughout European Higher Education institutions.

  1. Equal access to mobility programmes

Equal opportunities to access mobility programmes is not a reality  so far. Different funding schemes dependent on national contexts create additional barriers for inclusion of some young people who are not able to cover the costs of their mobility. AEGEE believes that all EU regions should provide a minimum of additional support to students, taking into account not only their social situation, but also the country in which they will carry out their studies. Additionally, AEGEE with its membership also outside the European Union strongly supports the opening of mobility programmes to non-EU citizens. Our members outside the borders of the EU face even more exclusion, only on the arbitrary basis of their origin and nationality.

Topic: Bologna Process

  1. Improve the implementation of Bologna process

AEGEE welcomes the idea of creating a common European Higher Education Area. On the other hand, there is still room for improvement. Regarding implementation of Bologna process AEGEE urges to fully implement the three-cycle (bachelor – master – doctoral) of studies and the ECTS framework in . These aspects are still not fully implemented, as our members pointed out in the survey, and therefore they pose obstacles to student mobility in Europe. Moreover, AEGEE advocates for a stronger link between the European Quality Assurance Register (EQAR) and the Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area. EQAR was introduced in 2012 and still does not cover all countries participating in the Bologna Process[8]. Having the same quality indicators of higher education institutions are very important for the completion of EHEA. Last but not least, student participation in the institutional governance of universities needs to be improved. AEGEE welcomes the inclusion of student stakeholders in the process of the Bologna process implementation. What is missing, however, is a stronger emphasis on including students in the institutional matters of their home universities. Students should have a stronger say in the financial issues and staff policies of their universities. This is not the case all around EHEA.

Topic: Role of international youth organisations in higher education

  1. Strengthen the link between international youth organisations and higher education institutions

AEGEE believes that the involvement of students in youth organisations has a very positive impact on the students’ success in Higher Education. Indeed, apart from the skills that young people develop and can use in their studies[9], youth organisations’ involvement also tends to develop attitudes such as persistence, flexibility as well as creativity, which also help students within the frame of their studies. Therefore, AEGEE asks Higher Education Institutions to cooperate further with students’ organisations, and to acknowledge their positive role on the students’ development, through additional support, funding and ECTS credits recognition.

  1. Increase the possibility to get ECTS credits outside of formal education

AEGEE strongly believes in the principles of Lifelong Learning and wants to emphasise the important role of civil society when it comes to designing and implementing lifelong learning strategies.  Moreover, as mentioned in the Communication from the European Commission  ‘Rethinking Education’[10],  AEGEE agrees that flexible learning pathways need to be recognised, namely that the Higher Education Institutions are not the only space where young people can acquire knowledge and competences, and that it is important to better recognise Learning outside Formal Education.

About AEGEE

AEGEE (Association des États Généraux des Étudiants de l’Europe) is one of Europe’s biggest interdisciplinary student organisations. As a non-governmental, politically independent, and non-profit organisation AEGEE is open to students and young people from all faculties and disciplines. Founded in 1985 in Paris, today AEGEE has grown to a Network of 13000 friends, present in 200 cities in 40 countries all over Europe. AEGEE puts the idea of a unified Europe into practice. Operating without a national level, AEGEE brings 13000 students directly in touch with each other.  


[1] For example projects like Euducation for Democracy or EURECA or recently Erasmus Voting Assessment.
[2] Mark 5 was the highest one.
[3] European Commission. Accessed on October 15, 2014. Online http://ec.europa.eu/europe2020/europe-2020-in-a-nutshell/targets/index_en.htm
[4] European Commission. Accessed on 13.10.2014, Online http://ec.europa.eu/education/policy/strategic-framework/index_en.htm
[5] EHEA Bucharest Communique 2002. Accessed on 13.10.2014. Online http://www.ehea.info/Uploads/(1)/Bucharest%20Communique%202012(1).pdf
[6] This data was analysed by content analysis where positive feelings were linked with words “like”, “good”, “useful” or “support”, negative feelings with words like “don’t like”, “useless” or “bad” and neutral feelings were assigned to responses that did not contain any of these normative words.
[7] European Credit Transfer System.
[8] Bologna Process Implementation Report. 2012. Accessed on 14.10.2014. Online http://www.ehea.info/Uploads/(1)/Bologna%20Process%20Implementation%20Report.pdf
[9] Such as presentation skills, teamwork, time management or communication skills.
[10] European Commission. Accessed on 13.10.2014. Online http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:52012DC0669&from=EN

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Position Paper on Single Seat of the European Parliament /position-paper-on-single-seat-of-the-european-parliament/ Mon, 01 Sep 2014 07:43:09 +0000 /?p=5506

Introduction

European elections are taking place in May 2014 and with a fresh Parliament on the horizon, we see this as the perfect time to put a stop to the European Parliament’s travelling circus. The European Parliament (EP) works mainly from Brussels, but for fewer than 50 days a year the Parliament moves to its official seat in Strasbourg to vote. This dual seat, in combination with keeping half its administrative staff in Luxembourg, costs an extra €180 million and 19,000 tonnes of CO2 each year[1].

In current times of economic hardship and global warming, these budgetary and environmental costs are no longer justifiable.

History

When the European Community for Steel and Coal (ECSC) was founded in 1951 it had two seats, one in Strasbourg and one in Luxemburg[2]. The city of Strasbourg has a special meaning, as it was the place where Germany and France met. This is important, since one of the underlying political objectives of the ECSC was to strengthen Franco-German solidarity and cooperation — and thus avoid a new war.

With the Treaty of Rome (1957)[3] the common market was introduced and this enlargement of the cooperation meant there was need for more space for the European institutions. The city of Brussels was appointed as the new capital of the European Union, but the Secretariat-General of the Parliament and the Court of Justice remained in Luxemburg, and the Parliament itself kept its seat in Strasbourg.

At that time the EP consisted of a handful of non-elected representatives of governments, and it had only a fraction of its current influence and responsibilities. Now, it has co-decision power in most areas of legislation and its daily work is done in Brussels, in close contact with other European institutions and civil society organisations. However, MEPs still move to Strasbourg 12 times a year to vote.

Since 2007, 1.27 million citizens have signed a petition[4] demanding that the European Parliament should have a Single Seat in Brussels. Unfortunately, the distribution of official seats of the European institutions is written down in the EU Treaty[5], which means the Parliament does not have the power to decide where it meets. It can, however, under the Lisbon Treaty[6], formally propose Treaty changes to Member State governments — which is what it did with the Single Seat campaign in 2013[7].

The European Parliament clearly agrees with the concerns of these 1.27 million citizens, adopting in 2013 —with a supermajority of 78 percent[8] — a motion stating it wishes to be able to decide when and where it will officially meet. So now it is up to the Commission to decide whether or not to put this motion to the Parliament and the Council, who can then decide on this change to the Treaty.

Position of AEGEE-Europe

We have no preference as to where the European Parliament seats. We do however understand the Parliament itself has shown a preference for Brussels, due to the effectiveness of working close to the other European bodies and institutions, as well as the representatives of civil society and the media.

Also, although we realise the importance of the reasons why the European Parliament was officially seated in Strasbourg, we believe that with the ascension of 22 new Member States since the creation of the ECSC, the importance of a seat in Strasbourg has become mainly historical and does not weigh up to the resources spent on moving the Parliament back and forth.

Therefore, we as AEGEE, share the concerns of European citizens considering the high costs of forcing the European Parliament to maintain its two seats. We also believe the Parliament itself should decide, taking into account both practical issues as well as historical ones, where it wishes to convene. We therefore urge the Commission to initiate the procedure for a Treaty change, giving the European Parliament the right to determine its own seat.

About AEGEE

AEGEE/European Students’ Forum was born 29 years ago with the vision of creating a unified Europe, based on democracy and respect for human rights, bringing together students with different cultural backgrounds. Today, AEGEE is Europe’s largest interdisciplinary student organisation: 40 countries, 200 cities, 13 000 friends.

This network provides the ideal platform for young volunteers to work together on cross-border activities such as international conferences, seminars, exchanges, training courses, and case study trips. In line with the challenges young people are currently facing in Europe, AEGEE’s work is focused on three main areas: promotion of youth participation, development of European relations with its neighbours, and inclusion of minorities.

 


[1] Joint Working Group of the Bureau and the Committee on Budgets on the European Parliament budget, Annex 2: http://singleseat.eu/10.html

[5] Treaty on European Union and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, Protocol no. 6, On the location of the seats of the institutions and of certain bodies, offices, agencies and departments of the European Union: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/en/treaties/index.htm

[6] Treaty of Lisbon, Title III, Provisions on the Institutions, Article 9: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:C:2007:306:FULL:EN:PDF

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