Democracy – 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. Wed, 15 Nov 2017 17:59:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.5.11 Open Call for Hosting Locals for EoT4 /open-call-for-hosting-locals-for-eot4/ Tue, 03 Jan 2017 12:12:05 +0000 /?p=6999 Dear AEGEE members,

Wishing you a happy New Year, we are presenting you an open call for hosting the 4th edition of Europe on Track

If you haven’t heard about us yet, here is a short description:

Europe on Track (EoT) is a youth-led project in which 6 ambassadors in 2 teams cross Europe (along 2 different routes) with InterRail passes for one month to inform and interview young people about their visions of a future Europe in relation to different topics.

At each stop, the ambassadors organize and participate in local events, generating content and creating spaces for dialogue and discussion. The journey can be followed on social media via blogs, videos and photos. At the end of the trip, a documentary and quantitative and qualitative data analysis will be created as a recap.

How can you and your local get involved?

If you are interested in being one of the Ambassadors, check the call here!

Your local can apply to be a hosting antenna, which would involve organising a local event where the ambassadors can present the project to a wider audience.

Imagine a one day AEGEE event with a group of 20-30 people (or more!), some sessions and discussions, interactive games, and an event that is also open to non-AEGEEans in your city. The EoT project team will fully support the locals and provide a toolkit on how to organise your perfect EoT event.

This year’s topic for Europe on Track will be Civic Education.

The hosting local is required to:

  • Support the ambassadors by providing them with accommodation and meals for one or two nights

  • Arrange a place/room for the presentation/discussions and print materials

  • Organise a local event/activity* – in cooperation with the EoT Coordination Team

    *Possible options:
    The more you manage to organise the better!

  • Workshop

  • Signature collection for the ECI

  • Ambassadors delivering civic education classes in high schools

  • Visit another NGO or local media

  • Panel discussion with stakeholders/externals (teachers, politicians…)

  • Any other interesting idea that you might come up with!

Unfortunately, as things stand right now, there will be no economic support for the locals but we have and are working really hard on fundraising, should we be successful we will communicate that to the chosen locals.

To apply please send the motivation letter of your antenna to europeontrack@aegee.org until the 10th of February.

Europeanly yours,

The Europe on Track project team
Nicola, Maria, Tola, Luca, Hector, Denno, Eleanor, Sofia, Benedetto, Ksenia, Alp, Luka

]]> Team Blue Is in the Country of Democracy /team-blue-is-in-the-country-of-democracy/ Fri, 08 Jul 2016 09:55:43 +0000 /?p=6637 By Hanna Polischuk

After such a warm hospitality of the three Turkish cities that we visited, it was hard to leave the country so soon. However, our route was already planned, and two wonderful Greek locals were waiting for us Our first stop in this country was Athens, the city of the famous Acropolis, democracy, Agora and gods.

AEGEEans from this amazing locals organised a city tour which described us the ancient and modern Greece. The main discussion was about democracy and how it developed through history. We could feel the past when we went up to the Acropolis, the ancient citadel of a great historic significance. But we only felt like real Greeks after tasting gyros and drinking a couple of glasses of frape.

13227116_613652232115751_6734689722210336571_nWe also attended a very interesting exhibition regarding the refugee crisis, “Suspended Step Cartoons”, aimed at showing the real picture of the refugee crisis and organized by The Association of Greek Cartoonists and The District of South Aegean Islands. It had indeed a great success: the hall was full of people exploring the works of over 20 cartoonists. All those works were really touching and frustrating; they made us think and be more aware of the scale of the problem. When we interviewed one of the cartoonists, Vangelis Pavlidis, he could not hold the tears while talking about this. Here you can understand why.

Later on, we gathered together with young Greek people in the university to know what they think about the biggest current problems in their country. We divided them into three groups in order to discuss three topics: EU-Greece Relationships, Youth Unemployment and Refugee Crisis in Greece. One person per team, the moderator, stayed in the same place, while the others were moving to another group in order to have a chance to discuss all the topics.13245487_613652105449097_3672689756546245210_n

As a result, the problems highlighted in the first topic were weak Greek economy, lack of trust to the EU institutions, false image of the country, lack of unity, unbalanced social states, wrong politics and lack of the migration policies. The solutions offered consist on easy steps: learning from the mistakes, understanding the European values, improving the communication and cooperation, fostering and developing the civic education, enforcing the equality among the EU countries, and finally increasing the involvement of the citizens into the decision-making process.

As for youth unemployment, most of the problems were the same as in every European country; however, the unemployment rate in Greece is higher than in most of them. Among the main obstacles to improve the situation are scarce job opportunities, lack of communication between universities and job market, prevailing of connections above knowledge and experience, no willingness to do manual labor jobs while striving only for the ‘prestigious’ jobs, and thus, creation of undesirable supply of workforce in a single field that has no more demand. The unemployment problem exist for many years and the clue is near; there are many ways to improve the situation, but it has to be organized and fast.

The first step will be understanding the real job market’s needs and encouraging the most needed professions; then, improvement of the communication between universities and enterprises, their mutual development of the internship programs; and lastly, the development of the open-mindedness and youth entrepreneurship through the mentorship platforms.

Regarding the last topic of discussion,  the refugee crisis, lots of problems were named. Among them are war and insecurity, racism and discrimination, bureaucracy and corruption, no cooperation between nations, and no fixed political agenda. Young Greeks see the ways to deal with those problems in unity and cooperation resulting to a common policy, integration policies, simplification of the procedures, increasing support and humanitarian help, changing the current government while voting reasonably and implementing the necessary reforms throughout the EU. When there is a problem, there is always the way to solve it, and most of the solutions depend on us.13233157_613651182115856_3997036037883047431_n

After an intensive day in the capital, we departed to Patra early in the morning. The language in the train was not understandable but by the detailed explanations of Dimitris, we managed to get to the next city without any problem. At the bus station we were warmly met by the president and treasurer of AEGEE-Patra. While Ksenia and Benedetto decided to have some rest at home, the rest of the team went to open the swimming season. Even in spring the water in the Ionian sea is warm. After the refreshment and cultural night program we began the serious day. Even under the hot sun we found some young people who shared with us their opinions about the borderless Europe. 13241348_615852195229088_387481140209867202_n

We organized a parliament simulation being the main topic of discussion “Is Schengen Dead or Alive?” Everyone had a chance to express the opinion, and there were many arguments for both sides of the question. The biggest debates were about security versus refugees. From one point of view, it is important to take care about refugees and help them integrate into the Greek society. From the other one, there is a fear that terrorists can pretend to be refugees, and that letting them in will weaken the security and increase the chance of an attack.

Among the reasons to open borders were solidarity, support for the victims of the war, sharing the burden, protection of the human rights and respecting the Schengen agreement. On the contrary, the opposing team explained the necessity to close the borders mainly because of the terrorism. They suggested to enforce an European army with border guarding and intensifying passport control. We should  help people who are leaving their homes and past life behind in order to survive and protect their families without any doubt. At the same time, there is a need to cooperate among all the EU states in order to unify and improve the general security.13256100_615852255229082_6559252599137052595_n

We were actively engaged in both discussions but we let the participants speak out. In the political EU world there are similar discussions going on and on without any clear final solution nor strategy.

By what we understood, if the government does not take any actions, its people will change the rulers. We live in a time of changes and fights for democracy and human rights. Whenever you come to Greece, you feel it more than anywhere else. We are very grateful to AEGEE-Athina and AEGEE-Patra for this amazing experience and their warm hospitality. Also, we would like to thank again Interrail for this opportunity!13267791_615852268562414_4512342797948786114_n

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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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“If we don’t cry out, who will?” /if-we-dont-cry-out-who-will/ Wed, 04 Jun 2014 10:28:31 +0000 http://aegee.blogactiv.eu/?p=1076 Commeorating 25 years of the Tianammen Square massacre

As a European students’ organisation, we do not often look beyond Europe in these days while so many conflicts are happening in our continent. But today we do. We want to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the crackdown of one of the biggest students’ protests in history, the Tianammen Protests in China, with a million of students demanding for reforms towards freedom and opening of the communist regime. “People were disappointed in the government. They thought, If we don’t cry out, who will?” says Kenneth Lam, who was 20 then. When the Chinese government decided to send the army to stop the protests, hundreds (or thousands) of civilians were killed, and a strong secrecy was imposed. Even today, the Chinese government is obstructing those who want to commemorate or investigate what happened, as International Amnesty denounces.

In spite of the efforts of the Chinese government, the massacre hit the news all over the world. The iconic picture of the man stopping the column of tanks became a symbol of peaceful struggle for democracy. This was a  turning point in history in many levels, and is very relevant this year, when students’ have demonstrated all over our continent demanding more democracy. The Tianammen square can be these days in the Gezi Park in Istanbul, in the Maidan Square in Kyiv, at the streets of Tuzla; it can happen at any time, in any other European city. AEGEE-Europe calls for the European governments to refrain from any violence and to respect the democratic rights of the protestors, to take into consideration the demands of their citizens: in most cases, they just want a more democratic society, more opportunities to participate in the decision process and a better future.

We want to remember all the people who died fighting for their rights in China in 1989, and all those citizens (and specially the students) who faced hard repression from police, got gassed, beaten, severely injured and even killed in the last 12 months in Europe. We are proud of you and we support your demand for democracy anywhere you are.

You can read more in this complete article in Time Magazine.

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Belarus: Breaking Down the Stereotypes /belarus-breaking-down-the-stereotypes/ Thu, 01 May 2014 10:49:49 +0000 /?p=5120

After meeting EP candidates in Riga, we embarked on a journey to the unknown – Belarus. Stories about the strict border control in Belarus are quite common and so until the very last minute we were not sure if we will be allowed to enter the country. However, much to our surprise, the border police was not interested in where are we going and what exactly are we going to do in Belarus or even where are we going to live during our trip. If Belarusian authorities are trying to attract more foreigners to visit Belarus during the time of the Ice Hockey Championship they are definitely on the right track. Hence, we arrived in Minsk without the delay and were ready to brake few more stereotypes about the last dictatorship in Europe.

Similar to Warsaw we found Minsk to be full of construction projects. New office buildings and a lot more housing units were visible on the horizon. City that has been almost completely destroyed in the so-called Minsk Blitz during the WWII is rising from the ashes. “Order” seems to be one of the guiding principles of the city’s administration today and it is probably one of the cleanest cities in Europe. Another surprise awaited us in the Minsk’s Metro. In the impressive artistic Soviet metro stations for the first time one can hear announcements in English but beware trying to take pictures, after the Minsk’s metro bomb explosion in 2011 it is strictly forbidden to make photos and the security will not hesitate to stop you.

Young, Engaged and Active

In Minsk we had the chance to meet people who represent the future of Belarus and they impressed us with their ideas, determination and energy.

DSC_1812Pavel Harbunou – a member of the Minsk’s cyclict society explained to us the initiatives of the cyclists and what have they been doing to try to influence the government and to change the way things work in the city. One of the most successful projects is the repair shop where anyone can fix his/her bike for free.  Pavel told us that in order to encourage people to use bicycles instead of cars we need proper infrustructure. Cyclist society of Minsk has been involved in drafting cyclist policy for the city and making sure that the voices of the cyclist are heard by the state aparatus.

In a similar way another organization is trying to change Minsk. Egalite is concerned with improving conditions for social integration and rehabilitation of people with disabilities. For many years Agnia Asanovich has been living and studying in Europe but she came back to Belarus because she believes her experience and understanding of the work of NGO’s can help organizations such as Egalite to gain ground, be heard by the authorities and help to protect the rights of those who are often left behind.

We were also very fortunate to speak to Mikhail Mazkevich from the Legal Transformation Center (LAWTREND). Mikhail’s organization has been actively involved in promoting democratization and human rights in Belarus in particular by defending individual rights to freedom of expression, assembly and fair trial. When we asked Mikhail what he thinks about the new generation of Belarusians and whether we can expect a change of the system, Mikhail was rather skeptical at first but did admit that more and more people are interested in the human rights and the seminars on this issue are always full of young people who do care about the situation in the country. Mikhail believes that it is important to inform people about human rights because sooner or later Belarus will have to choose its path and the more people are aware of what they are entitled to, the more likely that they will choose the right way forward.

IMG_0283Another important question we were searching an answer to in Belarus was how can we get more young people involved in the social and political movements in their countries? Illia Petravets – activist of the cyclist and the human rights movements in Belarus had something very interesting to say to us. First of all, young people need a role model. The youth should be able to see that there are successful projects and initiatives out there. They should be able to meet and talk to the people who have experience with getting what they want from the authorities and standing up for what they believe in. In this way, those who have never been involved and think that their vote or their activities do not matter will know that they can indeed make a difference and change their surrounding for good. And the second even more important factor that the young people need in order to realize their potential and implement their ideas into reality is the non-interference of the state.

Belarus has been a source of inspiration for us and we have found plenty proves that young people in this country do care about their future and are trying step by step to make a difference. Each one of them employs different methods but they are united by the same goal – changing the system for the better. After speaking to the young Belarusians we have even more questions to ask in Kyiv – our next stop. What role did the young people play in the Euromaidan and how can we make sure that they will continue to be involved in the political and social life of their country after the revolution? 

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We believe in voting and democracy, not in politicians /we-believe-in-voting-and-politics-but-not-in-politicians/ Sun, 20 Apr 2014 22:49:54 +0000 /?p=4868 by Monica Nica

Marine, the president of AEGEE Lyon introduced us to her wonderful home city and the French way of spending time – picnicking with friends by the riverside. She also proposed having a different approach to disseminating information about the European Parliament (EP) elections and gathering opinions on it. Instead of holding a presentation we used a method called “Porteurs de paroles” which allowed us to engage the students at Jean Monnet University in a debate on the street.

Even though they were rather shy in starting a conversation, once we approached them they opened up and provided us with a full range of opinions, from Eurosceptic to Europtimist. For example, one student said he is not going to vote, but if he did it would only be for a candidate proposing to exit the Eurozone. On the other hand, some talked about voting as a duty, as a right that must be exercised because people died for them to have it.

DSC00907 (1)Lack of proper information seems to be, as it was in the mobility topic as well, one of the main deterrents for young people.  They complained that the elections for the EP do not receive nearly as much coverage as the national elections and even when they do, the focus of the debate is on national issues. Furthermore, students said that the issues debated do not interest or represent them. Despite this, they mentioned that their decision not to vote does not reflect a lack of interest in politics or the EU.

Lyon’s youths fit in the pattern discovered by various surveys and studies throughout the EU: young people are not apathetic, but their concerns, ideas, and ideal of democratic politics does not find a match within the available political offer. Moreover, there are structural barriers hindering or making it very difficult for the electoral participation of certain categories of young people. Through poverty, unemployment, linguistic, ethnic or social integration, some young people are systemically excluded.

The voting behaviour of young people presents differences based on income and educational background. Income strongly affects the motivations of non-voters: youths from poorer backgrounds are significantly more likely not to vote if there is no candidate or party they want to win.

DSC00902 (1)Although young people have trust in the effectiveness of voting, the older they get their cynicism and belief in non-electoral forms of participation increases. Since the first two elections in the life of a voter are highly important in determining their long-term participation, it is important to encourage and incentivise youths to vote from a young age. Participating in the first two elections they are eligible for can make the difference between habitual abstentionists or habitual participants later on.

The factors that can increase the likelihood of young people voting include being part of an association offering them positive experiences of political efficacy, coming from a family which traditionally votes, having political and civic education in school and last, but most certainly not least, having encounters with politicians who actually listen to them.

But as one student said: “it takes a lot of work to make young people aware that they can have an impact on the decision-makers”.

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Road to the future or end of freedom of movement? /road-to-the-future-or-end-of-freedom-of-movement/ Thu, 17 Apr 2014 18:39:57 +0000 /?p=4704 One of the places in Europe that really breathes history is Berlin: a city of many paradoxes. It has been the mighty capital of Prussia and imperial Germany; it was burned to the ground in the Second World War and was the symbol of the Cold War, with the Berlin Wall as physical divide between East and West. Nowadays, Berlin is a multi-cultural, innovative and artistic city with many visible extremes: wealthy businessmen and countless homeless people gathering empty bottles; trendy entrepreneurs and drug addicts; artists and street workers. In Berlin, we discussed innovative ideas with NGOs and the problems of youth unemployment in Europe. These discussions provided some great insights into the troubles of the contemporary economy: creating great opportunities and at the same time great difficulties for young people.

Berlin 1

Berlin of the future: entrepreneurship and the new democracy

During our stay in Berlin, we visited four different NGOs: Citizens of Europe, Democracy International, Europe and Me and Liquid Democracy. All these organizations perfectly reflect the innovative, creative and entrepreneurial character of Berlin. They envision a Europe in which citizens participate actively in shaping its future; a democratic Europe in which the people decide what the institutions should be about; a Europe with pan-European media that foster the public debate; and a Europe in which decisions are made according to dynamic democratic procedures.

Our visit to Democracy International perfectly reflects the character of the engaged, entrepreneurial innovation that is happening right now in Berlin. We visited them in their office, which is actually a shared working environment in a renovated historical building. The atmosphere in the building is amazing and everybody working there has a mission: from creating a new beer brewing experience or developing the web design of the future to building the new European democracy. Just as most of the other organizations in the building, Democracy International brings together a (political) visionary idea, IT innovations and an entrepreneurial attitude; going beyond the past division between rigid political organizations and corporate businesses. The typical young entrepreneur in Berlin is politically engaged, is on a mission to change the world and knows how to use innovative technologies.

Berlin 4One of the aims of Democracy International is to have a European convention that is not shaped by means of intergovernmental procedures (as is the case today) but by means of real democratic involvement: a convention of the people, for the people, by the people. Their campaign consists of online presence (you can sign a petition on their website) and an online mapping of all EP candidates according to their support for a democratic convention. They hope that by involving as many people and politicians as possible, a democratic convention could be possible and the next European treaties could be decided upon by a European wide referendum instead of political deals behind closed doors.

Berlin’s dark side: unemployment and diminishing workers’ rights

Although Berlin on the one hand seems to be a source of entrepreneurship and innovation, it is at the same time a city with a high level of unemployment and poverty. How to understand this paradox? Together with AEGEE-Berlin, we had a session in the Humbold University about youth employment. We discussed the sources of unemployment and the growing problems that migrant workers face today in Europe.

Almost everybody; including politicians, scholars, students and activists, seems to agree that unemployment is a problem (we need more jobs!) but disagrees on the solutions to the problem. What is important is to try to understand the sources of the unemployment. We discussed two significant trends. The first one concerns the economical globalization, the concentration of capital and the rise of inequality. The thesis is that global capital has increasingly been concentrated during the last three decades into the hands of a smaller group of people. The wealthy few have acquired an increasingly large portion of the total amount of capital. This has created a declining significance of labour with respect to the ownership of capital and a consequent rise of inequality, poverty and unemployment.

Berlin 2The second trend we discussed concerns the rise of technology, the increasing substitution of labour by mechanized and digitalized processes. Some studies explore the idea that the probability exists that a large portion of jobs (up to 47%) is likely to be substituted by mechanized processes. A nice illustration of this point is the increasing significance of high-tech companies with a small amount of employees. While the big industries of the past employed thousands of people, current high-tech companies that dominate the economy only employ a fraction of that amount. For this reason, the question arises: will technological development eventually make us unemployed?

The discussion showed that there was no common agreement on these points. Some argued that the world market is not yet as globalized as depicted and that poverty and unemployment are actually the result of trade barriers and protective trade policies. Moreover, it was argued that the rise of technology would not affect the job market, while the first technological revolutions (like the industrial revolution) actually provided for more jobs instead of less.

Finally, we discussed a very troubling issue concerning the rights of unemployed migrants in Germany. We were confronted with a draft of a law that has been made by the German government, stating that Germany can expel citizens from other EU countries if they are unemployed. The participants were very shocked to hear about these plans. Although a lot of them agreed that it made no sense to have differences in rights for social benefits between citizens of the country and migrant workers, the idea of making people move back to their country triggered an emotional opposition. If we would allow these kinds of laws in Europe, then we would defy one of the principles of the EU itself: that European citizens are allowed to move and work freely within the union. Perhaps it is the time that organizations like AEGEE take an active stance in this matter, that we clearly show that these kinds of laws should not be part of our European community.

Bearing these lessons in mind, we left Berlin and took the train to Prague. In Prague, we will discuss the topic of Europtimism. Very interesting in this respect will be to see why the Czech people are one of the most Eurosceptic people in Europe.

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Charlemagne meets Charlemagne in Aachen /charlemagne-meets-charlemagne-in-aachen/ Fri, 11 Apr 2014 19:23:40 +0000 /?p=4521 11th of April 2014

Team Blue

Discussing Democracy in the former capital of Europe

If Europe would have any “capital” nowadays most people would situate it in Brussels, the city where the European institutions are located. However, in a distant past – more than a thousand years before we had a European Union and a European Parliament – the capital of Europe was situated in Aachen. This medium sized German city that is situated very closely to the Belgian and Dutch borders was once the centre of the Holy Roman Empire. It was the centre of the empire of Charlemagne, the traveling emperor who ruled his grounds by constantly moving from one place to another. Now, the Europe on Track team and winner of the Charlemagne Youth price visits the city after which their price is named: Charlemagne meets Charlemagne. In Aachen, we discussed about democracy, politics and the European Elections.

Aachen

Transnational politics and a government of experts

In Aachen, we discussed with some enthusiastic members of AEGEE-Aachen about the European Elections. Where does the idea of elections come from? Why should we take the effort to go to the voting office and cast our ballot for somebody we don’t even know? In order to get to know more about the elections, we had to go back to the basics – the reason why we vote anyway: democracy. In an interactive setting, the participants got the team-assignment to try to design their own democracy, totally from scratch.

“How would your ideal European democracy look like?”

Surprisingly, the teams came up with very different ideas. On behalf of “team Blue”, Benjamin Feyen presented an idea that was focussed on reforming the legislature. His team had come up with an idea of a European parliament that only consists of transnational seats. This would mean that anybody in Europe could vote for every candidate; so if you’re living in Poland you should be able to vote for a candidate from France or Portugal or any other member state. Moreover, they came up with the idea of having one third of the parliament being chosen by means of a lottery instead of elections, so to have one third of the parliament being filled with random European citizens. This could be a very interesting innovation while it would make a part of the parliament independent from party politics and campaigning: creating a “real” representation of the European population.

The other team, “team Red”, came up with a different idea that was focused on the executive branch of government. They argued that one of the main problems of politics nowadays is the gap between politicians and the field they are making policy for. In their ideal democracy, a health minister should have a background in the health sector and an education minister should have experience as teacher at an educational institution. Only if we could choose our ministers out of groups of experts in their field, the people in charge would be able come up with sensible policies and be directly accountable for these.

“Why should we take the effort to vote for the European Parliament elections?”

Workshop AachenAfter thinking about these “ideal” democracies we discussed the current situation of the European elections and asked the question “why would you vote?” All participants were convinced that they should take part in the elections, both to exercise their democratic right and to have influence on the shaping of the European political system. However, some critical comments were raised. Kostas Tsoleridis argued that it’s not strange that many people don’t go to vote because it is very hard to differentiate between European politicians. How can people really see the difference between the positions of for example Schulz and Juncker when they both have a lot of similar opinions on important topics? Moreover, the political structure of the EU has become so complicated, that it’s almost impossible for the average voter to know about the actual influence of his vote. How can you know whether your vote counts if you don’t understand the system?

The session in Aachen provided some very interesting insights in the ideas behind our democratic system. On the one hand, we seem to have a democratic system in the European Union, on the other there are still many ways in which we could improve it. Today, we have arrived in Mannheim in order to discuss the Europtimism amongst the European youth: what can we be optimistic about in Europe and what can we gain from Euroscepticism? Keep track of our blog in order to stay updated on our great European journey!

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AEGEE demands more equality in the procedures of EP elections /aegee-demands-more-equality-in-the-procedures-of-ep-elections/ Fri, 28 Feb 2014 09:18:43 +0000 http://aegee.blogactiv.eu/?p=964 Being actively involved in raising awareness of the upcoming European elections and trying to increase young voters’ turnout, we have identified a number of impediments that under certain circumstances limit citizens’ opportunities to participate in the elections. In a previous article, AEGEE put forward a debate about inequalities that exist in the EU Member States regarding the minimum age to be eligible to vote and to stand as a candidate. This time we address the issue of the different national rules that determine the right of citizens to cast their votes when residing or traveling abroad on the day of elections.

We find it unacceptable that the provisions for participation of citizens while abroad – within the borders of the EU or beyond – are so diverse and discrepant for the European Parliament elections. To mention just a few examples, while Bulgarian citizens are legally allowed to cast their vote if they reside in any other country, Cypriots are completely deprived of this right; while Hungarian electorate has an opportunity to vote in these EP elections no matter where they live – outside or inside the EU-, Greeks can only exercise their voting rights within the Union. There are many more contradictions, therefore AEGEE emphasises that since we are electing a single European legislative body, all European citizens must be provided with equal voting rights and through similar procedures.

Foto from Gunnar 3000 FotoliaEven when people are allowed to vote from abroad, there are many differences: in some countries proxy or postal voting is possible (e.g. Austria, Latvia, Belgium), in Estonia e-voting system functions, but in other countries the only available option is to vote in person from your own country’s diplomatic representation (e.g. Romania, Croatia, Czech Republic).  Current situation causes several negative consequences that worsen EU’s institutional image and decrease citizen satisfaction with, and trust in, the EU.

The obstacles to participate in the EP elections potentially decrease voter turnout, especially in those countries with a significant number of citizens abroad. The level of citizen participation in EP elections is already worryingly low – only 43% of Europeans voted in the last elections to the EP in 2009. AEGEE considers that rules and procedures for participation in European elections should be simplified to counter this low turnout, to avoid losing more voters and more voices in the upcoming elections.

Additionally, when citizens face such set of constraints for their engagement in democracy, the perception of legitimacy of the political entity substantially decreases.  The principles of consistency and equality are undermined from the moment nationals from different Member States do not exercise the same rights. Is this something the EU – being highly criticised for its democratic deficit in the past years – can afford?

Last but not least, these diverse rules and procedures are not in line with one of the EU’s main goals and greatest achievements – mobility of citizens. Having provided us with an opportunity of free movement among 28 countries, the EU has failed to adjust these basic regulations that should enhance the feeling of being European.

The aforementioned implies that the Y Vote project of AEGEE-Europe claims for two explicit things:

  • rules and procedures for the participation in European elections from abroad should be as equal as possible in all 28 Member States
  • these rules and procedures should provide better access to participation in elections in order to foster higher citizen representation.

Hence, AEGEE welcomes the petition Equal Voting Rights and Procedures for all EU Citizens in EP Elections initiated by European Citizens Abroad, and strongly encourages everyone to sign it!

Written by Diana Ondža, Communications Manager of the AEGEE-Europe Y Vote 2014 Project

In order to achieve the goals AEGEE-Europe has set for itself regarding the European elections, the Y Vote 2014 Project was successfully launched  in 2013. The project aims at reaching young people, especially first-time voters, in order to turn them into important actors of the upcoming European Parliamentary Elections through different discussions, campaigns and actions. A number of events have been already implemented, however our ambitions grow as our achievements augment.

Copyright pictures:
eVoting: Gunnar3000 Fotolia

 

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Reaction to the draft law of Spanish Government shutting down the Spanish Youth Council /reaction-to-the-draft-law-of-spanish-government-shutting-down-the-spanish-youth-council/ /reaction-to-the-draft-law-of-spanish-government-shutting-down-the-spanish-youth-council/#comments Fri, 31 Jan 2014 17:28:17 +0000 http://aegee.blogactiv.eu/?p=917 On 17th January 2014, the Spanish Council of Ministers approved the draft law of Reform of the Public Administration that, based on an alleged duplicity of functions with the governmental body Spanish Youth Institute (INJUVE), formally abolishes the Spanish Youth Council (Consejo de la Juventud de España – CJE), turning a blind eye to the recommendations of Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament, encouraging for the reconsideration of this measure.

AEGEE, as a youth organization striving for the participation of young people in decision-making processes, is strongly disappointed to see such a decision taken from the Spanish government, and calls for the Spanish Parliament to amend the Draft Law of Reform of the Public Administration and preserve the Spanish Youth Council. AEGEE, whose representatives in Spain are members of the Spanish Youth Council, is concerned by the lack of vision from the Spanish Government, which ignores the mandate of the Spanish Constitution (see art. 48) and eliminates the organ that has the representation of Spanish youth to defend their interests.

CJE is an organism founded in 1984, and nowadays gathers 76 diverse national organizations. It voices the interests of the young people on topics that are crucial for them, such as employment, sexual health or education. Shutting it down would worsen the situation of a collective that is already suffering the hard consequences of the international economic crisis. Therefore, AEGEE believes that this measure is a wrong approach to solving their issues problems, because it causes a lack of representation.

The same 17th of January, the Spanish Youth Council published a press release regarding the approval of the draft law showing their disagreement. In this document they highlight that “Spanish Government commits a big mistake that would let the Spanish youth without a valid representation” mentioning that this decision is not taken from the alleged “administrative efficiency criteria”, but with the objective of eliminating an “inconvenient organism”.

The European Youth Forum also reacted against this announcement calling “on the Spanish government to recognise young people, through their representation by youth organisations such as the CJE, as critical components of a healthy democracy”. They base their argumentation, as Martin Schulz also did, upon the European Union’s White Paper on Youth, emphasizing the importance of democratic platforms such as Spanish Youth Council in promoting youth participation through independent institutions.

Written by Pablo Hernández, Policy Officer of AEGEE-Europe for Youth Participation

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