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Europe's Young People Taste the Future

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From 8 to 11 May, the European Commission made sure that future generations of European leaders feel involved and valued by the people in charge. But what was this event all about and why did it matter? Cafebabel attended the European Youth Event in the ‘City of Suits’...

“Tell me, and I will for­get. Show me and I may re­mem­ber. In­volve me, and I will un­der­stand.” Con­fu­cius.

As the Eu­ro­pean elec­tions draw closer, hun­dreds of or­gan­i­sa­tions were in­vited in early May 2014 to par­tic­i­pate in the Eu­ro­pean Youth Event at the Eu­ro­pean Par­lia­ment in Stras­bourg. Aim­ing at bridg­ing the gap be­tween young Eu­ro­peans and the inner work­ings of Eu­ro­pean pol­i­tics, the three day event gath­ered more than 5000 young­sters from all over Eu­rope.

A total of 120 young Eu­ro­pean jour­nal­ists were given the op­por­tu­nity to doc­u­ment the event held for newly elected Mem­bers of the Eu­ro­pean Par­lia­ment (MEP).

The ever con­tro­ver­sial Daily Mail de­scribed it as a “bizarre event” and ac­cused the EU of try­ing to bribe young Eu­ro­peans be­fore the elec­tions. But de­spite the Mail’s crit­i­cism, the “bizarre event” proved to be a first class op­por­tu­nity for young Eu­ro­peans not only to raise their voices, but also to ex­pe­ri­ence the daily is­sues faced by MEPs.

I was, for ex­am­ple, in­vited to look at work­shops and sem­i­nars dis­cussing Eu­ro­pean val­ues in the global era. “The bright side of glob­al­i­sa­tion" in­volved a role-play in which young Eu­ro­peans sim­u­lated a ple­nary ses­sion. “The aim is for the par­tic­i­pants to take on the role of var­i­ous par­ties and party groups of par­lia­ment and work to­wards agree­ing on a com­mon text as a draft pro­posal,” ex­plained Frands Ped­er­sen, aca­d­e­mic lec­turer at West­min­ster Uni­ver­sity.

For six hours, fifty par­tic­i­pants took on the role of MEPs from one of the seven lead­ing Eu­ro­pean al­liances to dis­cuss a cur­rent Eu­ro­pean issue: the In­ter­na­tional Cocoa Agree­ment.

In re­cent years, Eu­ro­pean coun­tries in­clud­ing France, Bel­gium and the United King­dom have been im­port­ing cocoa beans from West­ African coun­tries such as the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nige­ria and Cameroon. The Cocoa Agree­ment is a deal be­tween lead­ing cocoa pro­duc­ing coun­tries and Eu­rope’s lead­ing cocoa con­sum­ing coun­tries, aim­ing to make the trade fairer and more trans­par­ent.

Per­son­ally, I was not only im­pressed by the way the par­tic­i­pants tack­led is­sues in­clud­ing child labour, food safety, en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion and human rights, but also by the com­plex­ity be­hind a pro­posal for some­thing that seems as nor­mal as pro­duc­ing choco­late.

For Mar­ton Hajdu, an of­fi­cial from the Eu­ro­pean In­sti­tu­tion in Brus­sels, it is im­por­tant for young Eu­ro­peans to un­der­stand “the merit of an open de­bate and of com­pro­mis­ing” be­cause this is “what Eu­rope is re­ally about.”

In the wake of the ab­duc­tion of over 200 hun­dreds school girls in Nige­ria by ex­trem­ist group Boko Haram, the Eu­ro­pean Youth Event also shed light on an­other cur­rent global issue: human traf­fick­ing. The work­shop, at the ini­tia­tive of Cypriot non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion Vraka Folk­loric Group, par­tic­i­pants ex­plored the ‘dark side of glob­al­i­sa­tion’ and brought up pro­pos­als in­clud­ing stronger leg­is­la­tion to pro­tect vic­tims of human traf­fick­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to Vraka, the de­vel­op­ing tech­nolo­gies of glob­al­i­sa­tion have a down­side as they fa­cil­i­tate the trans­porta­tion of human be­ings by crim­i­nals. But for Maria Kypri­anou, a PhD stu­dent at University Col­lege Lon­don and a mem­ber of Vraka: “Young Eu­ro­peans can change the fu­ture of Eu­rope. United we can stop human traf­fick­ing.”

Over the week­end, over 200 sim­i­lar work­shops and sem­i­nars took place in the Eu­ro­pean Par­lia­ment and out­side in the Yo!Vil­lage set up by the Eu­ro­pean Youth Forum. The Eu­ro­pean Youth Event 2014, which had as its motto "Ideas for a bet­ter Eu­rope", ex­panded the global un­der­stand­ing of young peo­ple of the is­sues that MEPs face dur­ing their time in of­fice. While it is some­times dif­fi­cult not to find Eu­ro­pean in­sti­tu­tions bu­reau­cratic, I must say that the Eu­ro­pean Youth Event has left me both self-re­flec­tive and de­ter­mined to con­tinue en­gag­ing with Eu­ro­pean val­ues.