Something unusual happened last weekend in Strasbourg. Instead of 50-something EU officials, young people from all corners of the continent and beyond took over the Parliament. Over 8,000 16-30-year-olds came to the city in Alsace to discuss their vision of Europe and make their voices heard. This was the third edition of the European Youth Event.

The young people arrived on 1st of June ready to engage in multiple workshops, idea labs and hearings. They shared and discussed their own ideas for the future of Europe with several European decision makers. The President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani was one of them, opening the event with these words: “You have a vital role to play in building the Europe of tomorrow”

Commissioners and MEPS were present throughout the event, moderating debates and giving feedback to the young participants. One Spanish attendant described the experience as a unique opportunity, one that is desperately needed for the future of Europe. “I think such an event should happen more often and young people should get more chances to be heard by the European leaders. Here it becomes clear that many young people have a strong interest for Europe and care about how to solve the problems that affect young people. The event is a unique way to approach the leaders, something that young people feel is not easy to do.”

Photo: European Parliament | EP President Antonio Tajani with EYE participants

Hot topics – climate change, terrorism, Brexit

The topics of the workshops and idea labs were as diverse as their participants. When the debate turned to the future of Europe and the important challenges ahead for the EU, action against climate change tended to dominate the stage. There were also many statements and questions about terrorism and refugees, and of course the Brexit. One participant for example asked how we can fix the problem of terrorism if we don’t even have a proper definition of terrorism.

Photo: European Parliament | Debating in the hemicycle

From the general atmosphere in the debates, it was easy to sense the leftist and progressive ideology of the majority of the attendants. Whenever a critical comment on soft migration policy was made, or when a young Polish speaker demanded better protection of the borders, or a French group asked to reject Muslim people to enter, the crowd protested loudly. The MEPs themselves were eager to praise the young people for their engagement, but remained even-handed when involved in these debates.

More than 27%?

Another much-discussed topic was of course the upcoming EU elections. One year from now, many of the participants will be able to vote for the first time. At the event, therefore, the European Parliament launched its official election campaign: This Time I’m Voting aiming to engage young people to go and vote.

One speaker involved in the campaign, originally from Germany, was impressed at the Parliament’s strong effort to appeal to young people: “It is a breath of fresh air to see an established institution, usually seen as very technocratic, succeed in engaging with young people. The different activities, talks and concerts gave a ‘cool vibe’ to the event, which I hadn’t expected.”

Especially this website made the round among the young people. It gives many relevant information on the campaign and how one can get involved. Let’s see if the attempt works. Hopefully, the turnout of young people in the EU elections of May 2019 will be higher than the 27% it was last time.

What’s next?

The debates and ideas brainstormed are far from forgotten after this weekend. The most interesting and innovative ideas will be heard in special youth hearings in autumn where they will be discussed with the MEPs.

The record number of participants showed that the EU is very relevant for the youth.

Photo: European Parliament | A crowd slightly different than usual seating in MEPs’ seats

All in all, the bi-annual event is a great – and maybe the only – opportunity to directly share ideas and debate them with the politicians. The record number of participants showed that the EU is very relevant for the youth. It is time to make the EU young (again) and there are enough people willing to engage and make it possible. So, let’s wait and see if there are any direct results from the EYE and celebrate the new inter-cultural friendships built in the meantime.

  • retro

    Kaat Bots was born and raised in Antwerp. Her mother is Flemish and her father is Dutch, so to get to know her roots, she moved to Maastricht to obtain a Bachelor's degree in European Studies. After three nice years, she returned to Antwerp for a Master's degree in political communication. Her main study interests are political communication and public opinion polling. At the moment, she is finishing a Master's degree in business communication while working as a trainee at the European Parliament’s research service in Brussels.

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