European youth show way

Edited by Monica Baldi and Michael Hindley. Published by European Parliament Former Members Association

Julie Ward reports on barrier-breaking initiatives

With the European elections looming in an uncertain and increasingly fractured world, former pro-European MEPs have been involved in a number of initiatives designed to bolster participation, particularly amongst young people. I recently took part in an Empowering Democracy event with international lycée students organised by the Jean Monnet House near Paris where I was the expert speaker on human rights and business for a hypothetical UN/EU committee. Meanwhile, former Labour MEP Michael Hindley has stepped up to the plate by taking on the responsibility of co-ordinating the wider EP (European Parliament) to Campus programme for the Former Members Association (FMA). This enables educational establishments, both inside and outside the EU, to request speakers on various topics and current issues, and collaborate on joint projects.

Following an FMA conference Hindley has co-edited a collection of key texts* from the event along with further contributions from a wide range of experts, academics and, crucially, young people with lived experience of the benefits of programmes such as EP to Campus and Erasmus+.

The publication is an object lesson in inter-generational dialogue between future voters and emerging leaders on one hand and experienced legislators, policy-makers, academics and archivists on the other. The latter focuses on key moments in the development of the European project whilst high school students unearthed family photos and artefacts from as far back as WWI bringing personal and family history to bear in discussions about learning from the past.

Political differences are set aside by former MEPs in the interests of promoting common European values. However, critical reflections are plentiful, including a comparison from Marco del Panta (EUI Secretary General) between the disastrous austerity policies in response to the 2007/8 financial crisis and the more recent “Next Generation EU” financial plan launched to address the crises provoked by the pandemic.

The testimony from Italian High School student Mathilde Paoli on “Searching for European Citizenship” offers a powerful rationale for further integration, with statements gathered from her peers affirming the added value of European citizenship. “…it means being part of a community, sharing strong values and facing problems together towards a better future.” Former Erasmus students reflect on the transformative experiences that have shaped their lives, opening doors to new ways of thinking about the world as well as offering transferable skills, practical knowledge and invaluable networks.

Citizen engagement through education and culture is seen as key to fostering a sense of European identity and belonging although Member State competency in this area and rampant nationalism has frustrated some efforts. However, outreach programmes organised by the EUI, the HAEU and EP to Campus are making successful inroads at all levels of education as can be evidenced by this publication. Meanwhile the Erasmus+ programme goes from strength to strength along with the more recent European Solidarity Corps and the CERV (Citizens, Equality Rights and Values) initiative.  Sad, therefore, that the UK is no longer a participant.

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