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EYMD 2016: Lucid future

Posted on: 21.05.2016

From left to right: Natalia and Marino, Jose (photo: Emnet Assefa)

Strasbourg, May 20, EYMD 2016

From left to right: Natalia, Marino and Jose (photo: Emnet Assefa)

Text by Natalia Skoczylas; Photos by Emnet Assefa

I’ve been to dozens of festivals in my life. They all have similar features: unique energy, omnipresence of flamboyant outfits, loud music and a wide choice of activities. I get a similar feeling now, strolling the LOW building of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, now claimed by the youth of Europe. Forget the dress code  –  these days you’d normally bump into girls in leather jackets and guys with shorts and Converse shoes. Even these men with their typical black suits and silver medals are running around holding funny posters and cracking jokes most of the time  -  that probably doesn’t happen a lot out here.

The parliament, which hosts our MEPs for three days each month, is a huge and mostly empty labyrinthine infrastructure . And now it’s a great move to fill one of the empty weeks with an event like the European Youth Event (EYE). There should probably be much more going on regularly. Just imagine what a great school for debate and exercises of democracy that is (not that I find it ideal, of course I want the agora to be the democratic space, but as we already paid for a building like this, let’s use it!).

At least they do the European Youth Event here — a big event that brings together thousands of young people who want to discuss, meet, see how the Parliament works, wander around it, and meet people who genuinely care about Europe. Believe it or not, I’ve been to quite some sessions, and they were packed, even those late in the afternoon. Youngsters asked sharp and bold questions to the speakers. They wanted to know if EP/EC people are working on laws that would prevent directing the financial support to banks, instead of helping suffering societies. They asked about the LGBTQ rights, and hate speech, as well as very technical questions on the maze of European financial institutions and lack of their transparency. Selection of speakers seemed to be very careful — many of the panels were dominated by women. These women were not just a decorative element and a manifestation of political progressiveness — they were fabulously smart and professional: like the bright star of Ulrike Ludicek, an openly gay parliamentary from Austria, who states that austerity measures should be replaced by investments in green technologies.

Given how media and politicians like to view new generations as indifferent about anything concerning politics, they all seem to be quite wrong about them. I believe that if the political procedures, institutions and available tools try to follow these nonchalant crowds, we would be dealing here with the most active and aware generation of citizens in the history of human kind. They have access to information, education and general interest in making a better world. This probably sounds awfully idealistic, but whatever.

Emnet and I saw this activity and eagerness during heated discussions that took part during four small workshops, constituting the “A Transparent Future” session. Topics were great -  they had Eurozone governance, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), lobbying and whistleblowing. Participants could discuss it with specialists from the Transparency International and Corporate Europe Observatory. Questions, again, were to the point: what is the right way of wealth redistribution? Should it be direct or indirect? What are the pros and cons of these options? And how to convince people in the rich regions that sending money to their poorer counterparts is the right thing to do? How to stop national and local government from even trying to make laws that could prevent wealth redistribution? But the key questions, present in each of the small groups, was about having access to information.

For these young people, information was about accountability -  access to data helps figuring out what’s happening at the higher levels, how the decisions are made, who is in power of influencing them. In the era of Internet it seems strange that some of the information that is key to political participation remains opaque. For the young people being informed equals being able to take decisions as citizens. Makes sense?

TTIP, which was one of the topics of the panel, makes a great example of how cryptic law-making can be. Not only the language of such treaties is incomprehensible, but also the access to the text is impossible, and there is no will to engage citizens in taking part in the process of shaping and accepting laws that could soon change their lives. There were some big, unresolved questions posed -  who needs to know about TTIP (who knows about it at all?), how do we transfer these negotiations into a transparent process? Who has the power to vote and accept such deals?

At the end of the plenary we had a chance to talk briefly with Marino, 26, and Jose, 24 — both fresh medicine graduates from Portugal, who are part of a IFMSA back in Porto (and a small section of IFMSA dedicated to TTIP), and who came to EYE because of the TTIP. They were passionately active during the panels and they really felt they need more information about the sole existence of such negotiations. They told us that the topic of transparency motivates them simply because they believe there is no democracy without it. As politically engaged citizens they want more access to information to help people navigate complex political landscape. As doctors — they have to understand to what extend confidentiality helps their patients (for example to get insured), but also in which ways access to data could improve healthcare. Moreover, TTIP is also about the future of medicine  –  as the treaty regulates the patents, generics and pharmaceuticals as well. If such laws, on both international and national levels, are being secretly negotiated and implemented, there is no way to create great health care system, and to keep the patients at the center of its interest. These were some of the young men’s views. Tomorrow there will be some more sessions on the topic and they’re planning to be there as well. They also made new contacts with people who will help them spread the word about the treaty back in home.

Meanwhile, politicians are assuring participants that the deal won’t have a negative impact on European affairs, but youngsters remain skeptical. And that’s the kind of people that could be shaping the lucid future of Europe: critical, incorruptible and vigilant. Wasn’t Europe meant to be that?

More stories from the EYMD.

© European Youth Media Days 2016 (EYMD 2016)