by Sam Naylor
On the 20th and 21st of May, myself and thirteen other students from the University of East Anglia (UEA) attended the European Youth Event (EYE) in Strasbourg. Over 7,500 young people attended the event, coming together to share ideas on how to tackle youth-related issues through interaction with European decision-makers and speakers.
Through attending plenary sessions on addressing youth unemployment and migration, to panels of Human Rights Heroes and ERASMUS+ opportunities, right the way through to pop-up-tent-style refugee meetings and anti-war talks, EYE provided a space for European youth to imagine a progressive future for the continent and its young people. Sadly, this sparked the cynic in me as the European Union is by no means a shining institution of perfection. An inner voice continued to nudge, searching for some sort of foul play; was the event just one big act to get European youth on board with the EU project? Or is it fair to view young people as more likely to push for their ideals and move away from business-as-usual politics and policies? I’d still like to believe in the latter.
was the event just one big act to get European youth on board with the EU project?
Something that I did not expect to happen at the EYE was to witness a notable turnout from the youth wing of France’s National Front; wracked with ignorance and smothered in idealism I wrongly had convinced myself that the far-right was not an attractive option for the youth of today. I was shaken back to reality from this naïve slumber during the migration talk in the hemicycle of the European Parliament. This is the place where our elected MEPs sit to question and lobby the Commission and the Council of Ministers. The migration panel consisted of three young ideas givers and three decision-makers who acted as idea receivers, one of the young idea producers was Nour Machlah, currently residing in Portugal after fleeing from Syria two years ago. His impassioned talk provided a very human aspect to the refugee situation that is continuing to be poorly coordinated by the European Union.
Cue France’s National Front: it shocked me to witness members of the room actually booing Nour Machlah without any sign of respect or compassion for other human life. Though I’ll surely be reminded yet again that everyone has the right to say whatever they want, whenever they want because that’s freedom of speech and it’s a right blah blah blah, but you don’t simply boo whatever you don’t like — if that were the case figures like Nigel Farage and David Cameron would be deafened whenever they left their houses. In a show of solidarity, a much larger proportion of the crowd began to applaud and cheer for Nour Machlah, drowning out the booing and descending the whole session into a who-can-shout-the-loudest competition.
that’s freedom of speech and it’s a right blah blah blah, but you don’t simply boo whatever you don’t like
Later in a vote on whether it is Europe’s duty to help refugees, 74% of the 833 asked agreed while 22% disagreed and 4% abstained from voting. I was still quite taken aback by the virulent attitudes towards refugees entering Europe — again chalk that up to my optimism for positive action. From my further experience of the two-day event this was an isolated incident whereby the rest of the sessions I attended were met with support and friendship. I also later reminded myself that when it came down to it, the anti-refugee rhetoric from some of the events delegates was a coordinated effort to undermine solidarity, whereas the majority of refugee support flourished naturally and young people stood firm and together to combat some of the more toxic migration views.
With populist and nationalist views becoming an ever more attractive option for some European and American citizens it is good to remind ourselves about some of the good that the EU does for us. It brings together people from so many different backgrounds and allows them to share knowledge and experience. It consolidates friendships and bonds between nations and their peoples, something that we need to fight to maintain at a time when the far-right continues to make gains across the continent. The EYE was a fantastic opportunity to experience the positive side to countries working together first hand. We must continue as young people to learn from the past in order for us to shape a better future.
Featured image © europarl.europa.eu