#1stYoungCitizens’Convention in Berlin gathers young EU citizens, campaigns for Europe and President Frank-Walter Steinmeier

One month ahead of the European elections, the Institut für Europäische Politik (IEP) together with Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, young voters and civil society campaigns sent a strong signal for Europe by hosting the #1stYoungCitizens’Convention in Berlin on the 30th of April 2019.

The presentation of the #EngagEU-Manifesto „Young Ideas for the Future of Europe“ was one important element of the event: Over the past year, it had been discussed and elaborated by 600 young EU citizens at four #YoungCitizens’FutureLabs in Germany, France and Poland within the framework of the European Commission funded project #EngagEU.

An EU Campaign Hub provided ten different EU campaigns the opportunity to address young citizens in particular, present themselves and network. The Convention concluded with a fishbowl discussion on „Young citizens‘ ideas for the future of Europe“ with young candidates for the European Parliament (EP) elections.

Dr. Werner Hoyer, president of the IEP, opened the event and welcomed Federal President Steinmeier, the young candidates for the European Parliament, the participants at the EU Campaign Hub, as well as the approximately 100 guests.

40 years after the first direct EP elections, citizens‘ participation in the European political processes was more important than ever, according to Hoyer. The consequences of the British decision to leave the EU have proven that, the member states‘ national governments should no longer be solely responsible for tackling the major challenges the EU faces. Rather, these challenges require that EU citizens actively take part in the decision making process, for example, in citizens councils. Especially young citizens and their ideas should play a major role in the EU integration process, and therefore it was important to mobilize them. As Hoyer underlined in his speech, the #EngagEU manifesto reflects this necessity.

Jana Schubert, #EngagEU project manager, and rapporteur Sara Kibler from France officially presented the manifesto for the first time. The manifesto identifies four distinct policy areas in which political action is particularly needed: Strengthening a common European identity, taking the lead in climate policy, implementing a common integration policy and aligning the EU’s external policy as to be consistent with its own fundamental values.

In conclusion, Sara Kibler summarized the manifesto’s fundamental concern as follows: „We want more European experiences and encounters!“ Therefore, more and better communication and education about the EU is needed. Thus, a concrete step towards a shared European experience should be „to go and vote in the European elections on 26 May, and cast a ballot for a party that is sustainably committed to an inclusive Europe!“

Federal President Steinmeier, in his keynote address, put also forward the upcoming European elections as a decisive momentum to renew the European promise of a united and peaceful European continent.

Regardless the fact that he had the chance to meet citizens that are committed to the EU with visionary projects and ideas nearly every day, he underlined that there was another, parallel reality, in which trust in political institutions was eroding. Yet, in a time where the public debate about the EU was often marked by sceptical and nationalist stances, one should not forget about Europe’s history. Germany’s reconciliation with its neighbour states after two world wars, the containment of nationalist resentments and the preservation of peace were the EU’s greatest achievements, according to Steinmeier. In fact, initiatives such as „Fridays for Future“ prove that not only do politicians mobilize young people – as IEP president Dr Hoyer noted – but also young people succeed to mobilize politicians.

During a walk around the EU Campaign Hub following his speech, Steinmeier talked to the campaigns‘ representatives who presented their initiatives and involvement to him.

In the second part of the convention, six young EP candidates from the SPD, CDU, Bündnis 90/Die Grünen, Die Linke, FDP and VOLT held a debate in a fishbowl formate. In view of the #EngagEU manifesto two topics particularly caught the candidates’ attention: On the one hand, they talked about extending the European Solidarity Corps to a compulsory European civilian service. On the other hand, the introduction of a monitoring capacity to protect democracy, rule of law and human rights was discussed.

What makes a compulsory European civilian service appealing is the fact that, already at a young age, European citizens experience what it means to be part of the European civil society. Meanwhile, the candidates underlined that it was important for such experiences to be voluntary: A European civilian service did not necessarily lead to a stronger social cohesion and identification with the EU.

Concerning the second topic, the candidates largely agreed that the EU should take over more responsibility in its external relations. They claim the EU to defend its fundamental values and monitor whether they are respected, in particular in economic and cooperation agreements with third countries. At the same time, independent monitoring capacities should be implemented in order to oversee the respect of democracy, rule of law and the protection of human rights, both inside and outside of the EU.

When asked to formulate their visions for the EU, almost all of the candidates demanded that the EU should initiate reforms and continue deepening its integration.

The lively discussions and the great consensus between the candidates’ priorities and the demands presented in the manifesto made the #1stYoungCitizens’Convention a great success. A #2ndYoungCitizens’Convention will be held in Brussels in September 2019, in order to carry on the discussion about the ideas expressed in the manifesto also with the elected Members of European Parliament.

Author Friederike Augustin/Translation Nina Regenhardt