In Strasbourg, European college students are rethinking Europe

On Friday, March 4, 2022, the assembly of European students was held at the Palace of the University of Strasbourg. The purpose of the day? To propose to the European Parliament axes of reflection on ten topics such as the economy, agriculture or even cybersecurity. The culmination of several months of work that was not overshadowed by the war in Ukraine.

The atmosphere is studious, this Friday, March 4, between the columns of the University Palace in Strasbourg. The assembly, made up of 275 students from across the European Union, brought together submit proposals to the European Parliament on ten policy topics, from the economy to cybersecurity.

An event seriously prepared by the participants: “We’ve been at it for months, is not to be taken lightly“, confides a German student during lunch, where young people of all nationalities mingle and meet. “We know we will be heard”, adds one of his companions between two sips of coffee.

Making the voice of European students heard

The round table opens with a question: “How to respond to the need for participatory democracy?“, asks Jean-Paul Jacqué, professor at the University of Strasbourg and member of the Council of Europe. He himself responds: “This must be the beginning of citizen participation in Europe, a reflection of participatory democracy. We know the criticism leveled at how Europe works, it’s up to you to show the way.”

Giulia, an Italian student of European Affairs for Digital, coordinates the cybersecurity proposal group. Like the others, she offered to participate in this reflection. “We will present at the end of the day a report of about twenty pages to the European Parliament, who will study our proposals”, he explains.

This will obviously not be done during the day: the students were responsible for preparing their conclusions for several months. “We got in touch with experts and professors to provide the best possible work, but also policies,” explains Nils, a French student at an engineering school in Grenoble.

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“Realistic” proposals to move Europe forward

MEP Christophe Grudler is following the discussions. The elected official welcomes the opportunity that this day represents: “Young people must seize this opportunity”. The use of the term “youth” is not insignificant, as Antonio Argenziano, an Italian student and president of the Young European Federalists, points out. “We are lucky to be students. We have access to these debates, which is not the case for active or unemployed young people. It’s up to us to break out of our bubble and make the most of this privilege!” she says to the cheers of the room.

But, according to him, this is not enough. “Ideas are good, now we need something concrete, launches the federalist representative. Be realistic in your proposals. To be heard, your ideas must be applicable.” It is in this logic that the participants addressed common issues, such as economics or agriculture, but also more contemporary issues, such as cybersecurity.

In a workgroup, each detailed the fruit of their reflection and research to present concrete proposals that Giulia details: “We work on training and raising students’ awareness of cybersecurity issues and we think about creating structures in European cooperation have solid infrastructures that can deal with concerns ranging from social networks to the banking system.” A very current topic, given the war in Ukraine. “We didn’t wait for this crisis to work on these issues”, says Giulia with a smile.

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Ukraine as a background

Inevitably, the Ukrainian crisis is a major topic of the day. If the assembly guarantees that it will not eclipse the work done by students in recent months, it is aware of its impacts. “This event will be the most unifying for Europe”, guarantees Christophe Grudler, for example. For his part, Antonio Argenziano insists: “We are rediscovering the meaning of war, because we have forgotten the meaning of the word peace.. European integration is not advanced enough to face contemporary challenges, it is up to us to make proposals to make progress!” Despite the uncertain context, the motivation of European students to build the Union remains unshakable.

And it has to be, in this European Year of Youth. Since January, in addition to this assembly, other events have celebrated the involvement of young people in Europe. The European Youth Conference held at the European Parliament in Strasbourg from 24 to 26 January 2022 is a good example. Student representatives were also able to defend their ideas with a megaphone as a symbol, a sign that young people are indeed present.

On this occasion, Sarah El Hairy, Secretary of State for Youth, did not fail to welcome their involvement, offering them an even greater investment in European decisions. “Young people should be able to express themselves on societal issues and not only in those that directly concern young people. They are the builders of the future and the citizens of the present.” The March 4 assembly proves that young people can enjoy Europe’s future. For them, it’s not about going through a Youth Wash!

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