YOUTH INCLUSION AND THE EU – MY COFFEE CONVERSATIONS
Youth inclusion has been a major focus of various EU conferences held here in Ireland over the past few months. Aware that the midway point of Ireland’s Presidency of the Council of the EU is fast approaching, I was curious to hear how our exposure to all things EU-related lately had affected young people’s perceptions of the EU.
Most of my questions were posed over coffee, Skype or Facebook. To my own surprise, I found that many young people are of the opinion that Europe is not doing enough to include us. The EU claims that incentivising young people to get involved within the EU, be it on a local, national or international level, is a priority, and yet the youth of Ireland feel the EU overseers aren’t showing themselves to be our representatives. They just don’t seem to appeal to young people.
From my various coffee trips, the image of the EU that emerged was a faceless, Brussels-based, bureaucratic institution; a utopian political system that is “squandering the future of young people in order to rescue banks with eye-watering mountains of debt”, according to one interviewee. Some young people I spoke to stated that they did not consider the EU in a negative light, but regardless felt that the EU does not matter to them and has absolutely no effect on their lives.
Young people in Ireland have access to an excellent education system and are more educated now than ever before. Even so, we learn very little about the EU in schools, which can only lead to us feeling disengaged and blaming the EU for our powerlessness in a climate of perennial problems, be it looming bankruptcy or the terminal decline of labour markets.
For this to change, young people need to claim back a certain element of responsibility. We need to realise that we are responsible for forging the destiny of the citizens of Europe, and play a crucial role in this development. Echoing the famous words of John F. Kennedy – “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” – Brian Cullen, a second-year Law student in UCD, had this to say:
“Adopting such an attitude is the only way in which we can bridge the ever-widening gap between the citizens of Europe and the elite technocrats who dominate the political scene in Europe and are threatening to destroy the entire European project. Of course, this requires the EU to become more active in Ireland. Currently, the Commission and Parliament make inadequate efforts to promote the EU in Member States among young people, and Ireland is no different in this regard. Nelson Mandela once said “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” – there is no reason why this cannot apply to Europe.”
We, the youth of Ireland, need to call on Europe’s decision-makers– the Commission, national governments and the European Parliament – to invest increased resources in educating young people on the EU, the objectives of the European project, and its effects on Member States.
It seems to me that this could only bring about positive results. Not only would the EU be viewed in a more positive light by Ireland’s young people but more of us would also be committed to the European project.
If we are to solve the problems of today, we need the vision of younger generations; after all, Europe cannot function without Europeans committed to its cause. Rather than allowing us, the Irish youth, to become an angry movement of citizens protesting against a Europe without Europeans, we must be educated so that one day, we will no longer ask what Europe can do for us , rather ask what we can do for Europe – by doing Europe!