We are a generation of young people that have grown up alongside economic crisis, record unemployment and a surge in Euroscepticism. We are labelled as self-entitled, direction-less or disconnected and we hear that record-low numbers of us are politically engaged. But is this morbid image of our continent’s young people realistic? This week I spoke My Europe, a group of young people that contradict all preconceptions of generation y apathy with their passion for building a better and more responsive Europe for you and me. My Europe is no insignificant youth organisation, these guys are working alongside some of the biggest names in politics, business and media and their ideas are actually being heard. I find out more about what they’re doing and ask how you could get involved from 22-year-old Council chairwoman Alessandra Maffettone.
Generation Y: Hi Alessandra! So tell us, what is My Europe?
Alessandra, My Europe: “My Europe” was launched in 2011 by the Frankfurter Zukunftsrat (Future Think Tank) and Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the European Commission. It consists of a series of workshops for students aged 15 to 20 all across Europe, trying to reinforce their trust in European integration and also taking advantage of their young and innovative ideas on how to shape Europe’s future.
Generation Y: So what happens at these workshops?
Alessandra, My Europe: The workshops are organised to promote debate between high-profile personalities and students. There is also a writing competition so we have activities in journalism and article writing. In our workshops in Italy we met diplomats, journalists and professionals. In Spain participants met the Queen of Spain Letizia Ortiz!
Generation Y: Tell us some more about this competition.
Alessandra, My Europe: After the two-day workshops, the students are involved in a writing competition, where they write their idea of Europe in 2030, it can be a future perspective on any topic. Three awards are given to the best articles. They consist of non-cash prizes, they can also be internship opportunities
Q&A Session at the IE Business School at the Madrid workshop, September 2013
Generation Y: And what about after the workshops?
Alessandra, My Europe: The most committed students are selected for the Youth Council for the Future (YCF), a democratic forum that encourages participation and discussion on major issues in Europe. The YCF is currently composed of students from 11 European countries, it was founded in November 2013 in Frankfurt.
Generation Y: Since the last European elections we have been hearing a lot about Euroscepticism and anti-EU sentiment. What is the general reaction among the young people you meet towards Europe?
Alessandra, My Europe: I believe the young generation has grown up with the European Union, we are a part of it! It is hard to relate to these anti-EU sentiments. In November the Frankfurter Zukunftsrat will host an event on this topic where a few members of the YCF will participate, together with high-profile experts, in discussing the future of Europe and in particular regionalisation. At this time when Euroscepticism and independence movements are evolving, it is a major concern for Europe.
Generation Y: What do you think can be done to change the image of the EU in the minds of young people who feel disconnected or disillusioned with it?
Alessandra, My Europe: As an Italian Erasmus student currently studying in France I feel very much an EU citizen. I have to admit that there is a major disillusion amongst young generations and not only about the EU. With the EU elections I have noticed how many young students weren’t interested in them because they feel like their voices aren’t being heard. I think it is important to reinforce their belief in the EU and not forget why it was created.
We are trying to raise awareness and strengthen the cooperation between young Europeans and high-profile personalities in order to have a say in the future of Europe. That is why we founded the YCF. It is important at a national and European level to involve young representatives to show us that they are committed and value youth.
“It is our ideas that want to be heard, fresh, young, innovative”
Generation Y: Can you give us an example of a My Europe initiative that you are particularly proud of?
Alessandra, My Europe: In November 2013 we, as the YCF, launched our “European Youth Manifesto”. The manifesto contains calls for action and solutions related to some of the most pressing issues concerning Europe’s young generations.
Our work should be regarded as a tool for decision-makers at a national and EU level, that is why we organise events to advertise our work and present it to the international press and high-profile personalities. The manifesto was presented to the international press during a conference and we had a great Gala event to present it to more than 200 guests. It was impressive, for the first time we realised what a great opportunity we had, all those people – MEPs, business people, politicians and academics – they were there to listen to us.
Generation Y: So what is the next project for My Europe?
Alessandra, My Europe: We are all very excited about the launch of our blog. It is now official: on the 13th of October 2014 we launch the My Europe blog Spotlight Europe.
The blog functions as a platform for communication and discussion not only within the My Europe network, but also for other people interested in the issues we discuss. It is a way to reinforce the collaboration and connection between the network’s young members and high-profile experts.
All young Europeans aged 15-25 are encouraged to apply as authors of the blog by contacting the editorial team (firstname.lastname@example.org).
45 students launch YCF during the 2013 My Europe Get2Gather in Frankfurt, Germany.
Generation Y: So other than the blog, if someone reading this wants to get involved with My Europe what can they do?
Alessandra, My Europe: They can follow us on Twitter, Facebook and get involved in our initiatives. Once a month we organise a live chat with one or more representatives of a wide range of institutions and companies. The chats are designed to give students the opportunity to speak to and engage with experts. Our latest chat was held yesterday with young MEP’s and EU40, we have previously hosted chats with Jorgo Riss, European director of Greenpeace, and another on LGBTI rights in Sub-Saharan Africa, plus many more.
Generation Y: What are some of the challenges that someone should expect to come up against if they were to take part in the My Europe workshops or, later, as a member of the YCF?
Alessandra, My Europe: You have to be very active, curious, young people and not afraid to speak up in front of anyone. It is our ideas that want to be heard, fresh, young, innovative.
“I’ve feel I have learned so much”
Generation Y: How does the day-to-day running of the organisation work when you are spread out across Europe?
Alessandra, My Europe: The base is in Frankfurt, where the network was created, every two years we organise a ‘Get2gather’ event in a different city, where all the members reunite to discuss the Manifesto and exchange ideas. I would say we are volunteers, it is not really a job, although we are committed as if it was.
Generation Y: Personally why did you get involved in the project?
Alessandra, My Europe: I got involved accidentally because a friend told me about the initiative at university. I am so lucky to be part of the YCF, it has given me the opportunity to speak about my ideas and meet students from different backgrounds. Taking part in My Europe has been such an inspiring experience for me and I feel I have learned so much.
Generation Y: What are you ambitions for the future?
Alessandra, My Europe: I would like to proceed with my studies with a Master’s in International Affairs and Diplomacy and I would like to work in International or European institutions in the future. I am currently in my last year of law school.
Generation Y: Thanks for talking to Generation Y. Good luck with your final year and for your future My Europe projects.
Alessandra, My Europe: Thank you!