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Gathering young Europeans online

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Gathering young Europeans online


The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic affects us all – that also includes our traveling discussion dome. For this reason, the European Public Sphere team has decided to organise weekly online discussion rounds on various topics, targeted at young Europeans. The so-called "Europe Jams" offer these young people an open space to share and discuss political ideas on the future of Europe, while working out solutions together.

To ensure that the content discussed by the participants is heard, the European Public Sphere will publish the proposals and ideas in an online exhibition after the conclusion of the project. With the help of the videoconferencing tool Zoom, we have created a space where young people can come together every Tuesday evening (18.30-20.00 CET) to debate the future of Europe. Our intern Max shares some insights.

Europe Jam Launch Event OFMDD 

The launch event of the Europe Jams took place on Saturday 26 September 2020 during the workshop session of the Online Forum on Modern Direct Democracy. Unfortunately, fewer participants than expected had come to join our workshop session, which is why the Democracy International team decided with a heavy heart to merge thematically appropriate workshops. As the first Europe Jam was designed as a free discussion forum, we were very happy to join forces with the team of "Voters Without Borders". The young group around Sinéad O'Keeffe, Claire Dautcourt, Juliette Gille-Vignale, Robert Goia and Brunello de Vita was able to provide all workshop participants with valuable insights into their European Citizens' Initiative (ECI). With young Europeans becoming increasingly mobile, they are committed to strengthening the political rights of EU citizens. They aim to ensure that EU citizens who move to another EU country enjoy the same political rights as citizens of that country. The participants asked  questions about the contents of the ECI and discussed together with "Voters Without Borders" the creation of a common European identity.

The Europe Jam was moderated by Mirte van Hout, Gerhard Schuster and Max Tjong-Ayong.


Europe Jam on Climate Issues

After the first event of the Europe Jams during the Online Forum on Modern Direct Democracy was initially planned as a free discussion platform, we decided, based on the feedback from the participants, to hold upcoming Jams on specific topics.

Before the outbreak of the Corona pandemic, the climate crisis was one of the most prominent topics in the media. Every week, young people took to the streets to demonstrate against the current climate policy and for social change. According to the first topic suggestions made by the participants, it quickly became clear that climate issues were one of the key topics for our young audience. In the hope of attracting young participants to the "Europe 2.0" project, we contacted different youth organisations from all over Europe. With our discussion format, we especially wanted to reach those who have been advocating for action on climate change.

That is why we were particularly pleased to welcome participants from Students for Future and the Camp for Future to our first thematic event.

At the start of the session it was important for us to understand who joined us under the "virtual" dome of the Zoom Room. Right after a short welcome by the project team, each of the eleven participants had the opportunity to present his/her most important concern in the field of climate protection/climate policy.

In the following discussion we asked what the participants perceived as the biggest risk connected to climate change and how young people could be inspired to become more active. The participants agreed that most people are aware of the problems of climate change, but that the motivation to commit to far-reaching changes could still be improved upon. ("The system makes it too easy for people not to be engaged politically.")  Some of those present felt that the pandemic had shown that radical changes in times of crisis are quite possible, but less privileged people should not be burdened by those changes.

Members of Students for Future and Camp for Future took the opportunity to share their experiences from past youth events with the other participants. They pointed out that activism can be exemplified when you start making a difference in yourself. Especially when it comes to creating a general awareness of the consequences of climate change, actions like the "Ohne Kerosin nach Berlin" tour organised by Students for Future are extremely important. Participants of Students for Future reported how, during this bike tour from Cologne to Berlin, they learned in conversation with farmers how the effects of climate change are already being strongly felt in agriculture.

One participant remarked that it was a privilege for him to be part of the climate movement. He and his fellow activists would try their best to involve more people. ("There is a privilege connected to being able to participate in climate activism. We should be working on how the range of climate activism can be expanded to other communities")

As a moderator, I was particularly enthusiastic about the casual, yet focused discussion between complete strangers. In the hope that our discussion round will encourage more young people to get actively involved, I am very much looking forward to the upcoming Jams!


Europe Jam on Minority and Migratory experiences

In the third edition of the Europe Jams, we wanted to focus on the experiences of the participants to make room for different points of view on the topics Minority and Migration.

As in previous weeks, the Europe Jam started with a short round of introductions, in which participants from Germany, Austria, Belgium, Poland, the Czech Republic, South Africa and the USA presented their interest in the topic at hand. The small but diverse group first discussed the biggest challenges of the crisis-ridden EU migration policy. Two participants pointed out that throughout human history, migration and mobility have repeatedly contributed to ensuring survival and improving living conditions. Thus, problems associated with migration could not be solved by closing borders. Several participants expressed their displeasure about the EU migration policy and the consequences of the refugee agreement with Turkey. ("You need a system that can provide the necessary quality of life for refugees - what we saw now in Moria is absolutely unacceptable for the European Union") To them, another challenge is the social divide on migration: one participant reported on fundamentally different opinions on immigration even within her circle of friends. Another participant told the group that especially older people in the Czech Republic were often critical of immigration and she observed a tendency of stereotyping immigrant groups. ("In the Czech Republic the integration of the Vietnamese community is often used as a way of putting other groups of immigrants or refugees down.) The rather critical perception of migration among older age groups would slowly be alleviated by younger age groups experiencing the benefits that migration can bring.  In that sense, NGOs and civil society could make a decisive contribution to ensuring a more in-depth discussion of the causes, experiences and consequences of migration. The high emotionalisation of the issues of "migration" and "refugees" could be counteracted in this way, so that discussions within society could be conducted in a more objective and targeted manner. ("The topic of migration should not be so emotionalised. We should talk rationally about numbers and facts. So that people can see why people migrate from certain countries and what our responsibility is")

The participants agreed that existing barriers should be reduced and that migrants and minorities should be better represented politically than it is currently the case in the EU.

At the end of the event, the question was raised to what extent direct democratic processes could contribute to creating a better awareness of migration and minority experiences.  Two participants noted that the system in which such processes take place is crucial. To make decisions on such emotional issues as migration, citizens would need to obtain experience in dealing with direct participation and information. Swiss referenda, for example, had shown that extremist and radical tendencies were more likely to be rejected by the Swiss citizens. In the UK, on the other hand, where people have had less experience with direct-democratic processes, the results of the Brexit referendum have shown that citizens are more receptive to emotionalization and false information.

The small but diverse composition of the participants in the Europe Jam on Minority and Migratory Experiences allowed everyone to join the free discussion - all those present were able to have their say and report on their personal experiences on the topics of the session. We were also particularly happy that a few familiar faces from past Europe Jams took part in our discussion round again and invited everyone to support our format with interesting food for thought and ideas!

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