< SWITCH ME >
Imagine travelling across Europe for one month by train to talk to people, and find out young people’s vision of Europe. It's not as impossible as it sounds. Last December six people travelled the old continent to meet students and young people and discuss their thoughts on the future of Europe, on topics such as politics, education and sustainability. The project Europe on Track was created by AEGEE-Europe (European Students' Forum) and sent out two teams of young people (the Red Team and the Blue team) to travel over 9000km in 27 days. The Red Team was travelling mostly through Western Europe, while the Blue Team was travelling towards the East all the way from Brussels to Istanbul. E&M interviewed Mathieu Soete, member of the Blue Team and experienced youth activist in AEGEE, to get an insider view of this adventure.
|Photo: AEGEE Europe|
|Mathieu Soete, 26, tells us about his adventure|
E&M: Mathieu, what motivated you to spend one month travelling across Europe by train?
MS: There are a lot of moments where you can talk with people in certain environments like the one that exists in a European youth organisation such as AEGEE, but there's never enough time and you're always in a sort of "European bubble", where you don't meet with people in their own realities. You get to learn much more about people when you go out to meet them. This project had two aspects: travelling and discussing. For me it was not the travelling that attracted me, it was not to see that part of Europe that I decided to go to, but it was because I thought with my prior experience I really had an idea of the topics discussed and could get into some great discussions. Visiting people, finding people, and giving them the opportunity to talk, not only to us but to everyone who is listening – this was my main motivation.
E&M: What was the main idea behind the Europe on Track project? And by the end of it all, do you feel that you've reached your goal?
MS: The main idea of the project was to link young people in Europe with European policy-makers in Brussels, to give them the possibility to speak up and reach "Brussels". We'll see how many policy-makers we can reach in the end. There is a real need for them to get to know the opinions of young people, more than they can learn from surveys or opinion polls. In that respect we have succeeded in collecting a good number of stories of people on their experience with (non-formal) education, politics and sustainability, what is working, what is not working. What I really wanted to do was to go ahead with an open mind and gather the real impressions of people, not just steer them towards what we already believe in, but rather record what people are really thinking. I think we've managed to do this.
Behind the headline cuts in the European Union’s 2014-2020 Multi-Annual Financial Framework (MFF), lies a new EU retrenchment policy on its eastern borders. The protection of EU Structural and Cohesion funds to the European Union and the gutting of the "Global Europe" spending ceiling, within which the commitments to the Eastern Partnership initiative are housed, demonstrates the increasing disinterest the EU has to further enlargement. Whilst the actual impact on Eastern development is not yet clear, mixed success in promoting democracy and development over the last year does not bode well for continued enlargement.
Budget winners and losers
Whilst newspapers focused on David Cameron's calls for a real terms cut in the headline budget, there was a groundswell movement in favour of promoting long-term growth through investment across the European Union, particularly in the East. The subsequent agreement has initiated a scramble for funds within an overarching cut of the budget to the sum of 969 billion euros. Central Eastern Europe fared well and in particular, Poland, which led the so-called Friends of Cohesion Policy, can claim to have won this round.
Despite weathering the economic downturn better than a number of Western European states, Poland will now receive more EU investment than under the previous budget – 105.8 billion euros, of which 72.9 billion euros was from the cohesion policy. As Polish Prime Minister Tusk publicly stated before the Summit: "Good Polish-German and Polish-French relations are really helping to get a compromise… [and] not less for cohesion funds." He was proven to be correct and the overall commitment ceiling of 325 billion euros gave Poland, along with Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Romania, increases in its national cohesion funding.
The recent wave of inter-linked protests in many countries, the financial crisis and growing concerns over immigration make it necessary to look at events not only from a national angle but also to analyse them as they happen, taking their transnational dimension into account. However, what may seem to be a new development is rather the return of an insight that has been forgotten. Join us as an editor at E&M and help us move this dimension into the focus again.
Recently I read the Count of Monte Christo and was astonished by Dumas' portrait of a common European space in the first half of the 19th century. In this story, after escaping prison, the Count of Monte Christo decides to take revenge on those who are responsible for his 14-year long sentence. To pursue this revenge, he moves to Paris with Haydée, the daughter of the Emperor Ali Pascha, where he introduces himself sometimes as an Italian priest, sometimes as an English banker; he works together with a group of organised criminals from Rome as well as with his former fiancée, the Catalan Mercedes. Monte Christo's revenge is eventually successful because of his ability to gather information and to bring together people and stories from different places. Reading this classic novel, it became vivid to me again that a common European space is not a new concept but rather an old reality that, as in Monte Christo's story, can be found by following traces which are sometimes bloody or smelly, sometimes beautifully hummed or stunningly narrated. In Dumas' story, we participate in the hero's adventures, move with him from one place to another which is seemingly unconnected, only to find out that if we follow him off the main road and step into a yard behind a small house in a side street, we find a crucial connection; even more, this connection becomes obvious to us and we cannot understand how we didn't perceive the trace that he was following all along. As in the story, ties, connections and traces in the European space are often hidden; they have been crossed out by borders, painted over with the blood spilled in wars but also banned from our perception because of democratic institutions and constitutions which like strong lights directed at our eyes blind us to what is further away. As the example of Dumas' hero shows, however, these hidden traces and ties might matter more than we are inclined to think.
Romania’s progress in restoring the independence of the justice system and rule of law has received an unexpected endorsement from the European Commission in the Co-operation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) report. The somewhat positive findings follow a disastrous evaluation last July, when Europe raised concerns about Romania’s commitment to democracy during a political scandal leading to constitutional breaches from the country’s political leaders.
The document, written in a milder-than-expected tone and numbering just ten pages, shows slight progress in the fact that the Constitution and the Constitutional Court’s decisions are once again respected by politicians. However, there are still numerous areas which need improvement. The question that arises after the release of the report is whether it will give the Romanian government a push in the right direction, or a reason to slack its duties.
Independence of justice – a long way to go
Judging by the balance of highs and lows presented in the CVM evaluation, Romania is far from succeeding in having the Commission’s monitoring of its judicial system removed. The monitors find there is still significant political pressure on the judicial system, and the independence of judges remains a problem. The report also shows the government failed to apply part of the ten recommendations EC president Jose Manuel Barroso gave Prime Minister Victor Ponta last summer – despite assurances from the latter that they would be implemented. In addition, European Union officials received "numerous reports of intimidation or harassment against individuals working in key judicial and anti-corruption institutions, including personal threats against judges and their families".