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Shaping European identity at the European Youth Debate

As a member of European Generation only since last semester, arguably not the best timing ever to join an association, the 2020 Edition of the European Youth Debate was also the first one I took part in. However, I had already heard of this outstanding event during my two previous years at Bocconi and the idea of participating was among the reasons that prompted my application to EG.

I was amazed by the concept of reuniting so many students from all across Europe in Milan to discuss the most pressing challenges our Continent is facing, hopefully drafting an effective policy contribution to be submitted to the EU institutions. Taking part in the European Youth Debate gave me the perception that our ideas matter, that we students are given the possibility to actually raise our voice when it comes to shaping the future we desire to live in. Having made these premises, I was also afraid that this online edition could disappoint me. Lacking the possibility of looking your interlocutors in the eyes, I feared a constructive discussion could not possibly take off. Despite my deepest hope that next edition will take place in person again, I am glad the mentioned concerns were proven unfounded.

The European Youth Debate addressed four fundamental policy areas: The European Green Deal, International Trade, Innovation & Technology and European Identity, the roundtable to which I was personally assigned.

To address what actually means being European, what are the values at the core of European Identity and how to promote them always turns out being a tough job, especially given the high subjectivity these topics are endowed with. Nevertheless, our roundtable made up of 12 people of 5 different nationalities managed to handle the discussion through finding compromises between different points of view, which also entailed challenging each other’s personal beliefs.

Our main conclusions were that the concept of “European Identity” refers to a common set of values that are in general respected and shared by people and institutions, who differ from each other in terms of interests and national identities. Among those values there are freedom of speech, human rights and the principle of the rule of law, democracy, the protection of minorities. In order to effectively defend and promote them, we pointed out the profound need for coordination between Member States when it comes to condemn violations of fundamental rights and values, thus we proposed to define EU official positions in foreign affairs through a Qualified Majority Vote in the EU Council (rather than unanimity currently needed) to be approved by a majority vote of the European Parliament. This way, it would not be possible for an individual Member State to veto shared EU statements as it already happened concerning Maduro’s presidency Venezuela or Belarusian presidential elections.

Highlighting the importance of diversity as a pivotal component of European Identity, we also proposed to foster Member States’ cooperation on education by harmonizing national education systems as well as furtherly empowering the Erasmus program and promoting the teaching of second languages at school in order to enable Europeans to better communicate with each other. Finally, we also demanded the European Commission’s efforts of bringing Member States violating fundamental rights before the European Court of Justice to be more efficient.

In the end, the final document drafted by our roundtable was discussed, amended and eventually approved by the general assembly of participants. All in all, the European Youth Debate was an awesome experience with a twofold benefit: on the one hand it stimulated critical thinking through confrontation and policy-development, while on the other it allowed me to network with many brilliant international students.

If the European Youth Debate was such a great event despite three days of endless screen time resulting in sore eyes, imagine how amazing it can get when held in person. Hence, I strongly encourage everyone to get involved.

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