European Youth Event Berlin: YEAs talk all things EU Enlargement!
May 20, 2024

European Youth Event Berlin: YEAs talk all things EU Enlargement!

On 19-20 April, nine YEAs attended the European Youth Event (EYE) organised by the European Youth Parliament in Berlin, Germany to deliver a series of activities about EU enlargement and about the Eastern Partnership (EaP).

About our activities:

In the morning, the YEAs organised a 90-minute workshop called “A larger EU:EU Enlargement for Beginners”, which taught participants about the European Neighbourhood Policy and enlargement negotiations. Through an interactive card game, the participants learned about the order of the various steps a country needs to take to join the EU through the accession process. We focused on the journeys of Ukraine, Georgia, and the Republic of Moldova. We also had the opportunity to hear from two YEAs from Ukraine and two from Georgia, who shared their personal stories about what EU candidate status and the accession process means to them.

During the workshop, we had an excellent Q&A discussion, which we were very pleased to build on even further in the afternoon during our very popular panel discussion ‘EU and the World – Foreign Affairs and Enlargement in our Union’.

We were honoured to be joined by Member of the European Parliament Mr. David McAllister, chair of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, and two of our Young European Ambassadors Dachi Chikhasvhili from Georgia and Violetta Kukuruza from Ukraine, for a fascinating conversation about all things EU enlargement, the accession process, and the mutual benefits of this for both the EU and Eastern Partnership countries. Violetta and Dachi moved the audience with their powerful personal stories about their countries’ EU pathways – you can read Violetta’s story here, and Dachi’s here.

During the next day, the YEAs organised an information stand to promote the visibility of EU NEIGHBOURS east, the Young European Ambassadors, and the Eastern Partnership countries. Over a  hundred participants visited our stand and engaged in discussions with us! While some of them participated in our workshops or were aware of us from other events, most visitors were excited to  hear about our work for the first time! As part of our info stand, we also had a little challenge for our visitors. For the chance to win some YEA treats (like stickers, or pencils which can be planted and will turn into a Sunflower – the national flower of Ukraine), visitors were tasked with participating in our human bingo game. This was a sheet of paper with lots of ‘get to know you prompts’, which encourages participants to meet new people and start conversations at the event. If they could fill out their bingo card having engaged in discussions with 20 new people throughout the day, they could return their cards to us for a prize! The bingo proved to be so popular that we actually ran out of bingo cards, but we were quick on our feet and thought of another activity to engage our eager visitors.

We quickly set up a fun trivia quiz in which visitors could work with each other to test their knowledge of the Eastern Partner countries. The questions involved geography, culture and language, EU-Eastern Partner countries collaboration, and some fun facts. The visitors enjoyed it so much, they often stayed until they had finished all the questions. Intrigued to learn more, we said that if you enjoy learning about the EaP countries or teaching others about them, then that’s exactly the work we as YEAs do, so you should consider applying to join us when the new intake opens in September 2024!

The final event of the EYE Berlin was a youth plenary. The YEAs were honoured to be invited onto the Youth Plenary to represent the theme “United Europe”, which was one of the main pillars of the Conference.

During the discussion, YEAs Claudia Klos and Damla Ceyda Uzun were joined by Member of the European Parliament Hildegard Bentele to discuss the main findings from the YEAs’ activities across the weekend. The four main themes we noticed and shared were:

  1. Solidarity:
    1. Young people see themselves as part of a global community and want to stand in solidarity with each other and learn how to  concretely support each other. This is particularly relevant in the context of EU enlargement and accession, as it takes all of us working together to expand our Union.
  2. Information:
    1. The importance of combating disinformation in the EU and its neighbours that seeks to undermine unity. Additionally, we highlight the importance of making sure that information is accurate and more accessible, particularly difficult topics like accession and enlargement that may be deemed as a lot of ‘political jargon’.
  3. Shared Values:
    1. The EU is more than just geography, it’s also values and ideas. One of our Young European Ambassadors, Nataliia from Ukraine, asked, “what’s the meaning of values, if you aren’t going to fight for them?” This opened a wonderful discussion about candidate countries like Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova, who have paid a high price (often in human lives) in order to defend and join the European community.
    2. It is important to highlight the effects of Russian aggression and how deeply they are being felt across the European continent. The war in Ukraine started in 2014 after Russia illegally annexed Crimea and it still continues today. However, Russian aggression did not begin in 2014, many forget that Russia also invaded Georgia in 2008 – solidarity and support is necessary to build our collective future. Our Georgian Young European Ambassador Dachi said that “the way to support Georgia is to also support Ukraine” – many countries in our region have felt and continue to feel the destabilising impacts of Russia’s aggression, and we must continue to call everyone to action to keep standing with Ukraine so we can bring about Ukrainian victory as quickly as possible.
  4. Personal stories:
    1. In both the workshop and the panel, we saw the importance of young people sharing their personal stories to give things like EU enlargement a human dimension so people can understand the impact of these topics in people’s real lives. We need more opportunities for amplifying youth voices, especially from countries that are not always heard.
    2. People speak with so much emotion and enthusiasm. The hard work and dedication of some Eastern Partner countries in working towards EU accession may offer current Member States an opportunity to consider what they may be taking for granted, or, as one of our panellists said: “the EU is first and foremost a project of peace.” Accession to the EU is deemed a “dream” while the EU is seen as a promise of peace for a safer and brighter future. Those are ideas that were brought out during the exchange between our YEAs and the audience. In hindsight, to be reminded of what the EU means for countries that are not yet part of the EU is crucial to encourage the citizens of the Member States to head to the polls for the European elections between the 6 and 9 June 2024.

Claudia and Damla were also asked about whether we had any ‘open’ or ‘unresolved’ discussion points from our workshop and to that they answered that the topic of EU accession is never a ‘closed issue.’ As our panellist MEP Mr. McAllister said during our panel discussion, “enlargement is the EU’s greatest success story”.  When it comes to enlargement, we believe that there are always more voices and perspectives that can be added to the conversation. There is always more to say about this topic! EU membership can be a long journey and we are always working towards our goals.

One topic we continue to discuss is about the ongoing and future reforms that are needed both within the EU and the candidate countries like the Eastern Partners (Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova) in order for enlargement to take place and how this gives us a unique opportunity for us both to reflect, improve, and grow.

We also spoke a lot about what young people in countries that are not yet candidate countries, but want to become them, can do to bring the EU closer to them. Here, we highlight the role of civil society, particularly the youth, in spreading information and communicating about young people’s dreams for their futures.

EYE Berlin was another excellent opportunity for YEAs to meet up and share a common platform, in which they could reaffirm the principle of friendship and solidarity that our initiative champions. Likewise, the testimonies brought by our YEAs from Georgia and Ukraine during the event demonstrate the initiative’s ability to amplify the voices of young people on the issues they care about the most. We want to thank the organisers of EYE Berlin for inviting us to contribute to this excellent event.

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