“Living in a Europe based on mutual understanding instead of evoking conflicts makes us stronger together”, replied Hanna Launikovich from Belarus and Philipp Brugner from Austria when asked to describe the importance of cooperation between the EU and their countries.
This is one of many ideas put forward by the Young European Ambassadors (YEAs) during their ‘Meet-Up’ in Brussels on 19 – 20 July 2017. During these two days, 62 young people from the EU and Eastern Partner countries had the opportunity to gain a deeper knowledge of the European Union and take part in active discussions on the Eastern Partnership with senior EU officials ahead of the Eastern Partnership Summit to be held in Brussels this November during the Estonian Presidency.
“Often you hear you are the future - I believe you’re already the present, and especially in shaping the kind of partnership your countries have with the European Union”, said EU High Representative Federica Mogherini upon welcoming the YEAs to the European Commission’s Berlaymont building. “Your ideas, contributions and energy are already a big part of it”, she added.
The ‘Young European Ambassadors’ are drawn from EU Member States and Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine. They were selected in September 2016 through an open call for applications and have subsequently engaged with each other and their peers through a series of online and dialogue-driven activities. “Being a Young European Ambassador means mutual exchange”, Ani Khachatryan from Armenia observed; “the result is truly rewarding: you offer and gain new skills, knowledge and a broadened worldview”.
The gathering in Brussels offered the Ambassadors the opportunity to get to know each other in person and visit the EU institutions, including the European Council, the European Parliament, the European Commission and the Estonian Permanent Representation to the EU.
Trailing the footsteps of EU officials
One of the most effective ways of understanding EU partnership and cooperation is to meet the people behind the policies. The first day of meetings, therefore, represented a unique opportunity for the Young European Ambassadors to engage in direct dialogue with high-level EU officials. “When you are not often heard in your country or when people know so little about your country, it’s great to share knowledge and culture at the international level with multipliers who will bring this message forward”, said Yulia Dobyshuk from Belarus.
The ‘Meet-Up’ was launched at the European Commission with an address by High Representative, Federica Mogherini, who expressed her willingness to take on board and listen to young people’s ideas in the run up to the Eastern Partnership Summit this November. In turn, the YEAs seized the opportunity to ask questions and express their gratitude for the High Representative’s work in their respective countries.
The YEAs also met with Giles Portman, Head of the East StratCom Task Force at the European External Action Service, who outlined the changes taking place with regard to the EU’s communication policy and explained the tools and channels employed by the European Union to forecast and respond to disinformation. He focused particularly on the EUvsDisInfo initiative, the EU’s online campaign to challenge Russian disinformation.
The discussions were followed by a tour of the press rooms at the European Commission’s Berlaymont building, guided by Adam Kaznowski, one of the Press Officers for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, which provided the young ambassadors with the opportunity to place themselves in the shoes of a high-level EU official leading a press conference.
Following the tour, the YEAs were invited to a session at the Estonian Permanent Representation to the EU, addressed by Ambassador Lembit Uibo, in light of Estonia taking over the rotating Presidency of the European Council on 1st July 2017 for the next six months. The Estonian Presidency’s focus on preserving the common values of prosperity, security, peace and stability in Europe resonated strongly with the participants.
The evening hosted an award ceremony at the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR), during which the 62 young people were awarded certificates in recognition of their active role as Young European Ambassadors. This special occasion was marked by a speech by the Deputy Director-General of DG NEAR, Maciej Popowski, congratulating the YEAs on their achievements.
Glimpse into the spirit of EU Integration
On the second day, the Young European Ambassadors toured the ‘Europa Building’, the seat of the European Council and Council of the European Union, an environmentally sustainable and futuristic building encapsulating the past, present and future of Europe. The visit involved an interesting discussion on the history of European Integration and a glimpse into the rooms, which play host to Europe’s key political debates and agenda-setting.
“My favourite moment was watching the short video about the European Union. I loved the history and commitment of individual politicians to the unique mission”, said Aydan Ahmadbayli from Azerbaijan, reflecting on the visit to the Europa Building.
In the afternoon, the Ambassadors attended a session with Vassilis Maragos, Head of Unit at the European Commission’s DG NEAR, who highlighted the deliverables of Eastern Partnership cooperation, and who reiterated the EU’s belief that “investing in young people is an obligation”.
Finally, the YEAs visited the European Parliament to learn more about the EU from a citizen’s perspective. There, they met Petras Auštrevičius, a Lithuanian Member of the European Parliament, who pays particular attention to issues related to the Eastern Partnership. This experience afforded them the opportunity to witness how citizens’ voices can influence the dynamics within the EU and beyond, including the Eastern Partnership countries.
Summarising the highlights of the ‘Meet-up’, Daniela Moisei from the Republic of Moldova, observed that the visits to the EU institutions were extremely interesting, but above all she felt that the various workshops on how better to communicate the EU within the Eastern Partnership countries and the role of the Young European Ambassadors in this regard was personally the most stimulating.
Different paths, shared cultural traditions and values, and one common goal!
The ‘Meet-up’ ultimately provided an opportunity for the mutual exchange of dreams, ideas and concerns of importance to young people in an environment of mutual respect, partnership and equality. This exchange was, incidentally, most visible among the Young European Ambassadors themselves, who used this time to build friendships with their counterparts and to establish a vision for the further development of the YEA network. Tamar Buachidze from Georgia and Agnieszka Pyszny from Poland summed it up nicely: ‘different paths, shared cultural traditions and values, and one common goal’ was what made the EU and its neighbours ‘stronger together’.
« Europe for me means peace, freedom and equality. As a Young European Ambassador (YEA), I aim to share these values every day with young people of my country and beyond. So, being a YEA for me, first of all means sharing. Europe also means diversity and friends from different countries, cultures and backgrounds. As a YEA, I am every day communicating and cooperating with young people. So, being a YEA also means communication and cooperation. Communication is a two-way interaction. So, being a YEA means mutual exchange: exchange of knowledge, of views, of information, ... and the result is truly rewarding: you offer and gain new skills, knowledge and a broadened worldview. Last but not least, being a YEA means contribution: by helping young people get actively engaged in the opportunities offered by the EU, I invest in the process of making them better future leaders. »
Ani Khachatryan, 25 years old.
Author: Anthony Adams