The following article appeared in the Irish Times on the 3rd of November 2010. Fiachra Maguire describes his experiences at the 65th International Session of the European Youth Parliament in L’viv, Ukraine.
For more see, http://lviv2010.com.ua/.
Seventeen year-old FIACHRA MAGUIRE spent last week in Lviv, Ukraine, as an Irish delegate to the European Youth Parliament. Influencing EU policy felt useful, but the best thing was exposure to a new culture.
POLITICS IS something I’ve wanted to get into for some time, though given the situation we find ourselves in Ireland, I’m not so sure anymore. What makes the European Youth Parliament (EYP) appealing is that it offers something different. It was set up to give young people across Europe a chance to have a say in the continent’s future and from the moment I entered, I was hooked.
I was chosen to represent Ireland along with 11 other student delegates following a nationwide competition. Last week, we travelled to Lviv, in Ukraine, for our first international session.
We spent 10 days discussing and debating topics of European and international importance before proposing resolutions to the problems posed. The work we do, if passed in our own General Assembly, is then presented to members of the European parliament for consideration.
At first, my parents weren’t keen on the idea of me heading off to Ukraine for a conference they had never heard of. I had already travelled to Ghana in the summer to teach English as part of a development project run by my school, St Marys College in Rathmines. But that was with a group of 60, including teachers my parents knew, and a charity looked after us.
Another problem was that we had to fund our own expenses. I sent out a lot of letters and spoke to potential sponsors but given the economic downturn, some people just didn’t want to hear.
Fortunately, my school said they’d fund me if I couldn’t raise the money elsewhere. Once my parents understood what a unique organisation it is and what it’s like to be involved, they realised it would be better for me to go than to stay at home.
It’s an amazing opportunity in two senses: you’re an ambassador for your country and you get to experience a completely different culture.
Normally you only need an ID card to travel across Europe but because Ukraine is outside the EU, some of the delegates didn’t realise they also needed a passport and had to be sent home.
Once we crossed the border from Poland into Ukraine, I really noticed the difference. The roads deteriorated; suddenly it was pitch black and we were being stopped by police in the middle of nowhere.
Lviv may not be as developed as other European cities but its culture is superior to anywhere I’ve visited. It was like stepping into a time capsule. In the evenings, we would wander through the town and it was so alien to me that the differences were intoxicating.
THE OPENING DAY involved an event called “Eurovillage” where we all shared food from our respective countries – we brought smoked salmon and brown bread.
It was the first real opportunity to talk to the other delegates and to learn about subtle differences between our cultures.
The Irish got on well with the Scandinavians and the French, though it’s different for everyone and the clashes were interesting. Some countries were hesitant about the idea of a European project. There were 33 countries represented, six more than the number of EU countries, which gave a greater diversity of ideas.
We were put in a committee with people we’d never met before, each one from a different country. We spent the first two days doing teambuilding exercises to establish communication skills and a sense of trust.
It wasn’t like the usual debating competitions, which can be boring and nerdy. You had to be open to different ideologies to understand how some of the issues we discussed could affect Eastern European countries for example.
Some countries put their national interest first so you had to work hard to find a consensus, hammering out the points you could agree on and convincing each other to see things in a different light.
Ultimately you had to consider the European project as a whole, so that by day three, we could start discussing European politics without any conflict.
At the end of each day we held a general assembly, like any other parliament. We put forward a resolution or policy and then had to start debating it with others outside our group.
Public speaking was daunting when I first began debating, but I travelled to Ukraine knowing I could be standing in front of 300 or so people and speaking to them about something we’d only discussed for a number of days and researched for a few weeks. So you needed to be headstrong and find a bit of courage. You really felt the adrenaline afterwards.
I was on the constitutional affairs committee, so the issue I had to address was what position Europe should take in debates on integration and expansion. It is quite relevant to Ireland, given the effect that the last expansion had on our labour force and on immigration.
Our resolution called for EU member states to cooperate more closely and consider expansion, which we believe is needed in the long term.
Europe has an ageing population and when you consider the global superpowers emerging – the US, China and potentially Brazil and India – expansion could help Europe remain a relevant force in international politics.
Our resolution was debated on the final day and it was probably the most difficult and heated discussion of the week. Because it was a constitutional topic that affected everyone in the room, some got quite emotional about it. You would have up to 10 people standing up to object or ask questions at any one time.
Some of the other Irish delegates were the most vocal in criticising what we’d written, but there were plenty of people jumping in to defend our resolution. In the end, there were 94 votes in favour, 74 against – so I was happy to see it pass.
Now that the EYP has endorsed what we’ve written and the assembly has decided it’s worth carrying forward, it’s up to the real European Parliament to take our views on board. That’s the whole point of the trip: it offers young people from both in and outside the EU a chance to influence the bureaucrats of Europe.
We’ve all had a great time and I think we’ve done a great job. As a learning experience, it’s much more open and interesting than just talking about politics. I would recommend it to anyone, even if you don’t come from a political background, because it really opens your eyes. Eating pig tongue was certainly something new for me, anyway.
Since the EYP is a voluntary organisation, everything was done for us by people who care about what we have to say. I don’t think I can thank them enough. Without them, we wouldn’t have had such a constructive time.