The Young Generation’s Future is Europe
I was born in 1998. I don't know Europe without Schengen, and I have no memory of the Deutsche Mark. When I was in school, we went on a school trip to the United Kingdom and exchanges to France. The same goes for my student life: the Erasmus programme, whether to Romania or Sweden, is considered and usually pursued by almost all of my fellow students. My generation carries the European idea within itself as self-image.
However, this self-image is anything but self-evident. My generation knows that. Brexit has made us starkly aware of the value of the European Union. And yet, the disastrous consequences, especially for the young generation in the United Kingdom, are also motivating. The recent constitutional amendment in the state of Berlin, with its commitment to Europe, succeeded largely thanks to the Junge Europäische Bewegung Berlin-Brandenburg. Our European self-image is a commitment to take responsibility for Europe.
I would describe myself as a convinced European federalist. I cannot imagine a future without the European Union. This does not mean that I am completely enthusiastic about the EU in its current state. I think the still ongoing refugee crisis is a prime example of fatal disunity and of Europe acting against its own values. The European Union must change in order to take on more responsibility.
I believe that the EU needs a general overhaul to meet its current needs and the expectations of my generation. We want to see decisiveness and the ability to act. Today's challenges can no longer be solved at the national level alone, and they could very well become tomorrow's existential problems. We need a European climate policy so that other states can follow a strong example in the fight against climate change. We need a European migration policy so that all Member States consider humanity to be a fundamental value again. We need a European foreign policy so that the EU can stand united against system rivals like China.
For all this to happen, we also need institutional changes: A stronger European Parliament with its own right of initiative, transnational voting lists, a binding Spitzenkandidat system and the right to vote in European elections from the age of 16. Let's face it: Although our generation is one of the strongest supporters of the European idea, our voice is heard far too rarely. Similar to the Bundestag, the average age in the European Parliament is almost 50. Appeals to listen to the voice of the youth in protests like the one on upload filters are ignored in the end. For many, taking our generation seriously means nothing more than strengthening Erasmus+.
The Conference on the Future of Europe will kick off on 9 May, Europe Day, after a long period of preparation. European citizens can get involved in events in all Member States and share their ideas for the future of the EU. Our generation will speak with a strong voice here, but one thing will be crucial: the Conference on the Future of Europe must take the call for change seriously. It must be more than an exercise of democracy that merely simulates participation. If the EU and its institutions are really looking ahead, they must listen to the young generation and our European self-image. Both institutional innovations and treaty changes must be part of the debate and Member States must put their influence and interests on hold, to work on European solutions. We are ready: Let's head for a future which is truly European!
Julius Graack (23) has been a scholarship holder of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom since 2018 and studies economics and philosophy in Göttingen.