This week marks 25 years since the reunification of Germany. On the 9th November 1989 the Berlin Wall fell. Whether this can be attributed to an unguarded comment from a stressed Günter Schabowski, who passed away earlier this month, or whether the Wall would have fallen regardless, one thing is generally accepted: the demonstrations in Leipzig one month earlier set in motion a chain of events that would ultimately result in the fall of the iron curtain.
It is therefore fitting that the 80th international session of the European Youth Parliament (EYP) is currently taking place in Leipzig. This is an initiative close to my heart. Having studied European politics at university and as a teacher of Civics it has always been apparent that this subject, though important, is not one that excites learners. During my teacher training I discovered the EYP and made it my goal to introduce this engaging project in my teaching with a future employer.
The EYP promotes democratic discussion and European values in a political forum for young people. By simulating the European Parliament, students work on drafting resolutions within their specialist committees before debating and voting on these in the General Assembly. There is of course more to it than this and the EYP is something that defies description and really has to be experienced to be understood.
While the would-be politicians learn about issues affecting European society, they take away more. Students learn how to cooperate with others and frequently form lifelong friendships. They spend a great deal of time researching their topic in advance of committee work and before the intense work of writing a resolution much time is allotted to team building. Delegates practice public speaking and hone their leadership skills, being a team player is an equally important part of succeeding in the EYP environment.
They learn much about themselves and gain transferable skills beyond knowledge of EU politics.
My school is now in its 8th year of participating in the EYP and Leipzig is our second international session. Being a delegate (or even an accompanying teacher) is an engaging experience that lives long in the memory. It’s been quite the journey. We first ran a small, local session to select a team to represent our school. We then participated in the regional and national sessions. The ultimate goal, which we are delighted to have achieved this year, is to represent your country in an international session.
Over the years the EYP in Sweden has grown enormously and we try to bring the EYP experience to as many students as possible. Our pupils are encouraged to pay it forward by helping organize and run the school sessions. Some have even gone on to organize regional and national sessions in their own time. Students can join the organization outside of school and travel to more sessions as a delegate, chair or member of the press team.
I am always impressed with my students’ commitment and engagement in the EYP. They have grasped the concept that you only get out what you put in. In engaging young people in European politics, the EYP has accomplished something truly remarkable.
Last night myself and some of the other teachers at the international session ventured onto the streets of Leipzig to witness the protests between LEGIDA and the No-LEGIDA movements. As it was not only the anniversary of the friedliche Revolution but Kristallnacht too, the police were out in force. This underlined for me the importance of what the EYP is doing and how fitting it is that we are in Leipzig for this event.