Dear European youth, dear friends, colleagues, and neighbors, dear European brothers and sisters,
Today, we are celebrating the European birthday. The treaty of Rome marked the beginning of what now has become the European Union. Our grandfathers and –mothers laid the foundations for a more united Europe. Much has been achieved in 60 years and today is the day to honor the visionary and political power of those women and men who got this wonderful project started that we are benefitting from in so many ways today. Yet, we also have to admit that many questions and problems remain, while new additional challenges face us today, as well. The European future in some regards seems perhaps similarly unknown and uncertain as it may did to those who put their signature on paper in Rome.
That’s why this weekend’s birthday celebrations also mark an important occasion for us. Our generation is particularly predestined and proficient to tackle and solve many of the innate problems bogging down the European idea today. Many of us live a life of Europeans naturally without even thinking about it much. We cherish international friendships, love to collaborate with others to find solutions. Our generation is better educated and equipped than many generations before us. We are Europe’s best shot at getting this project that has come under vicious attack back on track.
Let’s take this birthday as an occasion to reclaim our voices in Europe. Let’s take it as an opportunity for us to become a generation of European change-makers. Our grandparents build the European house, our parents lived in it and expanded it. Now, the keys to an even more inclusive and cooperative European future have been passed to us. Let us take them and continue to write a history of European progress.
Getting started is easy when keeping a few concrete ideas in mind. By following the advice below, we will make a difference!
1. Go vote. Make sure you do every time — locally, nationally, or on a European level. Whatever your political views, as things stand, voting is one of the main ways you have to get your voice heard by the politicians paid to represent you. So mark it in your calendar, and invite friends to join you when you head for the polling booth.
2. Speak up. As a generation we have to say something when we hear xenophobic, sexist, homophobic, or racist slurs or sayings. We shouldn’t let our friends (including online) get away with making statements that are intended to create division or attribute blame. Call them out, and share more inclusive perspectives. Any single effort on your part can have a ripple effect. Change for the better has already begun, and will continue in living rooms, villages, town halls, cities, and on social media across the continent.
3. Get active in an existing political or social organisation. Young people are currently underrepresented in established power structures in Europe. If we want to enact change, we have to join these organisations and transform them from within. Join a party, NGO, charity, or union and get your views represented. You can always bring a friend with you.
4. Join a movement (or start a campaign on your own). If an organisation won’t serve your cause, then maybe a movement is for you. Take #FreeInterrail as an example. It started whit an idea at a dinner table — and now thousands of people talk about and support it all across Europe. Join this campaign, and others. Spread the word, and dare to take action yourself.
5. Don’t shy away from different opinions. As a generation, we pride ourselves on living diversity. But do we follow up on that promise? Let’s reach out to those, who are different from us. Have a coffee with someone you disagree with, try to understand where they come from, and take part in a healthy debate. An exchange of ideas is democracy at its core.
6. Volunteer at a local level. There are pressing issues that need people like you to participate and make improvements. You don’t have to go abroad to do so, you can start right where you are. If all of us volunteered just once a month, millions of hours of voluntary work would transform Europe, connect people, and improve local social cohesion.
7. Show transnational solidarity. If we want to live as Europeans, we have to show that we care about our peers in other countries. Show your support for their causes by talking to friends, signing petitions, writing blog posts, or raising the issue in your work place, school, or local media. Imagine how different the outcome might have been if there had been visible cross-border support in opposition to Brexit before the referendum.
8. Bridge the “generational divide.“ We can’t do it all alone. Europe needs older and younger generations working together for a better future. Talk to your parents and grandparents, your professors, mentors, and trainers, or to someone on the street, and learn about their views on Europe and what they believe is at the core of the European idea. These vantage points are immeasurably valuable and help us to build a Europe for the ages.
Youth of Europe, unite! Future generations will thank us for it!
Vincent-Immanuel Herr & Martin Speer