Exclusive Interview with Christelle Savall, the new President of JEF Europe

, by Dvir Aviam Ezra

Exclusive Interview with Christelle Savall, the new President of JEF Europe
President Christelle in the Strasbourg Summit 2022, by Nicolas Keshvary

Step into the spotlight with TNF for our exclusive interview with the new leader of JEF Europe, President Christelle Savall. Fresh from her election at the European Congress in Madrid, we’re getting personal and digging into the nitty-gritty of activism, JEF’s game plan, top priorities, and maybe a sneak peek into the person behind the activist

Can you share a bit about your background and what motivated you to become involved in youth activism and specifically JEF? How did your journey led you to becoming president?

JEF made me want to volunteer, I never planned to. JEF made me an activist and I could not be more grateful. I don’t really think of what we do as youth activism, just activism, and we all happen to be young. I always say I am a federalist and then I am young when it’s convenient, such as meeting with politicians. I don’t have a cute origin story. I just walked in my university in Paris on the first day in 2012 and saw a European flag on a stand. I learned that how I felt about the EU was called federalism. They told me I could join, I said do you have a pen, here are 15€, can I join the board? So I became in charge of conferences, then Vice President, and finally President of my local section. I was also in JEF in Sweden/Germany during my ERASMUS.

When I joined 11 years ago, I knew there was a European level but I didn’t know I would end up there. I did love what was still in 2013 Free Belarus and then Democracy under Pressure, Don’t Touch My Schengen, or the twinning programmes in Paris.

I just kept on volunteering, changing positions each time to try different things. In 2016-17, I was treasurer of JEF France, that’s when I learned about the functioning of the European level and thought it would be interesting in the future. I thought that maybe I would become treasurer of JEF Europe one day, but I didn’t! Before being elected President of JEF Europe, I was Vice President, member of the Executive Board (EB), of the Federal Committee (FC) and its Presidium as well as co-chair of the Task Force Capacity Building and an internal auditor so I did quite the tour of the European level. I also founded our JEF section in Luxembourg. I think what is wonderful with JEF is that you keep on learning and giving back.

How do you envision the organisation’s role in shaping European policies?

JEF has an interesting role in the way that we have a clear goal, federalism, an advocacy structure at all levels of the organisation and a grassroot organisation.

It is super powerful to say we are in 37 countries and we have c. 10,000 members. We have a strong idea and the people to show there is popular interest for it. JEF Europe only exist thanks to volunteers on the ground and our actions at local, regional and national levels. It also means those volunteers will then continuously advocate for federalism in their lives, outside of and after JEF.

By being political without being partisan we can talk to everyone and build coalitions, partnerships to get closer to our aim. Federalism is a formidable project because it is a convergence of many struggles because it helps with dealing with the climate crisis, strengthens democracy, human rights and inclusion and of course is a guarantee for peace, so you can find many associations and arenas to advance our ideas in.

How can JEF contribute to fostering a sense of European identity among young people? What role do you think personal experiences such as those accumulated in JEF play in shaping one’s commitment to European federalism?

If JEF had no impact on the outside world - thankfully it does- it would still be empowering thousands of young people, us JEFers, every year to understand the European project, our federal dream, find their voices, stand up and also live the European project by making friends across the continent, travelling, debating and partying together.

Then we have Europe at school and all the other activities in which we bring non (or not yet) JEFers where they get to learn and experience part of the JEF magic. Personal experiences make you understand what is at stake and also that federalism is possible. JEF gives tools to embrace our quest for federalism and make it move forward!

In your opinion, what are the key benefits of a more integrated and federal Europe, and how can these benefits be communicated effectively?

This is the same exact question that we face now on how to make treaty change sexy. Citizens during the Conference on the Future of Europe and during our EurHope consultation have identified topics, needs, changes they see are crucial and the answer to many of them requires treaty change and federalism. So we communicate on how changing institutions and structure makes decision making easier or even possible. Federalism is a tool, not the end game. The end game is world peace. Federalism is the “solution we got”, the solution for peace, for democracy and for human rights.

In what ways do you plan to engage with policymakers and stakeholders to promote our policy objectives? We will build on the EurHope campaign and our other ones to advocate for federalism to decision makers, across our networks and to the general public.

With decision makers, we need to prioritise but also be more systematic. I have advocacy meetings every week and we can enlarge our usual target audience in Members of the European Parliament and beyond. You can read more about our advocacy meetings in our EB minutes available in the JEF internal area. For other networks, the question is: why is federalism key for other non-federalist activists? If they care about freedom of movement and Bulgaria and Romania in Schengen, we are here to explain the problem is not Austria or the Netherlands but the intergovernmental method and veto powers. There are synergies to be found and clarified.

JEF should also be more present in the media to support our campaigns to the general public so they are at the heart of our advocacy. I already published an op-ed about EurHope and treaty change so it is work in progress!

I also want us to leverage our alumni network more, as they can help us with connections, ideas (and funding). We are going to organise more alumni events. Contact us if you want in! What are your concrete goals for your term as president, where do you see us in two years? Every action JEF Europe does should advance federalism, support section growth and ensure the well being of our volunteers. The most important point is to reinforce our federal advocacy with strong political sections. Our advocacy for a federal Europe should be federal in itself. Of course, it needs to happen at the European level as I just explained and it is an important goal but is also needed at the local, regional and national levels, and above all to citizens so the grassroot work is paramount. We are supporting sections in their growth, through a training this summer, the continuous on-granting and tailored EB support and connection building.

I also want us to invest more in our internal democracy. The EB has approved the reimbursement of travel costs to FC meetings of our FC direct members so access to those positions is easier and the solidarity fund is now only allocated to sections.

Finally, JEF Europe is my home and I want everyone to feel welcome, empowered and cared for. Focusing on mental health and diversity is not something we do but the way we do everything. In two years, I see JEF being a stronger and broader network, the FC more involved in making JEF flourish, JEF Europe continuing to organise successful campaigns and even more known than currently. I hope we stand united among challenges and that future JEFers can see what we did together and refer to it as theirs and be proud of it. The same way I say we took down borders or we coined the first euro, I hope they can say we did an amazing EurHope campaign or talk about how much we pushed for treaty change and enlargement.

How can JEF address issues related to nationalism and Euroscepticism in the current European political landscape?

We, federalists, spend our time criticising the EU, just like eurosceptics, because, it is true, the Union of today is not perfect. And we JEFers can show the way on how to improve it. Some eurosceptics are just federalists who don’t know it yet, let’s tell them!

JEF provides alternatives to bad solutions offered by nationalism and eurosceptics. We have a solution, and it is not going back to “good old times” first because they were not so good and second because you can’t go back, we live today.

Federalists are also here to redefine sovereignty and other important words. Sovereignty is not having power on paper, it is having the means to act to solve a problem and nation-states are ill suited to face today’s challenges as they are bigger than them.

How do you stay motivated and inspire others within the organisation, especially during challenging times? Joy. JEF brings me joy, all of it, from this interview to late-night emailing to meeting decision makers to meeting with sections, etc. JEF events are very replenishing in terms of activism battery, but while my battery may be lower sometimes, it never turns off, because of the joy of volunteering for JEF.

One of my JEF friends told me “your superpower is to help others find theirs”, I am basically your neighbourhood JEF Cheerleader. In hard times you have to hold on to each other and our goal, so I make sure others know I am here for them and help them find the task that brings the motivation back and remind them that what they do, what we do, matters. When JEFers tell me I inspire and motivate them it’s the highest praise I can think of, and it brings me even more joy!

How do you intend to enhance collaboration and communication within the organisation, considering its diverse membership across Europe and national sections with different priorities, sizes, and structures? What did you learn in this respect from your earlier activism with JEF France and JEF Luxembourg?

Apart from the European level, I spent most of my time at the local level and I stayed a local JEFer at heart. Campaigns happen there, with the help of the other levels. That is why local sections receive emails for our big campaigns.

I want us to help recreate more connections between sections, by relaunching the twinning programme - twinning activities are now eligible to the Next Generation JEF reganting scheme for EU registered sections and the Taskforce Capacity Building is already at work.

The training we will organise as part of the operating grant in the summer will also be the occasion for sections to meet and share good practices and strengthen the links with the European level. In terms of communication we also discussed starting a Whatsapp channel and the board is reaching out monthly to each section so we keep each other updated and can also share information between sections.

Any JEFer can also come to my open hour, every first Wednesday of the month at 5-7pm CET/CEST. Write to christelle.savall at jef.eu to share ideas, discuss or ask questions.

Is there any book/movie/article on European politics that you would like to recommend to our readers? 😊

I am currently watching Servant of the People, the Ukrainian TV series in which Zelenskyy is President. I highly recommend it, I particularly liked the bashing of Lukashenka, the dictator of Belarus in it! Otherwise Parliament is always a safe bet.

TNF thanks Christelle for the interesting interview!

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