Keep Calm and Think Europe! St Columb’s College participates in Euroscola school event at EU Parliament in Strasbourg.
On 20th January, twenty-four students from Year 13 had the opportunity to participate in the Euroscola day in Strasbourg. Euroscola is a unique event for schools to learn about European integration by experiencing it first-hand. Students from the 28 EU Member States are selected to become Members of the European Parliament for one day at the Parliament's premises in Strasbourg, debating current affairs with their peers from all over Europe, practising their language skills, taking part in plenary discussions and making new friends across the continent.
Jack Ward writes about his experience:
As I relaxed in the comfy armchair of seat 638 in the great assembly of the EU Parliament, I couldn't help but reflect on a memorable moment from my 6th year at St. Columb's College: the half-bemused, half-defeated expression of Ms Lübbeke, head of German, as she categorically stated with palpable irony, "there is no way we'll get EU funding for another trip to Strasbourg, in the face of Brexit". Ouch.
Fast forward to Friday 20th January and I found myself, with 23 other college boys, representing the UK at the European Parliament building in Strasbourg, France, along with some incredible, politically motivated young people from 27 other EU countries. There were representatives from Malta, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Italy, the list goes on...
The objective of Euroscola, as stated on their website: "to experience a day as an MEP, engaging in the EU decision-making through debates in the hemicycle, negotiations with their colleagues, voting and adopting resolutions on topical European issues. It gives students the opportunity to interact and exchange information in a foreign language and also highlights the importance of cross-cultural cooperation. Furthermore, students are given the possibility to introduce their school and the region where they come from, which provides for greater diversity and enriches the cultural dialogue."
We arrived at the co-headquarters building at 9:00am. Baltic. -10 degrees! As soon as I stepped off the bus, I looked for some sort of doorway into warmth, but instead my eyes rested on the longest queue I'd ever seen... A sea of students from all over Europe, waiting with anticipation to enter the grand building of the EU Parliament.
Once in, we were greeted by an administrator who helped us get into our respective groups that would form the basis of what we debated and discussed in the group-work activities. There were 6 topics that we could choose from; 'Environment and sustainability', 'The Future of Europe' and 'Immigration and Integration' to name just a few.
Then, they took us to the main attraction; the EU main assembly chamber. What a sight to behold! - 600 rows of seats, where, on any given day, MEPs would sit and discuss policies and implement the legislation that defines many European countries' laws and rules.
After recovering from the visual grandeur of the great hemicycle, proceedings began with a welcoming speech and presentations from the administrators. Then getting down to business; presenting our country to the audience. I'll savour the moment, along with the rest of the assembly, of listening to our own Ronan Foley, Callum Doherty and Robert Kelly give an outstandingly enthusiastic presentation to the EU Parliament that included a menagerie of German, French and a tear-jerking rendition of Danny Boy. No one left that building without knowing how special Derry is!
After the presentations, we had the opportunity to meet and ask questions directly to the German MEP Michael Gahler. Questions raised ranged from the Brexit consequences - including on Scotland and Northern Ireland, and on the future of the EU - to the ability of the EU to face political instability, both at national level, and on its external borders, like the Balkans.
Mr. Gahler, who has been an MEP since 1999 and dealt with foreign policy issues, including security and defence and relations with Africa, fascinated us by his precise and up-to-date answers. There were still dozens of eager hands flying in the air when the discussion had to be drawn to a close, as it was time for lunch!
During lunch, I sat with Mr Gahler and other EU officials. Mingling with these diplomats was a surreal experience, as I had the opportunity to ask questions, specifically regarding Northern Ireland, on a one-to-one basis. Mr Gahler was incredibly knowledgeable and clued-in to politics here in the north, as we discussed the circumstances of a hard border after Brexit, and the possibility of a border poll. All while chewing down on an exquisite French Spaghetti Bolognese.
After supper, we returned to the hemicycle, only to disperse into our respective groups, based on our chosen topics. I, along with three other college boys, went to a separate room to discuss 'The Future of Europe' with students from many other EU countries. A mini election was held, where we voted on who would best represent our group’s views when we returned to the great hemicycle. After we created and agreed on new proposed policies and legislation, (having also had the chance to talk and share stories with other amazing students from all over Europe), we went back, for the final time, to that gargantuan room. Now the real youth-discussion began.
Hundreds of hands flying in the air, all belonging to eager youths with their own voices to share with the assembly and all directed at the lowly elected representatives who sat at the front, taking in the barrage of points and opinions... I tell you, I did not envy them! A cap of ten minutes for each topic was enforced, to allow each of the five representatives to take questions from the floor. This arrangement allowed everyone an equal time to debate with their peers, otherwise I'd still be there... debating yet!
The clock struck five and it was time for some cool down after the previous hour of intense ravings and political engagements. Of course, what better way to relax a group of young, would-be politicians than with a quiz! (Although this did allow us to use the voting mechanism on our desk, which was pretty cool).
After the quiz had been completed and the winners crowned, all chosen representatives from each of their countries left the room only to come back carrying a massive flag each. One for each of the 28 EU member states. If there was one image which encapsulated European solidarity and youth - this would be it.
What a fitting culmination and conclusion to end an incredible, enlightening and, above all, an educational experience.
Thank You EU!
Auf Wiedersehen! Au revoir! Adios!