European Charlemagne Youth Prize: Watch Out Europe, Youth is Coming!

On May 29 2014, the German city of Aachen hosted the annual International Charlemagne Prize ceremony. The Prize has a 64-year old history: it was initiated in 1949 by a businessman from Aachen, Kurt Pfeiffer, with the aim of acknowledging the contribution to the development of a united Europe. Since then, numerous politicians and European activists were honoured with this high award, among others Sir Winston S. Churchill, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, former President of Czech Republic Václav Havel, Pope John Paul II and Bill Clinton. In 2014 the International Charlemagne Prize was awarded to the President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy for his outstanding contribution to unity of Europe. The prime-ministers of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia arrived to the ceremony in Aachener City Hall to congratulate Van Rompuy.

The International Charlemagne Prize 2014 happened to take place in a difficult period for Europe: flourishing crisis in a number of European countries, violent conflicts in Ukraine and the triumph of right-wing parties at the European Parliament elections represent a desperate need for change.

But if the politicians are still searching for reasons, there are those who are brave enough to deal with the consequences. 28 young people from all the EU member countries who accepted the challenge of making a change, were celebrated on May 27 at European Charlemagne Youth Prize 2014 in the assembly hall of Rhine-Westphalia Technical University in Aachen.

The European Charlemagne Youth Prize was launched seven years ago as recognition of contribution of young Europeans to the European integration and the development of European spirit. The variety of both topics and forms of the projects presented was impressive: workshops, seminars, conferences, work camps, Model European Parliament, cultural exchanges, online journal, photo-contest, festival of cultures, orchestra and choir exchange. The issues covered in the projects show the readiness of young people to overtake the responsibility for Europe: developing tolerance between communities, European integration through culture, mobility, environmental protection, fighting stereotypes, human rights, building European identity, education, bringing Europeans closer to each other. Still, the issue of youth unemployment was on the top of the list on that day. No wonder that two of the projects devoted to this topic were awarded with the 3rd and the 2nd prizes.

The project Employment4U from Cyprus, which got the 3rd award, organized a training week for 26 young people from the countries mostly affected by the crisis with the goal of increasing their employability. Christiana Malay, who presented Employment4U in Aachen, has mentioned that most of the participants found a proper job after taking part in the project. The goal of the Dutch initiative JouwDelft & Co, which gained the 2nd prize, was to increase the employability and employment of young people on the local level. In November 2013 JouwDelft & Co together with youth from other European cities held a congress, which resulted in the resolution on fighting youth unemployment that was forwarded to the European Parliament.

Among other projects which contributed to the issue of youth unemployment, I would like to mention Project 668 from Slovenia, EJP Europolis from Belgium and Invest in Education from Greece.

But the winner of the contest became the project which managed to cover all the significant youth issues in Europe at once: Our Europe from Denmark is a 12-month long journey through 24 European countries, which portrays young Europeans with their habits, wishes, fears and expectations. Peter Laugesen, the heart and the soul of Our Europe, confesses that he feels even more European after his journey. While travelling, Peter discovered many similarities between different Europeans, especially their openness to a dialogue and readiness to act. In the series of reports from different countries Our Europe brings young Europeans together, enabling them to be the voices of their generation. Peter himself is a great example of a modern European, he is enthusiastic, determined and full of ideas. He strongly believes in European identity and is convinced that young generations are able to fight the consequences of the crisis. His saying “We have to be strong and arrogant enough to say it’s our Europe!” can be the motto for the whole generation Y.


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European Charlemagne Youth Prize 2014 demonstrated the strong will of European youth to get the situation under their control. They don’t want to wait and hope anymore that tomorrow will be better than today, that someone will come and provide them with jobs, education and European identity. The vice-president of the European Parliament Anni Podimata has mentioned in her speech at the ceremony that “these young people belong to the most educated generation in history and with their projects they prove that united Europe has future”. Unfortunately, the most educated generation is still the most jobless: 2 out of 3 Europeans under 25 are unemployed. The issues of youth unemployment and disappointment in Europe were in the air during the European Charlemagne Youth Prize 2014, as well as during the Charlemagne Prize Forum on Europe on May, 28.

The Forum included the podium discussion Europe 2.0: Who, why and where?, during which the laureates of International Charlemagne Prize Jean-Claude Trichet and György Konrád together with Luis Alvarado Martinez from AEGEE-Europe (the winner of ECYP2013), Elina Makri (the winner of ECYP2012) and John Holten (writer, the 2nd winner of ECYP2010) were debating on the future perspectives of Europe. Luis Alvarado Martinez pointed out that “The issue of youth unemployment is not an economic problem – it is a social and psychological problem in Europe. People exclude themselves from the society, they feel ashamed and faithless”. The problem is that for the majority of people Europe is still an abstract phenomenon they can’t identify themselves with. The turnout of the voters at the recent European Parliament election is the best evidence of it – in most countries the citizens are rejecting European institutions. Mr. Alvarado Martinez has a solution of this problem: “We don’t have to take for granted the rejection of Europe. We want a new project to re-inspire youth and their belief in European dream”. This attitude is shared also by Maja Stojanovska, the national ECYP2014 winner from Sweden: “We need education about European ideology, not about the European Parliament or the Council of Europe” – stated the young activist at the Charlemagne Prize Forum.

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The winners (left to right): Peter Laugesen, Aron van Wijk, Christiana Malay. 

Now the celebrations are over, the laureates and national winners got back to their home countries to continue their activities for the good of European youth. The European authorities got the message and hopefully will commit effectively to the raising of the European spirit among the youth and getting them more involved into life of united Europe. Peter Laugesen is planning to produce a documentary about Our Europe journey and share his enthusiasm with more Europeans.

And you? What are you going to do to make Europe a place to be for young people? Do you have any ideas? Share them with OneEurope, with your local AEGEE antennae or the national winners of ECYP2014 you like. Who knows, maybe your project will win the European Charlemagne Youth Prize 2015.

Find out more about European Charlemagne Youth Prize at

http://www.charlemagneyouthprize.eu/en/laureates.html

Our Europe http://our-europe.com/

JouwDelft & Co http://jouwdelftandco.com/

Employment4U https://www.facebook.com/youthdynamicscy

I would like to thank AEGEE-Aachen for giving me and other young journalists the honour to visit this extraordinary event and spread the word about it. 

Edited by: Celeste Concari 
Photo Credits: Hanna Starchyk, Dessy Stoyanova