Euroscola: A Day at the European Parliament

Euroscola is a multilingual programme designed to give schoolchildren from all parts of Europe a chance to participate in the workings of the European Parliament. A group of 500 secondaryschool pupils spend one day learning about the European Parliament' s role, and debate a chosen issue. The results of the debate are presented in the Chamber of the European Parliament at the end of the day and later passed on to the relevant parliamentary bodies. Our correspondent in Strasbourg, Andrzej Geber, spoke to JeanJacques Fritz, Director of the Strasbourg Bureau of the European Parliament, about the programme.

A.G.: European integration is a fashionable word these days, although it has a different meaning in various countries. The united Europe has and will continue to have a strong impact on the lives and careers of young people. Is it the intention of the Euroscola to make young people realize the opportunities which open for them thanks to the unification process of our continent?

J.J. Fritz: In the initial years of the Euroscola programme, our objective was to provide information about Europe and, for instance, the criteria of admitting new member states. However, in the last ten years the situation has changed radically. The vision of a united continent has become reality. During the same period of transformation and significant historical events, people' s trust in politics has suffered a crisis. In these new circumstances, the Euroscola programme also had to change. Currently, one of our main goals is to explain to young people that politics is a useful tool in helping others and co-operating with our neighbours. We emphasize that democracy requires from all of us involvement and work for the benefit of all. This is the message we try to convey, and, judging from the outcome of our discussions, we are successful.

In your opinion, what distinguishes Euroscola from other youth gatherings?

One of the most valuable aspects of Euroscola is that it creates a common forum in which young people may openly discuss various issues. It also gives them an opportunity to exchange their experiences and compare the problems faced by various countries. Let us recall the situation from five or six years ago, when German youth on numerous occasions addressed the issue of environmental protection, while their French friends demonstrated no interest in the matter. Now environmental protection has become not only a European, but a global issue to which we all pay a lot of attention. Therefore, the mutual exchange of information is not only interesting, but also educational.

Isn' t there something artificial in your programme? Do the young people really connect or do they only participate in a scenario prepared by adults?

It' s amazing to see that young people within one day naturally adapt to a new situation and actively participate in an international debate. Initially, they repeat the opinions heard from adults, such as" everything' s too expensive" ," people don' t benefit from a united Europe" , etc., but after a few hours it changes. In the afternoon session they seem to speak a different language and enthusiastically conduct various discussions. Maybe what they say is not a revelation, but it' s a pleasure to see their involvement and faith. And this is one of the goals of the meetings.

In a few years new states will become members of the Union. Polish young people will be able to participate in the European community almost overnight. Do you think that young Poles should prepare for this in any special way?

I believe that young people are more open to anything new than adults. The flow of information is almost instantaneous these days, so we should all know what is going on in other countries. The transformation experienced by Poland in the past ten years is difficult to adapt to mainly by adults. For them, democracy and the abolition of the old regime were like a dream come true, but the reality turned out to be more difficult than expected and caused some disappointment. On the other hand, young people do not wait for their dreams to come true, but enter the real world and easily adapt to new situations.

The union of Europe will soon celebrate its fiftieth anniversary. Do young people appreciate what has been done towards unification, or do they treat it as a natural, inevitable process?

Opinions differ on what form the anniversary celebrations should have. Some would like to refer to the creators of the Community, such as Robert Schumann, Winston Churchill, Spaak, etc., and focus on them. On the other hand, others claim that since we are in a very new Europe, we should organize a big event for young people, focusing on the year 2000 and the coming millennium. Irrespective of what the celebrations will be like, we will soon witness great changes. The new member states of the Union will contribute to the change of our points of view. We will exchange experiences, we will benefit from the legacy of many generations of many countries. But our task still remains to convince people that the future of Europe is in their hands. It is not so important to know how European institutions operate, but to believe that each of us has a share in organizing life in a united Europe. So far over five hundred students of Polish secondary schools have participated in the Euroscola programme. They often demonstrated more knowledge of the European Union than their colleagues living in the member states. The conclusion is that young people should never feel inferior to their peers from other countries.