The democratic deficit is perhaps one of the most famous problems that has been plaguing the European Union and its (many) organizations - not all national education systems pay a lot of attention to the EU or European affairs in general, and many EU citizens have a poor understanding of what all these organizations actually do. Thankfully, there have been many projects that attempt to address this issue, both large- and small-scale. One such project is MEUculture, led by a team of five international students who have made it their goal to set up a beginner-friendly yet informative and interesting event to educate young people about the EU. I sat down with two of the MEUculture project members, Melanie and Elisabetta, to talk about their inspiration for the project and what their work consists of.
Can you explain what the project entails? What should someone who knows very little about EU institutions expect from your event(s)?
Gabriela (fellow project member, ed.) thought it would be interesting to explain how EU organizations work in the form of an approachable event. It can be really challenging to figure out the exact institutional structure of the European Union, regardless of your background - we noticed that people who were simply interested in European affairs or wanted to be a good citizen often wanted to get involved or gain more knowledge, but simply didn’t know where to start.
We also got the sense that these kinds of events can be a little intimidating; if you’re young or don’t have a background in European politics, for instance, it’s easy to think that you will be the only person who doesn’t know what’s going on, or that everyone else knows far more than you. Even in our own project group, some of us were interested in participating in these simulation events, but felt like we didn’t have the right knowledge (even though we are all involved in a MA program about Europe!). Because of that demand, we wanted to organize a beginner-friendly event to inform a general audience about the inner workings of EU organizations and about how you, as a citizen, can participate in them.
What is the format of your event like? Which institution will you be using for the basis of your simulation?
We’re first organizing a small workshop that explains how a MEU works, after which we will be hosting a small-scale MEU debate in which we will be using the structure of the European Council. That means that participants will be representing different countries in the simulation, mimicking the real-life setup of the European Council.
What drove you as a group to start this project?
Aside from the general demand for more approachable avenues into European affairs, we had a bit of personal experience in this department as well. Even though our Master’s program features many different areas of European affairs, we really wanted something more - the University of Göttingen (one of the partner universities of the Euroculture MA, ed.) hosted a simulation-type event during the 2020 fall semester, and we wanted to go beyond that experience.
Even if you study and work within the realm of European affairs and EU institutions for years, the EU as a system can still remain very abstract and distant. We thought this could be an opportunity to bring (part of) the EU infrastructure a little closer to home, especially for young people who are not very experienced yet.
Is the MEU event aimed at European students specifically, or can anyone participate in the event? Is previous experience in Model European Union simulations or similar events a requirement?
The most important requirement for participants who are interested in our event is that they are curious about European affairs and interested in EU institutions! We welcome university students, but we are also open to young professionals and older high school students. Because our MEU is geared towards ‘beginners’ who do not have much experience in this field yet, we encourage any young people who are interested in our work to sign up.
From the promotional work we have done so far, there seems to be a good amount of interest in our project already, including many people who we don’t know from our own MA program!
Based on the remarks you’ve made about the ‘distance’ between the EU system and its (young) citizens, what is your opinion on the changes that are necessary to change this alienation? What can the EU do to improve its image? Or should these efforts be organized by students and young professionals like yourselves?
Ideally, there would be a mixture of both. It would be great if the European Union could offer its own ideas and present its own efforts to make itself more approachable to the general public. However, these kinds of projects tend to be a lot more effective if there is a genuine interest and demand for it as well, so it’s important for us as citizens to stay involved and connected to the EU system as well.
One area that could benefit from improvement is the political education that is given in schools throughout Europe; in many schools, little to no attention is paid to the history or organizational structure of the EU, or what it even does. Trying to promote political education or civics education where there is space for European affairs could be one place to start, and we believe that leaving it up to youth as to whether they want to participate in European affairs is the most natural way to do so.
The MEU simulation will be happening towards the end of June. If you’re interested or if you have questions, make sure to check out the MEUculture Instagram page (@meuculture or follow this link)!
Image credits: MEUculture logo by @annalisamarzoli; find her account here.