United traits?

30th September 2005 at 01:00
Does the concept of European citizenship appeal to the young people at EuroJam, asks Yojana Sharma

European citizenship forms part of the proposed EU constitution. The idea being that political union will create a loyalty to a joint European ideal.

However, with little clear idea of where the European project is heading since the 'no' votes against the constitution in the Dutch and French referenda, young people can be forgiven for wondering whether such a thing as European citizenship exists.

Those attending the EuroJam Scouting event in Chelmsford this summer were able to reflect on their first-hand experience of meeting fellow Europeans.

Did they feel part of an emerging European citizenry.

"It is possible to be a European citizen," says Fabio Formisano, 14, from Naples in Italy. But he does not feel it is happening yet. "It will be great. The USA has many states but the people are proud of their whole federation and not only their state."

Fabio believes the constitution is not the answer. "The problem with it is that the people were not consulted. Three, four brains are better than one, so we must take ideas from all the people in Europe to produce one European idea."

Morten Madsen, 17, from Skamderborg in Denmark wondered if the European idea is already outdated. "We need to think about the whole world - the Middle East, Asia, Africa, not just about Europe.

"We cannot just sit around hoping for a perfect Europe while the rest of the world is discontented," he adds, referring to the terrorist attacks in New York, Madrid and London by disaffected groups within and outside Europe. "We are living in a world with a lot of prejudice, even if people don't admit it."

Although Denmark has been an EU member for decades, Morten insists: "I don't feel European because I don't always agree with EU decisions. I am more Danish than European." But that doesn't mean he is isolated or in any way "introverted", he says.

Young people from countries newly joined to the EU are less knowledgeable about Europe, its constitution and its people, particularly if EU membership has followed years of isolation behind the Iron Curtain, as in the case of the Baltic states.

"I don't feel very different now that we are in the EU," says Liga Purene, 15, from Elksni in Latvia. The end of communism and breaking away from Russian control was a bigger change for her. Liga has to think hard about what it means to be European. "Yes, I think I am a European citizen," she says, finally. "It means having more chances. It means I can do anything anyone else in Europe can do. Now we Latvians have more opportunities to travel, study and work abroad."

Although Cyprus joined the EU at the same time as Latvia, 17-year-old Greek Cypriot Andreas Karagiorges was one of the few to see political benefits in EU membership: "Politically Cyprus is now a European member and European leaders will defend our rights and or help us when we need help. With a third of our country occupied, being in Europe is a better background for a solution for Cyprus.

"It is not like I woke up the next day and said, 'I am European', but it feels different because we have been trying to join the EU for some time and now we have finally achieved it. We feel hopeful, we are no longer on our own."

But in his view, political and economic union is a long way from creating one European citizenship. "That's still just an idea," he says. "Europe is not yet ready. People still want to hang on to their individual traditions, beliefs and cultural identities.

"Europe is still at the stage where we are creating a complex of countries which communicate better between each other on lots of different issues.

Maybe in the future there will be a European constitution that all European people will accept. And then they will want to be European citizens."

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