Association des États Généraux des Étudiants de l’Europe (AEGEE), also known in English as European Students’ Forum, is one of the largest trans-national, interdisciplinary student organisations in Europe. When was AEGEE founded and how was the idea conceived?

AEGEE was founded in 1985 in Paris. According to Franck Biancheri, its founder, “the main role of AEGEE was and is to create conscious European citizens by exposing them to other Europeans, and to train active European citizens by making them work with other Europeans”, and this vision has remained since! AEGEE strives for a democratic, diverse and borderless Europe, which is socially, economically and politically integrated, and values the participation of young people in its construction and development.

What are AEGEE’s mission and goals?

AEGEE empowers students and young people in Europe to take an active role in society. It creates a space for dialogue and learning opportunities as well as acts as their representative towards decision-makers. Moreover, AEGEE strengthens mutual understanding and brings Europe closer to young people.

How do we do it? Through intercultural exchange, personal development and non-formal education, thematic projects, doing policy and advocacy, and providing a forum for discussion. These five aspects and means are part of our own identity, and what makes us special as a pan-European organisation.

Why should students and young people join AEGEE? What skills and experience will they gain?

AEGEE provides plenty of opportunities to develop yourself while traveling all over Europe; by organising thematic conferences, projects, training courses and all sorts of European events, we promote understanding and cooperation among young Europeans. Through non-formal education methods, our members have gained several skills such as Communication skills, Teamwork, Interpersonal skills, Languages, Project management, Public speaking or Leadership!

Some of AEGEE’s most current projects are Summer University, Eastern Partnership Project and Election Observation Project. Would you like to share with us a few words for these projects and the organisation’s activities in general?

The Summer University Project is our longest-running one, born in 1988 with the intention to promote the European integration. In 2016, 73 events organised by our AEGEE locals will be taking place during the summer, on a wide variety of topics – languages, education, sports, soft skills, culture and more!

The Eastern Partnership Project is on its second cycle now, to promote the idea of active citizenship and youth participation in the Eastern Partnership program region and build mutual understanding and trust between people from the Eastern Partnership countries and the rest of Europe. The AEGEE Election Observation Project aims to make a direct contribution to democracy in Europe by enhancing the transparency of elections; shed light on the engagement and involvement of young people in electoral processes today; give young Europeans the opportunity to gain professional experience as election observers, and build a European network of friends and colleagues as a forum to develop a common vision for our shared future.

Moreover, it is also worth mentioning two of our newest-comers: Democracy in Practice, which aims to raise awareness among young people about the importance of Human Rights as the basis of a healthy democracy in order to promote social and political participation of young people in their local, national and European environment; and Your Vision for EUrope project, about educating people about European politics, closing the gap between youth and European policy makers and promoting discussion on the future of Europe. They recently launched the Faces of Europe photoblog, an initiative inspired in the famous ‘Humans of…’ series.

If you could suggest five significant issues that we all need to draw our attention to in Europe, what would they be?

We would say, for certain, our four main Focus Areas. First, due to the rise of euroskepticism and doubts about European integration, we need to shed a light and spread ‘europtimism’, in order to reconnect young people with the European process. Secondly, youth employment, since the figures of unemployed youth in certain countries are staggering. Thirdly, youth mobility – Europe has provided plenty of mobility opportunities that we need to preserve and promote. And fourth, civic education: in order to have active young citizens, we must make sure that the quality of the education for citizenship in our schools matches the needs of our society. These are the four topics that AEGEE is mostly working on since 2014. However, if we should have to select a fifth one, we would certainly highlight digital democracy, which is an issue that we started working on recently. Because AEGEE is not only reacting to current developments but anticipating to the future!

In the aftermath of the atrocities of the Second World War (WWII), distinguished European leaders and figures envisioned and began working towards a peaceful and wealthy united Europe. The Greek financial crisis, the European refugee crisis, the outburst of xenophobic and racist reactions and the spreading of terrorist attacks are some of the biggest challenges that Europe faces nowadays. Europe struggles to cope with the crises and deal appropriately with these challenges;  this has disappointed many young people and led them to doubt the idea of a united Europe. What is your opinion on this and what would you advise young people who feel that way?

Our generation has often taken peace for granted, and often forget that the European integration project is a peace project. By several of our initiatives, we always aim to make Europe more personal and shed a positive light on Europe and all the opportunities that has given to us, in terms of rights, progress, employment and learning opportunities, mobility, you name it. Hot topics such as the refugee crisis, the rising hate speech all over the continent and attempts to regress in our democratic rights prove that what we need is not only more Europe, but a better Europe based on the principles of tolerance and solidarity, values that AEGEE strongly strives for.

What should we expect from AEGEE in the near future? What is your vision for the organisation’s course?  

In the nearest future, you will hear AEGEE talking a lot about democratisation and digital democracy in Europe; this will definitely be one of our ‘hottest’ topics of the year. Moreover, several advocacy processes are coming up, especially regarding to civic education in Europe, youth mobility and employment. And we will hold several thematic conferences, about the Europe that we want, and also about current developments, such as our European Planning Meeting in Leiden, which will be devoted to the topic of the refugee crisis.

How can we and other people who wish to be a part of AEGEE’s projects and activities help?

Certainly by staying tuned to our communication channels: by subscribing to our newsletter, our Facebook and Twitter accounts! We are always available and eager to join forces for further cooperations.