Projects, Projects, Projects: Agora Catania Gave New Life to AEGEE

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Which head­line would you like to see about Ago­ra Cata­nia? Prob­a­bly noth­ing about fights on the stage or bureau­cra­cy fatigue. What about a moti­vat­ing Ago­ra, an event that shows the par­tic­i­pants why AEGEE was found­ed in first place: to work togeth­er with peo­ple from all over Europe in order to fos­ter Euro­pean inte­gra­tion. This lit­tle sum­ma­ry of Ago­ra Cata­nia is still com­plete­ly fic­tion – but in four months it could be real­i­ty. It is up to you. Join us to the trip to the future.

Philipp Blum inspired many peo­ple

AEGEE’s first gen­er­al assem­bly in Sici­ly, which took place in the last week of Sep­tem­ber, will be remem­bered for two things: the great hos­pi­tal­i­ty and per­fect orga­ni­za­tion by AEGEE-Cata­nia – and for its opti­mistic spir­it. “It was an Ago­ra that showed us how AEGEE can con­tribute to a bet­ter Europe” was a sen­tence that many del­e­gates used. Espe­cial­ly the mul­ti­tude of dar­ing Euro­pean projects, the cre­ative think­ing and the return of the Fields of Actions made many par­tic­i­pants enthu­si­as­tic.

The great spir­it was in parts due to a very suc­cess­ful pre-event that inspired many peo­ple. In AEGEE’s first “Project Lab” alto­geth­er 25 par­tic­i­pants devel­oped many amaz­ing local and Euro­pean project ideas that will be put into prac­tice in 2018. In this three-day long event the par­tic­i­pants also acquired knowl­edge and skills how to make a fan­tas­tic project. “It was very impor­tant to show that peo­ple don’t have to afraid to make a project. It’s not dif­fi­cult at all”, said Philipp Blum, co-man­ag­er of the event. In two Ago­ra work­shops the Project Lab grad­u­ates inspired 100 oth­er par­tic­i­pants, who are already putting the new ideas to prac­tice.

More action, less talking

The par­tic­i­pants enjoyed the great hos­pi­tal­i­ty and cui­sine in Cata­nia

Work­shops were a key fac­tor for the suc­cess of Ago­ra Cata­nia in gen­er­al. The Chair and the CD decid­ed to give a lot of space to the cre­ative thinkers and vision­ary plan­ners in the net­work. This was how­ev­er only pos­si­ble due to the fact that there were only very few pro­pos­als. “Some­how every­one real­ized that every sin­gle pry­ta­ni­um less means one amaz­ing project more for AEGEE – and isn’t that why we joined AEGEE?”, said a sat­is­fied work­shop leader. “We real­ly had the feel­ing that we could shape the future of Europe here at this Ago­ra.” Instead of 20 there were only five pro­pos­als – just like it was com­mon around 10–15 years ago when every­one was so busy with orga­niz­ing things that pro­pos­als on dead­lines or oth­er tech­ni­cal issues did not mat­ter so much.

There were so many things on the draw­ing board. For exam­ple the Migra­tion Project, which was start­ed by a few Ital­ian locals right after the spring Ago­ra in Enschede and has now already 15 con­firmed con­fer­ences, debates and study trips in its cal­en­dar all over Europe. By the way, the project team is still look­ing for a host of the Final Con­fer­ence, which shall have 300 par­tic­i­pants from all over Europe in Sep­tem­ber 2018.

Focus on the future of the EU

Also the mul­ti­tude of EU-relat­ed anniver­saries in 2017 inspired many peo­ple. AEGEE near­ly missed the chance to give its own vision to the ques­tion where the EU stands right now and which road it shall take. Just a small recap of the anniver­saries:

  • 60th anniver­sary of Treaty of Rome (25 March 1957)
  • 30 years of Eras­mus (June 1987)
  • 30th anniver­sary of the Euro­pean Sin­gle Act (1 July 1987)
  • 25 years of the Sin­gle Mar­ket (31 Dec 1992)
  • 25 years since the sign­ing of the Maas­tricht Treaty (7 Feb­ru­ary 1992)
  • 15 years of Euro cur­ren­cy (Jan­u­ary 2002)
  • 10 years of EU mem­ber­ship of Roma­nia and Bul­gar­ia

We near­ly missed the chance to get inspired by these anniver­saries”, said a del­e­gate. “It is some­thing dif­fer­ent whether AEGEE joins in an activ­i­ty of anoth­er asso­ci­a­tion like with the Treaty of Rome anniver­sary in spring — or whether we make our own projects!”

Many peo­ple heard for the first time that AEGEE received more than 200,000 Euro fund­ing for the “Europe & Euro” project in 1997. That mile­stone projects con­sist­ed out of 16 inter­na­tion­al and 10 local con­fer­ences, sem­i­nars and an essay com­pe­ti­tion. All these activ­i­ties cir­cled around many eco­nom­i­cal aspects of the EU and its cur­ren­cy. “Right now with the eco­nom­ic dis­crep­an­cies in the Euro­zone and pop­ulist ten­den­cies this is the project we need. The new Europe & Euro project is per­fect for our rep­u­ta­tion”, said a for­mer Pres­i­dent of AEGEE-Europe. “If we do it right, there are many fund­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties.”

Balkan, populism and more

The mas­cot of AEGEE-Cata­nia

Sev­er­al of the oth­er anniver­saries were bun­dled in the “Quo Vadis Europe” project, which aims at address­ing the EU fatigue in Europe and tries to sug­gest reforms for the union of states. Also the “Beau­ti­ful Balkan” project received a lot of atten­tion. It analysed the polit­i­cal, eco­nom­ic and soci­ety-relat­ed per­spec­tives of Roma­nia and Bul­gar­ia, but also of oth­er coun­tries, such as con­flict-rid­den Mace­do­nia. And of course the project “Pop­ulism in Europe’s Heart” with con­fer­ences, sem­i­nars, a case study trip and oth­er activ­i­ties in the Viseg­rad coun­tries Hun­gary, Poland, Slo­va­kia and Czech Repub­lic made many locals join.

Sev­er­al of these projects were inte­grat­ed spon­ta­neous­ly in the Action Agen­da, since they fit very well in the new Focus Areas Equal Rights, Civic Edu­ca­tion, Youth Devel­op­ment and Euro­pean Cit­i­zen­ship. Of course there also oth­er amaz­ing projects relat­ed to equal­i­ty, civic edu­ca­tion and more – there were sim­ply too many ideas to men­tion all of them here.

Demand for more trainings

Spec­tac­u­lar Euro­pean Night

With all these events there will be a big demand in project mange­ment skills, which will cre­ate oppor­tu­ni­ties to kick­start the Euro­pean Schools again”, said an Acad­e­my mem­ber. Also the idea of an AEGEE-Zagreb mem­ber to cre­ate an Intranet data­base of all inter­na­tion­al AEGEE events that dealt with these top­ics, includ­ing the pro­grammes, was enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly wel­comed at the Ago­ra.

Some con­cerns were raised whether AEGEE would find enough par­tic­i­pants for all these projects. How­ev­er, the major­i­ty of peo­ple argued that these great projects will attract many par­tic­i­pants from out­side of AEGEE – who then hope­ful­ly might then join AEGEE and help to cre­ate even more the­mat­ic events in the future. “This is our chance to stop the brain drain of AEGEE, to stop the loss of mem­bers that turn away and join oth­er, more the­mat­ic asso­ci­a­tions. After years of gloom we don’t want to hear the words Shrink­ing Net­work any­more”, said a del­e­gate.

Peace and stability

Rein­tro­duc­ing the four Main Fields of Action

As you can see, the major­i­ty of the project dis­cussed in Cata­nia cir­cled around the top­ic of “peace and sta­bil­i­ty”. This was not real­ly a big sur­prise, since the EPM con­fer­ence top­ics in the past years were about Refugees in Europe (2016), the rela­tion between EU, Rus­sia, and Ukraine (2015), nation­al­ism (2014) and the future of Europe in gen­er­al (2013). “These are the top­ics that peo­ple real­ly care about, oth­er­wise they would not have been select­ed by major­i­ty vote in the Ago­ra”, said a del­e­gate. “It is quite curi­ous though that the Ago­ra cares most­ly about polit­i­cal top­ics when it comes to the EPM con­fer­ence, but did not choose them for the Strate­gic Plan.”

Many peo­ple in Cata­nia still remem­bered what had hap­pened at EPM Zagreb in Feb­ru­ary and the pre­vi­ous EPMs: As soon as the cur­tain fell over the con­fer­ences and the draft­ing of the Action Agen­da start­ed, the par­tic­i­pants, who had queued for ques­tions about pop­ulism or oth­er con­fer­ence top­ics, sud­den­ly seemed to have reboot­ed their minds and com­plete­ly focused on the four Focus Areas. In Zagreb, it would have been pos­si­ble also to include many aspects of pop­ulism in a few Focus Areas, but this did not hap­pen.

It was strik­ing, painful­ly strik­ing: among the Action Agen­da draft ideas the word pop­ulism was nev­er men­tioned once. It was the same for exam­ple two years ago at EPM Bur­gos. The par­tic­i­pants were very much into the dis­cus­sions about Rus­sia and Ukraine, but when the plan­ning start­ed, it was all gone and wiped out. Some peo­ple had won­dered whether AEGEE had actu­al­ly lost the abil­i­ty to think out of the box.

For­tu­nate­ly, Ago­ra Cata­nia proved that the oppo­site is true!

The return of the Fields of Action

Great Ago­ra organ­is­ers

Peace and Sta­bil­i­ty” was one of the four “Main Fields of Action” until 2013, when the basic pil­lars of AEGEE were erased in order to give high­er sig­nif­i­cance to the Strate­gic Plan and the Action Agen­da. Ago­ra Cata­nia saw the reform of the reform – it brought back the Fields of Action “High­er Edu­ca­tion”, “Peace & Sta­bil­i­ty”, “Cul­tur­al exchange” and “Active Cit­i­zen­ship” after a pro­pos­al suc­cess­ful­ly passed.

How did that hap­pen?

It start­ed at Ago­ra Enschede when dur­ing the last day a team of four peo­ple — Mari­na Klan­j­cic, Pablo Pala­zon, Vio­la Bianchet­ti and Alvaro Gon­za­lez Perez — made many del­e­gates famil­iar with the Fields of Action, which served AEGEE for around 15 years. “It was always so easy to explain poten­tial mem­bers at info desks what AEGEE is about”, said an AEGEE oldie in Enschede. “You just showed the sheet with the pil­lars of the Fields of Action that held the roof of AEGEE — and they under­stood.”

The four pre­sen­ters in Enschede used a dif­fer­ent argu­ment that con­vinced many peo­ple: “A strat­e­gy that changes every year is not a strat­e­gy. The Fields of Action rep­re­sent bet­ter what we per­ma­nent­ly stand for.” Over the fol­low­ing four months they explained the mem­bers what would improve if the Fields of Action were back – and suc­ceed­ed.

Also the Yearplan Projects are back

The great AEGEE-Cata­nia team in Enschede

The Ago­ra in Cata­nia decid­ed also to bring back the Year­plan and Flag­ship Projects and to make them the core of the Action Agen­da. Many peo­ple might still not be famil­iar with those terms, so here is the recap.

Start­ing with 1994, AEGEE cre­at­ed the ancient pre­de­ces­sor to the Strate­gic Plan and the Action Agen­da: the Long Term Pro­gramme (LTP) and the Year­plan. Even Focus Areas exist­ed, they were called “Bas­kets” of the Long Term Pro­gramme, which last­ed three years. How­ev­er, while the cur­rent Agen­da Agen­da some­times los­es itself in man­ag­ing small sep­a­rate objec­tives, the Year­plan was aim­ing at out­lin­ing up to three big par­al­lel Euro­pean projects, involv­ing usu­al­ly many anten­nae.

The Long Term Pro­gramme was just seen as a guide­line, the Ago­ra pre­served itself the flex­i­bil­i­ty to change the the­mat­ic bas­kets, when they saw a big top­ic on the hori­zon or when locals with a great idea stepped up and pre­sent­ed a Year­plan con­cept. Since the LTP was in prac­tice not fol­lowed, it was replaced at Ago­ra Udine in Novem­ber 2000 by the four Main Fields of Action as con­stant ref­er­ence, a Strat­e­gy Plan for the next three years and the Year­plan.

Only much lat­er the clear-cut Year­plan with a few big projects was replaced by the Action Agen­da. So why did Ago­ra Cata­nia regard­ed the Year­plan as bet­ter than the more diverse Action Agen­da? The issue that objec­tives should be mea­sur­able was as impor­tant back then as it has been in recent years. But there is a dif­fer­ence: AEGEE looked at the aspect “mea­sur­able” first and fore­most in regard to the reached tar­get group. The Year­plan on the oth­er hand had a dou­ble per­spec­tive: the Year­plan projects did not only spec­i­fy the num­ber of events and par­tic­i­pants; since the events were usu­al­ly the­mat­ic con­fer­ences car­ried out by anten­nae, much more peo­ple were involved as organ­is­ers. And this was good for the net­work: the anten­nae made great events, strength­ened the skills of the organ­is­ers and helpers and got poten­tial­ly new mem­bers in the process since the tar­get group of the events were stu­dents.

The structure is the key

Of course, there were also Year­plan projects sim­i­lar to today’s objec­tives. An exam­ple: the project “Europe Needs You 2” in 2010 involved 10 peo­ple in 10 locals, which gave 21 work­shops to high school kids (http://www.projects.aegee.org/youropeneedsyou/). A few 100 pupils took part, but only very few mem­bers ben­e­fit­ted from the acquired skills. Their locals did not ben­e­fit very much, since they were not involved as such.

In com­par­i­son, the afore­men­tioned project “Euro & Euro” had these dimen­sions: five large con­fer­ences plus five small sem­i­nars, ten local events, one final inter­na­tion­al con­fer­ence, one essay com­pe­ti­tion, 2000 par­tic­i­pants, 150 speak­ers in 11 coun­tries, wide media cov­er­age and a great result book. The mea­sur­able impact was much big­ger. To use the words of “Europe & Euro” project man­ag­er Bart Neer­scholten: “We dis­trib­uted more than 20.000 posters across 2500 Euro­pean uni­ver­si­ties and col­leges, cre­at­ed an infor­ma­tive web­site, and received near­ly 250 essays and over 1000 com­plet­ed ques­tion­naires on the Euro­pean Mon­e­tary Union.”

Between 2001 and 2005 AEGEE con­duct­ed breath­tak­ing 30 inter­na­tion­al Euro­pean-wide projects, each con­sist­ing of sev­er­al activ­i­ties — that’s six new projects per year. When you look at the AEGEE Address­Book of 2002, it list­ed 19 projects which had just start­ed, were in full swing or just fin­ished.

The hope that AEGEE can reach these num­bers again one day con­vinced the del­e­gates in Cata­nia to vote for the pro­posed reform.

So what is next?

2018 will still be a bumpy road, as always after big reforms. Nev­er­the­less, the enthu­si­asm in the net­work after Ago­ra Cata­nia is stronger than in many years before. The del­e­gates are opti­mistic to meet the chal­lenges: the anten­nae need skills and knowl­edge. If it works, then AEGEE will be stronger than now — and have a big impact on Europe. And that’s worth fight­ing for!

 

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