The refugee crisis is not only the main topic in Europe’s politics and media; it was also in the focus of this year’s European Planning Meeting (EPM), which took place from 25th till 28th of February in Leiden. Luca Bisighini, AEGEE-Europe’s Policy Officer on Migration, shared his impressions with the Golden Times readers.
Golden Times: Luca, what’s your overall impression of EPM Leiden?
Luca Bisighini: It was positive, fruitful and engaging. Especially the topic of refugees got enough and detailed attention from everybody.
Golden Times: The topics refugees and migration were in the focus of the EPM. Did the presentations, discussions and workshops about that topic provide a good basis for discussion?
Luca: I can tell you that the content managers provided everything, from a theoretical background before the event, to direct meetings with actual refugees and academic people.
Golden Times: Which statements or ideas did caused the biggest controversies — and which one caused the biggest consent? Luca: I still don’t get why during the debate “Open Europe versus Fortress Europe” half of the audience just changed their mind, while Jon and Paul were talking about commutating the refugee policy into a “Bringing in the smartest guys” policy through hotspots.
Golden Times: Can you elaborate on that?
Luca: It was part of an Oxford Debate. In the end of it, the audience had to vote for one of two choices. Of course, Paul and Jon played their part in a very good way — kudos to them. I may understand that their speeches may have sounded more convincing. But in reality, those ideas are totally not applicable and against the Geneva Convention itself. I found the whole situation really controversial: after the background provided by the content managers, and after the talks of the academics almost half of the people probably didn’t understand why the vote was a huge mistake. By the way, due to the structure of the Oxford Debate, I didn’t have chance to answer to that proposal.
Golden Times: Do you have an idea what can be done better?
Luca: I think the Oxford Debate has to be restructured in a better way next time. Nevertheless, I admire the fact that the content managers of the EPM introduced such a debating tool.
Golden Times: You are Policy Officer on Migration. What was your role and involvement in the EPM?
Luca: I participated in the Oxford Debate, did the “Policy workshop” with Pablo from the CD about how to make a Policy Paper, where I explained the different positions AEGEE may take about a topic — and I participated in the AEGEE Fair.
Golden Times: AEGEE exists in 40 countries — whose governments, society and media all have different views on the topic at hand. In some countries they call the situation “refugee crisis” in others “migrant crisis” — which are totally different terms. Did this reflect on the EPM participants? And was there any conclusion?
Luca: Absolutely. One clear example was in fact the Oxford Debate, when half of the people changed their mind without even knowing that their new opinion was in conflict with the principles of the Geneva Convention. This felt very awkward. And indeed, the opinions across Europe is incredibly diverse and different. During the EPM, almost the absolute majority was “pro refugees”, but I have serious doubts about it.
Golden Times: You made a survey on migration in AEGEE and therefore probably have the best overview on the attitudes of AEGEE members in this topic. You presented the main survey results at the EPM. Can you summarise them?
Luca: Well, first I need to state that the survey was made before the EPM. So, I can tell you for sure that almost half of the people who participated in the survey were aware and informed about the topic before coming to the EPM, almost the other half was informed but sometimes confused to certain extent. A tiny sample of people in AEGEE just loves the idea of Fortress Europe that much — I am sarcastic about it — to consider refugees or economic migrants as “Not welcome”.
Golden Times: For your survey you received 219 replies from 88 antennae in 30 countries. Did you expect so much?
Luca: I actually expected more! Actually, I put a lot of effort in making it, sharing it, writing e-mails to everybody about it, overcoming some resistances from certain people… In the end I got those numbers and I think it was a very representative sample of the association as a whole.
Golden Times: What does the level of participation mean for the importance of the topic in AEGEE?
Luca: The meaning is pretty easy: by finding such a good sample of people, the survey assumes relevant statistical importance enough to be quoted without any kind of relevance problem in my policy paper. If the Policy Paper will be later ratified in Spring Agora Bergamo, we’ll be able to pass from a 1.68% validity — the 219 people — to a 100% validity. Without that survey, maybe some AEGEEans wouldn’t have seen the whole Policy Paper as reliable.
Golden Times: Were any concrete projects or actions on refugees decided as a result of the EPM?
Luca: For sure there will be future projects or events or actions about it, but I don’t remember anything so concrete that arose as a result of the EPM.
Golden Times: The EPM also dealt with the Action Agenda. How do you remember that part? What were the main ideas for AEGEE that stuck in your head? Luca: Well, talking about concrete projects, for sure the Action Agenda was the most concrete thing by far that I remember. There were so many ideas – and all of those were good.
Golden Times: A few words about the content organisation. Did Chair, EPM content managers, Action Agenda Coordination Committee and CD do a good job in preparing the event?
Luca: I think all of them contributed to a good event. My special mention goes to the guys and girls of the Action Agenda Coordination Committee: they were incredibly active, positive and passionate.
Golden Times: What about AEGEE-Leiden? How well did they did their job in organising the event?
Luca: They worked in a good way, they deserve to host another big event like this one.
Golden Times: How good were accommodation, food, parties and locations in general?
Luca: The accommodation was good, the food was fine with too many sandwiches and too much Drinky, the parties were half good and half inadequate – in Leiden there was probably the worst European Night I have ever had — and the locations were optimal.