Have you ever won­dered why more than half of the select­ed Ago­ra par­tic­i­pants are vis­i­tors and not del­e­gates? This is quite untyp­i­cal for the par­lia­ment of a big asso­ci­a­tion, but essen­tial for the func­tion­ing of AEGEE. The way how these vis­i­tors are select­ed is an ongo­ing top­ic in AEGEE. Find out more about it in this arti­cle.

EGEE II and Agora München in 1986.
The first Ago­ra took place dur­ing the con­gress EGEE II in Munich in 1986.

AEGEE’s first Ago­ra was small. Around 50 peo­ple from 18 anten­nae took part – and it last­ed just a few hours. It was actu­al­ly not an own event – it took place dur­ing the the­mat­ic con­fer­ence EGEE II, which last­ed from 19th to 25th of April 1986, exact­ly one year after AEGEE’s found­ing con­fer­ence EGEE I. On Tues­day after­noon, on 22nd of April 1986, 50 of the par­tic­i­pants gath­ered for the Ago­ra, right after lunch and before a pan­el dis­cus­sion about the “Ger­man ques­tion”.

For the next cou­ple of years, the spring Ago­ra was always con­nect­ed to a big the­mat­ic con­fer­ence. This made the Ago­ra open not only for the three del­e­gates per anten­nae, but also for the con­fer­ence par­tic­i­pants, who want­ed to see what was going on. In short: the vis­i­tors were part of the Ago­ra right from the start. But: they were not called vis­i­tors. Until 1999 their name was observ­er – a title that today only rep­re­sen­ta­tives of AEGEE con­tacts have.

Ago­ra Zaragoza 2013.

Flex­i­ble num­ber of vis­i­tors

For many years AEGEE did not reg­u­late who could become a vis­i­tor, how many could attend and who select­ed them. Even today the num­ber of vis­i­tors is flex­i­ble – it is basi­cal­ly defined by the abil­i­ty of the local orga­niz­er to accom­mo­date par­tic­i­pants. If you count the three del­e­gates per anten­na, the CD, Chair, com­mis­sions, observers from con­tacts, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of work­ing groups and oth­er essen­tial per­son­al, you get a num­ber of 500 peo­ple for whom space needs to be pro­vid­ed. Every­one that can be host­ed on top can come as vis­i­tor. Some­times the total num­ber is defined by the seat­ing capac­i­ty of the ple­nary hall, some­times by the size of the gym or, as in case of Ago­ra Budapest in 2012, by the num­ber of peo­ple that may fit into the par­ty place. The biggest Ago­ra ever was Ago­ra Maas­tricht in 1998 with 1150 peo­ple.

An exam­ple: For the Ago­ra in Kraków in April 2018 alto­geth­er 846 mem­bers were select­ed as par­tic­i­pant:

  • 260 are del­e­gates by the anten­nae,
  • 88 are envoys: CD, Chair, com­mis­sions, com­mit­tees, work­ing groups, projects and rep­re­sen­ta­tives of con­tact anten­nae,
  • 5 are observers: these are mem­bers of AEGEE con­tacts
  • 493, that’s 58.3% of all peo­ple, are vis­i­tors: mem­bers of locals, com­mis­sions, alum­ni, for­mer CD mem­bers, project team mem­bers, work­ing group mem­bers and 462 are attend­ing as mem­bers of their anten­nae.
Reg­is­tra­tion at Ago­ra Cata­nia 2017.

Lim­it­ed rights, but great func­tion

The vis­i­tors – or observers, as they were called until 1999 — have no offi­cial role. They have no vot­ing rights; they also have no speak­ing rights and need to ask the Chair for per­mis­sion if they want to address the ple­nary on stage. How­ev­er, in the numer­ous work­shops they can talk just like the del­e­gates. More­over, since many of them are mem­bers of project teams and work­ing groups or inter­est groups, they play a great role in the the­mat­ic work of AEGEE dur­ing the Ago­ra – they often orga­nize these work­shops. They vis­i­tors of the anten­nae are often func­tion­ing as advi­sors to the del­e­gates. Since the vis­i­tors are impor­tant, no one pro­posed to remove the vis­i­tors from the Ago­ra. This would harm AEGEE a lot.

Nev­er­the­less, although they exist­ed for many years, until 1995 the statutes of AEGEE did not men­tion vis­i­tors at all. The first Cor­pus Iuridicum (CIA) that men­tioned vis­i­tor was CIA 7 in 1996! The Ago­ra in Athi­na in Novem­ber 1996 added these para­graphs to the statutes, in arti­cle 2 of the Ago­ra Work­ing For­mat:

(4) 1 Any mem­ber of an AEGEE local has the right to act as an observ­er to the Ago­ra. 2 Oth­er observers may only attend with the per­mis­sion of the Ago­ra Chair­man. 3 Observers have no speak­ing nor vot­ing right.

(5) The num­ber of observers per local depends on the capac­i­ty of the orga­niz­ing AEGEE local.

Reg­is­tra­tion at Ago­ra Magusa in 2008.

Select­ed by the local anten­na

But who chose the observers? As a mat­ter of fact, the selec­tion of these vis­i­tors was in the hand of the local anten­na – for prac­ti­cal rea­sons. The Inter­net was becom­ing a wide-spread com­mu­ni­ca­tion tool only in the mid-90s. Some mem­bers had their first e-mail account around 2000. A lot of com­mu­ni­ca­tion was done via mail and fax – includ­ing the Ago­ra appli­ca­tions. Since the local anten­na had to know for logis­ti­cal rea­sons who want­ed to attend the event, the Chair left it to the local host to select the observers. How did they chose them? That was up to the local anten­na. There were no moti­va­tion let­ters, so usu­al­ly every anten­na got a cou­ple of vis­i­tors, big­ger ones a few more places. In often paid off to be friends with the orga­niz­ers.

Appli­ca­tion form in 1991.

Two exam­ples: The appli­ca­tion form for Ago­ra Ams­ter­dam in 1991 con­sist­ed of four lines in the bot­tom of the pro­gramme fly­er: “name, AEGEE anten­na, del­e­gate yes/no, lodg­ing yes/no”. The fly­er was more about the expla­na­tion of Queens­day, which took place dur­ing the Ago­ra, than about the appli­ca­tion pro­ce­dure. This lit­tle appli­ca­tion form had to be sent to the local orga­niz­er in a tra­di­tion­al enve­lope! Five years lat­er, for spring Ago­ra Val­ladol­id in 1996, every anten­na had to send a fax with the list of del­e­gates and vis­i­tors to the host­ing local. And they wrote back who could come.

The local orga­niz­ers were very flex­i­ble. I remem­ber my first Ago­ra in Ams­ter­dam in April 1995. I was mem­ber for just two months and did not know what an Ago­ra is when the pres­i­dent of my anten­na, AEGEE-Szeged, approached me and said: “One of our 14 Ago­ra par­tic­i­pants can­not go. You want to take part instead?” I said of course yes. At the reg­is­tra­tion desk of AEGEE-Ams­ter­dam I turned to a friend­ly local girl who said: “I don’t find your name on the list”. I replied: “Oh, I am here instead of this guy.” She said: “Oh, then every­thing is ok. She crossed out the oth­er name, put mine there and gave me a hand­writ­ten badge. Sim­ple as that.


Badges at Ago­ra Ali­cante 2011

The observers became vis­i­tors

In spring 1999, at Ago­ra Barcelona, the name observ­er was giv­en exclu­sive­ly to the rep­re­sen­ta­tives of con­tacts, so the oth­er observers became vis­i­tors – and kept that name until today. Every­thing else stayed the same, as writ­ten in CIA 10:

(4) Con­tacts of AEGEE have the right to send two rep­re­sen­ta­tives (observers) to the Ago­ra. Observers have nei­ther speak­ing nor vot­ing right.

(5) 1Any mem­ber of an AEGEE local has the right to act as a vis­i­tor to the Ago­ra. 2Oth­er vis­i­tors may only attend with the per­mis­sion of the Ago­ra Chair­man. 3Vis­i­tors have nei­ther speak­ing nor vot­ing right.

(6) The num­ber of vis­i­tors per local depends on the capac­i­ty of the organ­is­ing AEGEE local.

Years lat­er this arti­cle in the Ago­ra Work­ing For­mat was expand­ed into this: “Any mem­ber of an AEGEE local, a Work­ing Group and a Project Team has the right to act as a vis­i­tor to the Ago­ra.” More­over, also the fol­low­ing was added: “Vis­i­tors who are also can­di­dates for a posi­tion as announced by the Sec­re­tary Gen­er­al in accor­dance with arti­cle 3(4), have the right to present their can­di­da­ture and answer ques­tions about it.” You might think this is com­mon sense that a can­di­date can present him­self or her­self, but at that time AEGEE start­ed to reg­u­late every pos­si­ble sit­u­a­tion in the CIA.

On a side note: until CIA 22, issued in 2011, the legal frame­work of AEGEE quot­ed an impor­tant extract of CIA 7 from 1996: “This is cer­tain­ly not the last edi­tion of the CIA. Our rules should always ful­fil the con­di­tions of sta­bil­i­ty and flex­i­bil­i­ty at the same time: We must leave them unchanged as long as pos­si­ble and only mod­i­fy them if it is real­ly nec­es­sary.” In 2012, in CIA 23, this text was removed. Around 2010 AEGEE became very fond of chang­ing the statutes and cre­at­ed a big num­ber of pro­pos­als for every Ago­ra – at Ago­ra Lei­den in 2010 it was 15. In Ago­ra Kraków we will see 16 pro­pos­als. At Ago­ra Tori­no in 2004 there were only three pro­pos­als – and you can­not say that AEGEE was not work­ing well. The net­work was a lot big­ger and the num­ber of projects and the­mat­ic events much high­er than today.

Par­tic­i­pants arrival at Ago­ra Berg­amo 2016.

Who selects the vis­i­tors?

Back to the top­ic: start­ing in the late 1990s, appli­ca­tions had to be made via a spe­cif­ic web­site. Until  spring 2000 it was a web­site of the host­ing anten­na, so they were still in charge of the par­tic­i­pants selec­tion. In autumn 2000 this web­site was for the first time on the AEGEE-Europe serv­er in Karl­sruhe. Each mem­ber could now apply indi­vid­u­al­ly. This appli­ca­tion could be edit­ed man­u­al­ly until the dead­line – and since the mem­bers did not have Intranet accounts yet, they could edit their appli­ca­tion with the help of the ser­i­al num­ber of their mem­ber­ship card – just in case you ever won­dered what the mem­ber­ship cards ever were good for.

This is what the CD wrote to the net­work in a mail for spring Ago­ra Con­stan­ta in 2001:

Local boards have to autho­rize their mem­bers’ appli­ca­tions. This is done on the same web­pages (sec­tion 3). You need your body’s export pass­word which was sent to you with the PM mail­ing (if you lost it write a mail to headoffice@aegee.org).  IMPORTANT: Appli­ca­tions are not valid until the board
autho­rizes them, i.e. assigns a sta­tus to the per­son like del­e­gate, envoy, vis­i­tor. The local boards and the Euro­pean bod­ies received a pass­word.

The board of each local is finan­cial­ly liable for all appli­ca­tions that are sub­mit­ted and not revoked until 20th April. Even if the per­son does not show up at the AGORA the par­tic­i­pa­tion fee has to be paid by the local!”

Reg­is­tra­tion at Ago­ra Cagliari 2014.

The task moves to AEGEE-Europe

Since the appli­ca­tions were now in an online sys­tem, AEGEE-Europe want­ed to deter­mine the vis­i­tors. The locals could deter­mine a rank­ing. Enri­co Lai, Vice-chair between 2000 and 2002, said that his Chair team want­ed to select the vis­i­tors them­selves. But that was not valid for all fol­low­ing Chairs. At autumn Ago­ra Athi­na AEGEE-Europe used a “first come, first serve” approach. The Ago­ra par­tic­i­pants were informed about the pro­ce­dure in an email – check espe­cial­ly the last sen­tence:

Every board has a right to apply fol­low­ing mem­bers to Ago­ra:

  • Anten­nae: 3 del­e­gates + 2 vis­i­tors (3 vis­i­tors for anten­nae with more than 120 mem­bers)
  • Con­tact Anten­nae: 2 envoys
  • Con­tacts: 2 observers
  • AEGEE Work­ing Group: 3 del­e­gates
  • The­mat­ic and sup­port­ing WG: 2 envoys
  • Project teams: 2 envoys

Vis­i­tors are accept­ed in the order of the appear­ance in the appli­ca­tion.”

This was how­ev­er an excep­tion. From now on the Chair was in charge of the selec­tion. Moti­va­tion let­ters first appeared in the appli­ca­tion form in 2003. And: the par­tic­i­pants received now an appli­ca­tion ID and a con­fir­ma­tion mail with the text of the appli­ca­tion. Unlike today, there was no ques­tion asked for the moti­va­tion. This was my moti­va­tion from the appli­ca­tion for autumn Ago­ra Zaragoza in 2003:

Moti­va­tion and remarks: I want to come in order to defend my record in most Ago­ra par­tic­i­pa­tions in the net­work. Cur­rent­ly it’s 17. I want to reach the num­ber of 20 Ago­ras before quit­ting AEGEE. :-) I also heard the CD lacks can­di­dates. I might help find­ing some last-minute can­di­dates. :-) More­over, I want to have a great time at the Ago­ra!”

The cur­rent­ly used appli­ca­tion form with the ques­tions about expe­ri­ence, moti­va­tion and the way of con­tri­bu­tion was intro­duced in spring 2004. In 2006 the appli­ca­tion page went to its cur­rent site in Enschede, where you can still look up all kind of inter­est­ing data regard­ing old Ago­ras under http://www.zeus.aegee.org/statutory/.

The Ago­ra Budapest scan­dal

Appli­ca­tion sta­tis­tics.

At spring Ago­ra Ali­cante in 2011 for the first time it was reg­u­lat­ed in the statutes who should select the vis­i­tors, as it was described in CIA 22: “The selec­tion of the vis­i­tors shall be made by the Comité Directeur in co-oper­a­tion with the Chair­per­son” is writ­ten in the sec­tion “Rules of Statu­to­ry Meet­ings”.

That’s a par­a­digm shift, because it grants the CD the rights to select vis­i­tors. Why is this sig­nif­i­cant? The CD is an actor in the Ago­ra, but not the host. The Chair is pre­sid­ing over it, there­fore it was com­mon that the Chair as neu­tral and impar­tial body should assign the vis­i­tors places. Grant­i­ng the CD the right to pick the peo­ple they like and refus­ing maybe crit­i­cal peo­ple could soon­er or lat­er cause prob­lems.

And that is what hap­pened soon after. The autumn Ago­ra Budapest in 2012 became famous for being the Ago­ra with the high­est num­ber of appli­ca­tions ever: 1719 appli­ca­tions for just 700 places. Since 500 places were need­ed for del­e­gates and oth­er essen­tial peo­ple, only 200 vis­i­tors could come. 800 had to be reject­ed. This caused a lot of frus­tra­tion, since many mem­bers did not con­sid­er the selec­tion of vis­i­tors as fair and bal­anced.

Badges at Ago­ra Zaragoza 2013.

The Ago­ra Zaragoza scan­dal

Just one year lat­er the sit­u­a­tion esca­lat­ed with the much dis­put­ed selec­tion process for autumn Ago­ra 2013 in Zaragoza. Sev­er­al mem­bers com­plained that they were not accept­ed, despite the fact that they were ranked high by their local anten­na. The Chair argued that Chair and CD did not choose peo­ple who did not write a moti­va­tion let­ter, despite being clear­ly stat­ed in the open call that peo­ple should pro­vide one.

At Ago­ras you used to get stick­ers for mem­ber­ship cards!

This was true, nev­er­the­less this did not con­vince many of the appli­cants. They stat­ed that in the pre­vi­ous years the moti­va­tion let­ter was not impor­tant, since it only served the local boards to make a rank­ing for the inter­nal selec­tion on which the CD final­ly based the dis­tri­b­u­tion of places. And indeed, this was true. Pre­vi­ous Chairs did not read the moti­va­tion let­ter and relied on the rank­ing by the locals. Even some rumours passed around that there had been a hid­den agen­da to get rid of some peo­ple who were crit­i­cal towards the CD.

These are some of the crit­i­cal mails that were unhap­py with the fact that an old pro­ce­dure was changed with­out any prop­er announce­ment:

  • I must say that it is true that it was writ­ten in the Open Call that they were going to read the ML, but… is that enough when we anten­nae have been choos­ing the order for years?”, asked Álvaro Espinosa Bue­na­ga, Vice Pres­i­dent of AEGEE-San­tander and Sub­com­mis­sion­er.
  • If the anten­nae want to choose the order, it’s because they know how active are their mem­bers and who is the best per­son to take part in the Ago­ra as delegate/visitor. Each anten­na should be able to decide who attends to the Ago­ra on behalf of it. If not, the impor­tance of the locals is noth­ing. One prob­lem of the ML is that words are words, not facts. And locals are the best fil­ter to review those facts. All the locals are dif­fer­ent as well, so the Chair can­not decide in the best way for them”, agreed Iker Iraizoz from AEGEE-Bil­bao.
  • I do agree also with what Iker and Álvaro, as it is a valid point that in some cas­es the board will know maybe bet­ter who is able to rep­re­sent them than the blabla some­one writes in the ML in order to be accept­ed. Yet, I am hap­py that we did not write a moti­va­tion for no rea­son, but maybe next time it could be clear­er stat­ed that this is the way to get accept­ed, so peo­ple might do a bet­ter job and take more time for it. I am not against this way of pick­ing par­tic­i­pants, but I do agree that it could’ve been clear­er”, added Maria Arends from AEGEE-Gronin­gen.
  • I real­ly doubt it that this Chair Team had the time to read thor­ough­ly 1252 appli­ca­tions and eval­u­ate the ML in just few days. So in the end the selec­tion of par­tic­i­pants might not have be made with the best cri­te­ria. The task of check­ing the appli­ca­tions and ML should be done by the locals that know their mem­bers and know who can rep­re­sent them in the Ago­ra. And then Chair Team can just check for poten­tial­ly “bad” ML and reject these appli­ca­tions”, sug­gest­ed Costas Del­touzos from AEGEE-Patras.
Ago­ra Maas­tricht 1998 had the most par­tic­i­pants ever: 1150.

The Chair Team defend­ed their point of view, stress­ing that peo­ple should have read the open call bet­ter:

We have used fol­low­ing selec­tion pro­ce­dure:

  1. Every local had by default 3 vis­i­tors places, which means that every sin­gle local has 3 accept­ed vis­i­tors.
  2. If local had more than 3 vis­i­tors — we have read all appli­ca­tions from vis­i­tors from this local and have select­ed 3 best ones.
  3. After­wards remain­ing places were dis­trib­uted between vis­i­tors with best moti­va­tions from all locals.

We haven’t accept­ed vis­i­tors with an emp­ty moti­va­tion. All oth­ers were rat­ed by 6 dif­fer­ent peo­ple from Chair & CD and we select­ed the best accord­ing to it. It is unfor­tu­nate that the expla­na­tion pro­vid­ed by us on the selec­tion pro­ce­dure in the Open Call hasn’t reached every appli­cant. We will make sure to include empha­sis­ing the selec­tion pro­ce­dure in the Knowl­edge Trans­fer with the next Chair Team.”

Reg­is­tra­tion at Ago­ra Napoli 2006.

This didn’t sat­is­fy the Ago­ra. Mat­tia Abis (AEGEE-Cagliari), Clau­dio Arman­di (AEGEE-Napoli), Eri­ka Bet­tin (AEGEE-Venezia), Alber­to de Nar­di (AEGEE-Udine), Luca Lom­bar­do (AEGEE-Tori­no) and Anto­nio Morel­li (AEGEE-Cata­nia) made an Ago­ra pro­pos­al in Zaragoza that result­ed in this change that should cre­ate a bet­ter selec­tion:

(4) The selec­tion of the vis­i­tors shall be made by the Comité Directeur in co-oper­a­tion with the Chair­per­son tak­ing into account the rank­ing and com­ment pro­vid­ed by the board of the respec­tive AEGEE local.”

The sit­u­a­tion today

Since then the statutes have not been changed, the selec­tion pro­ce­dure has not changed much. Only one impor­tant mat­ter is dif­fer­ent today. In order to make sure that AEGEE-Europe is fair in the selec­tion, the Chair doesn’t see the name of the appli­cant, only local, par­tic­i­pant type, moti­va­tion let­ter and board com­ment.

Recent­ly only the Chair made the selec­tion – as it should be to make an unbi­ased choice. Also today it is required to write a moti­va­tion let­ter. With­out it, every vis­i­tors’ appli­ca­tion is reject­ed – and this rule applies for every­one. Eri­ka Bet­tin, Chair in 2017: “Our Chair Team reject­ed some excel­lent mem­bers for this rea­son!”

Final­ly reg­is­tered! At Ago­ra Tori­no 2004.