The European Planning Meeting (EPM) in Burgos was a great success. 242 AEGEE members gathered in Spain to discuss about the conflict between Russia and the rest of Europe – and to develop new projects and events for the association. An amazing team of 42 people took care of them. Both contentwise and in terms of the organisation the EPM set a very high bar for future statutory meetings. Check out the highlights of the event, which took place from 18th till 22nd of February in the Spanish city.

1. Great organisation

Kitchen

Usually this review starts with the programme or content of the event, because that’s why everyone travels there, right? But the EPM review cannot begin without mentioning the outstanding local organisation. I have attended more than 40 Agoras and PMs/EBMs/EPMs, and the EPM Burgos definitely belongs into the top five of these. One key argument is the amazing organisers’ team, which differentiated not in helpers and organisers (good advice, don’t create too many hierarchies) – everyone was an organiser and respected, it didn’t matter whether the person came from Tenerife, Madrid, Burgos or Zaragoza. The combination of friendliness, kindness, enthusiasm and hard work was the key. This could be seen for example in the kitchen – the awesome kitchen team was even singing and dancing together. In all these years in AEGEE, I have seen this only once at a statutory event so far. Of course they were dancing to “Serrucho”, the theme song of the event, which was played at every party at least five times.

2. The mastermind

Harry

They call him Harry. Like Harry Potter, the wizard. And that it how he managed the EPM. Main organiser Rubén Sanz wanted to go out of AEGEE with a bang, after dedicating four years to this association. I asked him about his secrets, how to make such a good event. They were many: he started early picking a team, put a lot of effort in teambuilding – and he was very clear in his demands: “I told them right in the beginning that at some point they are going to hate me, because of the workload. I told them what to expect in which phase of the event organisation. Communicating clearly and honestly is important. But so is teambuliding and having fun together.” Also the integration of critical people into the team, how to deal with their opinions was a cornerstone for the organisation of a very smooth event. Now, after four years, Harry quits AEGEE. But do we really want that?

3. The other masterminds

Content Managers

The EPM was also so strong because of its very good content. Actually, the event was divided into two parts. In the beginning, it was a thematic conference about the relations between Russia and the rest of Europe. The second half was the compilation of the Action Agenda, AEGEE’s European to-do list of activities. Half a year ago, the Agora Cagliari had to choose one topic for the EPM among seven suggestions. Most of them were dealing with issues such as education, unemployment or mobility – the usual stuff. But one topic was different: “Europe and Russia: Today’s challenges from youth perspective”. Marta Wnuk proposed it on behalf of the Eastern Partnership Project – and it received 50% of all votes – as much as all other six together. Since Marta was busy as Network Commissioner, Nikolay Kazantsev and Adrian Browarczyk took the burden of Content Manager – and did a great job by choosing excellent topics and inviting great speakers.

4. Exciting panels

Panel

So why was the content so good? This was in large parts thanks to panel discussions on issues such as “Europe and Russia of tomorrow” and “Causes and consequences of the Russia-Ukraine conflict”, with great speakers such as Mariia  Ponomaryova, an Ukrainian film director, who is also AEGEE-Kyiv member; Anna  Dobrovolskaya,  Board  Member  at  the International  Youth  Human  Rights Movement; and Vladimir  Kharchenko,  vice-chairman of the National Youth Council of Russia. Many felt pity for Vladimir though, who was usually quite alone in his defense for the Russian point of view.

5. Ukraine, Ukraine, Ukraine

Movie

The Russian takeover of Crimea and the fights in Eastern Ukraine played a major role in the content of the event – as well as the EuroMaidan, which triggered the whole development in the area. Mariia  Ponomaryova did not only actively take part in panels and had a workshop, she also presented her impressive documentary about EuroMaidan and the fights in Eastern Ukraine.

6. Exciting workshops and round tables

Moldova

Next to the panels there were also very good workshops about issues such as human rights and media manipulation in Russia. Interesting was also the round-table “How can Europe help with resolving the USSR’s Frozen Conflicts”, where Saskia Heller from AEGEE-Hamburg was looking at the situation in Transnistria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno Karabakh.

7. Great level of interaction

question line

If there was ever some proof needed how important the revival of thematic conferences for AEGEE is, then the EPM delivered it. The topic of the event really hit a nerve. The question lines were usually very long, the questions tougher as the questions at Agoras – well, that is not that difficult, though.

8. The Action Agenda

AA topics

So what about the other half of the content of the event? Nearly two full days were invested in developing new ideas and initiatives for the Action Agenda of AEGEE, in the framework of the Focus Areas of the Strategic Plan. Yep, that sounds technical. In short: the areas AEGEE wants to work on, mainly. And these are the four Focus Area topics: Civic Education, Spreading Europtimism, Youth Employment and Youth Mobility.

9. Lots of discussions…

workshops2

Well, a lot of participants had a good time during the many EPM workshops related to the Action Agenda. A lot of issues were discussed, but somehow many participants reported that they had the feeling that something was missing. The classic AEGEE spirit, the passion was not so strong in many of these workshops. Maybe it had to do with the topics. To be honest: youth mobility and youth employment are surely relevant topics, but it is not that easy to create sexy events about it. And “spreading Europtimism” is a nice aim, but shouldn’t the issue be rather “addressing the growing Eurosceptisism” in many countries by discussing it neutrally and open with all Europeans without an aim in mind? AEGEE is not a sect or a subsidiary of the European Commission, but an association of critical reflection.

10. Something important was missing

Action Agenda

In the end AEGEE came up with a nice shopping list of measurable activities for this year. However, something was missing. Despite discussing the relation between Russia and the rest of Europe for two days, this topic did not play any substantial role in the Action Agenda discussions. This is, because the four Focus Areas had nothing to do with the thematic EPM topic. This was a pity, because the fact that 50% percent of the Agora delegates wanted this topic and that it was so passionately discussed at the EPM conference part, gave “Russia-EU” a strong legitimacy for developing related AEGEE activities for 2015. Instead, all the strong discussions and the newly acquired knowledge had no real impact on the planning part. It would have been very smart to add a fifth discussion line next to the four Focus Areas and to develop projects and events related to the topic “Russia-EU”. The fact that it was not done is very sad, it means a lot of lost potential. A bit more flexible thinking in AEGEE might be good.

11. The final curtain for AEGEE Inspire?

Inspire2

Justin Galea from AEGEE-Valletta gave a great singing performance during his talk at the AEGEE Inspire session. This was not the only interesting performance among the six members, who talked about themselves and their hobbies in an impressive manner. Newly elected CD member Anna Gumbau was a great host for this EPM Inspire session. Since EBM Valletta two years ago, these sessions, where AEGEE members freely talk about issues of importance to them, had been a standard part of every statutory event and also many Network Meetings and Local Training Courses. Unfortunately there was no space for an Inspire session at the Agora in Gijón last week. Well, it must be hard to find a free hour if an event lasts only five days…

12. Stage for candidates

candidates

Not only Anna Gumbau got a prominent spot at the EPM. Several other CD candidates as well used the EPM as stage to talk to many people. Until this event very little was known who would run for the European board, now finally more and more names got known. Exciting days for AEGEE observers!

13. Great AEGEE Fair

Fair Health

The AEGEE Fair was another highlight of the EPM. Lots of projects and Working Groups presented themselves and got many people interested in what they do – such as the Health4Youth II project.

14. The end is near…

Fair EDL

The end was near for many Working Groups at the EPM Fair, who did not know yet that the Agora in Gijón would take away their old name and role as thematic backbone of AEGEE. Such as in case of the Language Working Group (LWG), which relentlessly made PR for language diversity and the European Day of Languages (EDL) in Burgos. They will continue now as so-called Interest Group, because Working Groups were declared as dead in Gijón, despite the fact that for example the Language WG was coordinating the EDL every year. The LWG – and apparently the other old WGs as well – will serve AEGEE under a new name. Good luck to them!

15. More about Abis – yes please!

Fair Abis

The AEGEEan Magazine had a stand at the AEGEE Fair as well. And got some input for new articles. One big request by an anonymous reader: “Gossips about Mattia Abis”. Definitely yes! We want to know more about AEGEE’s Member of the Year 2014!

16. Premiere for a great video

AEGEE Video

At the Agora Cagliari the participants could already see an unfinished version of the new AEGEE promotion video. Now, at the EPM Burgos it was premiere for the final cut. Ksenia Lupanova, Gerardo García Díaz and Tom Simons created a miracle, probably the best video ever made in AEGEE.

17. Great EPM location

plenary

The EPM location in Burgos was awesome. An excellent and friendly plenary hall with well-functioning Wi-Fi for everyone and – I have never seen this at an AEGEE event before – sockets under every seat. This meant: no fighting over the spaces to charge phones and computers.

18. EPM of short distances

short distances

Not only the plenary building was great. One of the strongest assets of the whole EPM was the fact that the distances were so short. In the words of Rubén Harry Sanz: “It was very important that everything was in less than ten minutes walking distance from the gym.” The organisers succeeded – everything from lodging to food places to plenaries and the party places was reachable within minutes. Another great lesson to learn for future organisers.

19. A party place for all occasions

location

What really matters for a good party: awesome people, excellent atmosphere, great music and cheap drinks. EPM Burgos had it all – in just one location. Since the organisers wanted to avoid participants to walk too much at night or to take buses, they simply asked a breakfast place in less than three minutes walking distances to the gym, whether they could use it for all four parties. And so it happened – everyone was happy: participants, organisers and the very nice owners of the place.

20. Very special support

Oldies

You could see them everywhere, not only at the parties, but also in the kitchen or other places where help was needed. Miguel Gallardo (left) and Chema Rueda played a big role in Harry’s organising team. Both of them had been organisers of Agoras before: Miguel in Alicante in 2011 and Chema as main organiser in Zaragoza in 2013. One can only be lucky to have that much expertise in a team. Like everyone else in the team they worked hard and partied hard – also in this respect true role-models!

21. Awesome costumes

Pink

So what was the difference between the four parties? The themes. Many participants really tried hard to dress up, especially for the Barbie Night, as you can see.

22. Spanish night every night

DJs

What about the party music? It was Spanish Night, every night. Most of the time our DJs played Spanish songs, which was really awesome and made people dance a lot. Most popular song was of course Serrucho, including the typical dance moves.

23. Tequila? No, Jäger!

Jager

When people think of drinks and Spain, usually the thin of tequilas. Not at the EPM, thanks to the Jägermeister machine at the party place. Well, one shot was one Euro and it really tastes a lot better than tequila…

24. The birthday shot

Birthday

This is probably the best photo I have taken in years. It perfectly captures the moment when German Gomez Gonzalez, one of the great organisers, celebrated his birthday during one of the parties. It was a moving moment!

25. See you again in Burgos!

All

That’s it! All in all the EPM was an event that none of the participants and organisers will ever forget. The mixture of hospitality and professionalism in the organisation as much as perfect logistics and programme were outstanding. I am sure that many people want to go to back and see Burgos again!

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