Firstly, full disclosure. I’m on a time limit here – December 2020 marks the end of my status as a citizen of the EU and therefore as a European Mobile Youth. Secondly, no I don’t have Irish, German or French heritage close enough to speak of to try and weasel my way back in. The last few years have really galvanised me to think a bit more theoretically about what my EU citizenship affords me, and I’m sure have played a part in my involvement with this project. A notion of making the most of the time I have, maybe. I don’t think entering into the ‘transition period’ has changed a great deal for Brits abroad (apart from receiving deep expressions of sympathy from our international friends). However, now we have a tangible time limit as to leaving, it’s given me more impetus and a desire to spread the message to more people and raise awareness of EMY as a project.
Working with EMY for these few months has given me a lot to think about, in terms of citizen and free movement. In my last blog post , I touched upon how being an Erasmus student meant more to me than the freedom to move though the EU, and simply have a year-long holiday. It’s very normalised for students throughout the EU to take this opportunity, and I think when something becomes commonplace we tend to think less about the meaning behind it. The more popular the Erasmus programme becomes, the more that becomes the cornerstone of how you move rather than fundamentally your EU citizenship. The broader landscape of the four freedoms fades into the background, and access to free movement becomes separate. I believe it’s important to think of your utilisation of rights of movement as a component of that landscape, which the EMY project has really helped me to do.
This project and community is vital in widening awareness for this. It’s also really helped me to build up a network, of both people and resources, from which I can find information and support. Attending a focus group with students but also young professionals showed me the broad spectrum of EMY’s, and also got me thinking about how we can connect and come together as a community. For students, the Erasmus Student Network (ESN) does so much work to welcome us into our host country and make us feel part of a community. However, the identity of an EMY is so much more than just Erasmus students. Young professionals are a scattered group across the country, and it’s by raising awareness of the project and creating a groundswell of community that we’re going to be able to reach these people in order to empower them to grasp their democratic rights with both hands.
That being said, if you’re living more permanently in a country you may feel more determined to work out how to vote, in which elections you can and so on. However, access to this information must be clearer to find and there must be channels which facilitate democratic participation. At the focus group, the young professionals attending emphasised they saw it as a necessity, and an opportunity rather than a chore, to vote in their host country. Feeling more settled is bound to spur you on to put down roots in other ways, such as engaging in local politics and registering to vote. However, I passionately believe that this mindset shift should extend to our student population as well. European Mobile Youth, as a project, give you all the tools and community to become part of the political discourse in your host country, whether you’re staying for a year or for ten.
There is an amazing momentum carried by youth politics. We’ve seen this in action, from the climate demonstrations across Europe to the opposition to the rise of far-right extremism. As EMY’s we need to harness this energy. Change doesn’t simply have to be about demonstrations outside traditional establishment politics. There will always be an issue, raised by the local or national politicians, which resonates with you and which you feel passionate about. It isn’t fair for you to be unable to make your voice heard, and you should be able to engage in the discussion. This is why the EMY Community is so crucial, to give everyone a voice in who governs their home, no matter how long it is their home for. Working or studying, it’s important to feel part of a community.
So what can you do? As an Austrian EMY, there are upcoming municipal elections in Styria (22.03.2020), Vorarlberg (15.03.2020) and district elections in Vienna (October 2020). Please visit the EMY website here for more information, and keep checking the EMY social media feeds for constant updates on how to get involved with the community. We also have a Community page on FaceBook, which is a brilliant source for information and to chat to other EMY’s. Together, I believe that we can bring a community of people together who deserve a voice, and give them one.