Europæisk Ungdom Syd- & Sønderjylland – Our history: Where it all began…
Back in 2012, a current member of the JEF Europe Board – Kevin Kristiansen – founded the local section Europæisk Ungdom Syddanmark. During his statistics class at the University of Southern Denmark (SDU) in Odense, the then national president and vice-president of Europæisk Ungdom walked in and gave a talk about JEF and their work. The pro-European and forward thinking idea behind the organisation motivated Kevin to take action.
He convinced a friend to join his ambitious plans and started to spread the idea of becoming a member of JEF – not an easy task considering the negative perception of European issues in Denmark. In the beginning, it was hard to establish a solid foundation one could build on. However, the group of politically engaged students grew and by the end of 2012, the roots of the current section were set. Members positioned themselves all over the political spectrum, which contributed to diverse discussions and debates. Soon, our section was noted for its various events, however, mostly in the social sciences department of the campus in Odense. Later in 2013, members organised a debate with youth politicians from DSU and VU as well as a member from “Folkebevægelsen mod EU” (a leftist Eurosceptic movement). The event took place in cooperation with “Frit Forum” and turned out to be a great success. Further, it established a kick-start for the EP election in May 2014.
During the year 2014, the members were highly motivated to “win” these elections as to involve the Danish youth in the election campaigns. Thus, the entire board together with some members of the national board went to Schleswig-Holstein in order to improve the cross-border cooperation while raising awareness of the parliamentary work of the EU. Until today, our section fosters this cooperation by inviting JEF members from Northern Germany to our biggest events and vice versa.
The following months were filled with new opportunities such as a discussion about the Ukraine conflict on the university radio. Shortly before the election, our section held a big debate with four guest speakers from across the political spectrum and presented a reflection on the campaign road and the cross-border collaboration.
Eventually, the members of Europæisk Ungdom Syddanmark took a well-deserved summer break while some key members had to leave Odense for good due to their studies or work opportunities.
2015: A new start!
The developments in the beginning of 2015 were rather tumultuous and resulted in the sudden election of the freshly recruited member Magdalena Tashkova as new chair based in Sønderborg. At that time, Magdalena faced some problems concerning the status of our section such as the low level of activity and the insufficient number of members.
However, our local section recognised the potential of a city like Sønderborg: the large number of foreign students with suitable educational backgrounds and the lack of relevant social networks were factors advocating a membership in Europæisk Ungdom Syddanmark. Therefore, our section had to produce promotion material to make us more popular at the local campus. In August 2015, a recruitment campaign was instilled in Sønderborg and raised hopes for an expansion of memberships.
Soon, Magdalena managed to get our section back on track by focusing on a greater variety of activities, applying for funds from Europa-Nævnet and organising bigger events. In October 2015, our section launched Europæisk Ungdom’s retsforbeholdet campaign with a debate featuring the leader of Europabevaelgelsen Stine Bosse, who defended a ‘Yes’ vote in the upcoming referendum, and the national board member of Folkebevægelsen mod EU Sven Skovmand. Approximately 70 people showed up and expressed their interest in European issues in Denmark. In November 2015, our section hosted a second debate with Margrete Auken and Lave Broch at the campus Odense. During the entire campaign, our members actively facilitated events, engaged in the media and reached out to the public.
In February 2016, Magdalena hosted a general assembly in Sønderborg. She presented the local section and its activities so far. Most importantly, however, Daniel Wagner Thorup was appointed new chair of Europæisk Ungdom Syddanmark. The following week, our latest board was elected with Benedicte Rungfeldt as vice chair, Johanne Klindworth as treasurer, Andrea Adamov as international officer, and Bjarke Stensgaard Nielsen, Filip Zackrisson, Geir Siirde and Sara Bundtzen as board members, each specialised in a certain field (social media, recruitment, marketing, event planning). Besides Benedicte and Bjarke, who live in Odense, the entire board was located in Sønderborg.
Our board is characterised by its international, motivated and enthusiastic manner of pursuing challenges, organising events and planning activities. Daniel, Benedicte and Bjarke are from Denmark, Andrea from Slovakia, Filip from Sweden, Geir from Finland, Johanne and Sara from Germany. Each of us is currently studying at university; at that point, many of us were enrolled in the bachelor programme European Studies at the University of Southern Denmark. Together, we achieved a lot in the following months.
Our initial events were members’ meetings, discussions and debates with the local youth at the student bar Caféen in Sønderborg. Soon, we recognised the high potential to host debates on important and provocative EU topics. For instance, we organised an open event in March to discuss the controversy of the EU-Turkey deal in the light of the refugee crisis. The discussion touched upon the “moral price” of this deal, partially the economics but also the core European values that we aim to defend.
The local students in Sønderborg had an intense argument whether establishing closer ties with Turkey in order to deal with the refugees is a reasonable reaction towards the Turkish government and its human rights violations. It turned out to be an insightful and interesting debate with coherent arguments on both sides.
In April 2016, our political theme dealt with the contemporary issue of borders, which in our eyes deserves more attention, especially here in border region of Southern Denmark. We hosted an event in Sønderborg called “Board-games & Borders” involving a Europe Quiz with all necessary (and not so serious) information on the topic of borders and the EU itself.
On 9 May 2016, our board organised its so far biggest event: Europe Day celebrations took place in both Odense and in Sønderborg. Odense hosted a panel debate on Brexit with representatives from six different political youth parties. Further, a team of representatives of Europæisk Ungdom, Danmarks Socialdemokratiske Ungdom, Radikal Ungdom and Alternativets Ungdomsnetværk spoke to commuters about the importance of this date and Europe Day. Whereas in Sønderborg, a street action was launched at the city hall square, in collaboration with Europe Direct. Local citizens were approached and asked about the EU and its effects on the everyday life of citizens in Southern Jutland.
Afterwards, there was a huge party at Ungdomscafé including guest speakers from Model European Union Strasbourg (MEUS), Europe Direct, and the Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators (ACER) as well as sparkling wine and a big EU cake. It was a successful event, which reached about 60 interested participants and gained great media attention.
Finally, we organised a Brexit event on 23 June 2016 to elaborate on the potential outcome of the EU referendum in Britain. This time, the Brexit talk took place in Sønderborg. Dr. Jaume Castan Pinos gave a presentation on secessionism discussing the potential geopolitical impacts and territorial consequences of a potential Brexit focusing on Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Gibraltar. Prior to Jaume’s presentation, our board member and political officer Sara presented comprehensive background knowledge concerning the EU-UK relation in order to set the stage for a political evening.
As several members of the board as well as our chair Daniel start master programmes, a new job or an internship somewhere else, main responsibilities lie with Filip and Geir in Sønderborg and Benedicte in Odense. Currently, an important task is the recruitment of new members in the following autumn term 2016.
By Sara Bundtzen, 25.9.2016