The pan-European student organization had a conference in Burgos, Spain, on 18 to 21 February 2015. It again chose a visionary topic, and asked me for an opening statement, below.
“Buenos dias, bonjour!
Europe and Russia: Today’s challenge from a youth perspective. What a great topic!
1) Congratulations for gathering so many people and so much expertise in the great city of Burgos.
I have just four points, on the importance of this event, the AEGEE credentials on the topic, some views on Russia in Europe, and…how to make it happen!
It is telling that one thinks of Russia, not only in Minsk like this week, not only in Kyiv and Moscow, or even in Brussels. But also elsewhere: Russia is indeed essential for Europe’s future. Let’s hope that peace will come back: but this is not mainly up to us. And let’s make that peace sustainable: that IS also up to you, the youth at AEGEE. And up to us, the media, we have some responsibility.
2) AEGEE has always been more visionary than the EU itself, ahead of enlargements.
I have been part of the founding generation of Les Etats Generaux des etudaitns de l’Europe. A long time before setting up the EurActiv media.
I’d like to mention some AEGEE memories. You have a track record in other regions of conflict. I remember the dialogues you initiated in East Berlin, Belgrad, in Nicosia, in the Caucasus, and more recently in Kyiv. AEGEE is always thinking, ahead of big changes. For the better… Like today!
3) Now, let’s build on Russia and Ukraine relations in a pan-European context
One third of Europeans live outside the EU. Among them Ukrainians but also Turks and Russians. AEGEE and EurActiv know these regions through their respective networks.
Today, it is difficult to think of Russians as Europeans. But it is the reality, and you – the youth – can think 20 years ahead.
Which European “perspective” or which alternative “horizon” do we offer Russians? The concept which we are developing in 2015 should apply to the time after the Ukraine crisis. And even for the time after Putin…
Rassia toje Evropa! Ukraïnskie ludi skazali ‘Ivan strachi brat’. Sivodnia da, no v budichie niet. U nas budit russki brat i ukraïnskaia sistra, i evropeiskoi mouj…Mieste!
[Russia is also Europe. Ukrainians were saying ‘Ivan is the big brother’. Today, yes; to-morrow not any more. Only a Russian brother, a Ukrainian sister and a European husband.Together!]
In other words, Russia is also Europe. It will not always be the big brother. Ukrainians should not have to choose between East and West.
So, let me summarise my own vision on Russia and Europe, for debate:
As an overarching concept, how about a pan-European market? Exchange of goods is fairly simple; freedom of movement for individuals would gradually follow.
Within this pan-Europe, we should think of Europe in three circles:
EU Treaties would be clarified around two circles: the Euroland and the single market.
Then, we should add this third circle: the pan-European market, to help integrate Ukraine & Turkey. While not excluding Russia forever. With the same countries as the Council of Europe, already doing human rights. This is already quite a challenge, so: how to go further?
4) How to make it happen? It is what you will discuss during this conference, so the solutions are with you, not me.
Let’s prepare the minds beyond diplomacy. And let’s no ostracize normal Russians, they are not Putin and his associates.
Just like between France and Germany, after several wars. Also Franzose, weiß ich, wovon ich jetzt rede… As a Frenchman, I am well aware of how two enemy countries can become friendly, thanks to city twining, students exchange, cultural exchanges etc.
So, these are some areas where you may want to discuss: student exchanges, city partnerships, civil society exchanges, culture.
And also: we need balanced media coverage of Russia and Ukraine. Not just the Russian propaganda on TV, the slightly biased Western coverage, and the increasingly nationalistic reporting from Ukraine itself. By the way, let me mentioj a personal point: EurActiv has more on the last point: it considers a fact-based network franchisee in Ukrainian and Russian; we will see whether we actually do it.
Finally, EU and Russian politicians should listen to the youth, both in Eastern, Central and Western Europe.
Remember: you are ahead of them, you may be daring. They should listen to you.
Have a good conference! Thank you.
A related video and text: my acceptance speech as AEGEE-Europe honorary member