First Ever European Presidential Debate – who and what is next?
Will the candidates change the lives of young people?
The National Youth Council of Hungary and GovFaces Hungary broadcasted a live stream on the occasion of this exceptional event, which was finished with the first discussion forum of ‘Voters Day!’ project. The event took place in the European Youth Centre Budapest, where young participants had the opportunity to share their views on participatory democracy, or the importance of the European Parliament elections.
The four candidates for president of the European Commission received questions from European young people. Jean Claude Juncker (European People's Party), Martin Schulz (Party of European Socialists), Guy Verhofstadt (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party), and Ska Keller (one of the two European Green Party candidates) had the opportunity to give answers. The fifth candidate Alexis Tsipras (Party of the European Left) did not attend the event.
The public debate took place in Maastricht and was organised by Maastricht University with the collaboration of Connect Limburg and the European Youth Forum. The debate had an audience of nearly 700 young people. EuroNews broadcasted the event live in 13 languages by providing simultaneous translation, so anybody could listen to the candidates’ answers at home without visiting Maastricht.
The warm-up questions focused on the inclusion of young people into democratic life; why shall they believe that candidates change their lives? The one-minute time frame for each question was not enough to go into details in many key issues, so candidates could not give detailed options, only the draft version of their main ideas. Candidates set their visions for reducing unemployment rates among the youth by introducing overall economic reforms, strengthening the monetary union, or extending social rights. Candidates agreed on the importance of job creation, but they had different suggestions to be implemented: Schulz would regulate the legal framework of internships, Verhofstadt would create high-quality jobs serving as the engine of the economy, while Keller see the way out with the introduction of educational reforms.
The spread of Eurosceptic voices
Further questions focused on key issues such as the common foreign and security policy (CFSP) concerning the Ukrainian crisis. Although we did not hear any specific proposals, all candidates would urge to continue the negotiation process with Putin to reveal our common interests.
The role of the European Council was also under debate. Candidates agreed that the institution, which was originally created for establishing an informal forum for discussion between Heads of State or Governments, has too much power. It also puts pressure on other institutions such as the European Parliament and the European Commission. The spread of voices coming from Eurosceptic parties and the presence of far-right parties in the institution can have negative effects in the future. Verhosftadt gave negative examples, namely Italian and Hungarian ones to avoid: he criticized Mr. Berlusconi’s policy calling Italy for quitting the European Union, and Mr. Orbán’s frequent constitutional amendments in Hungary.
The event in the European Youth Centre Budapest was finished with a group discussion, in which participants’ could share their individual opinion about the debate. During the conversation, a new debate was generated to collide the different points of view with each other. New dimensions, such as the question of women’s equality or ethnical issues were added, but the role of nationality was also mentioned.
After all, we only have to hope that whoever will sit in the presidential chair will pay special attention on issues concerning us, young people of the European Union besides other EU matters to be solved.