April 10, 2014
The European Pupils Association (EUPAS) was established in Brussels on Monday, April 1, 2014. The founders of the organization include representatives from six national student organizations from Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Croatia, Greece and Cyprus. Norway’s organization is an observer.
Even though the EU does not have the competence to initiate education policies, it still plays a supporting role in contributing and developing education-related regulations by cooperating with member states. EUPAS’ aim is to represent and promote the interests of pupils and students at the European level. It also seeks to fulfill its mission on promoting, among other ideas, political education that’s focused more on European affairs in schools.
Below is a short interview with EUPAS secretary-general Thomas Gaar of Austria’s Schülerunion (considerably translated, edited and rephrased).
What made you start EUPAS along with the other pupil organizations? Who inspired you?
TG: “First there was an idea in Austria about a functioning students’ organization that goes beyond borders, and on the scale of things, we encountered a students’ organization in Germany similar to Austria. Then the notion loomed, with the emergence of topics regarding Europe and the EU elections, of looking beyond the borders of Germany and Austria. There we’ve seen that there are other engaged students’ organizations in other countries. Then the thought then came in that we want to network together at the European level, in a mutual effort to learn how our different educational systems work and perhaps to conduct new advancements in improving them.”
In your Facebook page, your organization’s missions and visions are penned. How do you plan on promoting those?
TG: “First, at the moment, we are composed of six countries who together founded the organization. On the one side, our plan is to encourage other European countries to be a part of EUPAS because the more members there are, the stronger your voice is at the European level. On the other side, there is the plan of starting an event in autumn in Vienna surrounding the topic of education, sort of like a congress among the member states putting the issue of education in focus.”
Do you plan to lobby before EU institutions as to influence a European “education policy” in a way?
TG: “Yes, of course lobbying is naturally a topic of interest and we aim to talk with these people who are responsible for education at the European level.”
According to your Facebook page, Norway, despite it not being part of the EU, is a member of the organization. What made them join?
TG: “First it must be said that Norway is not a founding member, but they were there during the establishment as an observer. And I must say that that’s a nice step because Norway is not in the EU as you said, but they still, as a matter of principle, have an interest in this common European idea. And we like that.”
But when you met with the representatives of the Norwegian group, were they enthusiastic about the EU? Were they for their country joining the EU?
TG: “Basically yes; the young representatives of that group did have enthusiasm, though I wouldn’t say it was vast. But I can signify that they want to be part of the EU, due to the advantages the EU can offer to the youth such as the Erasmus+ Program. Also, the youth has a different approach than adults; because if we consider the 1994 Norwegian EU membership referendum, it came off that Norway wouldn’t join the EU, and I think that if you would only ask the youth, then a positive, but not over-enthusiastic, predilection would result.”
What’s your message to the youth and why should they care about what happens in the EU?
TG: “First to the question of ‘why is Europe important.’ Europe, especially the EU, has everyday influence on our lives. For example, when you go on holiday to another country, you get the text of paying ‘x’ for a call, for internet access, etc. Just recently the EU Parliament voted to abolish roaming fees in the EU; of course not immediately as it takes time. Considering this, you notice that the EU indeed does have an influence on our daily lives; and likewise in the course of the upcoming EU elections, we can also influence the Union, where we vote for a political direction that a party carries, which is of course a good thing. That is why it is important for the youth to become aware of becoming responsible on what happens in the next five years with the EU leading.”
Would you like to say anything else that I haven’t asked for the readers to know?
TG: “Well, we willingly invite others to be a part of EUPAS, to like our Facebook page, to be in contact with us, to give us feedbacks and be part of our events. Generally, a united Europe is not only a thought, but a feeling. Maybe we haven’t reached the point where, for example, an American gets asked by an Asian where he’s from, and he doesn’t answer ‘I’m from Colorado’ but he answers ‘I am from America.’ I’d find it nice when the same applies to Europeans. Sooner or later, it will happen. I just think people aren’t aware what advantages they have through the EU and through a united Europe. We (EUPAS) are now pursuing to raise awareness regarding this issue and I can expect and hope that a lot of people go to the polls in May for the EU elections and exercise their right to vote.”
(Thomas Gaar, aside from being the secretary-general of EUPAS, is also the federal chairman of the Österreichische Schülerunion. He is from Graz where he attended a gymnasium and a commercial high school. He successfully graduated with honors and currently studies business economics at the Vienna University of Economics and Business.)
Author : The Eurocrat