Values vs numbers - a visit to the Charlemagne (Youth) Prize ceremony in Aachen

If there is a prize giving credit to youth projects that is accompanied by prestige galore in Europe, it's got to be the Charlemagne Youth Prize! The Charlemagne competition takes place once a year and is organised both by the European Parliament and the Karlspreis Foundation. We were lucky enough to be part of it for the second time within the last three years. Here is a short recap and reflection on what was going down in Aachen.

National Charlemagne Youth Prize winners 2013Charlemagne Youtz PrizeWinners of ECYP 2013

Let's start with the positive news concerning Ride for your Rights!. Of course it's somewhat bitter that we weren't awarded with one of the three final prizes. Let's not forget though, that the national jury in Austria (consisting of three MEPs and a youth representative) has much accredited our continous work by granting us pole position for the final 27. This was the second time within the last three years. Let's also bear in mind that we only started doing our work two years ago, which makes us and our impact inevitably a lot smaller compared to the winning project Europe on Track from Spain (our sincere congratulations once again) and the organisation standing behind it - AEGEE Europe. What we can be very proud of though, is the high profile support we've received this year while being at the ceremony in Aachen.

To begin with, our Bike of Honour once again stole the show. The first signatory of 2013 was no other than the President of the European Parliament himself. President Schulz was delighted to find some of his colleagues' signatures on the Bike of Honour and in the Manifesto and showed his full support by adding his signature to the list and by decorating the frame.

President Martin Schulz with RFYR representative Julian Walkowiak Signature of President Martin Schulz on Bike of HonourPresident Martin Schulz signing RFYR Manifesto

Our second signature of the year came from this year's Charlemagne Prize laureate Dalia Grybauskaite, the President of the Republic of Lithuania. As far as getting the support of Presidents is concerned, we are doing quite well, to say the least.
We hereby thank President Schulz and President Grybauskaite for publicly dignifying our project.

President Grybauskaite meeting RFYR representative Julian Walkowiak Signature of President Dalia Grybauskaite on Bike of Honour

Let's lose a few words about everything else that happened around the Charlemagne Youth Prize.  Ever wondered what happens if you confront 27 young, ambitious and convinced Europeans with a group of people who are pulling the strings in the European finance sector? Two worlds collide. Disappointment and frustration is the result. On our second day in Aachen we were invited to be part of the Charlemagne Europe Forum that was carrying the title 'Europe - quo vadis?' this year. Here we were, 27 European representatives whose ideas of what Europe is and what it should be is clearly reflected in all our projects: Our Europe is that of diversity, solidarity, shared values, new ideas, endless opportunities, culture, youth movements and exchange etc.  Try explaining THIS Europe to a group of people that can very happily and easily reduce Europe to a minimum of a landscape that consists only of numbers, contracts, debts, deficits and a monetary union. Well, guess what, all the optimism, the youth euphoria, the 'you are the future of Europe' - bubble will burst in a second. Of course there will be juvenile resistance coming from our group, only to be slapped in the face with arguments such as young people who consciously give up on driving cars and decide to use bicycles instead for daily commuting are harming Europe's economy. Such idiotic and romantic ideas and values that are intended to perhaps at least slow down the process of destroying the planet were rather laughed upon. Instead we were invited to jump on board and sell cars outside Europe for as long as the market still demands it. Sure thing, that saves Europe and solves the problem of our environmental crisis on top of it. Another silly request coming from our league was asking why financial institutions and large companies did not invest in projects. After all the day before the Forum our projects were praised to be entrepreneurial, enriching, and giving hope to a fair and righteous Europe of tomorrow. There was a moment of anticipated hope amongst us but unfortunately the question was put to sleep with comments along the lines of 'Europe's economy does not profit from projects which are valuable for society'. Good, glad we got that out of the way. Let 50 % of the Spanish youth be unemployed and award them with the Charlemagne Youth Prize - nice way of ending that story without too much committment. Why should anyone invest in education of the youth? We are important, but by no means that important it seems.

Here is another ironic incident that makes me wonder where the youth really finds its place in the list of priorities. The day before President Grybauskaite received the Charlemagne Prize, we were all called on stage in public as part of the open air festival. We had the honour to be on stage together with Madame President and both the laureate of the Charlemagne Prize and our three winners of the Youth Prize were asked some questions in front of the local crowd. It's these moments when any young person is touched by the attention that is given to them, their projects and their visions.

 President Grybauskaite and national winners at open air festival

Let's skip to the next day then, the grand awarding ceremony with over 800 guests in the Coronation Hall of the Aachen Town Hall. To name only a few distinguished guests who were attending: Wolfgang Schäuble, Jean-Claude Trichet, Herman van Rompuy. Big venue, big people, big moment, no doubt. The only problem of myself and my fellow Youth Prize nominees was the view. The 'future of Europe' was, unfortunately, seated in the last row of the Hall.

Despite these few incidents of a bitter-sweet taste of Aachen, it must be said that anyone considering participating in the Charlemagne Youth Prize competition next year, should not hesitate to do so. The Charlemagne Foundation together with the European Parliament really make an effort to help young idealists like ourselves and provide us with a great platform to present our ideas and projects. Anyone who was part of the 4 day programme in Aachen will agree upon the fact that you come back home filled with inspiration and energy. It's not so much the who you meet or what you hear but much rather the compressed common understanding of the 'silly 27', doing their thing day in day out until they've caused a difference one day. The beauty of it is the mere phenomenon that they all do it because they are driven by values and not so much by numbers.

I personally want to thank my team from Ride for your Rights! and the Austrian jury for believing in us. See you around,


PS. If you'd like to find out more about the Prize, send an email to, connect via Twitter @EUyouthPrize, or visit their website.




Free counters!

Active forum topics

Powered by Drupal