Svenja Hahn: Europe is rather the solution of the issues we have today

What we want to see is that the Union is becoming better and more efficient, more democratic, more transparent and more accountable

We really want to see the EU acting together as one and having a framework for challenges such as migration and asylum, addressing together security and defence. The topic of climate change is particularly for young people an existence threatening challenge, says Svenja Hahn, President of the European Liberal Youth, in an interview to Europost.

- Ms Hahn, what is the main message of young liberals across Europe for the forthcoming European elections, and what future of Europe do Liberals dream for?

- My organisation just had a congress and adopted our manifesto with the headline “The Future is Europe” in which we specify what our vision is. We believe that Europe is not the problem of the issues we have today but rather the solution, because most of the challenges cannot be solved on national level but only together. Of course we see that the EU is far from perfect. Especially what we want to see is that the Union is becoming better and more efficient, more democratic, more transparent and more accountable. This would be our main focus. When it comes to concrete topics, we really want to see the EU acting together as one and having a framework for challenges such as migration and asylum, addressing together security and defence. The topic of climate change is particularly for young people an existence threatening challenge. We want to see the Union work together for finding new solutions for energy, protecting the environment, and of course the importance of digitalisation and innovation, how the jobs of the future will look like, what new skills will need to be learned.

- When earlier this year you were elected LYMEC President, you said that Europe for sure faces many challenges but you will work to turn them into opportunities. How can this be done?

- That is in general my perspective on things. Being a young politician I've been told many times, “Ah, you are too young for this, you should be more experienced for that.” But I think this is exactly the strength of young people and young politicians, because when we see something is failing we can try something new. We have the courage for trying something new. For me it is about a mindset that when something cannot be done in a certain way, it can be done differently. And I think politics needs a very diverse representation because everyone can add something and especially young people need to draw their version of the EU. Let me give an example. We always hear from the people, “Yes, I want the EU, but…” Instead of this “but” that is always followed by what they don't like and what is not working so well, I really want to hear people saying, “I want the EU, and…” followed by what they want to change and what they want to improve.

- You mentioned your organisation's recent congress. On what directions will LYMEC be most focused in the year ahead?

- At our congress in Vilnius last month, we set the priorities for the next year and we have three direct goals for these twelve months. First to get young people elected and to have more young politicians in the European Parliament. Then, it is to get young people to vote, to have an online and social media campaign, explaining to people what the EU means for them and their daily life, and why they should go out to vote and decide their own future. Third is to get youth topics higher on the EU's agenda. That is what is in our manifesto and we have six very clear priorities which we think are most relevant for the young people based on a survey among our members. They are democracy and structural reform, defence and cybersecurity, digital market and trade, education and labour market reform, especially when we have high youth unemployment. Others are climate change and energy, as well as migration. We want to work closely on these topics with the future ALDE group in the Parliament.

- Do you think a pan-European liberal alliance with Macron for the elections next May is realistic?

- What we heard from Macron's party so far, they don't use the word liberals for themselves as it has a different connotation in French, they rather define themselves as centrist. We see the need for pro-European progressive voices to actively involve citizens and bring change to the EU and the way we think about Europe. In that regard, I believe we are on the same page with Macron. We need a pragmatic approach to work with centrist forces like Macron's, with which we share the same values, and it is good to see that the liberal parties and ALDE have just announced an alliance with Macron's En Marche towards the European elections to work together to fight populists and anti-European forces. Now we need to identify joint projects on which we can work together, this can be a major success for the pro-EU forces.

- How can you comment President Macron's statement saying with quite a negative nuance, “Europe, without a doubt, has become too ultra-liberal”?

- It is a bit unclear what he meant by that, but I would assume it has to do with the fact that in France, unlike in other countries, the word 'liberal' often refers more to 'unrestrained capitalism', though I and most liberals outside of France identify this word with giving people opportunities, giving them tools and environment to create the life they want, supporting them. It needs to be stressed that liberals believe in people, in their capabilities to do what they want in order to create their lives, that they don't need the government and the state as a nanny but as an entity that sets out fair rules for everyone. So, I think we don't need to discuss wordings such as 'liberal' too much, because there are so many different meanings, what matters is the liberal principle. But it is clear there are things we do agree on with Macron, such as that the EU should set frameworks and guidelines for the market to interact and through these guidelines give protection to the citizens, but not go for overregulation. We should not look too much to the wording but into projects and ideas that we can share.

- What according to you is the main reason for the rise of the Eurosceptic parties in the EU?

- For too long it was too easy to bash the EU for your problems at home and claim the good victories for your national politics. For a long time, we failed to show to ordinary citizens the added value the EU brings to their lives, such as why the goods in the supermarket have such good prices, that the energy supply is coming from other countries or that local neighbourhood projects are funded by EU's money. When in the last years we were seeing one crisis after another in the EU, it was very easy for the people to become frightened. And the populists played with this fear and provided oversimplified solutions to the very complex problems. We need to challenge that, and we need to take the time to explain and not to fall into the populist rhetoric, but be able to present our solution in a comprehensive way that is easily understandable. It is about creating a perspective for the Europeans so they can see what the EU really means for them.

- What is your opinion on the Spitzenkandidat process and what do you expect from the next European Parliament?

- I believe the Spitzenkandidat process is a good first step towards more transparency on how the top positions are filled compared to the backroom deals we have seen before 2014. We think this is an improvement, but we believe that it could be even closer to the people and it requires having a transnational election list to work properly. At the ALDE congress on 8 and 9 November in Madrid, we held a discussion and agreed not to have one Spitzenkandidat but rather have a team of liberal leaders. The decision on who will take part in it will be approved at an electoral congress in Berlin in early 2019. I believe in the current situation it is a great opportunity to bring the EU even closer to the Europeans and show how many important positions there are and that the liberals have top people for the top positions in the EU, may it be commission president or the president of the European Parliament.

- The youth unemployment rate in many Member States is still very high. In this respect, what initiatives does the European Liberal Youth have to change this situation?

- We believe that there are some topics that should be improved to more effectively fight youth unemployment. These include education quality, accepting degrees and education certificates. We believe that the status of the Copenhagen process is far from what European youth deserves. We believe we need labour market reforms that are more adequate to the changing reality of work in our century and we need more vocational training. I would like to see the EU spend more money for vocational training of young people rather than spending money on InterRail tickets. I want the EU to support young people to create a good life and not only a good summer. We as LYMEC were very vocal on this topic, but we want to lead by example, so we just joined the Transparency at Work campaign for interns, which will help young people to get a better overview on what they will actually be doing to get extra qualifications and not only making coffee.

- Do you agree with some experts that now this young generation live worse and are less healthy than their parents?

- Both the society and the labour market have changed very rapidly, so our generation is indeed facing more uncertainty than our parents. But I think the solution to this is not to try to turn back time but try to make sure that our generation and the next generations are given the skills and tools they need to prosper in the new reality at work. We have to embrace the reality of changing careers and professions that means lifelong learning.

- How does LYMEC work with the young people from the Western Balkans, and are the liberal ideas close to their hearts?

- We are trying to keep a special focus on strengthening and providing capacity building for our member organisations in the region. There are very strong and stable organisations, but also very young ones. They are organised together, helping each other, and we try to provide further and comprehensive assistance and encourage stronger regional cooperation because we believe it is very important that we have to consolidate the European perspective of the Western Balkan states as well. In this respect, very effective in supporting their colleagues in these six countries is the Youth MRF from Bulgaria, which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary.

- What role can youth organisations play in integrating migrants in the European society?

- In general, youth organisations can play an important role in the integration process because they often bring together views from different parts of society. And I think integration first starts at the local level, in the community where you live. For the young people it is always easier to learn a new language, interact and make friends. It could be on all kinds of platforms, it could be with political youth organisations like ours, but it can be in sports clubs as well, which is an amazing place for integration. They can also take on children's parents to join their kids and can boost integration of the whole family.

- And to wrap up, what liberal message attracts the young people?

I think that the idea of liberalism is the most empowering idea we have, because we believe in people and we believe in the young people. We are not telling them what to do with their life, just want to be there and support them and give them the tools and framework they need. I can't imagine something that young people want more - they want to be trusted and they can be heroes of their own life. Especially to young people, liberalism is a very attractive idea.

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Svenja Hahn (29) is the President of the European Liberal Youth (LYMEC). The German national has her political roots in the Free Democratic Party (FDP) and its youth wings, and serves also as FDP board member in the state of Hamburg. In her professional career she works as head of Public Relations in the international headquarters of a German-based brand. Svenja Hahn is the Spitzenkandidat of the German Young Liberals for the 2019 EP elections.

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