Irish students debate the European Union of the future

By Barbara Nolan, Head of the European Commission Representation in Dublin

What will an enlarged European Union of 500 million people look like? How will the citizens of its 35 or more Member States live, work and interact? Who will pay for it and how much? How will decisions be made and can consensus be reached with more voices at the table?

These were just some of the questions debated at this year’s Model Council of the European Union, which took place on 1 March at Dublin Castle. Teams of secondary school students from across Ireland, each playing the role of an EU Member State, did a deep dive into the reforms needed to make future EU enlargements a success. They came prepared with passionate and articulate arguments, to defend the interests of their adopted Member States.

Six teams rose above 21 other schools with their convincing portrayal of EU Ministers for European Affairs, going head to head on some of the key challenges presented by enlargement such as the future of the EU budget, how it is financed and where the money should be spent.

Maynooth Post Primary School in Co Kildare won first place for their representation of Malta during the debate. They will travel with their class to Strasbourg in October to take part in ‘Euroscola’, where they will become MEPs for a day in the European Parliament.

Ardscoil Rís from Dubin, representing the Netherlands and St Leo’s College from Carlow representing Denmark took joint second place.

Honourable mentions were given to the following schools: Coláiste Chill Mhantáin in Burkeen, Co Wicklow as Austria, Loreto Secondary School, Clonmel, Co Tipperary as Poland and Deansrath Community College in Clondalkin, Dublin as Germany.

The debate, based on the format of a real meeting of the Council of the European Union, is a practical but also enjoyable way for young people to learn how the EU works, how decisions are made, and more importantly, how consensus can be reached. Stepping into the shoes of EU politicians for a day is not for the faint hearted but these young people rose to the challenge and made their voices heard.

As millions of Europeans prepare to vote in the European elections in June, engaging our young people in active citizenship and encouraging their participation in the democratic process will empower them to shape their future in a Union that is preparing to welcome new member states.

Ireland has played its part in the story of EU enlargement. On 1 May, we will celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the largest single enlargement of the EU when 15 became 25 on the historic ‘Day of Welcomes’, hosted by the Irish Presidency of the EU in Dublin in 2004. The economic and political achievements of the past 20 years have shown what a success story the 2004 enlargement has been, not only for the 10 Member States concerned but for the EU as a whole.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

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