MEU Lisbon brings Europeans together inside the Portuguese Parliament

, by Caitlin O’Hara

All the versions of this article: [English] [Português]

MEU Lisbon brings Europeans together inside the Portuguese Parliament
The Model European Union Lisbon session in 2018 took place inside the Portuguese Parliament. Photograph: João Carlos Nunes

Last week was marked by BETA Portugal’s Model European Union session in Lisbon. More than 100 young people from over 40 countries attended to simulate the European Parliament and Council.

It is one thing to read about how exactly laws and amendments get passed in the EU, but it’s quite another to spend four days immersed in the minute detail of it. It is very procedural, going through all the minutiae that real MEPs encounter and expectations of behaviour from the participants, whose ages ranged from 17-27. It is definitely an exhausting week - the days are full, as are the nights if you so wish. The heat in Lisbon did not help at making a comfortable environment, although it was a beautiful city, and the setting of the Portuguese Parliament was absolutely stunning.

My role as a journalist meant I was observing and recording the proceedings, which suited me fine for my first MEU. I was able to walk freely out of the Parliament, and then later into the Council, when they passed a motion to allow journalists into the room, as in the real Council meetings journalists are rarely allowed.

One of the more entertaining stories that made the internal MEU journal, The Witness, was one about condoms. Yes, I started - along with a friend - a company that sells EU-themed condoms, badges, and magnets. And it got a wonderfully positive reception in Lisbon. EUphoria is new, launched just a few months ago, and response from friends who are not EU fanatics has mostly been confusion as to who would want a condom that says things like “You’re making me enlarge like it’s 2004”. However, the participants at MEUL are very pro-European, and many condoms and badges were sold to enthusiastic customers.

In the simulation two dramatic stories emerged – Germany lost their voting rights and the UK almost reversed Brexit. Because Germany has the largest population, some smaller countries on the Council didn’t want the Minister of Germany to be able to vote on the amendments, thus they triggered Article 7, which could be used in real life if a member state fundamentally violated the principles and values of the EU. It requires unanimity from the Council, and while there was some drama in the simulation, ultimately it was passed. There was then a passionate plea from the Minister of Germany to the Parliament, who also had to vote for the Article by majority, yet her words did not deter them, and they voted to expel her from the Council, effectively removing her voting rights.

Once Germany was out, the Minister of the UK tried to re-enter the EU by invoking Article 49, which states that any European country can apply to become a member. He appealed to the Parliament again, which did pass the motion, however when it went back to the Council, there were three votes against, and as it required unanimity, it did not pass. Nevertheless, it was a good hour after Parliament approved, that the dream that Brexit had been stopped could be entertained.

MEU brings passionate pro-Europeans together in a brilliant way. The organisers also brought in several guest speakers from the EU itself, including a former MEP and a representative for the European Parliament. The representative spoke about how important it is for young people to vote in the elections, and be engaged with politics. This is why MEUs are important: it was the first time for many participants to be at an MEU, and many weren’t even doing a degree in politics. They were simply learning first-hand the processes of the EU, helping them become even more engaged citizens of Europe, helping to shape its future.

A special moment came on the last day when it was announced that citizens of Kosovo no longer need a visa to travel within the EU. Everyone gathered to take a picture in front of the EU flag, the beautiful symbol of unity. Free movement is not something that should be taken for granted, as many applicants from Kosovo have not been able to attend MEUs, due to their visa not being approved.

There is drama, frustration, joy, laughter – all within the same minute sometimes. The line between simulation and real life can be blurred sometimes, but it is all such a fantastic educational tool and a way to bring Europeans together. Europe needs more people to realise what it does, how it functions, promote those ideals - and the future is bright indeed.

To paraphrase the opening remarks of the event: ‘MEUs are a great tool to promote federalism. The debate at MEU gets centred on the right metrics, everyone leaves knowing a bit more about how the EU works, which makes integration more possible.’

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