A short history of the Young European Federalists

, by Tobias Flessenkemper

A short history of the Young European Federalists

This article was first published in a 1997 issue of The New Federalist for the 25th anniversary of JEF-Europe, the supranational organisation of the Young European Federalists, the publisher of this website.

Twenty-five is the last year when you get youth reduction for trains and planes, which are so important for JEFfers. JEF Europe is becoming 25 in March 1997. Time to look back but also to look ahead. Are we ready to pay the full fare in the future? The New Federalist would like to start a series of contributions on the past and future of our favourite organisation.

lt was around the 1950s that the first groups of young federalists were created, as a youth section of the Union of European Federalists (UEF). The UEF, after the end of the war, opposed the reconstruction of a system of all-powerful nation states in Europe, going as far as breaking down and burning frontier posts. Since then, large numbers of demonstrations, seminars, meetings, conferences, petitions, actions and publications have been organised, on a European scale.

Especially young people played a major role in this movement. Young European Federalists were organising themselves into JEF sections and set up a first European structure with a European office in Paris. That was in 1949. So why only twenty-five years of JEF Europe?

One goal, two ways?

The basic controversy in the 1950s was between ‘gradualists’ and ‘maximalists` and had also a big influence on JEF Europe, The `gradualists` welcomed, after the failure of the European Defence Community, the process of the functionalist integration in the European Economic Community. The ‘maximalists` on the other hand launched in those times a campaign to denounce the integration process which was mainly brought forward by intergovernmental negotiations. They called for a European constitutional assembly. A result of this was that UEF split. The ‘gradualists`, like the German Europa Union and the Dutch movement, left UEF while the `maximalist’ Italian Movimento Federalista Europeo stayed with other organisations in UEF and transformed it into the MFE supranational.

With the split of the European federalist movement in the 1950s, the Intemational Youth Organisation also fell apart. The various groups carried on with their work at the local, regional and national level. But transnational activities were also organised, though there was no intemational organisation of JEF.

As a reaction to the crisis of European integration in the 1960s mainly caused by Charles de Gaulle’s ‘empty chair`policy, the federalist strategy changed. lt became obvious that the supranational character of the Community was in danger. Consequently, federalists were the first to demand the full implementation of the Community Treaties and more powers for the Commission. This change of strategy brought the federalists and their youth organisations together again.

Swinging 1960’s

Already then young people from all over Europe started common Actions. In 1967 they held ‘Mock negotiations’ in Brussels. The idea was to work out a treaty of accession of the United Kingdom to the Community. The method they used is still familiar to us: a large-scale transnational simulation game. ln March 1969 they organised a demonstration on the spectators benches of the European Parliament, demanding direct elections of the European Parliament by universal suffrage. According to the sources, the demonstration was so lively that the meeting of the European Parliament had to be suspended. In many European countries protest demonstrations were organised against the Colonels’ coup and dictatorship in Greece.

These activities helped the first groups of young federalists set up very close collaboration and tighten their links again. This collaboration took concrete form in the creation of JEF’s liaison office in 1970. There it was decided to set up an intemational association that took the name of ‘Young European Federalists’ and to hold a founding Congress. The Congress where the organisation took on its present form was held in Luxembourg on 25 and 26 March 1972.

The 1970’s, trying out new methods

The reason for re-establishing an international JEF was not only the change of strategy in the federalist movement. lt also needs to be seen in the context of the development of youth culture and movements in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. In May 1968 students were erecting barricades in the streets of Paris. ln most of the western European countries young people and students revolted against the existing society. They were asking for more democracy and leftist, not to say Marxist, ideas became very popular. It was a time for reforms. The same was felt on the other side of the ‘iron curtain’. But the Prague Spring of 1968 was brutally brought to an end by the tanks of the Warsaw Pact. ln a way the youth movement of the late 1960s was pan-European, although the conditions were extremely different. While the Eastem block fell into years of stagnation, societies in western Europe began to change rapidly.

Youth protests shocked the politicians so much that they started to think about how to involve young people better in politics and society. lt was the time when youth centres were founded in cities, when new forms of cultural work were developed. The whole development can be described with the term ‘sociocultural activities’. New forms of learning outside formal education structures were developed. We use these methods now in our seminars: simulation games, role games, confrontation and consensus games, working groups etc. The active participation of people became important and on international scale, but not only there, we started talking about ‘intercultural learning’.

However not all politicians had good things in mind when they started to support youth activities. There is always a hidden agenda. This was, so to say, to keep young people under control by giving them institutional help. Politics fostered the development of youth organisations. And who has ever seen the discussions of youth organisations about statutes and rules of procedure knows that the internal fights are very efficient ways of keeping them under control.

At the European level, the Council of Europe in Strasbourg took a leading role in this process. All western European countries, apart from Finland, were in those times member of the Council of Europe. And now we come to a historical ‘co-incidence’.

About the same time as JEF Europe was founded in its current form, the Council of Europe was setting up the European Youth Foundation (EYF) and shortly afterwards the European Youth Centre in Strasbourg. The European Youth Foundation was the first supporter of international youth activities on a larger scale. But since there were very few international youth organisations it was the right moment to found one ... JEF Europe.

This does not mean that JEF Europe would not have been founded without the existence of the European Youth Foundation but the possibility to get support definitely helped the different JEF groups to come together. Just to show how fast we were: In the European Youth Foundation, all organisations get a number when they apply for the first time. JEF has number 8, Today more than 600 organisations are registered. The European Community had in the beginning no role in this development towards international youth work. The Youth Forum of the European Community was set up only some years later, in 1978. The fact that the Community played no role has a lot of consequences until now, but this a different story.

New JEF enlarges to the North

It is hard for us to imagine how intensively Europe was discussed in the 1950s: the United States of Europe seemed to become reality very soon. It rather seemed to be a question of the method than of anything else. We all know that history went differently. But before coming to the present situation, I would like to come back to the 1970s.

JEF activities on a European level started, as we saw, with mock negotiations about the enlargement to the North. The year when JEF Europe was founded 1972, was one of the uncountable crucial years for Europe. Denmark, Ireland, Norway and the United Kingdom applied for membership in the Community. While the story went well for three of them, it went differently for Norway. A referendum was held. A dynamic group of young people, Europeisk Ungdom, campaigned for Ja. During the campaign they became a very big group of dynamic young people. But it did not help. 54% of the Norwegians said Nej.

After the referendum this big group of dynamic Norwegians became active in JEF. What they brought into the organisation was not only a large number of members who became actively involved. Since the tight for a European federation was less relevant for a country that just said no to the Community JEF Norway was always the vanguard in all the efforts of our movement to become a genuine supranational one (to use the words of the former JEF President Giannis Papageorgiou). I may add to make it also an international youth organisation.

ln the 1970s people spoke of ‘Eurosclerosis’, which meant that after the economic crisis in the early 1970s the Community made only little progress. When Europe was mentioned in the news it was because the Common Agricultural Policy produced ‘milk lakes’. The Community was far from being attractive. Especially young people were not very much interested in the European integration.

Even though JEF was still interested in the European Community new topics became increasingly important; East-West relationship, disarmament, women, the environment and Third World issues. Many sections became ‘anti-capitalist’. The main criticism towards the Community was that it was ‘a Europe of the big capital’. Of course, this wasn’t the opinion of all JEF members but in a way the organisation reflected the main stream and at the same time it didn’t. JEF’s basis for political discussion was the federalist thinking which then was not mainstream at all. Even though the social aspects of federalism were more discussed than the institutional ones.

Spinelli and the Golden 1980’s

Richard Corbett
Richard Corbett, president of JEF-Europe from 1979 to 1981, later became a member of the European Parliament (1996-2009). Photo published in JEF-Info in 1983.

One major campaign of the 1970s was the fight for the direct election of the European Parliament. ln 1979 the first direct election took place and Altiero Spinelli became a Member of this Parliament. Spinelli, one of the founding fathers of the federalist movement during the Second World War and a ‘maximalist’ in the 1950’s, had the idea that the European Parliament should be the Federator of Europe, a sort of constitutional assembly. He managed to convince his colleagues in the Parliament to support and work on the Draft Treaty on the European Union.

At about the same time, Jacques Delors became President of the European Commission and was launching the idea of the Single Market 1992. The economy went smoothly in western Europe, people were enjoying their wealth. The separation of the continent was no topic anymore after the peace movement failed in the early 1980’s. The project ‘Europe 1992’ was fascinating for most people and a deeper European integration was seen as positive. The Community enlarged successfully to the South (Greece, Spain and Portugal) and played a positive role in the democratisation of these countries. JEF also changed. The big leap forward in European integration seemed to be more and more possible. Institutional questions became important in the discussion since it seemed, or at least we thought it, that a real European Democracy can be established in a short time. Federalism was no ‘f-word’ in those times and people were drafting European constitutions. So JEF said of itself: Young Europeans simply a generation ahead. That means already living in the European federation. With the economic boom people had money to buy all these beautiful things which are produced in Europe. Fashion became important again, cable TV brought us MTV Europe, eating habits and the lifestyle was getting more and more similar throughout the western part of our continent. The Europeanisation and Globalisation process was perceived positively and enriching. People were happy about their ‘European ldentity`. Tor Eigil Hodne, former editor of this magazine and JEF President, described this feeling ofthe 1980’s very well in his article The true Europeans: one generation away. This article was written in 1992. One might say that it was more a look back to the golden 1980’s or wishful thinking.

A Europe for everybody, not just for politicians

Coming to the more recent history it becomes in a way more difficult to identify common trends. Or at least it becomes easier to contradict the author since most of us have some active memory on the latest European developments. Maybe one could identify three basic developments which influence the work and the discussions of JEF. Firstly, the retum of nationalist wars in Europe. Secondly, the crisis of legitimacy of the European integration process for many reasons, highlighted by the Danish referendum in 1992, the lost Norwegian referendum in 1994 and the negative attitude of a majority of EU citizens towards the Euro. And thirdly, the open questions on the enlargement of the European Union. This is of course a very limited description of the challenges in front of us. All three are also linked to each other in various aspects. You may also want to add more questions on the list. However, that’s where we stand.

Today JEF is active in 28 countries and JEFers in all countries have to find answers to these developments from a different angle. The basic answer is that we need A Europe for everybody not just for politicians That may sound too simple for some. We think it is not. It was a Europe for everybody what we wanted since the 1950’s but still it is a Europe just for politicians, just for the West, just for the rich. The people who are against Europe feel that this is not a Europe for them. They are not against the things our Europe for everybody stands for: Peace, Democracy and Equality. Maybe these words sound simplistic as well. But they are a good description of the f-word.

Ready to pay the full fare ?

When I started to write this article it was supposed to fit in one page, it didn’t. Sorry Pascal [1]! By rushing through the JEF history I surely forgot a billion things. I hardly mentioned names mostly because I know so little of all the activists. And this is the problem of youth organisations their memory is very short. This is good because it makes it easier to create new things and to change the direction. It is bad because a lot of things get lost and sometimes work is done over and over again. Perhaps 25 is the age when it is useful to receive some advice again. One has to become adult and make decisions. I guess JEF has to receive some as well. Therefore I invite all former JEFers to comment on our work and to help us make things better. The anniversary in 1997 should be a good opportunity to start with this intergenerational learning process. Concerning the full fare. In money things we are still quite young - we do not have it and so many investments have to be done... I suppose we have to get a students ID or something else in order to get still youth fares on our way to a Europe for everybody. Maybe some of the members of the parents’ generation can help us - 25 ECU for the 25th anniversary wouldn’t be a bad thing.

Keywords

Footnotes

[1The New Federalist was still a paper magazine in the late 1990’s.

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