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In celebration of Europe Day 2017 Ambassador Didier Lenoir, the Head of the Delegation of the European Union to the International Organisations in Vienna, Ambassador Thierry Béchet, the Permanent Representative of the European Union to the OSCE, Mr. Jörg Wojahn, the Representative of the European Commission to Austria, Mr. Georg Pfeifer, the Head of the Information Office of the European Parliament in Austria, Prof. Michael O'Flaherty, the Head of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, and Mr. Martin Brunkhorst, the Head of the Vienna Office of the European Investment Bank, hosted a reception in Vienna on 9 May.
European Parliament Vice-President Ulrike Lunacek addressed the gathering of representatives of the UN, OSCE, Austrian administration, diplomatic community and civil society.
Professor Michael O’Flaherty opened the day on behalf of the Vienna-based EU offices. He emphasised that the EU can only weather the storm if it stays true to its human rights foundation and values. O’Flaherty also reiterated the critical role of young people and their engagement in order for this process to be successful.
To engage with young people and to give them the chance to have their say on the future of the EU, 18-year old Austrian student Leyla Kamyabi was invited as a guest speaker. She stressed that the real strength of the EU lies in its diversity, a view that is shared by many other young Europeans.
Kamyabi reminded the guests that ‘the EU is not only an economic and monetary union. It is about solidarity, security, freedom, and peace, environmental protection, social market economy and above all about democracy’.
She can sense a general strong EU optimism among young people who benefit from a Europe without borders by getting to know new perspectives, expanding their horizon and exploring different countries. However, she also identified that the majority of young people were not informed sufficiently about current events and affairs in Brussels, Strasbourg, and Luxembourg and therefore recommended that, political education must be made a central topic at all European schools.
Tolerance is what Leyla appreciates most about Europe. Although, her parents are not from Austria – her mother is from Turkey, her father from Iran – she has never experienced any discrimination. To her understanding, being an EU citizen means that there are no barriers and plenty of opportunities, meaning that one could move to another country any day, take up studies or start to work anywhere within the European Union. She reminded people how important mutual respect and the freedom of expression and press are and how strongly the EU supports and protects these rights and values. Therefore, she concluded that the EU's future does not only depend on our societies but that our society's future also depends on the EU.