We shared information about a Socialist and Democrat Group School of Democracy around the region and were delighted when a student from Newcastle University was selected to go. Read here what he thought and how he thought it might be improved!
My visit to the School of Democracy
For many, when I turned around and said I was off to a Socialists & Democrats Conference, they scratched their heads and wondered what an earth I was doing going to one, and simply what a ‘School of Democracy’ was!
Held in Reggio Emilia, outside Bologna, the ‘School of Democracy’ was a gathering of over 100 young people aged between 18 and 25, all with a passion for politics. The school presented an unparalleled opportunity to debate and discuss not only democracy but the big issues that face it’s every existence.
The School first came to my attention through an email from my European Union politics lecturer Dr Jocelyn Mawdsley, who encouraged any students who were interested to apply. I wrote the required essay on ‘What democracy meant to me’ and quietly forgot all about it over Christmas. I never expected to even have a chance at attending the School. There are many students who are far more politically active than I, I merely donate to my chosen party and perform my democratic duty on polling day. Yet despite my relative political inactivity, I was chosen from thousands of others to attend this inaugural School of Democracy.
Before too long, I was on my way to Reggio Emilia, with a quick lay over in Amsterdam. If I thought I had had problems explaining what a School of Democracy was to my friends and family, it was an equally difficult experience explaining to those whose first language is not English. By far and away the best answer I received came from a person in Amsterdam who decided I must be a Member of the European Parliament (Who knows? Maybe one day!), and then proceeded to tell me everything that was wrong, in their eyes, with the European Union.
The School itself was a two day conference that consisted of lectures and workshops, stretching from political parties through to migration, to TTIP and books which have marked the history and future of democracy. The conference itself was billed a ‘School of Democracy’, but I think a better term would have been a ‘Socialist School of Democracy’, namely down to the fact almost everyone there was a member of their respective S&D national parties, or heavily involved in trade unionism. To me the S&D Group missed a trick with this. A school is a place of ideas, debate and education, so why not invite young people who identify with the European People’s Party, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats, the Greens or the Conservative and Reformists? Only then would it truly be a School of Democracy, which truly embraces the very foundation of democracy.
I attended a workshop titled ‘TTIP and Bi/Multinational Trade Negotiations’. I expected a vicious debate surrounding the secrecy of the negotiations, the controversial Investor-state dispute settlements and all the other problems with the agreement. I came away feeling rather disappointed, the arguments were all idealistic, showed no appreciation for the economic and geopolitical realities that exist, and were rather simplistic. The debate I had so hoped for did not materialise. In all what I felt the debate needed were panellists who fundamentally disagreed about TTIP and international trade.
The School of Democracy was above all an interesting experience and an experience that I am pleased I went on. Everyone should get the opportunity to mix with other Europeans and when applications open for the second School of Democracy I whole heartedly encourage anyone and everyone to apply.
Scott is a student at Newcastle University studying for a joint honours degree in Politics and History, graduating in 2016. He has a keen interest in the European Union and has studied it in every year of his degree. Scott hopes to teach History and Politics upon graduation from Newcastle University.