The event involved 30 citizens, including 14 participants from the city of Marsaskala, Malta; 5 participants from the city of Kőszeg, Hungary; 3 participants from the city of Bad Kötzting, Germany; 4 participants from the city of Chojna, Poland; 4 participants from the city of Velletri, Italy.
Location / Dates:
The event took place in Marsaskala, Malta, from 19/10/2017 to 22/10/2017.
The aim of the first event among the altogether 5 ones was to outline the general topic of the project, and list the consecutive meetings with their mail goals, specialties besides considering the advantages of the European Union membership, and the possible effects of the size of an EU state. Also, another aim was to prove through the study visit the importance and the advantage of being little.
The first event was organized by Marsaskala Local Council, where Mayor Mario Calleja and his colleagues, friends prepared a perfect program for the 30 official participants, 15 of which were from Germany, Hungary, Italy and Poland.
The conference was opened by Mr. Mario Calleja, mayor of town Marsaskala. In his speech he emphasized the importance of the event and expressed his hope in the common European future. As it was planned, on this first evening (October 19) we had exhibition where participants showed examples for the benefit of being the members of the EU. The photos were placed on posters and remained there in the conference room for a week. Groups had the chance to explain why they chose the given building, part of the town, events for the exhibition. Among them there were photos about international projects organized with EU support, development of a given area in a town etc.
Next morning (October 20) after the daily opening by Mr. Mario Calleja the coordinator of the project, Dr. István Mátrai introduced the program and its importance. He emphasized, that some people are Eurosceptic and do not want to see the advantage of the existence of the EU. Also, he expressed his belief that the series of conferences, events will contribute to a better reputation of the EU.
The conference was honored by Dr. Owen Bonnici, Minister of Justice, Culture and Local Government. In his speech he emphasized the importance of the European Union, and also gave examples for the benefit of the Maltese membership. As a former vice mayor of Marsaskala local council he listed several investments, projects which were carried out with the aid of the EU and expressed his proudness that Marsaskala has been active also in this international project.
After a short break each partner organization gave a short presentation about their “local problems” which will be discussed during their events.
Kőszeg, Hungary talked about the importance of involving all entities to save and protect water. In the PPT Ms. Ilona M. Tálos outlined the question to be discussed later, and with a few surprising questions she drew the attention of the audience to the importance of the theme. Good answers were even honored with a small gift. Also, she mentioned that there will be “homework” for the Kőszeg meeting, and the Hungarian team will send over them by April.
Chojna, Poland presented the attitude of local participants and foreign visitors towards work abroad, particularly in small town. In his PPT Mr. Janusz Cezary Salamończyk talked about the benefits of the traineeship abroad, supported by EU funds. He highlighted the most important aspects of the program, and systematically illustrated the difference in a school life before and after internationalization of the school which has been taking part in Comenius, Leonardo, Erasmus+ projects.
Velletri, Italy gave presentation about new walls in Europe and new Europeans: young people born in Italy by foreign parents. Ms. Andrea Chiara Bauco introduced her summary with the question: “Who is a refugee?” She gave a definition and some numbers to picture the presence of refugees around the world today. She then presented the theme from an historical point of view ending her short speech with her concern, but also hope, for the future and the generations to come.
Bad Kötzting, Germany talked about living in a former border area and the remains of the Cold War. In the PPT Ms. Simona Gogeißl focused on positive and negative aspects of life in a border area which should be discussed together later. In these areas nature conservation and a sustainable development play an important role. By mentioning the problems of bee keeping caused by parasites, pollutants and pesticides the delegates wanted to highlight the importance of a careful handling of nature for the whole world population.
Marsaskala, Malta mentioned the attitude of local participants and foreign visitors towards importance of a very small, isolated country, almost forgotten language. Mr. Emanuel Casingena in his presentation he spoke about their language: the origin of Maltese language which is a mix of secular Arabic and Sicilian, a Semitic language with a touch of Roman in it. He said that their language is difficult to understand and write. Their second language is English, a language that nowadays is understood by many other countries. He also added, that during the study visit we will realize this in the everyday life, although we will not be able to distinguish the different dialects of the Maltese language. He mentioned that participants will experience this personally next day, during the study visit to Gozo. For a better understanding he will give some points of views.
After this we had discussion and debate about the questions: Do little countries count in the EU? Do they have the same rights? The discussion and debate were organized in groups, and afterwards a spokesperson summarized the opinion of each group. Finally, a common point of view was formed by the participants.
From the overall discussion ‘Even us the little ones count a lot’ the following key points were mentioned: Immigration; Culture/ Folklore, LGBTIQ rights, Students Exchange, Exchange between generations, New input from young generations, Working experience, Strong economy, Social welfare, International Conferences, Rich in History, Lingual Diversity, Voluntary Organisations, Traditions.
In detail the following opinions were presented by the spokesperson: (Obviously, the last group had only a little chance to tell new ideas, but still all groups contributed to the success of the discussion.)
It is obvious that large countries, large cities are stronger, they can influence the others better. However, even small countries can insist on their own opinion. In many countries there are several minorities and they also have their rights – if not, they can ask for help.
Even the EU regulations show that the little countries are also important. Even though smaller countries have less representatives, the EU presidency does not depend on the size, each country holds this position in a rotation. Also, the veto can help smaller nations – until a reasonable point. The small nations can have big activities, remarkable results, and they also can have famous scientists, inventors (like in Hungary). Also, any little actions ae important, so even the smaller group of people, associations can have very positive and efficient actions. (Even in our project like beekeepers, disabled people, environment protectors etc. can help to solve serious questions.)
To prove our citizens that even the little ones count a lot, we should talk more about Europe at school, and to prove students that there are differences in EU, but also, there are similarities, and this is obvious. The exchange of generations is important: youngsters and elderlies can learn a lot from each other, and this would be mutually beneficial. The experience of Brexit shows us that big cities feel probably more European, and smaller ones rather keep national traditions, folklore etc.
Exchange of the citizens, particularly exchange of youngsters can help to prove citizens the benefits of being the members of the EU, and this then also contributes to the better reputation of it. This is even easier if the country is small, as there is stronger connection among people, there is less anonymity, so it is easier to carry out changes.
The lunch and the short break also contributed to the aim of the project: The international cuisine was an example of the cultural diversity, and gave the chance to exchange ideas, get acquainted informally etc. Different delegations had the chance to learn other nations’ food, how they prepare, why they are important in their culture. Everybody took it seriously, despite the flights all partners brought cooked food. Obviously, also the host town presented its traditional lunch, too. This was also an excellent example that a small idea, a little contribution also was part of the success of the event: during preparation, serving the food, waiting for the last ones people had the chance to continue the discussion.
After the lunch – taking into consideration the healthy lifestyle – we walked to the Douzelage monument, where a group photo was taken. At the monument – which was erected five years ago – the mayor of the town, Mr. Mario Calleja talked about the importance of the monument, which can be found in one of the main squares. Each Douzelage member town has its coat of arm, and they are joint by metal rods to symbolize the strong connection between the countries of the EU and that of the Douzelage towns. The citizens are already aware of any international project taking place in the town because in the square the flags of the participating countries are raised. Posters also showed the program of the event.
In the afternoon the participants took part in workshops in 5 international groups. It was well organized, because each nation was responsible for one topic. The topics were the followings: Advantages and disadvantages of being little (HU); Young ones in politics (PL); Immigration (IT); Young ones in sports (DE); Heritage, development and the young generation (MT). After the workshops each group leader summarized the outcomes and answered the topic related questions of other participants.
Advantages and disadvantages of being little was summarized by the Hungarian group. Within the international group participants found in number more disadvantages than advantages for being little. During the discussion the most difficult was to find out: advantages or disadvantages are more important. Finally, we agreed that probably advantages are very important, and their strength compensates the many disadvantages. Advantages are for example the easy communication, that people are familiar with each other, it is easier to build up a team and understand each other, they have the same problems and could more easily be solved, and a very important factor: traditions could be more easily preserved. These were those ones the group found the most important.
Disadvantages – according to the discussion – were the followings: It is difficult to find enough people for certain positions – less choice for certain positions; One has to work much harder to find rewarding jobs and opportunities; Could easily be influenced in their opinion by other more powerful and bigger countries; Overcrowded places, not enough parking spaces and not enough space to develop certain projects; More difficult for talented persons to be recognized abroad; In sports not much to choose from for competition; No one to compete with in small cities and have to go somewhere else to improve your abilities; Big companies prefer bigger cities to operate; In industry more pollution could be felt in smaller countries than large countries.
After the summary of the spokesperson most people agreed with the list of advantages and disadvantages. They also added, that youngsters have to move to bigger cities to improve their talents, and unfortunately, they do not come back to their little home town or country. But despite the disadvantages the advantages are stronger. A common point was that all of us have to emphasise the advantages and find the ways to decrease the negative effect of the little size.
Involvement of young people in politics was summarized by the Polish group. The group started the discussion with some statistical data. According to many researches young people are not interested in politics. The participation rate of people aged 18 – 25 in the last election to European Parliament was below any other age group. In Poland only 40% of people aged 18-25 vote in elections and the number has been the same for 20 years. It is said that young people are busy with finishing schools, finding jobs, starting family and involvement in politics does not seem to be an important issue. The number of youth town councils is getting smaller and in the member towns of European Town Twinning Association Douzelage, there are very few councillors younger than 30. There are not many young politicians on national or European levels and a new prime minister of Austria is an exemption. There is even quite popular belief among youngsters which emphasizes lack of any political views or no interest in politics at all. There are various initiatives to change the situation. In Malta there is a discussion of allowing young people aged 16+ to participate in local elections. Similar proposals appeared in other EU countries, some of them are even thinking of lowering the age for candidates in national elections to 16. Voting online can also engage more young people.
Those proposals in our opinion can be only one or two of the ways to involve young people in politics. The main area of activities encouraging youngsters should be education. Schools, NGOs and other civic society organisations ought to make all young people aware that political decisions influence almost every aspect of our lives.
During the discussion after the spokesperson’s presentation it was also mentioned that Erasmus+ offers financial support for youth projects, action KA3 focuses on youth policy development and can also be used for structured dialogue projects. Another possibility is Erasmus+ action KA2 – international youth initiatives which aim at sharing good practices projects. Also, Europe for Citizens projects can also help in involving youngsters in politics.
Immigration was summarized by the Italian group. In the discussion there were similar and sometimes different opinions. We all agreed that immigration does not mean the same for all countries. Malta and Italy are very much affected by the problem of the immigrants, as these countries are in most cases the first stations for the immigrants. Particularly Malta suffers because the number of immigrants is extremely big compared to the size of the country. They are continuously asking for help from the EU to be able to cope with the problem. Also, at the Italian shore there are too many immigrants and sometimes it is difficult to handle the problem. Germany is rather a final destination for the majority of the immigrants, and they try to help them as much as possible. However, in Poland and Hungary there are not too many immigrants. This is partially because of the stricter rules to let them enter the country, but also mostly because they do not want to stay in those countries where the economy and standard of life is not that high. It was good to realize, that participants did not complain against immigration because of xenophobia, racism, selfish economic reasons. They almost all agreed, that all people should enter another country honestly, with proper documents, proving their age and origin. However, it also was added that refugees sometimes cannot have proper documents with them because of safety reason. All participants could tell positive and negative examples about the integration of the refugees in the society. We agreed that they should not be asked to forget their own culture, language, traditions, but they also have to accept the laws of their new, chosen country. It was also mentioned that in Velletri we will talk about the topics in more details.
Young ones in sports was summarized by the German group. The participants all agreed that all forms of physical activity improve physical fitness and mental well-being. Participation in sport also promotes active citizenship. It also has a positive effect on people’s social life. It is estimated that there are more than 25% overweight or obese children, and it is expected to rise. Obesity is only one of many medical conditions that can be significantly helped by participation in sport – besides heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis etc.
We also found out that sport is a social activity. It is a great opportunity for young people to meet each other in a safe, healthy environment.
Also, sport activities give people the chance to meet citizens of other nations, and the common interest, the same way of thinking definitely helps them to be an active, European citizen.
Heritage, development and the young generation was summarized by the Maltese group. They found out a lot of interesting and important factors which have an impact on all the above. As for heritage, it is always easier to preserve it, if a place is small. Not only the country, but villages and little towns keep traditions alive. However, international events are important, because the traditions must be presented to other nations, too. Historical monuments are important to show own citizens and visitors the past. It is easier to do this if the place is small, and people have to preserve only a few buildings. Each nation agreed, as this is a European program, and the EU supports these local initiations. In Malta e.g. several churches, chapels are renovated, and the history from the Byzantine time through the Romans, Ottomans, Normans etc. Velletri, and Kőszeg is also full of successful excavations. As for the development, we have to consider the development of culture, social and religious activities, not only that of the new buildings and of locality. We agreed that development is more difficult in a small place, however even a small change can be seen easier. Developments on cultural and social field can be supported by the local councils. Each town has to struggle with the problem of the future of the youngsters. It is a common problem that they leave small towns and countries, and they do not come back. Communities try to provide young generation with facilities fitting to their needs, but a university or college cannot be substituted. Malta is an exemption: because of its climate, attractive location it is still popular among the youngsters.
The tiring day was closed by a gala dinner with cultural event. We had the chance to listen to Maltese traditional music, and we could enjoy the performance of two young singers. Also, all nations were asked to take their national music, so we could listen to them, too.
The last day of the conference was a field trip to Gozo, the sister island of Malta. The whole day excellently proved the advantages and disadvantages of being little and being isolated. All participants admired our “tour guides” Mr. John Baptist Camilleri and Mr. Charlot Mifsud, who talked about the cultural heritage, traditions, geographical and historical features of the small islands.
The extra benefit of the program they prepared for the group was that it completely supported our previous discussion about the positive and negative effects of the small size. We could experience how difficult is to move from the main island to Gozo, particularly because of the ferry schedule: if you miss the ferry, you have to wait for another 2 hours. Also, because of the small size the towns are so crowded, that it is difficult to move with a big speed. Because of the cars, it takes a long time to embark, one can lose much time.
We could see that most inhabitants live on fishing and farming. Most settlements are on the top of the hills because for orchards and vegetable gardens they need the little amount of good soil of the valleys. Because of the unusual shape of parcels simple methods ae used to cultivate the land. So, even in the 21st Century people living in Gozo have to use donkey carts, primitive plows etc. We all really admired the heroic job of the handpicking workers.
The isolation of the small island, Comino (there live only 4 persons permanently!) was extremely important during the outbreak of the swine fever, in 1980. This was the only place which was intact, so with the pigs bred there was possible to re-populate the Maltese farms. This way it also was used as a gene bank.
After the fieldtrip – which was an excellent example for informal learning – we got together to summarize our experiences. The conversation continued during the dinner.
Next meeting will be held in Velletri, Italy, in the middle of April.