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Winners of the Michael Sweetman Trust Competition go to Euroscola

Read a report by Daniel Hoffman, Winner of Michael Sweetman Trust Prize 2012, by clicking on the orange title above.

By Daniel Hoffman, Winner of Michael Sweetman Trust Prize 2012

When I chose "Hydraulic Facturing" as my Social Education Contemporary Issues Task little did I suspect that it was the beginning of a journey that would take me to the heart of our European Union Government, the European Parliament in Strasbourg.  My school, Corran College in Ballymote, County Sligo suggested that I enter my Contemporary Issues Task into the Michael Sweetman Trust Competition.  After my Task was examined and I was interviewed, to my great suprise I was selected as one of the winners.  I would be joining other Irish students taking part in Euroscola 2012.
We met each other at the Bewleys Airport Hotel in Dublin and after getting to know each other a little we had a briefing about the Michael Sweetman Trust and we were asked to choose the Discussion Group which we would prefer to  join in with other students from all over Europe as part of our European Parlimentary experience. I joined the group discussing "Environmental and renewable energies. How can we help bring about a change in behaviour? How can we encourage sustainable development?" There were four people in my group and we were guided by a Tutor.  After that we had dinner and then we had some free time to socialize and then went to bed.
The following morning we departed Dublin on a flight to Stuttgart, in Germany.  From Stuttgart we took a coach to Kehl,  also in Germany but situated directly across the Rhine from Strasbourg in France. Kehl is a historic city that has belonged alternatively to both France and Germany.  After we checked into our comfortable hotels we got back on the coach and crossed the Rhine and the French German border for a  walking sightseeing tour of the the old city. The tour was most interesting and I particularly enjoyed seeing the Astronomical Clock in the beautiful Strasbourg Cathedral. Dinner was served at the hotel after which we had our second briefing on the agenda for the day at the European Parliament.  
Early on Thursday morning we made our way from our hotels to the Louis Weiss Building in Strasbourg, the Seat of the European Parliament.  It is a stunning building.
Photos of the group were taken before we entered the building and went through the security check. After we were officially welcomed by our EU Guides we were handed badges which designanted what dicussion group we were in and programmes.  Breakfast was served after which one of the Guides went  through the agenda for the day.  Then we were escorted to the Hemicycle which was awe inspiring.

Once we were seated the MEP's arrived and took their places at the podium.
They greeted us and informed us about the language translators and advised us to use the headphones supplied to listen to what was being said.
The MEP's then spoke to us about the European Parliament and the European Union in general. Each school was introduced by a pupil of that school in a second language from their own.  Our group was introduced by Mike, who spoke in German.  The translator seemed to have a bit of difficulty with his Irish accent!  The floor was then opened for anyone to ask the MEP's a question on the European Union.
Lunch was provided in the European Parliament restaurant.  The questionnaire's for the Eurogame were handed out and we were supposed to answer the questions in a different language than our own.  I found this difficult and felt shy about asking for assistance from people from other countries to interpret the questions written in their language.  It made me realise how important it is to be able to communicate clearly with another person before one can hope to understand that person and their culture.
We then separated into our discussions groups including those from other countries. I really enjoyed this part of the day and found being among other cultures interesting. Initially, there was reluctance among my group for someone to volunteer to be the leader and spokesmen for the group.  Eventually, a Polish boy stood up and said he would be the leader and a German girl said she would be the spokesperson.  After that we settled down to discuss issues concerning the environment.  Nuclear Power dominated the discussions.  Many in the group felt that if the price of Nuclear Power was raised it would discourage its use and that Governments would look to alternative sources of energy - specifically renewable energy.  I tabled my concerns regarding Hydraulic Fracturing and explained them to the group.  They accepted my information and also expressed concern especially as no one else was aware of its threat to our environment. However, the Leader, Spokesperson and Tutor decided not to include it in the presentation of the conclusions.   Once we had finishing our discussions in the time alloted we returned to our seats in the Hemicycle where our group leader introduced us and we listened to the reports by each group spokesperson. When each report had been delivered the floor was opened to questions on that topic.  After the spokesperson of the Square group had complete his report  on "Europe's Future" in which the group had proposed that the cost of tertiary education been lowered to make it more accessible to everyone, I asked this question, " How can we become a unified continent (union) in truth not just in theory, when many countries still harbour old hatreds for events that happened hundreds of years ago? ".  
Then there was the parade of the flags and we rose to our feet to listen to the European Anthem which sounded like a rap song to Beethoven's "Ode to Joy"
The Euroscola came to an end and we said goodbye to our groups and returned to our hotel to freshen up for dinner and a evening of socialising in a nearby pub.
The following day we made the return journey home.
In conclusion I found this experience to be most enlightening on how the European Parliament functions and have a greater appreciation of the difficulties encoutered when trying to pass laws, negotiate treaties or discuss new ideas and obtain consensus to achive positive results in its work. I feel the EU is still not a Union in truth because many areas in its countires individual pasts remain unreconciled. I feel greater emphasis should be directed at capturing peoples imaginations and creating a story for Europe akin to that of the American Dream to generate a greater sense of belonging.  I also feel that it is difficult for the comman man to feel that he can be heard in the European Parliment and that his local concerns will be investigated and understood. In the current financial crisis I feel that sight is being lost of the bigger picture. However, after my day spent in discussion with people from different nationalities on an area of concern I can see the hope that remains in my generation that we can move forward together to resolve our differences and find common ground on which to build a positive world power.

I would like to thank my School Principle, Mr. John McGovern, as well as my teachers for their support and encouragement and for suggesting I enter the Michael Sweetman Trust Competition.
My thanks also goes to the Michael Sweetman Trust Prize co ordinators for selecting me as a prizewinner and enabling me to attend Euroscola 2012.
To the teachers who accompanied me on the journey I extend my thanks for a seamless and safe trip. Your care and attention is appreciated and made the trip an enjoyable experience.
My thanks also to my fellow students who helped give me confidence along the way.
Lastly, I would like to thank my parents who helped me prepare for this experience and who supported and encouraged me to believe that such a journey was not only possible but one I would always remember and which would form part of my future.