Frans Timmermans meeting with young people during the 6th Silesian Science Festival KATOWICE. Photo by Julia Agnieszka Szymala
| Agnieszka Turska-Kawa |
The meeting with Frans Timmermans was one of the most important events during the 6th Silesian Science Festival KATOWICE (ŚFN). On 5 December 2022, the Vice-President of the European Commission met with students and climate activists. People from all over Poland came and took part in the event.
‘Let’s talk about Europe’ was the main theme of the meeting triggering huge deposits of energy and curiosity among the participants. The guest declared openness to all topics the young people might want to delve into. The 60-minute-long discussion featured, among others, the issues of just transition, migration, and war in Ukraine, as well as the values and needs of the youth.
Green Deal was one of the topics that garnered the most interest. The inspiration for this part of the discussion was the decision of the European Commission, which on the same day approved five plans for a just transition of Polish mining regions. These projects involve nearly EUR 4 billion to be spent on the development of the modern branches of the economy. The Vice-President emphasised in his speech the enormous significance of the miners’ community and stated his certainty that no miner will be left without support. Frans Timmermans expressed his hopes for cooperation with local governments directed towards ensuring that the needs of the local communities and companies are met.
From the left: Frans Timmermans, Vice-President of the European Commission, Agnieszka Turska-Kawa, PhD, DLitt, Associate Professor from USil Faculty of Social Sciences, and Prof. Ryszard Koziołek, Director General of ŚFN and Rector of the University of Silesia. Photo by Julia Agnieszka Szymala
There were also some questions about Ukraine The young people were interested in, among others, the possibility of a direct intervention of EU member states in the ongoing war. The Vice-President denied that there were plans for military aid, but made it clear that Putin must lose this war. He also mentioned that the war is not only about the land but also about European values — equality, freedom, and solidarity. Timmermans expressed his gratitude for the aid initiatives undertaken by Poland to help the Ukrainian people. He also stated that entire Europe is proud of us.
Meeting participants and Agnieszka Turska-Kawa, PhD, DLitt, Associate Professor Photo by Julia Agnieszka Szymala
The discussion also addressed the role of young people in Europe in view of ageing processes. For the first time in history, we have entered a situation where there are more people aged 65 and up than those younger than 5 years old. The debate guest emphasised Europe’s need for young, creative, and full-of-energy people. His speech also touched on the important issue of people becoming increasingly distant from each other today as a consequence of the mediatisation of interpersonal relationships. He sees a threat in the increasing absorption of young people by social networks, where we often function as part of the so-called echo-chambers. These places are largely governed by algorithms connecting people who share similar values and opinions. The clustering of preferred information in those communities strengthens selective exposure and group polarisation. Research shows that focusing on the preferred narration makes users prone to taking in and accepting contents they already believe in and ignoring those which are contrary to their opinions. As a consequence, the competencies necessary for proper discussion and defence of opposing beliefs are more difficult to develop.
Frans Timmermans turned out to be a pragmatist and an incredible down-to-earth conversationalist who understands young people’s expectations and is willing to hear them out. His statements included many good words about Poland and concern for its development. In response to questions about the protection of the rule of law in our country, the Vice-President stressed that Poland is an important and valued member of the European Union and assured that he was not aware of any ideas to take our country out of the European community. Timmermans’ pro-Polish stance has already been appreciated by Polish presidents in the past. In 2006, Lech Kaczyński awarded the Vice-President of the European Commission with the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland, and in 2014 he was awarded the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland by President Bronisław Komorowski. The reason for awarding the medals was the Guest’s merits in raising awareness of the participation of Polish soldiers on the front lines of the Second World War.
Frans Timmermans. Photo by Julia Agnieszka Szymala
It was difficult to touch on all the possible topics that trouble young people in just 60 minutes. It was impossible to address even the greater part of the challenges that we as Europeans are to face in the near future. Many questions remained unanswered. However, what united the audience and certainly made the meeting memorable was an extraordinary energy, curiosity, and concern for a common Europe. I am proud to have been part of this event.