The European flag has been hoisted above the Swiss parliament in the capital, Berne, for the first time. The occasion is a session of the European Youth Parliament (EYP) - the first to be held in Switzerland.This content was published on July 17, 2000 - 14:46
The session's speaker, Martin Camenisch from canton Berne, said the gathering was a historic moment for Switzerland. Over the next week 250 young people will be debating the future of the continent.
Opening the event on Monday Camenisch said it was the first time the blue European flag with its golden stars had been raised on the federal assembly.
Camenisch added it was also the first time any European parliament had met in Switzerland. Switzerland is a member of the Council of Europe and of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, but has remained outside the European Union.
The delegates at the Berne session are from 28 countries, including for the first time members from Armenia, Ukraine and Russia. They will split up into working groups to debate issues including human rights, unemployment, consumer protection, and environmental and cultural issues.
More concretely, the young people will discuss what criteria should be adopted for the expansion of the EU as well as the purpose of organisations such as Nato and the United Nations.
One committee will also focus on direct democracy in Europe. Monika Horisberger, spokeswoman for the Swiss organisers, told swissinfo that Switzerland's referendum system could be of particular interest to other countries and the European Union.
The 15 committees will join up for a plenary session on Friday and Saturday to vote on a series of non-binding resolutions to be presented to the European parliament.
The organisers are also providing a many-faceted programme of leisure activities for the participants, ranging from boat rides and river rafting to city tours and parties in and around Berne.
The event is taking place under the patronage of the Swiss president, Adolf Ogi, and is supported by Berne's cantonal and local authorities as well as private sponsors.
The EYP was set up in 1987. It holds three sessions a year in different countries across Europe. Switzerland joined the organisation in 1995, and is now hosting the parliament's 34th session.
Its aim is to provide a European dimension in education and politics. The EYP says students from 16 to 22 are given an opportunity to actively participate in a democratic decision-making process and exchange their ideas in politically neutral surroundings.
swissinfo with agencies
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