The launching of AFS Europa in 1971…

The European Coordination Letter of 1971 explains the reasons for launching AFS Europa, when it states that “members felt that the creation of the federation was justified by the need for an increase of information among members, a pooling of financial resources, know-how and manpower, a stimulation and strengthening of volunteer involvement, a cooperative communication with AFS International, an effective voice in AFS issues, a less American and more international image of AFS, and the provision of organisational means on a European basis by which existing and future programmes can be implemented”. The article adds that “it is necessary to stress that the Federation is conceived as a tool to promote communication, cooperation and to further the purpose of AFS, not just for the benefit of Europe, but for the benefit of AFS at large” and that “it is not and does not want to be a power block, a nest of costly additional bureaucracy, a center of inward looking regionalism”. No country was excluded from the possibility of joining the federation, although it was felt preferable, if only for financial reasons, to offer membership to what was traditionally considered Europe. It became evident at Lake Mohonk (AFS World Congress ’71) that the concept of AFS Europa had been largely misinterpreted by countries outside of Europe, and that it was met with some distrust and suspicion.

AFS Europa establishes first contact with EEC and the Council of Europe

The former EEC established a department of education and youth, which was visited by AFS Europa’s Chair, Roberto Ruffino, in 1974, after which the organisation was invited to define the policy of the EEC on student’s mobility. The Council of Europe established a Foundation that supports conferences of youth organisations in Europe. The European Youth Foundation in Strasbourg today still plays an important role in EFIL’s work and these contacts were the first steps towards obtaining formal recognition of AFS Europa and of its activities from the only super- national entities existing at the time. Other contacts included the European Coordination Bureau for International Youth Organisations, the Union of International Associations, the Centre d’Éducation Européenne.

AFS Europa is officially recognised – with a new name!

In 1974 AFS Europa approached the European institutions in Brussels and Strasbourg and soon realised that there was an identity problem. What was the “AFS” before “Europa”? What did the “A” stand for? The Federation was perceived as a branch of an American organisation – despite the effort to make the name less anglophone by naming it “Europa”. AFS Europa needed a new, more European name that would reflect its identity and its mission in this part of the world. At the General Assembly in 1975 it was decided to change the name to something European that would reflect the purpose of the organisation, hence “European Federation for Intercultural Learning” – as the aim of the federation should be the promotion of intercultural learning.

As of 9 December 1975 a Royal Decree publicly recognised the existence of “the international association called European Federation for Intercultural Learning (AFS Europa), seated in Brussels”. EFIL was born.

When AFS Europa changed its name to EFIL, intercultural studies were very lively, especially in the United States, and the new name meant a big leap into an innovative field. On a small scale EFIL introduced new theories in Europe, especially within the European institutions, youth organisations and schools. EFIL applied for consultative status at the Council of Europe in 1976 and EFIL was admitted to the youth organisations of the Council of Europe. The Federation was also well received at the Commission. The first exchange of young workers was developed in 1977, and in 1979 EFIL helped set the guidelines for the programme that later was called “Leonardo”, and was also involved in the preparation of other youth mobility programmes, such as “Erasmus”, “Petra”, etc.

Pilot of Young Workers Programme in cooperation with EC, 1977

In an attempt to respond to a call for diversity in AFS programmes, EFIL proposed an experiment in 1975: a programme of young workers exchanges. The European Community included the idea of such an exchange in the Treaty of Rome, and EFIL was given the responsibility to run a pilot of the project. Italy, France and Belgium joined and proposed that it would become an exchange of youngsters with technical education backgrounds. The programme was successfully launched in 1977 with 20 young people of around 18 years old. After one month of language training and orientation,they went to work in companies in various countries, hosted by families or staying in dorms, for a period of 3 months.

Aware of EFIL’s experience with youth exchanges, the EC asked EFIL to conduct a study on young workers exchanges in Europe, which led to a Convention, signed in 1979, allowing for EC subsidies. The Young Workers Programme was run from 1977 to 1985.

EFIL organised first important Colloquium at the European Youth Center in Strasbourg on “Youth Mobility and Education”, 1978

This was the first important educational event of EFIL. Together with the World Future Studies Federation, a colloquium was organised with the theme of “Youth Mobility and Education” at the Council of Europe’s Youth Centre in Strasbourg. In the words of EFIL’s preparatory committee: “It should be a brain-storming session to assess all the elements that are at stake, when youth exchanges are discussed and implemented. It should evaluate which research already exists, plan future research and clarify our possible impact on pedagogical studies. The ultimate best result of the Colloquium may be a list of the many things that we do not know in this area, which need further study and investigation”.

All the main European institutions (both governmental and non-governmental) dealing with youth and youth mobility were invited as participants along with the volunteers and staff from EFIL’s members. A group of experts in the fields of pedagogical science and culture. were asked to contribute with their expertise.

Quotes from Inge van Gaal - EFIL‘s European Coordinator

“We tried to really make sure that this whole idea about Intercultural Learning was a vivid idea and we could make programmes around this idea.”

“The challenge was also to create new programmes; to get other ideas for programmes within the association”

“It was the first time the Institutions were giving the youth a voice – both through the establishment of the Youth Forum and by listening to us.”

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See what did next decade bring: the 1980s

A widening focus

EFIL’s tasks expanded – new European exchange programmes were launched, several colloquiums took place, establishment of the Africa desk. The cooperation with AFS International led to the opening of the Joint Office in Brussels (J.O.B.).

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