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A scientist pushing the boundaries of regenerative medicine; a chef blending tradition, innovation and a commitment to sustainability; lawmakers intent on injecting new life into politics; trailblazing entrepreneurs; fearless campaigners; artists at the top of their game – these were just some of the participants in the European Young Leaders seminar held on 16-18 March in Lisbon and the Atlantic resort of Cascais.
The first gathering of the Class of 2017 was the latest event in the European Young Leaders (EYL40) programme. Each year the programme, launched in 2011 by Friends of Europe, brings together 40 of Europe’s brightest minds aged 40 and under to debate challenges facing the continent and search for solutions.
Under the banner of ‘Leadership in an increasingly unpredictable world’, the Lisbon meeting produced three days of intense interaction between young people of diverse backgrounds and experience. They assessed the need to re-connect with citizens as the Brexit vote and support for populists ring alarm bells over the future of European integration.
Discussions ranged from climate change to transatlantic relations in the Trump era, from education as the keystone for Europe’s future to ways to re-think European integration, new ideas on migration, social inequality and the importance of keeping Europe at the forefront of the digital economy.
A series of tangible proposals aimed at responding to some of Europe’s most pressing problems emerged from the group’s brainstorming sessions. They included new procedures to process asylum applications in transit countries to facilitate legal routes into Europe and reduce the risk of refugees taking hazardous sea journeys at the mercy of traffickers; developing connections between Europe’s creative economic hubs; establishing cross-border networks for teachers to share best practices in Europe; and encouraging silo-breaking contacts between climate scientists and wider society.
The 2017 Class of European Young Leaders attending the seminar was joined in Portugal by alumni from previous years and high-level speakers, including European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation Carlos Moedas, former Estonian prime minister Taavi Rõivas and former US ambassador to the EU Anthony L. Gardner. Also joining the group as a special guest was Belgian music, video and fashion artist Paul Van Haver, known around the world by his stage name Stromae.
The President of Portugal, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, hosted a dinner for the group in the Cascais Citadel Palace and took questions on topics ranging from Brexit to generational politics and Portugal’s relations with its former African colonies.