Donald Trump, the future of the European Union and the delights of Basque cuisine all featured on the first day of the European Young Leaders seminar in Lisbon.
Meeting in the Portuguese Parliament under the theme of 'Leadership in an increasingly unpredictable world', participants discussed the need for Europe to re-connect with citizens as the Brexit vote and support for populist politicians give a wake-up call to advocates of the European integration project.
"Europe really suffers because we don’t want to face reality and that is killing us," warned Carlos Moedas, European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, who addressed the Young Leaders. "I just get so upset when people talk about closing borders … and thinking that they can solve everything alone."
Taavi Rõivas, Vice-President of the Estonian Parliament who was prime minister of Estonia from 2014 to 2016, insisted on the need to stick to European values and issued a caution about the impact of 'post-truth' politics.
"Europe is still the best place to live, de facto; but who cares about the facts any more?" he asked. "That is the problem for us. If you look at developments not only in Europe but globally, facts have become less and less relevant… this is not the first time this has happened, and the previous times where it happened we had very tragic results."
The second debate focused on the host country, with politicians from three political parties on the centre-right and centre-left discussing Portugal’s experience with the economic crisis, and the policies introduced in response by the current Socialist government, which is backed by parties on the radical left, and its centre-right predecessor.
The subject of Basque cooking came up in the introductions of the Class of 2017 European Young Leaders. Chef Eneko Atxa stressed the importance of sustainability at his restaurant, which holds three Michelin stars. Other participants come from the worlds of politics, the arts, science, business, academia, the media and civil society, but all shared a passion and commitment that has taken them to leadership positions.
We share a passion for sustainability. When I asked Eneko what is sustainability about. It’s not only about the building and the energy and the water and the organic resources, it’s also about the sustainability of the local community.
Kirsten Brosøl, Danish MP and 2017 European Young Leader
"If the EU was a business, it would most likely fail; not because it has a bad business plan or because its economy is in trouble, but because it’s lost its vision... if you start asking people on the streets what does Brussels stand for, they wont say freedom and equality, they will say rules and regulation.’"
Edoardo Camilli, Co-Founder and CEO of Hozint and 2017 European Young Leader
"We have nationalism and we have populism and I think they are the antithesis of the European project. Nowadays we don’t have a dichotomy between left or right projects, I think we we have a dichotomy between projects who work for more open or more closed society. In the 21st-century there are projects that want to build new borders, when we are used to eliminating borders."
Inés Arrimadas García, Leader of the Opposition in the Catalan parliament and 2017 European Young Leader