This year’s EYL40 Class of 2023 includes award-winning investigative journalists, a mega-star of modern-day football, politicians from all levels of government and speakers of national parliaments, a male supermodel and philanthropist, renowned scholars, innovators leading the green digital transition, as well as creative tech-based healthcare professionals. Follow along as we reveal the new class on LinkedIn and Twitter from 31 January to 10 February!

Ten years ago, motivated by the urgent need to tackle the increasing disconnect between citizens and policymakers, and to rebuild the trust that is vital to democracies, Friends of Europe crafted a leadership programme unlike any other: the European Young Leaders (EYL40) programme. To celebrate the programme’s anniversary, we travelled through the past ten years to share ten inspiring stories.

Our anniversary celebration features volleyball player Valentina Diouf; Rokhaya Diallo, a journalist, filmmaker and human rights activist; Christel Heydemann, CEO of Orange; renowned chef Eneko Atxa; serial entrepreneur Ivan Stefunko; bionic pop artist and futurist, Viktoria Modesta; Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas; Lindsey Nefesh-Clarke, CEO and Founder of Women’s WorldWide Web (W4); Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist, Bastian Obermayer; and Qëndron Kastrati, former mayor of Kamenica, Kosovo. Click here to learn more about our selection amongst 350+ wonderful profiles.

Bold leadership, ground-breaking ideas, unparalleled passion …

We’ve learned time and again that the challenges of the 21st century and of our ever complex world cannot be addressed using the rulebooks of the past. The world is screaming for a new type of leadership and a Renewed Social Contract in which the private sector, local and multilateral institutions, and citizens can collaborate and drive change.

Today’s leaders may look back in time for inspiration, but they must lead with innovation.

The European Young Leaders represent an alternative infrastructure of leadership – a new generation of leaders able to inspire action and generate change. Together, their passion, diversity of backgrounds and opinions, and innovative thinking create the right formula for generating fresh ideas to build a more forward-thinking Europe.

Our European leaders are scientists, artists, journalists, entrepreneurs and astronomers. They are citizens and their thinking is not bound by local and multilateral institutions, traditional political frameworks or bureaucracy. They provide alternative perspectives to EU decision-makers and challenge the status quo.

They help take Europe out of Brussels. In their own countries, cities and communities, the European Young Leaders also play an essential role in reconnecting people with and rebuilding trust in politics by engaging a wider community around key EU policy issues that need a whole-of-economy, whole-of-society approach to progress more quickly. They are facilitating citizens’ participation in the creation of a more equal, innovative and inclusive Europe and helping build a European identity.

The programme in the next years will take a new localism lens, bringing together these thinkers and leaders to act on some of the key issues affecting Europe’s future: supporting the green and digital transformation, strengthening our democracy, improving relations with our neighbours, increasing power sharing and building a more diverse Europe.

Succeeding in these policies and getting more citizens engaged in European elections will be our litmus test.

Tune in to the EYL40s on Friends of Europe’s podcasts

Frankly Speaking Podcast | Iran: Unchallenged, till now

Leading view

Frankly Speaking Podcast | Iran: Unchallenged, till now

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Frankly Speaking Podcast | Fighting for the truth in the Western Balkans

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Frankly Speaking Podcast | Fighting for the truth in the Western Balkans

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Everything you didn't know about air pollution. It's scary stuff!

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Everything you didn't know about air pollution. It's scary stuff!

Jane Burston

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Joss Garman on the climate crisis: how bad is it (bad!) and can we get out of it (yes!)?

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Joss Garman on the climate crisis: how bad is it (bad!) and can we get out of it (yes!)?

Joss Garman

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Una Mullally on abortion rights, marriage equality and galvanising a generation for change

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Una Mullally on abortion rights, marriage equality and galvanising a generation for change

Una Mullally

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Continue to Meet the EYL

Meet the EYL40

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Gustaf Göthberg

Member of the Riksdag and 2023 European Young Leader (EYL40)

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Gustaf Göthberg is a Swedish politician and represents Gothenburg in the national parliament, where he belongs to the Moderate Party and sits on the Committee of Defence. Passionate about foreign and security policy, he supports stronger EU policies towards Russia and China, as well as defence cooperation and migration policy. Göthberg serves on the Swedish delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, where he also sits on the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights. He is committed to reducing poverty through trade, specifically free trade agreements, and increasing human rights protection for persecuted groups. Prior to being elected to the Riksdag, Göthberg worked on development in Belarus, Russia and eastern Europe at the Jarl Hjalmarson Foundation. He has served in several departments within the City of Gothenburg’s administration, as well as the Stockholm County Council. He began his career in politics as a political advisor to the Moderate Party. Additionally, Göthberg maintains a long-standing background at the Moderate Youth Association, where he held roles as the international secretary and foreign policy spokesperson.

Photo of Jasminko Halilović
Jasminko Halilović

Founder and CEO of the War Childhood Museum and 2023 European Young Leader (EYL40)

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Jasminko Halilović is a leading conflict researcher from Bosnia and Herzegovina, who compiled short recollections from people who experienced the Bosnian War as children into “War Childhood”. The award-winning book has now been translated into six languages. He went on to establish the War Childhood Museum in Sarajevo, the world’s only museum exclusively dedicated to childhoods affected by armed conflict. Awarded the Council of Europe Museum Prize, the museum aims to raise awareness of the specific experience through archived materials, from drawings to personal belongings, and motivate adults to consider the consequences of war. Halilović has developed the museum from a small local initiative into an international non-profit with offices in Sarajevo, Kyiv, The Hague and New York City. A serial entrepreneurial since his teenage years, Halilović has co-founded several companies. His passion for peacebuilding and entrepreneurship has earned him spots as a keynote speaker and guest lecturer at universities and conferences in over 15 countries.

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Monika Herceg

Writer, editor and 2023 European Young Leader (EYL40)

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Monika Herceg is a poet, playwright, editor, feminist and activist from Croatia, who also creates and coordinates cultural programmes. Her work explores poverty, domestic violence, migration, and class and gender inequalities. In her debut poetry collection “Početne coordinate” (“Initial Coordinates”), Herceg portrays the lives of women in rural Croatia throughout the 20th century to tell stories of poverty and struggle, recounted through the voices of her own family members. The critically acclaimed collection has been awarded the Goran and Kvirin awards for young poets, the Slavić Award, the Mostovi Struge international award, as well as the Fran Galović Award in recognition of its discussion around homeland and identity. Her drama scripts, short stories and books, including “Lovostaj” (“The Closed Season”) and “Vrijeme prije jezika” (“Time Before the Tongue”), have enjoyed similar successes. Altogether, her works have been translated into over 15 languages and she has received more than 15 literature awards.

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Laurent Hublet

Co-Founder and Managing Director of BeCentral and 2023 European Young Leader (EYL40)

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Nicknamed ‘the philosopher of tech’, Laurent Hublet is a Belgian entrepreneur, who champions investment in human capital and skills as a means to strengthen the social pact between the public and the government. He founded BeCentral, the largest tech campus in Europe in terms of the number of people (re)trained, with the belief that every citizen, regardless of their age, gender, colour or culture, should have the opportunity to become a digital native and an actor of the digital revolution. An angel investor in over 15 digital start-ups, Hublet is also behind the We Are Founders programme, which assists non-entrepreneurs in launching start-ups. In the academic arena, he is the Co-Academic Director of an executive programme at the Solvay Brussels School of Economics and Management, which focuses on responsible and ethical approaches to management. Hublet has previously served in the cabinet of the Belgian deputy prime minister and advised on the digital strategy of the federal government.

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Darren Jones

Chair of the UK House of Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee, and 2023 European Young Leader (EYL40)

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Darren Jones is a British Labour politician, who currently serves as the Chair of the House of Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee, in which role he holds the government to account on workers’ rights, business and industrial policy, research and development, and climate change targets. He also sits on the Liaison Committee, the only committee to question the prime minister, and the National Security Strategy Joint Committee. Representing Bristol North West, he earned his seat by overturning a Conservative majority and has gained strong voter support in subsequent elections. A climate advocate, Jones introduced the first citizens’ assembly on net-zero emissions to the Parliament of the United Kingdom and scrutinised the government’s deliver of net-zero targets at COP26 in Glasgow. A lawyer who specialised in technology law, he is a leading voice on technology policy and founded the Interparliamentary Forum on Emerging Technologies.

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Ahmad Joudeh

Artistic Director of the Dance or Die Foundation and 2023 European Young Leader (EYL40)

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Ahmad Joudeh is a ballet dancer and choreographer, who obtained Dutch nationality. He was trained as a dancer in Syria, where he was born as a stateless refugee. During the civil war, he gave free dance classes to war-orphans and young people with Down’s syndrome. As a response to the constant threats from extremists because of his dance activities, Joudeh had the words ‘dance or die’ tattooed on his body. Upon an invitation to join the Dutch National Ballet, he moved to the Netherlands to dance with the prestigious company. He is the Artistic Director of the Dance or Die Foundation, a non-profit organisation that aims to contribute to cultural and social causes through dance, and his personal adage has also inspired the titles of his memoir and an Emmy Award-winning documentary that chronicles his life. Joudeh has performed on stages worldwide, including at the Eurovision Song Contest. In addition to his dancing activities, he is a High Profile Supporter of the United Nations Refugee Agency, an International Friend of SOS Children’s Villages International and an Ambassador for Pride Amsterdam.

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Dimitris Kalavros-Gousiou

Co-Founder of Velocity.Partners Venture Capital and Found.ation, and 2023 European Young Leader (EYL40)

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Dimitris Kalavros-Gousiou is an entrepreneur and investor from Greece, who currently works at the intersection of technology, culture and new media. He is the Co-Founder of Velocity.Partners Venture Capital, a pre-seed and seed venture capital fund that currently maintains a portfolio of 22 companies with a presence in Europe, North America and the Asia-Pacific. As a General Partner, he assists tech companies with the development of disruptive products and services. The fund was born out of Kalavros-Gousiou’s other company, Found.ation, a start-up hub and educational platform that seeks to enable innovation through digital technologies, new business models and cultural shifts. He also founded TEDxAthens, one of the world’s first TEDx events. Kalavros-Gousiou previously worked for HackFwd, a Hamburg-based early-stage fund, where he led the pre-seed investment firm’s pipeline in Greece and south-east Europe.

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Misbah Khan

Member of the Bundestag and 2023 European Young Leader (EYL40)

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Misbah Khan is a Member of the German national parliament and a representative of the Alliance 90/The Greens party. As a Member of the Committee on Digital Affairs and the Committee on Internal Affairs and Community and also as a Substitute Member of the Human Rights and Humanitarian Aid Committee, she focuses on topics related to migration, digital administration and bureaucracy reduction. The preservation of human rights in the real world, as well as in the digital space, is essential to Khan. She is resolutely committed to countering right-wing extremism and champions diversity and equal opportunities. Before she was elected to the Bundestag, Khan worked for the Rhineland-Palatinate State Agency for Civic Education and at the Rhineland-Palatinate Democracy Centre.

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Julian Kostov

Founder and CEO of JupiterLights Media and 2023 European Young Leader (EYL40)

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Julian Kostov is an award-winning Bulgarian actor and filmmaker. He stars in the People’s Choice Award-nominated hit fantasy series “Shadow and Bone” and was critically acclaimed for his performance in the historic war drama “Another Mother’s Son”. He has landed roles in “A Discovery of Witches”, “Berlin Station”, “Temple” and “The Toxic Avenger”, among other movies and TV series, which have aired on major networks and premiered in movie theatres worldwide. Experienced in filmmaking, Kostov produced “The Dare”, the debut feature film of his Bulgarian-based production and talent management company, JupiterLights Media Group. Notably, he supported casting for Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”. Established to promote original storytelling, JupiterLights also organises workshops for actors and filmmakers to nurture their empowerment and mental health. He also co-founded the Five Oceans production company to bring Bulgarian, Balkan and Slavic stories to international audiences and tackle stereotypes and underrepresentation in the industry. A man of many talents, Kostov holds over 60 medals in swimming, including a bronze medal from the Balkan Games.

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Gunita Kuļikovska-Ķiesnere

Founder of the New Building School at Vidzeme University of Applied Sciences and 2023 European Young Leader (EYL40)

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An architect by trade, Gunita Kuļikovska-Ķiesnere is a leading Latvian voice of the sustainable construction revolution. She founded the New Building School at the Vidzeme University of Applied Sciences, which focuses on sustainable and smart construction, timber construction and eco-building, to combat outdated construction practices and encourage a significant paradigm shift in the construction industry. Kuļikovska-Ķiesnere is also the Founder of Vividly App, which operates at the intersection of tech, architecture and urban planning. The company harnesses the power of data, 3D modelling and virtual reality simulations to assist development processes and also contributes to educational and cultural initiatives that work with young people as part of its social responsibility activities. Additionally, Kuļikovska-Ķiesnere gives lectures on digital transformation at the BA School of Business and Finance, mentors various hackathons and leads workshops for young entrepreneurs.

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Raphaël Liégeois

Career Astronaut at the European Space Agency (ESA) and 2023 European Young Leader (EYL40)

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A Belgian biomedical engineer, physicist and neuroscientist, Raphaël Liégeois is a Career Astronaut at the European Space Agency (ESA) and one of five to be selected among over 22,500 applicants in the agency’s latest class of astronauts. He is also a Research and Teaching Fellow at the University of Geneva, where he teaches courses in neuroengineering and statistics. Liégeois views science as truly beautiful and believes that it will be central to meeting humanity’s collective challenges. His academic career has also brought him to École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Stanford University, the National University of Singapore and the University of Liège. His research has focused on studying brain dynamics in health and disease, developing dynamic models of brain function and defining new neuroimaging markers of neurodegenerative diseases. An aviation enthusiast, he also pilots hot air balloons, gas balloons and gliders.

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Fabio Mancini

Supermodel and 2023 European Young Leader (EYL40)

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Fabio Mancini is an Italian supermodel. Recruited while strolling through the streets of Milan at the age of 21, he has achieved many industry firsts since his modelling debut on a Giorgio Armani runway. Mancini represented the Giorgio Armani and Emporio Armani brands for a record-breaking 15 consecutive years both on the runway and in advertising campaigns. Most notably, he was the face of the Emporio Armani underwear and Armani jeans collections. He is represented by international agencies in New York, Paris, London, Milan, Los Angeles, Barcelona, Hamburg, Vienna and Tokyo. Having modelled for the likes of Dolce & Gabbana, Vivienne Westwood, Christian Dior and Massimo Dutti, he has also posed for covers and editorials for top magazines, including Vanity Fair, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, GQ and Cosmopolitan. An unofficial ambassador of the Italian fashion industry, Mancini is also a philanthropist, who regularly volunteers at children’s hospitals and also tours schools to discuss issues surrounding body shaming and social media networks with younger generations.

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Kristjan Maruste

Co-Founder and CEO of Kõu Mobility Group and 2023 European Young Leader (EYL40)

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Kristjan Maruste, husband and father of three, is an Estonian mechatronics engineer by training and entrepreneur by profession. He founded Äike, a global e-scooter company, to reimagine micro-mobility by building safe, sustainable and emission-free mobility solutions. Having created the first USB-C chargeable e-scooter, Äike is also the first and only company that designs, manufactures and fully assembles its e-scooters in Europe. Championing sustainable practices, Äike opts to use recycled materials to construct its products and 70% of its supply chain comes from within a two-hour drive of its factory in Tallinn. Maruste is also the Co-Founder and former CEO of Comodule, an Internet of Things (IoT) and connectivity provider that was among the first to connect light motor vehicles to the internet. Both companies belong to the Kõu Mobility Group, of which Maruste is a Co-Founder and the CEO. He has also previously pursued entrepreneurial ventures in battery design, engineering and manufacturing, as well as electric racing cars.

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Juan Mata

Professional footballer, Co-Founder of Common Goal and 2023 European Young Leader (EYL40)

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Juan Mata is a Spanish professional footballer and the Co-Founder of Common Goal, a charitable fund that aims to generate sustainable and equitable social change through the cultural force that is football. The movement motivates stakeholders in the football industry to pledge 1% of their income to a collective fund that supports active projects worldwide. Mata currently plays midfield for Galatasaray in Istanbul. Having previously played for Manchester United and Chelsea, he is considered among the best attacking midfields to have played in the Premier League. Before moving to the United Kingdom, Mata played for Castilla in Madrid and then Valencia CF, where he won his first professional title, the Copa del Rey. He helped secure Spain’s win at the FIFA World Cup in South Africa. Notably, alongside a Chelsea teammate, Mata was the first footballer to hold the Champions League, Europa League, World Cup and the European Championship simultaneously.

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Oleksandra Matviichuk

Head of the Centre for Civil Liberties, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and 2023 European Young Leader (EYL40)

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A human rights lawyer and defender, Oleksandra Matviichuk is the first-ever Ukrainian Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. She was awarded the esteemed prize for her work with the Center for Civil Liberties on democratic reform campaigns in Ukraine and the OSCE region. The organisation has been documenting war crimes committed by Russian troops since the initial invasion of Crimea, but also develops legislative changes, exercises public oversight over law enforcement agencies and the judiciary, and implements international solidarity programmes. Matviichuk coordinated the Euromaidan SOS civic initiative to provide legal assistance following the government’s crackdown on Euromaiden protesters, which has since monitored political persecution in the illegally occupied regions of Crimea and Donbas. Matviichuk has led similar campaigns, including #LetMyPeopleGo and #SaveOlegSentsov, to fight for the release of political prisoners detained by Russian authorities. Having authored reports for several United Nations bodies, the Council of Europe, the EU, the OSCE and the International Criminal Court, she received the Democracy Defender Award and is the country’s first female candidate to be nominated to the UN Committee against Torture.

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Selection process


The European Young Leaders programme is a unique, inventive, and multi-stakeholder programme that aims to promote a European identity by engaging the continent’s most promising talents in initiatives that will shape Europe’s future.

The European Young Leaders represent a new generation of European leaders from all over the continent and various backgrounds, including politics, business, civil society, academia, arts, science, and the media.

The programme acts as a forum for those who have already established themselves at the forefront of their professions to meet, discuss and collaborate with their counterparts from other fields of expertise. Previous candidates include government ministers, CEOs, Michelin-starred chefs, international film directors and high-profile journalists.

Since the launch of the programme, we have gradually taken steps to ensure the diversity and exceptional quality of its selection process. We have made sure that its comprehensive and competitive nature ensures the identification and selection of remarkable individuals.

We aim to select 40+ European Young Leaders of diverse backgrounds to enable a broad exchange of ideas, creating the basis for a new generation of engaged European leaders.



  • Candidates must be between 30 and 40 years of age (born on or after 1 January 1984).
  • Candidates must be a national of an EU member state, the UK, Ukraine or of one of the 6 Balkan states currently on the path towards EU integration (Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia).
  • Candidates should have established themselves at the highest levels of their chosen profession or be on track to do so.
  • Candidates must be committed to serve society at large through noteworthy contributions and have demonstrated a record of significant achievements and outstanding professional experience.
  • Candidates are also evaluated based on their ability to contribute to the enrichment of the programme as a whole.
  • Candidates are required to be fluent in English as it is the working language of the programme.
  • Candidates must commit to participating in at least one of the two EYL seminars during the programme year, usually scheduled for March and September.

Please click HERE for the Selection Guidelines 2023 that will give you an idea of the process. The detailed Selection Guidelines 2024 will be made available shortly for download.

Should you have any questions or need any additional information, please do not hesitate to contact us at eyl40@friendsofeurope.org.

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