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Bold leadership, ground-breaking ideas, unparalleled passion …

For almost a decade the European Young Leaders (EYL40) programme has brought together the brightest minds and outside the box leaders to put their innovative thinking to work at building a more forward-thinking Europe that is a global champion for a better world. The European Young Leaders represent a new generation of leaders, able to tackle the increasing disconnects between citizens and political elites, to rebuild the trust that is vital to democracies.

These promising and established leaders come from a variety of backgrounds including politics, business, civil society, arts, science and the media.

The 2020 Class of European Young Leaders:


Tune in to the EYLs on Friends of Europe’s Leading Views podcast

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

Leading view

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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Negar Mortazavi on Europe's role in the US-Iran dispute, the Trump factor and the role of media

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Negar Mortazavi on Europe's role in the US-Iran dispute, the Trump factor and the role of media

Negar Mortazavi

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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

Martin Buxant
Martin Buxant

Editor-in-Chief at LN24, 2015-2016 European Young Leader

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With two master’s degrees in Communication and European Integration (Economics), Martin first entered the world of journalism in 2002 initially as a European correspondent and later a political journalist. He has been a reporter for La Libre Belgique and De Morgen, as well as an editor for the television programme “Politiquement Correct” on RTL-TVI during the most recent legislative and regional elections in Belgium. He is currently a Senior Writer at the daily business newspaper L’Echo where he serves as both a political journalist and an editor. Martin appears daily on the Bel-RTL television channel where he conducts a political interview every morning. He is an accomplished author having most recently published a biography of the current Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Didier Reynders.

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Xavier Damman

Founder & CEO of OpenCollective and Co-Founder of Storify, 2017 European Young Leader

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Xavier is an engineer in computer science who is passionate about the digital renaissance. In 1999, while still at secondary school, he founded Tribal, a site that gathered student content from around Belgium for publication in a magazine that was distributed to 30,000 students nationwide. Ten years later, he co-founded Storify, a social media curation platform that enables users to create stories or timelines using content from social media such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Storify is now used by top brands, organisations and publishers around the world, including CNN, the New York Times, the United Nations and the White House. More recently, he co-founded OpenCollective, a company that enables groups to collect and spend money transparently without having to create a new bank account.

Sébastien de Halleux
Sébastien de Halleux

COO at Saildrone, 2018 European Young Leader

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Sébastien is responsible for the operation of Saildrone, a company revolutionising data collection at sea through the use of wind and solar powered drones. Saildrone’s mission is to quantify planetary systems like extreme weather, global fisheries and carbon fluxes. Sébastien also cofounded Playfish, which was one of the largest and fastest growing social gaming companies with over 300mn players, before being acquired by video game giant Electronic Arts (EA) in 2009. Sébastien has also been the recipient of the Tech 100 and Tech Fellow Awards.

Eva De Roo
Eva De Roo

Radio host at the VRT, 2019 European Young Leader

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Eva is a radio host for the Belgian national radio station Studio Brussel. Music had always been a constant in her life but it was only after getting a degree as an interpreter English-French that she decided to follow that passion. She had her first experience as a radio personality under the cover of darkness during “The Wild Bunch”, the late-night incubator for Studio Brussel’s young talent. Today, only 5 years after this first appearance, she has an eponymous prime-time radio show and has co-hosted “The Warmest Week” – Belgium’s biggest annual charity fundraiser, raising 17million last year – four times in a row. Combined with her career as a voice-actor, DJ and MC at music festivals, this has turned her into one of Belgium’s booming all-round media talents.

Leendert de Voogd
Leendert de Voogd

Global Service Line Leader Social Intelligence Analytics at Ipsos, 2013 European Young Leader

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Leendert is Global Head of the Political and Social Practice of TNS, one of the world’s largest market research companies. From 2002 to 2007 he was Joint Managing Director of TNS Opinion, a co-ordination centre for multi-country studies based in Brussels. Leendert is a member of ESOMAR, a worldwide market, social and opinion research association. Over the last 15 years he has been in charge of the coordination of survey research in countries around the world for an important number of international institutions such as the European Commission, the European Central Bank, the European Parliament and the World Bank. He studied Political Science at Belgium’s Université Catholique de Louvain (UCL) and also at Institut d’Etudes politiques / Sciences Po Paris.

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Thomas Dermine

Researcher, political advisor and 2020 European Young Leader (EYL40)

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Thomas is a Belgian researcher and political advisor, currently heading l’Institut Emile Vandervelde, a research centre for the Francophone Social Democrat Party (PS). Well involved in the Belgian political environment, Thomas is also the Chief of Staff to Paul Magnette, chairman of the social democrat party. Aside to his political work, Thomas previously held a managing role at CATCH, a public start-up aimed at coordinating and accelerating local projects in and around Charleroi, an economically modest area in Belgium. Thomas is also an affiliate of the Harvard Government Performance Lab where he leads research on Social Impact and a lecturer at Université Libre de Bruxelles.

Adil El Arbi
Adil El Arbi

Film Director and Screenwriter, 2017 European Young Leader

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Adil co-directed three movies, one TV series and two award-winning short movies. His two first feature movies, ‘Image’ (2010) and ‘Black’ (2015), co-directed with his friend Bilall Fallah, are set in run-down districts of Brussels. ‘Black’, which features non-professional young actors, premiered at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival. The plot brings a ‘Romeo and Juliet’ love story to street gangs in modern-day Brussels. Adil became a celebrity by winning ‘The Smartest Person in the World’ quiz on Flemish television. In 2016, the renowned American producer Jerry Bruckheimer entrusted him and Bilall Fallah with the direction of ‘Beverly Hills Cop 4’, the latest in a series of movies starring Eddie Murphy.

Alicja Gescinska
Alicja Gescinska

Philosopher, writer and TV host, 2019 European Young Leader

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Alicja is a Belgian-Polish philosopher who has oriented her career around questions of identity and freedom. A published academic and an accomplished author, her first and most well-known title, The Conquest of Freedom, was shortlisted for an array of literary prizes when it was published in 2011. In addition to having held the position of Research Associate at Princeton University, Alicja has lectured at Amherst College on topics such as philosophy of freedom, Islam in Europe and European politics. Returning to Belgium in 2016, she now leads the philosophical TV programme, Wanderlust, on the Canvas channel and contributes regularly to both Philosophy Magazine and the broadcasting company, VRT. Her debut fictional novel, A Kind of Love, won the ‘Debuutprijs’ in 2017.

Jan Goossens
Jan Goossens

Artistic Director of KVS, the Royal Flemish Theatre in Brussels, 2012 European Young Leader

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Jan is Artistic Director of KVS, the Royal Flemish Theatre in Brussels, since 2001. He has established an ambitious artistic programme that embraces the intercultural and linguistic diversity of Brussels. He is the initiator of cultural exchange programmes between Belgium, the Congo and the Arab world, and is a Belgian Fellow of the Eisenhower Foundation. Jan has also written several books and articles on subjects such as culture, media and the future of Belgium and Europe.

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Emily Hoyos

Member of Ecolo, 2013 European Young Leader

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Emily is the co-chair of the Belgian Green Party Ecolo since 2012. Before that, she served as the regional president of the Walloon Parliament, a position she has held since 2009. Very early in her career she was elected President of the Federation of Francopone Students, a student organisation, and then became Political Secretary to the Belgian French Community’s Minister of Children, Jean-Marc Nollet. She also worked within several organisations and local associations, such as the Ligue des Familles. In 2009, she was elected to the Walloon Parliament and, six weeks later, she became its President. Emily is one of the youngest and most well-known politicians in Belgium.

Photo of Assita Kanko
Assita Kanko

Member of European Parliament, 2019 European Young Leader

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Assita is a Belgian author, politician and entrepreneur. Previously a town councillor in Ixelles (one of the largest districts of Brussels), she is a popular media commentator, a columnist for newspaper De Standaard and founder of Polin – the political incubator a start-up to help women enter and advance in politics in Belgium. Growing up as a child in Burkina Faso, Kanko underwent female genital mutilation. After immigrating from the west African nation to Belgium, she became one of the most important fighters for gender equality and women’s rights. Having initially integrated the liberal party, she has since moved to the Flemish conservative party and aims to maintain her advocacy for fairness. She wrote two books on feminism and the position of women.

Kamal Kharmach
Kamal Kharmach

Belgian stand-up comedian and 2020 European Young Leader (EYL40)

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Kamal is one of the rising stars of the Belgian stand-up comedy scene, winner of several awards. He openly tackles sensitive and personal issues, such as obesity, discrimination and social injustice. Kamal was previously the Director of the Flemish-Moroccan culture house Daarkom. This cultural organisation seeks to bring about cultural exchange between diverse groups. Kamal is also a well-known TV host. An immigrant and stand-up comedian, he uses his platform to bring light to social abuses through a positive and humorous approach. His mix of television shows range from providing economic guidance for struggling companies, to blending comedy with politics.

Zakia Khattabi
Zakia Khattabi

President of the Green Party of the Belgian Senate, Senator for the French Community Parliament and Vice President of the Senate’s Justice Commission, 2013 European Young Leader

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Zakia is President of the Green Party of the Belgian Senate, Senator for the French Community Parliament and Vice President of the Senate’s Justice Commission. She is a member of the PCF & PRB parties. Zakia has an extensive background in politics and project management and has comprehensive experience as a researcher in social issues. She holds a Social Studies degree from the ISFSC in Brussels as well as several other academic diplomas in public management, project management and solidarity studies. Zakia is an avid supporter of anti-racist movements and women’s rights and is a founding member of the Arab Women Solidarity Association and a member of the French Women’s Council in Belgium.

Sander Loones
Sander Loones

Member of the Belgian Federal Parliament, former Member of the European Parliament, 2015-2016 European Young Leader

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Sander is a member of the Belgian Chamber of Representatives. He was formerly a Member of the European Parliament with the European Conservatives and Reformists Group, and Vice President of Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie (The New Flemish Alliance). In the European Parliament, Sander was Vice Chair of the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs, and a member of Delegation for relations with the countries of Southeast Asia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Sander has previously worked for the Belgian Ministry of Interior Affairs in the migration office, and as a scientific researcher at the Law faculty of Catholic University Leuven.

Photo of Sammy Mahdi
Sammy Mahdi

Chairman of the youth wing of the Flemish CD&V party, 2018 European Young Leader

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Sammy, the son of an Iraqi political refugee and a Belgian mother, has become the first ever Chairman from Brussels to lead the Flemish ‘Jong CD&V’ party. He has previously served as a parliamentary assistant and writes a regular column for the Belgian newspaper De Morgen. Passionate about issues related to integration and equality, Sammy is viewed as a bridge builder between Belgium’s Muslim and non-Muslim populations.

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Selection process

Due to Covid-19, no European Young Leaders class will be selected for 2021. Application for the class of 2022 will open in the spring of 2021.

The EYL40 programme is a unique, multi-stakeholder programme which aims to promote a sense of European identity by bringing together forty of the brightest European leaders every year and engaging them in initiatives that will shape Europe’s future. We aim to select 40 European Young Leaders of diverse backgrounds in order to enable a broad exchange of ideas, creating the basis for a new generation of engaged European leaders. Additionally, in 2020, the programme will include 6 Young Leaders from the Western Balkan region. In doing so, we aim to promote structural dialogue across the continent that will foster better mutual understanding.

Since the launch of the programme in 2012, 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. Candidates can either apply or be nominated for the selection process of the programme.

Selection criteria:

  • Candidates must be between 30 and 40 years of age;
  • Candidates must be a national of an EU member state or of one of the 6 Balkan states currently on the path to EU integration (Serbia, Kosovo*, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, North Macedonia, Montenegro);
  • Candidates should have established themselves 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 seminar during the programme year.

*references to Kosovo in this document are used without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UN Security Council resolution 1244/99 and the International Court of Justice Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence.

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