Postcard from Brussels

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The European Young Leaders (EYL40) met in Brussels on 9-11 September for the first time since the pandemic disrupted society. The EYL40 programme, led by Friends of Europe, has been instrumental in connecting young talent throughout Europe, with the aim of encouraging new generations to foster a regeneration of a different kind of leadership. They debated Europe’s most pressing issues, from the coronavirus pandemic and climate crisis to community and identity.

Here’s a taste of the incredible and, as always, insightful seminar.

Europe’s generation R - regeneration, recovery, resilience

VACCINE APARTHEID

The topic on everyone’s mind: COVID-19. While 5.64 billion doses of the vaccine have been delivered around the world, low-income countries remain vulnerable with just 1.9% of people having received a jab, explained Marc Van Ranst, who heads the Laboratory of Clinical and Epidemiological Virology at the University Hospital Leuven.

“If we don’t fix [the vaccine apartheid], the world will be even more fractured than before”, stated Pascal Lamy, President Emeritus of the Jacques Delors Institute and Trustee of Friends of Europe. Agnes Binagwaho, Co-Chair of the Africa-Europe Foundation Strategy Group on Health, chalked it up to a lack of global solidarity, the notion of which “must be the backbone of an Africa-Europe partnership”, while professor of EU law and EYL40 Fjoralba Caka questioned if there is space for solidarity in the rules of multilateralism.

A RECOVERY MOMENT FOR EUROPE?

It’s not only about the immediate health crisis but the future of our communities too. “This truly could be a real recovery moment,” commented Co-President of the Club of Rome Sandrine Dixson-Declève, “is it, however, a building of resilience?” European Commission Director-General for Budget Gert-Jan Koopman assured: “We have every reason to believe [the Recovery and Resilience Facility] will be a promising start.”

Looking beyond our atmosphere, “space is doing so much more than a lot of people think”, remarked Mònica Roca i Aparici, Managing and R&D Director at isardSAT, a sentiment echoed by astrophysicist and EYL40 Guillem Anglada-Escudé, who compared space’s bounty in resources to that of the sea.

André Loesekrug-Pietri, Chairman and Scientific Director of the Joint European Disruptive Initiative and EYL40, noted that “we need space more than ever”, but as Europe ascends to space, big questions around waste and space governance prevail back down on Earth. Director of Science at the European Space Agency (ESA), Günther Hasinger reassured that “science can only show by doing and not by talking” – a notion that also applies to the pandemic all too well.

CONSTRUCTIVE NARRATIVES BETTER FOR DEMOCRACY

Politics and journalism need a radical shake-up to break out of a downward spiral fixated on bad news and conflicts in order to refocus on constructive narratives that bring a real benefit to society. “Why should journalism be the only profession that we don’t have to be critical towards?” argued Ulrik Haagerup, Founder and CEO of the Constructive Institute, introducing the concept of constructive journalism, in which “the word ‘constructive’ means having a beneficial purpose”.

Kirsten Brosbøl, Founder and CEO of 2030beyond and EYL40, noted “we need to have this approach in politics as well as journalism”. She pointed to problems in modern politics, from the centralisation of party decision-making to the demands of a fast-paced agenda dominated by social media. “Do we want to spend 70% of our time doing Twitter updates? No, that’s not why we entered politics.” This seminar was also an occasion for Kirsten Brosbøl, together with Friends of Europe, to launch the Constructive Politics project, which aims to reduce polarisation and restore an arena of constructive dialogue through carefully crafted courses for new politicians.

In the strengthening of community, “the cultural and creative sector can contribute to a sense of Europeanness […] to growing that shared identity”, contended researcher and EYL40 Mary Fitzgerald, but “we need to put the bar high – it is about changing our cities, it is about changing our world”, argued Jan Goossens, Artistic Director of the Festival de Marseille and EYL40. As noted by Yuriy Vulkovsky, Country Manager at Reach for Change and EYL40, “everyone should have the right to participate through culture”.

LEARNING FROM CRISES

Long-term lessons of the COVID-19 crisis concern democracy and the media. “If you ask people to do something, they follow. This is nice but that is also dangerous knowledge to have”, warned virologist Marc Van Ranst on the dangers of slipping into soft authoritarianism. “Democracy is something we should treasure, but we take it for granted.”

“This pandemic is the first serious wake-up call [regarding] misinformation”, noted Negar Mortazavi, Diplomatic Correspondent at The Independent and 2017 MENA Young Leader, while journalist and EYL40 Matthew Caruana Galizia warned that “disinformation shares many qualities with the virus”.

LOOKING AHEAD

As we continue to address current challenges and navigate new opportunities ahead, the seminar provided us with much to contemplate in terms of what our shared future can and should look like.

Stay tuned for the release of the EYL seminar’s event report, set to be published in early October.

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