By Aiste Zalepuga, Managing Editor Review of European and Transatlantic Affairs
Her father took her to the local school in Gawlow, Poland to cast a vote in the European Union membership referendum. “Vote any way you want because this is about you,” he said, giving the ballot to his daughter. Olga Karnas, a student at Yale College, was then ten years old. Now she is taking action through European Horizons, a think-tank based at Yale devoted to the future of the European ideal, where she is one of the Executive Directors.
David O’Sullivan, the EU ambassador to the US, opened the second European Student Conference with a question. “What kind of Europe do you want? It is for young people to think about because you are going to own this future and live it,” he said.
This past weekend (February 5-6) over one hundred graduate and undergraduate students from 53 different universities came together at Yale University to discuss solutions for shaping the next generation of Europe. Leading academics and policymakers joined the students to discuss current issues that the EU faces, ranging from the construction of European identity to the refugee crisis to the expansion of transatlantic cooperation.
Vito Borelli, Head of Sector for the Jean Monnet Actions under Erasmus+, emphasized the importance of young people’s views for the future of Europe. “Through the meeting of more experienced minds and innovative approaches we will envision alternative ways ahead,” he said. “This is why the European Commission is determined to strengthen its efforts and financial investments in the meeting of these minds.”
The Conference centered on Workshops in which the students created policy papers, incorporating direct feedback from the visiting academics and policymakers. “It’s an opportunity for lofty dreams to become concrete policy proposals,” said Nasos Abuel, a student at Yale College and an Executive Director of European Horizons. The policy papers will be published in European Horizons’ biannual academic journal, Review of European & Transatlantic Affairs.
While the Conference came to a close, the projects are just beginning. The Entrepreneurship Workshop, for example, will implement the winning idea selected at the conference. Marco Pau, a student at the Yale School of Management and director of the European Horizons Innovation Program, said the Entrepreneurship Workshop adds a bottom up approach to the top down, policy focus of the Conference. “The Entrepreneurship Workshop reflects the belief that tackling challenges, like the migrant crisis, requires innovation and practical business ideas, along with sound public policy.”
The winning pitch was e-Ubelong, a subscription-based, digital platform that connects migrant workers and employers, using geo-data and a collaborative filtering system to more efficiently foster integration in labor markets. “I found their project innovative, implementable and with a deep potential to impact European society, particularly in relation to the integration of migrants in the European economy,” Pau said.
Klaus Welle, the secretary general of the European Parliament, said the EU is in a state of transition. “It has been for a long time a legislative superpower but is now confronted with necessity to develop an effective executive capacity,” he said. “We cannot guarantee this is working, but I can assure the dream remains alive. The journey for EU integration is going to continue.”
The conference comes at a challenging time for Europe, but Karnas said that members of European Horizons are prepared to play their role in shaping their vision for Europe. “So much has changed in the 13 years since the EU membership referendum, but not my choice of vote that June. My father made me believe that the project of European integration is about me, just as it is about all individual Europeans,” Karnas said. “For us, the people who gathered for the European Student Conference, the EU is not a lofty political term. It is a true force that affects our lives, but one that we also have the power to influence through European Horizons.”
European Horizons, a student-led think-tank based at Yale University, organized the annual Conference. It received funding from the European Commission under the Jean Monnet grant. The organization encompasses 20 chapters, including Harvard University, Columbia University and College d’Europe. European Horizons’ upcoming Spring Forum will be held in Washington D.C.