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My week at the Siylab, European Millennials incubator

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Friday morning’s seismic decision left most of us dumbfounded and asking ourselves – has this really happened? Feeling shell-shocked by a decision which does not seem to represent our generation. The political and economic consequences of this decision have left many of us with a bitter taste in our mouth. It also raised bigger questions around what this mean for Europe and for Europeans? Can we now prevent contagion to other countries?

As a French-educated Italian national, who has subsequently lived in Paris, Moscow and London, the EU is more than an economic union or a single free-market to me: it is an identity. An identity that sums up the values that the majority of millennials relate to and that 75 per cent of Brits between the ages of 18-24 believed was worth fighting for.

These are the values which pushed me to apply to the Siylab, an incubator for young Millennials advocating for the European Union, because there is still some will left to fight for Europe out there. So while the people of Great Britain were considering their relationship with their neighbours after more than 40 years of collaboration, young people from across the continent were gathering in Siena to rethink the future of the European project. This is the message I chose to share.

Millennials incubator

SiyLab1Millennials selected

In May, I was selected to participate in the Siena ‘Y’ generation Lab – aka “Siylab”. It was hosted by the University of Siena and the Italian Ministry of Education. The brief was simple: by taking advantage of the collective experience, knowledge and expertise of 37 Europeans ‘Millennials’ selected for a small incubator, deploy a strategy for the next generation of Europeans.


The profiles of the 37 young « Millennials » varied from academics to young professionals and European Commission members. All part of the connected generation ‘Y’ and dedicated to reinvigorating European values.

We were to spend five days in Siena participating in daily seminars and attending presentations from key speakers and specialists to help us develop a clear picture of where the gaps lie and what needs to be topping the European agenda. Mary Fitzgerald, correspondent expert in Libya; Eva Giovannini, RAI journalist; Marietje Schaake, a member of the European Parliament; Peter Macleod, advisor to the Canadian Government for participation processes; Kalin Anev Janse, General Secretary for European Stability Mechanism; Alberto Alemanno, Professor of EU Law & Risk Regulation at HEC Paris were among those supporting our project.

Defining Europe’s challenges

Together we spent the initial days outlining, mapping and discussing the urgencies of Europe. Our different backgrounds, nationalities and ages meant our priorities differed dramatically; some saw the immigration “crisis” as the biggest issue, whilst others claimed it was trade or cultural disunity.

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What was very clear from the get-go, was that for the Siylab participants, the European Union was certainly not dépassée.  

We barely touched upon the subject of Brexit because we felt we were working on “the bigger picture”. Britain wasn’t the only country needing to be reminded of European values – and being completely honest, none of us really thought it would actually vote to leave.

What we did identify was more generally the lack of a sense of community, of awareness on European matters and of a shared vision for the future. All which seemed to have proven to be true on Friday. In fact, according to the latest figures, on Friday morning, the second-most Googled question in the UK was “what is the EU?”…

Europe’s communication conundrum

While the seminars raised central issues varying from refugee influx to political and economic disunity – what struck me the most was the profound miscommunication surrounding European initiatives and its realities.

SiyLab4.JPGMarietje Schaake, member of the EU Parliament discussing Europe’s urgencies

Marietje Schaake, EU parliamentarian, addressed the issue of communicating European initiatives to stakeholders. Too many channels impeach a clear view of Europe. She raised the issue of the struggle to fight populism and anti-European campaigns when the most effective medium remains Twitter’s 140 characters. Challenges facing Europe cannot be summed up in a sentence and this makes lobbying for a new Europe, that much harder against rising populism.

I could understand the challenges in the messaging, images and communications campaign surrounding an organisation which is not au goût du jour anymore.

A new narrative for Europe

After five days of co-working, we all decided a new narrative for Europe was necessary: showing Europe was an enabler for our projects, not a barrier.

The lab ended with the clear premise: this was only the beginning of our action.

SiyLab5.JPGCo-working on a new narrative for Europe with Bill Emmott

Our proposition was: to build a platform, mapping out the best European practices and connecting and enhancing cooperation between cross-national peer-initiatives as well as raising awareness to new generation rights. The aim being to empower millennials to address their aspirations through innovative projects and Europe. The physical manifestation of our project will be a European Millennials Festival with the intention of regrouping millennials around the values of Europe we share.

What was the biggest benefit to me personally?

The strong sense of civic engagement and the true belief in a pan-European Union that I have come away with. I witnessed true devotion and willingness to action for a greater collective cause, but more importantly, I have left with a great new group of friends that I will keep for life.

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So whilst half of Britain decided to leave the EU on Friday, British Europhiles remain, because Europe and being European is about sentiment, people and values – not countries.

If you are interested in finding out more about our co-working days, watch a summary here. To learn about the upcoming Festival, you can read about it on www.siylab.eu.