Brian Zhang, Contributing Photographer

The European Student Conference returned to Yale from April 14 to 16, engaging students, professional policymakers and government officials from the United States and Europe in conversations about rethinking transatlantic policy. 

This year’s conference was keen on tackling challenges related to democratic technology, dynamic security, the world energy crisis and the Russia-Ukraine war. José Manuel Barroso, former president of the European Commission and current non-executive chairman of Goldman Sachs, gave the keynote fireside chat on Saturday afternoon. He touched upon the geopolitical and socioeconomic implications of what he calls Europe’s growing global prowess — and the importance of youth leadership in the future of citizenship, democracy and business.

The ESC is the flagship branch of European Horizons, a youth empowerment and leadership group that was founded at the University in Feb. 2015. The group — divided into 16 different teams that work together to make events, talks, opportunities and publications accessible to participating students — is currently the only youth-led transatlantic policy incubator in America.

“It’s not just about educating people on political or academic elites,” said Amelia Hacon, a postgraduate student from Kings College in London who attended and helped organize the event. “It’s about how we can project the youth voice and make the youth voice relevant and important in that conversation.”

For Hacon, the collaboration potential between European countries and the U.S. is not always taken advantage of to the fullest extent. She noted that the two regions have many shared “values and project interests” and that they should work together to tackle major humanitarian crises and promote increased security for inhabitants everywhere. 

As giant contributors to climate change, Europe and America have a responsibility to engineer policies that are considerate of oil and gas prices as well as conscious of the urgency of a more sustainable future, according to European Horizons website. It adds that the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine have exacerbated existing energy crises. 

Another discussion point of the weekend is artificial intelligence, which has gained particular traction in academia in recent months. Hacon emphasized the need to harness AI qualities to ease human lives while also preventing robots from “being ahead” of humans. 

Transatlantic partnership can mean steps taken in defense of democracy as well, added Lorenzo Donatelli, a third-year economics and philosophy student from the University College London.

During ESC, participants may write and collaborate on policy papers that delineate important strategies and policy proposals nurturing European-American affairs. 

The conference also acknowledged how intellectual, cultural and socioeconomic differences can come into play in policymaking. 

“We have a strong diversity of opinions here,” Anne-Amélie Campant ’25, co-director of European Horizon’s North American Conference team, said. “Your reality and perception of transatlantic policy in the global world is completely different depending on what your background is or where you live.” 

Campant said that some of her most enjoyable and eye-opening moments from this year’s agenda have been conversations with fellow young people who hail from very different living situations and socioeconomic backgrounds. 

For instance, an individual who lives in a small rural town may be impacted disparagingly or disproportionately by the same piece of legislation as someone who comes from Washington D.C., Campant explained.

“The goal is to increase the expertise of students in the role of transatlantic relations in the evolving world,” Donatelli said. “We call ourselves policy incubators, but we [also] incubate people, this idea of creating a space for interested students and professionals to talk and make change.” 

This was the seventh time that Yale hosted the conference. 

Brian Zhang is Arts editor of the Yale Daily News and the third-year class president at Yale. Previously, he covered student life for the University desk. His writing can also be found in Insider Magazine, The Sacramento Bee, BrainPOP, New York Family and uInterview. Follow @briansnotebook on Instagram for more!