On 20th February, we had the pleasure of hosting our first annual Projekt Hansa Youth Event at the European Parliament in Brussels. A total of 16 participants from all over Northern Europe, including the United Kingdom, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Estonia, Lithuania, and Poland, came to Brussels to participate to an intensive programme of conferences and workshops.
The agenda for the event comprised of two panels on Northern European trade and culture, as well as workshops dedicated to communication, leadership, and networking. Of course, our speakers also dealt with the elephant in the room, that is, Brexit.
Our first panel focused on trade with David Hening, Director of the UK Trade Policy Project at the European Centre for International Political Economy (ECIPE), and German MEP Ulrike Trebesius, exchanging views on the Single Market and the Euro currency.
David Hening started off by explaining the origins and development of the Single Market within Europe. The freedom a movement, which the youth often takes for granted, has not always been in place in the EU. Predecessors of the Single Market were far less wide-ranging and only gradually grew into what we know today. This transformation often revealed disputes between Member States and the European Union, stressed David Hening, as competencies are a recurrent power struggle, including on tax rates and fiscal policies. Future challenges for the EU will also be found a way to externalise its Single Market into a coherent trade policy.
Northern Europe is often seen, he added, as a force promoting a market-friendly, less centralised EU with a strong focus on financial self-responsibility. This will become increasingly important with United Kingdom’s departure from the EU as Northern Europe will have the difficult task of filling the void created by this situation – its youth will have to rise up to this challenge.
Ulrike Trebesius focused her intervention on the recurrent challenges caused by the common currency. The euro has indeed transformed the European Union, but was not necessary, she argued, as it was never a prerequisite for trade. She depicted the often forgotten situation created by the common currency: high debts from the European Central Bank and opaque solutions by the EU that reinforces its deficit of democracy. She concluded with a few words on Brexit, suggesting that it will certainly influence the Single Market, but that invariably, trade will find its way independently from politics.
Then followed our first workshop in which our participants had the opportunity to hear from co-chairman of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR) Syed Kamall on leadership and from Kayla De Nardi, Social Media & Digital Communications advisor to the ECR Group, on social media.
Syed Kamall emphasised that the best leaders offer a vision; they lead people to a better place by showing a direction. For that, it is essential to understand your team. One does not simply need to acknowledge what drives every individual – though it is a good start nevertheless. Syed stressed that it is really about how a leader can support his team in achieving their own objectives and sustain their personal and professional development.
A leader, he maintained, supports everyone in his group regardless of different ethics, opinions, and style. He explained: ‘It is less about your own personal views, and more about the common interests of the group’. This comes as essential in a political milieu such are the European Parliament, he concluded.
Kayla De Nardi shared with the participants her experience on how to efficiently use social media while running a campaign. She recommended first to focus on one main objective and to have a clear idea of future accomplishments. For a successful campaign, Kayla mentioned the importance of building a strong network not only with partners and sponsors, but also with followers and supporters. ‘You have to know and understand your audience. You have to build with them personal relationship. You have to ask about their opinion’, Kayla emphasised. The message should also be simple, short and authentic, she mentioned, and its promotion should be done right across your existing network, instead of trying to reach new followers.
The first afternoon panel with Projekt Hansa’s chairman Rupert Matthews MEP and German MEP Hans-Olaf Henkel was really dedicated to culture and Brexit.
Rupert Matthews shared his experience as a publisher doing business in an international environment, providing examples to our participants of how to deal with certain difficult situations. For instance, he has found that punctuality is imperative when dealing with Germans and that one must be very careful in not offending anyone with humour. Rupert also stressed the importance of having business cards at hand to provide stakeholders with a formal and tangible memory aid.
Hans-Olaf Henkel spoke about his ‘New Deal for Britain’, an initiative which appeals to London to recognise that it underestimated the complexities of Brexit and its economic drawbacks while also demanding that Brussels offers a new deal to the British, focusing on subsidiarity, especially in the area of free movement. Hans-Olaf pointed out that special deals are present everywhere in the EU and that following the British referendum there has been a remarkable shift among European Governments towards making one for the United Kingdom.
Finally, participants had the great opportunity to attend a workshop on networking, given by Dr Martine Alonso Marquis, Career Advisor & Trainer and Adjunct Professor at the Vesalius College. Martine introduced our participants to the basics of networking and how to improve their skills in this area.
For example, she emphasised the importance to prepare oneself before attending networking events: i.g. to read about participants and speakers in advance. ‘It will give you an opportunity to ask more questions, to find something common between you both and as a result to have an interesting conversation, which might lead to a good networking contact,” she said.
To become a great networker she also recommended to participants to develop their listening and questioning skills, as well as to improve their knowledge on a non-verbal communication.
Martine also added that following-up with contacts at least every 2–3 month is important: ‘Statistics show that 95% of people never follow-up and I wish you to belong to the successful 5%,’ she concluded.
The Projekt Hansa Annual Youth Event ended with a short cocktail reception where participants had time to put to practice what they had just learned from their networking workshop. They were all then presented with a certificate of participation signed by chairman Rupert Matthews and stamped by the European Conservatives and Reformists Group.