On Tuesday, April 30, 2024, the spirit of engagement and dialogue that began at STAM Europa on April 9 continued to flourish as the Intercultural Dialogue Platform (IDP) hosted a follow-up event. This time, the setting was the intimate surroundings of IDP offices, providing the perfect backdrop for a candid conversation with Mr. Bram Van Hecke, a 28-year-old Belgian candidate running for the European Parliament under the EPP banner with the CD&V party. The event aimed to delve deeper into Mr. Van Hecke’s vision for Europe and allowed for lively discussions between him and the audience.

The event series initiated earlier exemplified a critical effort to bridge the gap between aspiring European Parliament candidates and the vibrant voices of youth representatives. Titled “Meet Your Future Policymakers: Youth and EP Candidates in Dialogue,” it underscored the importance of direct engagement in the lead-up to the pivotal 2024 European Elections. Now, as we gathered once again, the significance of such dialogue became even more pronounced.

The discussion commenced with Mr. Bram Van Hecke sharing his vision on two pressing European issues close to his heart. The first issue he passionately addressed was the challenge of reconciling the EU’s Agricultural policy with its environmental protection goals. As the son of a farmer and a graduate in agro-engineering, Mr. Van Hecke emphasised the importance of safeguarding the environment while also ensuring that farmers are adequately consulted and supported. He highlighted the current inadequacies in handling this issue and stressed the necessity of finding solutions that balance environmental sustainability with the livelihoods of farmers. Transitioning to another crucial topic, Mr Van Hecke underscored the urgent need for European defence reform. He advocated for the formation of a unified European army by pooling resources, citing potential efficiency gains and enhanced geopolitical positioning for the EU.

Furthermore, the discussion delved into the rise of extreme right parties in Europe, particularly in Belgium, and the imperative for centre-right parties like Mr Van Hecke’s own to counteract this trend. Youth representation in politics emerged as another critical theme, with Mr. Van Hecke advocating for increased participation and listening to the concerns of younger generations. As the former president of Groene Kring, an organisation advocating for young farmers in Flanders, he highlighted the importance of consultative bodies like theirs in amplifying youth voices and shaping policy.

In addition, topics such as youth mental health, affordable housing, the free market and imports were addressed, with all participants having at least one chance to ask questions and share their observations or concerns.

The final point discussed before closing the discussion centred around the necessity of internal checks-and-balances mechanisms to uphold integrity in politics. When prompted by a question from the moderator, Mr. Van Hecke addressed this issue, emphasising the importance of surrounding ourselves with a social circle ready to challenge us and, through his personal philosophy of up-or-out, stressed the need for periodic renewal of political actors, including the MEPs.

In essence, the dialogue with Mr. Van Hecke provided valuable insights into his policy priorities, strategic vision for Europe. His perspectives underscored the complex challenges facing the EU and the importance of proactive and collaborative approaches in addressing them.

As the evening drew to a close, we were reminded of the importance of events like these in shaping the future of our continent. The intimate setting of IDP offices facilitated not just a dialogue but a genuine exchange of ideas, aspirations, and concerns between Mr. Bram Van Hecke and the audience. It showcased the power of direct engagement in fostering understanding and driving meaningful change.

As we prepare to cast our votes in the upcoming European Elections, let us carry forward the spirit of dialogue and participation that animated this gathering. The decisions made in the voting booths will determine the trajectory of Europe for years to come, making it imperative for citizens, especially the youth, to actively engage in the democratic process. By continuing to amplify their voices and perspectives, we can build a more inclusive and participative European democracy, one where every citizen has a stake and a say.