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Speech by Minister of State for Europe Michael Roth at the opening event of the 80th Session of the European Youth Parliament in Leipzig on 9 November 2015

09.11.2015

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Distinguished delegates of the European Youth Parliament,
Ladies and gentlemen,

There are about 45,000 churches in Germany – today we happen to be in one of the most famous ones. The Nikolaikirche, St. Nicholas Church, in Leipzig may not be the largest, the tallest or the oldest church in Germany. Yet the Nikolaikirche is known for something even more spectacular: for a people’s movement for freedom and for a particular spirit that filled this church.

The peaceful revolution which tore down the Wall in Berlin on 9 November 1989 started with prayers in this church. From 1982, people gathered right here each Monday. Over the years, the group grew bigger and bigger. In the autumn of 1989 mass demonstrations evolved from the “prayers for peace”. These demonstrations – the famous Monday demonstrations – clearly expressed the people’s desire to overthrow the repressive communist regime in Eastern Germany.

Compared to the long history of this church – the celebrations for its 850th anniversary are ongoing – we are talking about events in the very recent past. But for you, honoured delegates of the European Youth Parliament, these events are something out of the history books. 25 years after German reunification was sealed on 3 October 1990 you are holding this fantastic event in Leipzig with more than 300 young people from over 39 European countries. What a wonderful symbol!

The fall of the Wall and German reunification 25 years ago paved the way for further changes. Not only was Germany reunited, but Europe, too, has grown more and more together. Without German reunification we would probably not be gathered here today, we would not have a European Union with 28 member states. Looking back 25 years, I think we can say that we have come a long way.

Distinguished delegates of the European Youth Parliament,

You have been selected to participate as delegates of the European Youth Parliament because you wanted to get involved. You care about Europe and you are willing to take an active part in building Europe’s future.

First of all, I want to thank you for your commitment and enthusiasm. Every one of you is a great ambassador for Europe. You are freely giving your time to exchange ideas and think about solutions to Europe’s current challenges and about its future. Your presence here today is not something I take for granted. I know that not everybody your age shares your passion for European politics.

I am a committed European myself and have been into European politics for 17 years now. You can imagine that it has not always been fun. Let me tell you, Council meetings in Brussels can be very boring. And sometimes they are frustrating and exhausting. But in the end, all the effort is worth it. Negotiating in conference rooms to reach a compromise is always the best solution.

It inspires me to see all of you here. You represent what politicians are talking about when they speak of European diversity based on common values. You are perfect representatives of a tolerant and diverse European Union which brings together people of different cultures, religions and ethnicities. We are bound together not by any given faith but by our common values!

Freedom is one of our key values. Over the past 25 years we have overcome the fences and division in Europe. This new Europe is the Europe I want to live in – a Europe of solidarity in which the member states focus on common European actions instead of isolating themselves.

As you all know, we are currently facing big challenges with the influx of refugees to Europe. I’m not going to go into any details about distribution mechanisms or adjusting our legal framework.

I just want to mention the bottom line that the discussion always comes down to: we need a European solution. The challenges will not be solved through national actions or by building new walls and fences. Only if we stand together in Europe will we succeed.

Distinguished delegates of the European Youth Parliament,

I have been told that your work programme starts today and that over the past two days you took part in teambuilding activities. I am very glad you did – because that’s what Europe is about. Getting to know each other and building a team is better than standing alone.

It takes a lot of continuous effort, but – believe me – it is definitely worth it. The times when Germany and Europe were divided might seem very distant to you, but I myself remember these times very well.

I grew up in West Germany, less than one kilometre from the former inner-German border. The wall, fences, barbed wire and automatic shooting mechanisms overshadowed my entire childhood and it was hard to believe that one day we would get rid of them.

This is hard to imagine nowadays when I see all of you from various countries gathered in Leipzig, but when I was at school, exchange with the students living just a few kilometres from my house in the East was not possible.

Fortunately we have overcome those divisions of the past. And we do not want to go back to living in a Europe of walls and fences. Unfortunately, however, the refugee situation is making quite a few politicians think about building fences again in order to stop the flow of immigrants. That is not acceptable. And I must admit that I simply cannot understand this refusal to draw any lessons from our past.

But I am confident that this is not a mistake you will make. 25 years on, you are filling this church with the spirit of freedom again. You represent European unity and you are shaping Europe’s future.

I want to encourage you to be active ambassadors for Europe. Spread the European spirit among your friends and families. Tell them about your experiences at the European Youth Parliament, about the people you have met and the things you have learned here.

I know that I do not have to convince you. You are savouring the value of Europe right here, as you have on other occasions. But many other people are not as convinced as you are. I would like to encourage you to take a firm stand on European integration. Every one of us can make a difference by sharing the European idea of diversity based on common values.

Last but not least, I would like to encourage you to take advantage of the plentiful opportunities that Europe has to offer: learn other European languages, travel around Europe, use exchange programmes to live, work or study abroad.

Have fun while experiencing Europe and, what is most important, get to know each other regardless of where you come from! Nothing removes fears of the unknown better than face-to-face encounters.

Thank you again for your commitment and spirit, my fellow Europeans!

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