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Ladies and gentlemen, friends and neighbours from all over the Baltic Sea region,
I am very pleased to welcome more than 60 young people from the CBSS countries to the Federal Foreign Office during these Baltic Sea Days. I also take this opportunity to pass on the best wishes of Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, the patron of this session.
You have already spent several days together working on committees and using the time to get to know each other better. Most of you enjoy the benefit of prior experience, having worked in the Youth Parliaments of your own home countries. That will have given you a good idea of the work that “real” members of parliament do – from discussions and debates to the search for compromise, an everyday political necessity which is nonetheless often a very hard thing to achieve, something for which everyone involved must be willing to make sometimes difficult concessions.
Yesterday, so that your debates in the Baltic Sea Youth Session would be more than just a drill, some of you had the chance to present the ideas you had developed together to the “real” members of parliament from the Baltic Sea Region at their dialogue event.
I was very glad to see with what energy and evident enjoyment you put your points of view to my parliamentary colleagues. Not only were you setting a good example, you also inspired hope by so impressively countering people’s assumption that the younger generation is frustrated by politics.
Your commitment so far has shown me that you want to play a part in your society and that we share a fundamental conviction – namely that democracy is not something we can take for granted, but is a precious achievement that must be supported and defended.
We can see that in the Baltic Sea Region’s extremely varied post-war history. You are most probably too young to remember yourselves, but many of you come from countries that experienced the historic changeover to a democratic system after 1989. I myself come from the former GDR and remember well the time of sham elections, which consisted mostly of folding the lists of candidates we had been given and stuffing them into the ballot box.
There was absolutely no chance of actually having a voice by getting involved in politics or civil society. Knowing that makes me all the more pleased to have the Baltic Sea Youth Session as a way of enabling young people to play a part in shaping socially relevant debates and to engage in dialogue that reaches beyond their own borders.
The Baltic Sea Youth Session is being held as part of the Berlin Baltic Sea Days; these, in turn, constitute one of the highlights of Germany’s Presidency of the CBSS, which will come to end in June 2012.
Perhaps some of you will have the opportunity to check out one or two of the other events: the NGO Forum, for example, or the evening crime-fiction readings that are taking place here at the Federal Foreign Office today, tomorrow and the day after.
Federal Chancellor Merkel will pass on the symbolic baton of the CBSS Presidency to the future Russian Prime Minister at the summit in Stralsund at the end of May 2012. Perhaps you will have the opportunity to see each other again in Russia in 2013.
I am sure that you will all come away from this session with new and lasting friendships or even ideas for your future professional or political activities. I would be very glad to think that you would all remain part of the network of former participants.
I would like to extend my special thanks to all those who have contributed to the success of this stimulating session, above all the Schwarzkopf Foundation and the national committees of the European Youth Parliament. I also want to thank all the others who have helped make this event a reality.
In closing, it only remains for me to wish you all a successful final day and a safe trip home.