Speech by Minister of State for Europe Michael Roth at the closing event of the German-Norwegian Youth Forum

26.09.2016 - Speech

Distinguished participants in the German-Norwegian Youth Forum,

God dag og hei til Tysk-Norsk Ungdomsforum.

That’s about the sum of my Norwegian! And so, even if today is the European Day of Languages, I had better continue in German – especially since I hear that your German is excellent.

The motto of the German-Norwegian Youth Forum this year can be translated as “New heroes! Who inspires you?” We are all familiar with heroes such as Odysseus and Achilles from the golden age of legend, from Greek mythology.

Heroes are the stuff history is made of. Almost every country in Europe has its own national heroes.

France has Joan of Arc, Switzerland has William Tell, and Norway has Roald Amundsen, the great polar explorer and the first man to reach the South Pole.

Udo Jürgens, the composer and singer who died two years ago, once sang “Helden sind zum Sterben da” – heroes are there to die. I’m not sure I agree. Willy Brandt was probably right, as so often, when he said, “We are not born to be heroes.” In my mind, heroes have always had something to do with life, or rather, with living out a certain idea or conviction for which they are prepared to overcome all opposition. Nowadays we would perhaps call them role models rather than heroes.

Such role models draw attention to themselves through their public works and actions, and they inspire us to take action ourselves.

We admire them and seek to emulate them. I expect your modern heroes are drawn from Hollywood films, Youtube music videos or the world of sport.

But there are also the many everyday heroes who aren’t in the limelight to the same extent. People such as firemen, who have to work to their physical limits and risk their lives to save people in distress. And the many people who, in addition to their day jobs, work on a voluntary basis to help children, invalids or refugees.

You may not read about them in the newspaper or see them on TV, but the way such people help others is exemplary.

In politics, too, we have our great role models. Willy Brandt may never have considered himself a hero, but he was a true builder of bridges – between East and West, and also between Germany and Norway. He moved to Norway in 1933 to escape the Nazis, and lived and worked there for seven years. Norway was far more to him than a safe port in the storm. It became his second home. In 1940 he even took Norwegian citizenship. Willy Brandt contributed to German-Norwegian reconciliation in an almost unparalleled manner.

If some of you are now wondering what that all has to do with you, what you, as participants in the German-Norwegian Youth Forum, have in common with Willy Brandt, then let me tell you. A great deal!

For you, too, are important builders of bridges between our two countries. Happily, German-Norwegian relations are not the sole preserve of Government Ministers and MPs, but are underpinned by a dense network of personal contacts and friendships between the people of our countries.

And that’s where you fit in. When 60 young people from Germany and Norway come together to discuss the issues of the day, and maybe even to argue heatedly, this leaves a trace. Your encounters of these past days may well give rise to friendships based on mutual understanding and respect. And that gives me hope. Because, especially in these times of crisis, it is precisely this kind of communication that is so important. It is vital for us to understand each other and not judge, to enlighten and not blind, to build confidence and to demolish scepticism!

The German-Norwegian Youth Forum is already celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.

Roughly one thousand youngsters from Germany and Norway have participated in its projects over the past years.

This Forum is not concerned solely with language camps and project camps, but also with your take on the world of tomorrow and the part you can play in it.

In this connection, I would like to quote Anne, a former participant in this Forum, who talked about the climate and energy. “It’s great that the Youth Forum has been established,” she said. “Because we young adults are the face of tomorrow – and the people affected by climate change in a global world!”

I’m sorry to say that Anne was wrong. You’re not the face of tomorrow. You’re the face of today! If you’re unhappy with the policies adopted by Germany and Norway, or in Europe or the world, it is up to you to point them in another direction. I always say that people should stand up and act, instead of just grumbling.

And you can’t start early enough! You don’t have to be an absolute hero. It’s enough if you’re not indifferent to what’s going on around you, if you try to get others to listen to your ideas.

And in the process, you will also be helping to further improve German-Norwegian relations. Let’s be honest. We Germans love Norway – and not just as a holiday destination. Norway stands for far more than beautiful landscapes, imposing fjords, mountains and lonely islands, or holiday homes and “huts” in stunning natural settings. We Germans also admire the highly praised Nordic model. We are fascinated by the solid social safety net your country provides, by your liberal and open culture, all of it supported by a strong economy.

I’d like to conclude with a remark that no self-respecting Minister of State for Europe could possibly omit: it would be wonderful if Norway were one day to become a member of our EU team. I, at least, will continue to live in hope. Our door is always open! Norway would do the European Union a world of good. In just the same way as magnificent projects like the German-Norwegian Youth Forum do us good. Many congratulations on your first ten years! The Forum is far too young to think of calling it a day – you’re just getting started! All the best for the future!

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