Chancellor Merkel invited some 100 international students to join a discussion with her, and British and Norwegian counterparts, David Cameron and Jens Stoltenberg, on how to deal with the challenges of the future.
"There's a lot going on here" – that was German Chancellor Angela Merkel's summary at the end of the her so-called future dialogue Thursday evening in Berlin. Over the last year, Merkel has been discussing with scientists, citizens and teenagers what life in Germany should be like ten years from now. Called "Learning from each other – new paths in the relationship between citizens and the state," the debate hopes to gather suggestions on how to learn and live in the future. Merkel, on Thursday, stressed that politics had to consider long-term developments rather than merely look at the next elections.
"If everyone is impatient, then I'm the one who has to remain patient," Merkel said about the debt crisis
Some 90 students from 25 countries had been invited by the Hertie School of Governance, a private Berlin university for politics and governance. Also invited were British Prime Minister David Cameron and his Norwegian counterpart Jens Stoltenberg. Both are considered well versed in matters of modern democracy in the Internet Age and new forms of citizen participation. Cameron regularly debates with students to stay in touch with his electorate. Norway's Stoltenberg, after the Breivik murders, initiated a broad public discussion about the Utoya tragedy.
Too little time
Before meeting with Merkel, the students were given the opportunity to discuss the issues and come up with suggestions on "Democracy in the year 2022." For the first part of the talks, though, the discussion was mostly among Merkel, Cameron and Stoltenberg – leaving the students as listeners rather than participants.
"With 70, you'r not old yet!!"
Merkel spoke about how to manage time. She described the issue as the crucial question of the 21st century. "We still haven't found a role for the phase after 65," Merkel said. "Those who are born today, can statistically expect to reach 100 years old. It used to be that all directions were set between 18 and 40. But today, if you're 70, you're not really old yet!"
As all three political leaders stressed: The best way to learn politics is to become active in a political party. One student wanted to know what politicians would do so that young people would be able to study abroad, have a career, a family and still have time to join a political party. Cameron answered that there was enough time, but then strayed off topic to stress the growing competition between Europe and China. Chancellor Merkel used her answer to make a point against the unconditional basic income that some in Germany have called for. Everyone had to try and live off their work, she said, pointing out that generally, there was a lot of flexibility on today's job market.
"If everyone is impatient, then I'm the one who has to remain patient," Merkel responded when asked about the current euro crisis. With reference to the surprise success of Germany's Pirate Party, the German chancellor admitted that "yes, I envy their success and them picking up the big issue of transparency. They have a brilliant network, while it takes me years to get the email addresses of all the members of the Christian Democrats." But citizen participation also had its limits, she said. "I can't first ask all 80 million Germans before I go out and say something about the situation in Syria."
At every stage of the dialogue Merkel understood better, how to explain her politics and motivation. She might not have solved the problems she addressed, but showed a level of transparency. With regard to the basic income debate, she said what good was it when a visit to the hairdressers gets so expensive that mothers cut their children's hair themselves. Asked about the solidarity among EU member states, she said that in Greece there was not enough trust to believe that the international bailout efforts would help. She said that the crisis was about more than money. Greece after all has received a lot more than the Marshall plan aid that after WWII helped Europe recover.
Although Norway is not an EU member and Britain has not adopted the euro currency, all three politicians stressed how important it was to have common European goals. The continent did not only live through its institutions, but through the direct contact with the people. Norway's Stoltenberg said that coming from a small country he would be worried about too many decisions being taken off his hands and made in Brussels. But all three leaders wanted to show the students that there was, after all, a future and that no one needed to leave the country, or the continent, to look for employment elsewhere.
Author: Kay-Uwe Scholz / ai
Editor: Gregg Benzow