"It was really positive just being able to talk informally with the Chancellor," said Eric with satisfaction, shortly after the discussion at the Federal Chancellery. The 18-year-old from Schönebeck in Saxony-Anhalt is one of more than one hundred young people who met with Angela Merkel and Franziska Giffey to discuss how young adults can get involved in politics and play an active part in shaping them – the key question.
Until he reached Grade 7 in school, Eric wanted nothing to do with politics. "I was totally disinterested, and like many other people my age I had no interest in political issues," he tells us, looking back. But then politics classes at school got him hooked. "All of a sudden I wanted to watch the news every evening on television." His interest intensified, he got involved in the youth council and in local politics. And he played a part in the annual youth politics conventions staged by the Federal Ministry for Youth. This allowed him to work with like-minded young people to help elaborate the government’s Youth Strategy.
Changes in all policy fields naturally also affect the young generation, but the impacts are not always the same on young people as on other age groups, which is why the government has produced a Youth Strategy . "This is something that was not produced above the heads of young people and is not to be put into practice above their heads," stressed Chancellor Angela Merkel. Federal Minister for Youth Franziska Giffey said, "We want to raise the visibility of young people and ensure that their concerns are taken into account across all policy areas."
One point is particularly important to Eric. In youth parliaments and local-level committees young people should be able to decide independently what matters are discussed. "If, for example, I believe that we need a zebra crossing in front of my school at home, I want to be able to go to the construction committee and put the proposal to them without needing to wait for an invitation." Eric put his idea to the Chancellor. "She promised that she would raise this point when she meets with local authority representatives."
Improving the opportunities open to young people to participate actively in politics is particularly important to Eric and the other young people. Celina, for instance, called on politicians and adults, "If young people get involved in politics, listen to them." Youth policy must be an equal partnership with young people.
In his home town, Eric has gained positive experience with addressing other young people. Through his work in the youth council he often visits youth clubs and holds political education events there. "Initially a lot of people are sceptical, but when I explain to them that their voice is never too quiet and that it will be heard, some people start to reflect."
Leon believes that the government’s Youth Strategy is "a good and important step in the right direction". He thinks it is crucial to reach all young people and persuade them to get involved – no matter what their educational background or what type of school they attend. "We can do this with the help of political education in class, but also when young people get involved in youth associations," Leon declares with conviction.
The 21-year-old Lisa from Backnang in Baden-Württemberg also wants to encourage other young people to play a more active part in politics. Greta Thunberg is the best example, she points out. "A small stone can start an avalanche."
Environmental and climate policy is close to the heart of all young people, as became clear at the Federal Chancellery. But their interests go well beyond this to embrace all policy fields. Chancellor Angela Merkel and Franziska Giffey made it clear that the Youth Strategy they were presenting can only be a "starting shot". Angela Merkel announced a youth conference and Franziska Giffey a new programme entitled "Children and Youth Parliaments".
After the discussion the Chancellor encouraged the young people to stay involved. "Be tenacious and don’t lose heart. We are ready and willing to engage in dialogue." The 18-year-old Eric was pleased to hear this. "We will be keeping our eye on Mrs Merkel and Mrs Giffey. The Youth Strategy has to be more than just a piece of paper."