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August 5, 2022

European Youth Parliament Austria National Session 2022: Overcoming Challenges, Designing Tomorrow

Remarks of 

 Ambassador Victoria Reggie Kennedy 

“European Youth Parliament Austria National Session 2022: Overcoming Challenges, Designing Tomorrow” 

May 2, 2022 

Pädagogische Hochschule Wien 

To the officers of the European Youth Parliament Austria, To the Organizing Committee, To the Delegates,

Thank you so much for welcoming me here this morning.  Emily, thank you, for your kind introduction. And to all of you delegates to the European Youth Parliament, thank you for being active citizens, and for showing through the power of your participation that you are deeply committed to democracy.

You inspire me, and I am honored to join you at this 2022 National Session.

The theme for this session – overcoming challenges, designing tomorrow – captures the importance of this moment and what the world needs from all of you.  In this 2022 European Year of Youth, we are looking to all of you as the leaders of tomorrow who will propel our world to a brighter future.   We need your active involvement, now more than ever, as we face the challenges of war in Europe; the protection of our environment; and full participation by and economic opportunity for all people – regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or physical ability.

Throughout our shared history, it has been young people like all of you who pushed for positive change and made a difference.  Young people just like you were the heart and soul of the first Earth Day 52 years ago and are at the forefront of Friday for Future today. Young people just like you answered the call of President Kennedy to ask what you can do for your country by volunteering for the Peace Corps and have answered the call of this time to fight against poverty and disease through the ONE Campaign.  The list goes on, and the global need for your involvement does too.

Since becoming U.S. Ambassador to Austria, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and speak with many of your peers, learn about what is on their minds, and listen to their visions for the future. And whether we talk about the global pandemic that has dominated our lives for the last two years, the climate crisis and the looming threat it poses to our planet, or the unjustified war that is being waged by Vladimir Putin in Ukraine – it has been clear to me throughout those discussions that we have common interests and shared values.  Collaboration, dialogue, and democracy are at the heart of the U.S.-Austrian relationship.

Through international collaboration, scientists were able to create a Covid vaccine that has saved millions of lives. Through dialogue, the U.S. has rejoined the Paris Agreement to continue the fight against the global climate crisis. And through our common understanding of democracy, we unite in opposition and condemn the Kremlin’s ongoing, brutal war in Ukraine.

Programs like EYP strengthen these shared values, encourage the exchange of ideas across cultures, and instill a commitment to active citizenship.

I understand that over the last couple of days, you have actively experienced the democratic process by debating and discussing topics that affect our future, ranging from disinformation to civil liberties, environment, and public health. You have expressed all of your different opinions and considered issues from multiple perspectives, and I applaud you for coming together, and finding consensus. I know that in just a few minutes, you will present your resolutions and vote on them.  Well done!

I am also delighted that this year, on Austrian National Day, and the reopening of the historic Parliament building, there will be a new wing specifically dedicated to youth engagement and civic involvement in Parliament, encouraging young and diverse voices to take their seat at the table.  I think that’s fantastic. And I know that it’s necessary.

Your capacity to change the world is already enormous.  But I encourage you to amplify that capacity exponentially by engaging in politics.  Politics, conceived as the noble calling I believe it to be, provides opportunities to change lives – lots of lives – in a broad and deep and powerful way.

By encouraging you to engage in politics, I don’t necessarily mean that you should serve as a diplomat or run for public office – although those would be wonderful choices.  No, what I’m asking is that you be involved in the political life of your country.

By being active politically, you have the power to restore civility, to rise above the coarseness that all too often permeates political discourse around the world.

You have the power to make peace and not war, to preserve democracy, and to help it grow and flourish.

Democracy is not static.  It is constantly being refreshed and renewed by the participation of active citizens like you.  It’s also constantly being challenged and requires our commitment and investment.

Think about this – 75 years ago – at the end of World War II, the United States made the decision to invest in the democratic future of Europe.  We formally adopted the Marshall Plan to rehabilitate the economies of war-torn European countries, including Austria – to create stable conditions in which democratic institutions could survive.  Over the next few years after the war, my country invested in Europe approximately $13 Billion – equivalent to more than $150 billion today – and, in less than four years, the impacted countries saw their gross national product grow, in some cases as much as 25%.  The plan contributed – indeed, here in Austria it still contributes – to the renewal of European industry and to the flourishing of democracy.

There’s a story I love about something that happened in my country at the very beginning of our democracy.  One of our legendary founding fathers, the great Benjamin Franklin, was leaving the Constitutional Convention of 1787 that essentially set up our system of government, and a woman called out to him.  “Dr. Franklin, what do have?  A monarchy or a republic?”  He responded with words I take to heart to this day: “A republic, madam, if you can keep it.”

What he was saying is that none of us must ever take democracy for granted.  To be successful, democracy requires the participation of the people.  It requires you… to vote, to be involved, to lead, to let your voices be heard.

So please keep doing what you’re doing. Through your participation in the EYP, you are showing us that our future is in good hands.

Thank you, and I wish you every success.