A dialogue with young Europeans
The opening session of this meeting is unusual: on Tuesday morning, 27 young people, aged between 18 and 26, will join the 27 ministers for European Affairs, who are keen to hear what kind of Europe policy the younger generation would actually like. Because that’s the aim of this first session: a direct exchange of views between citizens and politicians and between the generations. In inviting the young people, Michael Roth, Minister of State for Europe at the Federal Foreign Office, wants to send a very clear signal to the public: the politicians are listening, and a dialogue with the public is important to us. The young people will today present five visions for the future of Europe: ideas for ambitious climate measures, energy and migration policy, digitisation, more democratic participation and more cooperation in the fight against global pandemics. One of their key messages is that climate policy should not be forgotten in the face of pressing current issues.
“Taking an active part in a working session with real politicians is a big event for our participants,” says Helena Nepp from the European Youth Parliament, a project run by the Berlin-based Schwarzkopf Foundation, which has organised the young people’s involvement. Selected from among hundreds of applicants, the 27 young people from 24 countries have collected ideas, talked and polished their statements. They will give their statements first, then the ministers will respond. “It’s great to have the chance to provide input in the policy making process and to get direct reactions,” Nepp said.
Today’s topics: the future of Europe and COVID-19
With the dialogue “Young European Ambassadors” of the Schwarzkopf Foundation, German Minister of State for Europe Michael Roth wants to focus on the topics of the future of Europe and citizen participation. The dialogue promises to be a taste of what is to come at the Conference on the Future of Europe. The ministers for European affairs will discuss preparations for the conference. Over the next year and a half, member states and EU institutions intend to use the Conference on the Future of Europe to ask citizens how they would like to see Europe develop in the long term.
And what better to inspire such a dialogue process than culture? With its extensive cultural programme, the Federal Foreign Office has been stimulating debate in the European public since the beginning of the German Presidency of the Council of the EU. The videoconference will provide European ministers with numerous examples of this: They will watch video messages from young people created as part of Earth Speakr, the cultural programme's central work of art by the Icelandic-Danish artist Olafur Eliasson; they will learn more about the project Faces of Europe by the German photographer Carsten Sander, who has been traveling throughout Europe since July with the mission of portraying 1000 European faces; they will see short films from the Europe in Film competition in which young directors develop their perspectives on Europe.
Another item on the agenda: The common fight against Covid-19. For this reason, representatives from the Western Balkan states are also taking part in the videoconference; close coordination with its partners in this region is particularly important for the EU.
A city at the heart of Germany, and Europe
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the ministers for European affairs are meeting by videoconference today, rather than in person. However, there will still be a link with the original venue, Wiesbaden, and its surrounding region, the home region of Minister of State Roth, which he wanted to introduce to his colleagues.
Wiesbaden is the capital of German state of Hesse, a state at the heart of Germany and of Europe. The region is the birthplace of German democracy. In 1848, the members of the first pan-German parliament met in the Paulskirche church in Frankfurt, not far from Wiesbaden, to discuss a liberal constitution. Wiesbaden itself is surrounded by the castles and countryside of the Rheingau-Taunus and lies at the centre of the modern industrial and metropolitan Rhine-Main region, with its European links. The city is one of the oldest spas in Europe, and even now it attracts guests from around the world, keen to reap its health benefits and enjoy its rich culture. “Wiesbaden is also a hub for sustainable projects in Germany,” says Leon Kohl from the Planning and Protocol Task Force for the Organisation and Implementation of the German Council Presidency at the Federal Foreign Office. “As sustainability is one of the key focuses of the German Council Presidency, the city was a perfect location for our event.” Wiesbaden is home to one of the most sustainable congress centres in the world, the RheinMain CongressCenter (RMCC), which was originally supposed to be the venue for the meeting.
One of the most environmentally friendly congress centres in the world
“The RMCC is run on an all-round sustainable basis,” says Carola Hildebrandt, sales manager at the RheinMain CongressCenter, listing its advantages: primarily natural materials such as stone and wood were used in its construction, with all building materials strictly scrutinised for sustainability beforehand, from quarrying to supply chains and recyclability when elements of the building have to be removed or renovated in many years time. The heating system uses wastewater pumped from the canal, a rooftop photovoltaic installation and energy from a biomass power plant. It has been awarded the German Sustainable Building Council Platinum and Diamond ratings for meeting extremely high sustainability criteria in construction and design.
The RMCC has been ready for three years, its bright halls reaching high into the sky above Wiesbaden. Clear lines, lots of glass, a perimeter of modern columns and reflections in the flat water features outside make the building appear light and airy. Two sides of the terrace hall look out across the green spaces to the historic station. “Transparent to the world and linked with Europe – the architecture is a perfect reflection of the position of the meeting of ministers for European Affairs,” says Leon Kohl of the Federal Foreign Office. “The COVID‑19 pandemic forced us to come up with ideas for how to replicate that atmosphere and the region’s flair in an online format.”
How is a Europe-wide virtual meeting organised?
The virtual meeting is being organised from Berlin: everything comes together in the studio at the Federal Foreign Office. Before the meeting starts, a technical team will check whether all the delegates are logged in correctly, make sure the lighting and sound are in order, check the name plates are correct and make sure that all participants can be seen at the same time. “The liaison officers, who help the delegates with organisational matters, will be there with them in the virtual meeting room until the conference begins, to sort out technical problems quickly,” explains Daniel Greve from the Planning and Protocol Task Force for the Organisation and Implementation of the German Council Presidency. “On top of that, we have to organise protocol in the virtual space.” In other words, the liaison officers will timetable online bilateral meetings on the fringes of the main meeting, so that participants can discuss relevant policy issues. “Equally, the technology needs to follow protocol too: we don’t want the main speakers and the chair to disappear in tiny windows at the edge of the screen; rather, they should be easy to see.” During the conference, the team has to get the interpreters in Brussels live online, check the lists of speakers, bundle all interventions in the chat and keep the information on the three large screens in the studio constantly updated so that Minister of State Roth can chair the meeting efficiently.
To create a more personal atmosphere and reflect the character of the region, a short film about Wiesbaden will be shown, as well as a message of greeting from the Mayor of Wiesbaden, Gert‑Uwe Mende. And there will be something special from the city: the Europe chocolate.
Regional flair in a virtual space
It is blue like the European flag, round as a ball and filled with a delicious vanilla ganache and raspberry cream. “Many different flavours, united in harmony – just like the countries of the EU,” says Klaus Keller, marketing director of Wiesbaden-based chocolate manufacturer Kunder. It takes two days to make these chocolates – regional craftsmanship par excellence. “And of course our Europe chocolates are topped with gold stars,” laughs Keller. Chocolateria Kunder is an institution in Wiesbaden, famous for its pineapple tartlets, chocolate bars and chocolate-dipped fruits.
Established in 1898, the family-owned company is now managed by the fourth generation and represents the strong number of small and medium-sized businesses in the region, tradition and innovation. Besides the Chocolateria, there is now also a concept store selling little delicacies to take away. “People eat more quickly these days and like to pop in to pick up a sweet treat,” says Keller. “We’re constantly coming up with new ideas.” So when the Federal Foreign Office approached the firm with the idea of making a Europe chocolate, it was immediately on board. Now the round, blue, star-sprinkled chocolates can be found alongside the EU face masks and conference notepads in the welcome packs for delegates to the meeting – a little European greeting from Wiesbaden.
Europe's cultural heritage: Eberbach Monastery
Do you remember the movie, The Name of the Rose? The film of Italian author Umberto Eco’s wonderful novel, starring Sean Connery, was made here at Eberbach Monastery. Originally meeting participants intended to have a dinner here. “It would have been a pleasure for us to welcome the ministers for European Affairs,” says Martin Blach, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Eberbach Monastery Foundation, “because Eberbach has been living the European idea since the 12th century.” Founded in 1136 by Cistercian monks from Burgundy, it rapidly became one of the most important monasteries in Europe. Today it has been secularised and belongs to the not-for-profit Eberbach Monastery Foundation.
Eberbach Monastery is famous for its wines. Vines have been grown here since the monastery was established, and the monks exported their excellent wines all across Europe. Today it is the biggest vineyard in Germany, with many outstanding sites. Around 2 million bottles per year are produced here on 238 hectares, mainly riesling and pinot noir. The wines in the cellars are up to 317 years old. Instead of going on a wine-tasting tour, the delegates to the meeting will now be receiving a three-year “vine sponsorship”. Dieter Greiner, Managing Director of the vineyard, says: “All the delegates will receive a certificate of vine sponsorship and their vine will be marked with a brass plate bearing the name of their country’s capital. And every year a bottle of wine will be sent to them by post.” The wines are on one of the monastery’s best sites, the Steinberg. The plot for the ministers’ vines already has a name: EU-Weinberg, which translates as EU vineyard.
Twinning cities for 90 years
Wiesbaden is happy to share its strong wine culture with its European partners. Over the past 90 years, the city has built up a network of 18 twin cities, from Klagenfurt in Austria to San Sebastián in Spain and Ljubljana in Slovenia. School exchange trips, internships in the twin cities’ administrations, youth trips and joint sport and cultural events are organised regularly. The highlights include the gatherings during the Rheingau Wine Festival, celebrated in Wiesbaden every year in August. For the week of the festival, the city centre round the Schlossplatz, Dern’sches Gelände and Marktkirche, turns into a long promenade through the region’s wine culture. And of course the twinned cities also play an active role: each year, a vintner from one of them is invited as a guest of honour to present his wines and his region.