A very few things in life give me greater pleasure than welcoming you all to my home city.
It makes me very happy to see you all here and I wish you enjoy your time here – although I must say that when I first heard that EGP was considering Finland as a location of an event held in November, I did feel compelled to issue a caveat about what Finnish novembers look like in terms of the weather and the darkness.
Then I remembered how I felt in the FYEG general assembly in Madrid in May 2017 and realised that in reality it is far nicer to sit in a conference room when it is not +28’C and sunny outside – especially if the air conditioning happens to break down in the middle of an already very heated 5-hour long debate on the future of agriculture.
So with these words I welcome you to my dark, cold and possibly rainy home city of Tampere.
I am specifically very excited that we get to host hundreds of European greens since it is the international side of this movement that first got me excited about politics and ever since then it has been the side that has consistently kept me excited. I might joke about broken air-conditioning in the soaring early summer heat of Madrid, but in reality that general assembly of young European greens and the numerous other times that I have had the opportunity to spend time with the greens from all over Europe have been the best times of my life. I have honestly never been to better parties than the ones that we had after the Federation of young European Greens elected its first ever pair of female co-spokespersons.
However, I haven’t always been this excited and thrilled about politics. I, like the rest of my generation, grew up in an era where the foundations of democracy and especially representational systems seem to be coming apart. The global recession that started with the banking crisis of 2008 could have resulted in a total reshaping of the financial system, which it very obviously desperately needed and still needs. The most common political response, however, was austerity: excruciating cuts on spending that hit the young, the poor and the sick the hardest.
I happened to spend my teenage years in a country where this was excruciatingly apparent: the United Kingdom, a fine country for which those years were not the exactly the finest.
When I finished secondary school David Cameron rose to be the prime minister, which resulted in a vast programme of spending cuts, including the tripling of university tuition fees just when my generation was starting to plan its future. The right-wing government ripped apart whatever had been left of the British welfare state after the rule of Margaret Thatcher. When I finished my A-levels three years later, the very same man that had led this campaign of historically severe austerity decided to blame the EU for everything and suggest holding a referendum about whether the UK should stay in.
And lo and behold, after three years of ever-worsening anti-EU and anti-immigration propaganda the country voted to leave.
I just remember how baffling all of this seemed to me and my friends. It was very obvious to us that it was not the EU that had tripled our tuition fees and cut away our healthcare – and no bus printed with false claims could change that. Even more obvious was the fact that being connected to the world was at the core of what had made Britain great and that closing the country’s borders would only make things worse.
Thus it was no surprise that in the 2016 referendum over 80% of young people voted for the UK to stay in the EU.
But as we all know, we lost, and brexit became yet another sad example of the futures of young people taken away from us by the conservative political establishment.
You can only imagine how I felt about conventional politics after having grown up in the middle of all of this. Trust was not exactly the word that I had in mind when I first really stopped to think about how I felt about politics. Nevertheless I felt like I had to give it a go: I was so desperately concerned about climate change, growing global inequality and human rights abuses that I realised that I could leave no stone unturned in looking for solutions.
I went to my first green event and the next thing I know I am being asked to run as a candidate in the parliamentary elections as a 20-year-old newcomer.
At first I thought it was a joke. Weren’t there some real responsible adults who should be running instead of me? That was the first question that came into mind.
I then realised that I had spent all of my teenage years waiting for those responsible adults to come along and put an end to the chaos of conventional politics. I realised that I could either keep on waiting or do something about it myself. I was faced with the sudden realisation that there were no responsible adults waiting in hiding for the right moment to intervene. I’m sure that many here have been faced with the same realisation – the point where you have to ask yourself: if not me, then who; if not here, then where; and if not now, then when?
Those are the three questions that everyone should ask from themselves at this time of climate emergency, growing inequality and human rights abuses. There is no mystical “someone” that will come and fix it all. Ordinary people are the only real solution that we have, and thus we need to inspire, support and sometimes even gently push each other to change the world. To me that inspiration, determination and solidarity is at the core of the European and global Green movement. It is up to all of us to change the world, and like I said in the beginning, nothing gives me greater pleasure than welcoming you into my home city to come together and get on with it. In the times of darkness we must find light in each other to give us the energy to keep on making change happen. That is what I wish all of you will find during you time here in Tampere – especially since you are in Finland in November. Welcome!