Schwarzkopf Europe Award Ceremony, Berlin, 29 January 2018
"Check against delivery"
Ladies and gentlemen
Thank you very much to Mjellma Mehmeti for that generous speech. And to the Schwarzkopf Foundation, for this very great honour.
It means a lot to me. Because no one has a bigger stake in Europe’s future than our young people. And this Foundation helps to make sure their voices are heard.
You bring young people together with European decision makers, to learn how the European part of their democracy works – and to share their opinions. You help them understand what it really means to work together in Europe, by getting them involved in the European Youth Parliament.
And by doing that, you help to secure the future of our democracy.
I sometimes hear that young people are selfish and disengaged. That they care more about getting the right selfie than contributing to society. I don't think it's true.
Those ideas get things exactly the wrong way round. Young people aren't giving up on democracy. But they sometimes feel democracy is giving up on them. That their sense of urgency isn't shared by the people in power.
They don't want to see politicians congratulating themselves, just because they managed to sign the Paris Agreement on climate change. They don't think leaders deserve praise for recognising the obvious – that we need to take action to stop climate change getting out of control. They want to see action to put the agreement into practice – and that's exactly what we in Europe are trying to do.
And young people don't want to be told that unfairness is just a part of life. They've noticed that the people who say that always seem to have power that they would rather not share. They want their leaders to do better – to fight for a fairer society. And I think they're right.
Every so often, I find that I'm the first woman who's ever spoken at a certain event – or one of very few. And of course I'm glad to be part of that sort of change. But it’s also rather amazing that it's still possible to be the first woman to do something.
Not here at the Schwarzkopf Foundation, though. In the last ten years, this award has gone to five men – and six women. And that's a powerful symbol. An older generation is still thinking about breaking glass ceilings – about women breaking into territory that belongs to men. But here, among the young people of Europe, equality is the natural order of things.
Because young people want our society to be fair.
They want multinationals to make a fair contribution to the cost of the roads and the railways, the health and education, that make our countries good places to live – and do business. They expect those companies to pay tax where they make profits – not to use clever schemes to shift their profits to countries where tax rates are low. And in Europe, we have proposed new laws, to close many of the loopholes that let companies do that.
Young people also want the market to work fairly. They want businesses to put their energy into serving people better, into cutting prices or coming up its innovative new products. Not into finding ways to avoid competition, and cheat the public.
And we agree. Which is why we don't put up with that sort of behaviour. We don't let businesses get together in cartels that raise prices. In the last few years, we’ve dealt with cartels for eight different types of part that go into our cars – and fined the companies involved more than one and a half billion euros.
We don't let powerful companies deny anyone else a chance to compete. Take the chips that let our smartphones and tablets connect to 4G mobile networks. A company called Qualcomm dominated that market – and to keep things that way, it paid Apple to use only Qualcomm’s chips in iPhones and iPads. That meant less competition to produce better chips. So last week, we fined Qualcomm nearly one billion euros.
We also don't let companies get special treatment from governments that makes it hard for anyone else to compete. Like the special tax arrangements that benefited companies like Fiat, Starbucks, Apple and Amazon – benefits which those companies now have to pay back.
In all these ways, we can help to build a fairer society. But we still need to do more.
Because too many young people have the sense that their voices don't count. One recent survey showed that more than half of young Europeans felt marginalised, excluded from economic and social life.
So we need to make sure we bring them into our democracy. We need to explain what Europe is doing. And we need to make the effort to listen to young voices.
I had the good fortune to become a minister in Denmark just before I turned thirty. I learned a lot from that – including the value of older people’s experience. But I also learned that as a young person, you have a valuable perspective. You’re not held back by the old ways of doing things. You can look further into the future.
And we need that perspective today more than ever, as we make decisions that will shape the future of Europe. We need a discussion that reaches across the generations, so we can make the most of what we each have to offer.
And this Foundation shows the way. So I want to thank you again for this award. But most of all, I want to thank you for the great work that you do.