“If you sit back, you will definitely not change anything“
Travel, alterative civilian service, a voluntary gap year or going to university – those are the usual plans of many school-leavers. You got yourself elected to the Bundestag. How did that come about?
That is a long story. I started getting involved at primary school, working for Greenpeace. We collected signatures against the sinking of the oil platform Brent Spar and collected money for a solar collector on the school roof. Then I also joined youth groups and the Green Youth. Through my involvement with the Green Youth, I was given the opportunity to stand as a candidate for the Bundestag through a place on the party list that had very good prospects.
Why did you select the Greens in particular as “your” party – was it directly to do with the Greens’ objectives?
Definitely. I was interested first and foremost in environmental issues, and so the Greens were naturally the first people to talk to. Our pupils’ representatives were also invited by the Green Youth to join the discussion on school policy. I realised then that their approach was exactly the same as mine and so I got more and more involved.
Did you worry when you were first elected to the Bundestag that as its youngest member you would be given friendly smiles but not taken seriously?
Yes, I did, that is why I did everything I could at the beginning to be taken seriously. I always worked very hard on new subjects, and always only said something when I was quite sure of myself. But meanwhile, I have the feeling that I am taken seriously by my colleagues. I have not been in awe of age or experience for a long time. What very much impresses me are people who are absolutely brilliant intellectually and whose thinking is clear. The last years have shown me that that has got relatively little to do with age or long membership of the Bundestag.
What surprised you most about the job of being a Member of the Bundestag?
That ultimately, everyone here is no better than anyone else. Many things are simply very inefficient. For example, when people do not prepare their work properly or talk for ages at meetings.
How did your life change by virtue of the fact that you got such a very challenging job very early on?
It is a new start for everyone when they go away after taking their school-leaving certificate. If I had become a student, I would also have come to Berlin, and shared a flat with other people. But what has definitely changed is that for the last four years, I have always had to organise everything perfectly. Especially if I want to have time left over for my friends.
Can you describe a typical working day at the Bundestag?
We have 25 weeks a year, the so-called weeks in session. These take place in Berlin and their structure is always more or less the same. Each day of the week has its own character, like at school. It starts off on Mondays with preparing speeches, submissions or talks. On Tuesdays we always have our parliamentary group meeting, working committee or group meeting –coordination work within our own party. The committees meet on Wednesdays and Thursdays and then on Fridays there is the Bundestag meeting, with a plenary session and speeches. But all the same, no week in session is like any other. I recently had one where I had to hold four speeches – that was extreme, of course, and I was also very nervous. Other weeks, when there are no meetings, are quite different. Of course, I also have appointments in my constituency. It is precisely the variety that is attractive.
What have been the highlights of your career so far as a Member of the Bundestag?
One great highlight was when the budget for 2005 was adopted, when we were still in government. It included specific things I contributed and had negotiated with the SPD: more money for renewable energies, for example, and also a grant for the Foundation for Peace and Conflict Research. That was a great feeling because I saw what I can change.
You have just spoken of change – when else have you had the feeling that your work can have an effect?
I can and have always been able to change peoples’ view of politics simply through my presence. People can see that even as a young woman, one can do something in politics, one can get involved, and that is of some benefit. I always say, “Do something rather than moan,” because it is always better at least to try rather than to sit back and do nothing. If you sit back, you will definitely not change anything.
What young peoples’ problems do you find particularly pressing?
One main point is environmental destruction and climate change. Resources are become scarcer and as a result more expensive, and if we do not do something to improve the situation through politics, at some point only the rich will have access to oil or water. And of course, at the moment the situation on the employment market in Germany is very bad, especially for graduates.
It is not only in Germany that there is criticism of young people’s disenchantment with politics. Do you go along with that?
No, and if it is the case, then their disenchantment with politics is no greater than that of older people. My experience is that young people seek out other paths for political involvement. Not necessarily in parties or associations, but rather for a local cause where they can see specific results. If one gives them the opportunity, one can get them very enthusiastic about politics.
Is there a network of young members of parliament?
Of course, I work with everyone in the committee, but we have a network of younger members and want to introduce an amendment to the Basic Law for generational equity.
What other ways are there of bringing politics closer to citizens of all ages?
What we have to work on more in the near future is “e-democracy”, i.e. communicating politics using electronic media. The most important step is to achieve transparency. One example is the Bundestag’s website, where you can meanwhile find documents and all its members’ speeches and activities.
Do you make use of these new opportunities?
I worked with online polls a lot just recently during the election campaign and people could say what I should occupy myself with. I have also got a blog where you can see what exactly I do.
Your period of office ends in three years. You will be 26 and will probably have completed a bachelor’s degree at the distance university of Hagen – what do you plan to do then?
Then, I want to go on to take a masters degree, preferably somewhere abroad. And to come back to politics at some point.
conducted the interview. She is a freelance journalist in Berlin.
Translation: Eileen Flügel
Copyright: Goethe-Institut, Online-Redaktion
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