English · Français
Forum Synergie

Linking sustainable practices throughout Europe

Testimonies of the motivations and visions of the youth

Inspirational speech by Levin Petersen at the occasion of the European Rural Parliament in Kielce, PL, 12-15 September 2022

My Speech: [full text]
Hello everyone, I am Levin Petersen. I have grown up on Pellworm.
Pellworm is an island in the North Sea on the coast of Germany. Altogether we are 1200 island inhabitants. We are traditionally a farming and fishing community, but more recently tourism and renewable energies play an important role in our economy.
One thing you should know right away: Our island lies one metre below sea level.
I went to the island school until I was 16. If you want to go to secondary school you have to move to the mainland. That’s what I did. But I was happy to be able to return on weekends. Especially this year when I have been living further away, in the city of Hamburg. I realised what the island means to me.

To be honest, the island is the reason why I want to get involved in politics. When I say politics I do not mean party politics. I am talking about the future of my home island and how to keep it a place that one likes to live on.
Because there are several issues:
For instance, the increase of Tourism has a strong impact on the housing market. Houses are being transformed to second homes and holiday flats. Young families, who want to move, and who want to live and work on the island have it hard to find affordable living.
While at the same time there are job opportunities in the building trades, in service and in home office work. And this is a real shame. Because young people and young families are those it needs to contribute to community life.

Another thing that I am very worried about for the future of Pellworm is climate change. With my brother and friends we joined the "Fridays for Future-movement" in 2019, soon after Greta had started with school strikes. You should imagine Pellworm like a pudding bowl. The rim is a 8 metre high dike surrounding us. The pudding is our land and 1 metre under sea level. At low tide the wadden sea around us may look nice and calm. But with sea levels rising and storms getting stronger you can feel pretty threatened.
Also, our farmers have to deal with longer periods of drought, sometimes followed by long periods of rain and flooding. In winter the fields can stay underwater for months. In summer rain may not fall at all. It is difficult to keep up with these changes. But I know everyone tries.

The moment when I realised that change is possible, was a public meeting of our Local Council. There were many people in the audience. The topic of the evening was the question whether the Council would decide to join a lawsuit against the German Federal Government.
A farmer family, supported by Greenpeace, was taking the German government to Court for violating the rights of property and choice of economic activity, for ignoring the impact of climate change for future generations.
The atmosphere in the town hall was very tense. The council decided not to join the lawsuit. The political parties were unable to agree and missed the chance of a strong signal. I was very disappointed.
But in the end - after a second law suit - the farmer family did win. The German Constitutional court sentenced the German Federal government to implement stronger measures against climate change.

Let me close with a picture:
I remember one heavy storm of two days and nights in 2013. The water had piled up high against the German bay. The tide was expected to reach its highest point at midnight.
My Dad was on duty with the fire brigade checking water levels and dike security. He said waves got up two thirds of the dike and it was not clear how long the storm would continue. That night everyone was up and ready to help.
And that is what I want to say. In a small rural community and especially on an Island it is important that People pull together beyond political parties and come up with creative solutions to meet the many challenges.

Thank you for inviting me. I am really happy to be part of this rural parliament and I am curious for what is still to come…


Profil [describing the experience of the trainee related to sustainable rural development and/ or the professional/ educational background.]

I have grown up on an island (Pellworm, Germany). There I have often come in contact with climate change topics. I got involved in the island group of Fridays for Future. Next to that I have been writing a few articles on the topics agriculture, waste industry and climate change. After finishing the German graduation of secondary high school. I have spent one year in the city of Hamburg. I did a voluntary social service year in Hamburg’s Centre for Political Education. A gap year doing voluntary political education work supported by the City of Hamburg.

Motivation [ for taking part at the European Rural Parliament 2022]
I was curious to discover rural Europe, curious to meet people from other regions and understand their perspectives and engagement for European values and democracy. To have conversations with people from totally different backgrounds facing similar challenges is very enriching.
Another motivation for taking part was to gain experience for coming decisions on what kind of study and professional directions I would like to strive for.

Description: [ of the activities carried out ]
The European Rural Parliament (ERP) is a gathering of rural movements, experts, government representatives and engaged citizens taking place every two years in a different rural place of Europe. There are also national rural parliaments preparing and holding similar gatherings. The 5th ERP took place in the Polish city of Kielce from Monday the 12th of September till Thursday the 15th of September 2022. There were some 350 participants. Monday evening started with the opening ceremony and speeches of the host organisations, the EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development followed by a networking dinner for all participants.
Tuesday was excursion-day. The participants could choose between 9 different tours visiting rural places and projects around Kielce. I went on tour 9. There were 4 visits.
The first was a family sawmill in the small village of Krezolek, producing pellets from wood waste. The new production line was built with financial support from the EU.
Second was a visit to an ice manufacturer. Production equipment had been set up in a container producing ice cream with only natural ingredients.
The third stop of the trip was a historic dutch windmill in which a local museum had been installed. Historic bread making and farming equipment were being displayed. The mayor of the village received our study group for further exchange and discussion.
Last stop was a sports and community centre with different facilities. There was a multi court for Tennis, football and outdoor yoga, next to that some skate ramps, a playground, a swimming pool, holiday accommodations and rooms for artists. At this place local festivals and markets take place. Also, nearby schools use the sports facilities frequently.
After the study visits, the Rural World Café by Youth invited all the ERP-delegates to talk about multiple topics. Here I was co-host at a table discussing concepts of growth versus degrowth and green growth. We discussed how economic growth is related to the climate crisis, whether green growth or degrowth would be an alternative and whether it is right at all to assume that growth is the foundation of our wealth and quality of life.
Wednesday started off in the main hall, with some inspirational speeches. I was invited to hold one of them (speech see below). It was a big experience for me. I was quite nervous while writing the speech. I was under time pressure. When it was finally time for me to enter the stage I was fairly calm because I knew the speech was written and at this point nothing could be changed anymore anyway. It was special to see the whole hall listening to my words.
The speeches were followed by a panel discussion about the future of Europe with a rural perspective with different actors from rural politics and organisations. https://www.arc2020.eu/the-future-o...)
In the afternoon further workshops took place. Each participant was able to visit two different workshops.
The first workshop I visited was called: ‘Meeting the needs of Rural communities’ . We talked about rural challenges and possible solutions. A widespread problem, especially in Moldavia and Poland, seems to be that many small farms don’t know how to apply for grants. We came to the conclusion that in future more attention of public funders has to be attached to bringing knowledge about how to apply for grants into rural areas.
Another challenge we talked about at this workshop was that urban people who have moved to the countryside don’t identify with the rural area they live in. Bringing us to the conclusion that it needs more formats which bring people together in rural areas.

The second workshop was called ‘Short supply chains’ and offered a place for the participants to report about their own experiences with short supply chains. Many people talked about very good experiences with short supply chains. But most participants had the opinion that there was too much bureaucracy. Especially from East European countries we heard that IT-solutions are and would be the future.

Thursday was the last day where results were carried together and a common declaration was agreed on.

In my view this declaration is very good at summing up and displaying which challenges rural areas are facing. It also emphasises what the important points and fields are that have to particularly be considered in future. On the other hand unfortunately the declaration is short of concrete solutions and steps that should be taken now. Also participants critiqued the declaration for not including the youth and their results and voices properly.

Still the European Rural Parliament was very inspiring for me. I met and talked to many different people with exciting perspectives and experiences from all over Europe.
Taking part in the study visits was very interesting. The tour was well prepared and protagonists were very hospitable and open showing their projects.
In some aspects I had the feeling that problems were not mentioned and talked about enough. Sometimes it was a bit of a view through rose-tinted glasses.
Nevertheless I could benefit from the tour.

The most enlightening event was the Rural World Café by Youth. Here I saw how many dedicated young people are getting involved in the rural questions of our future. I found this very inspiring.

Lessons learned: [Short description of the most important lessons learned the trainee takes home.]
I learned how motivating it can be to meet people from around Europe from different backgrounds but with similar challenges.
The ERP made me notice that I have ignored the development of my home island to some extent. I have gained motivation to get involved in island politics while writing my speech and also experiencing the ERP with its many dedicated people.
Some questions came up for me. Why do I want to get involved in the future of my home? Why do I want to get involved in saving the climate? I noticed that it is very important to clearly find these things out for oneself. Because only then it is possible to really take steps of action.

Action Plan: [ A short description of how the trainee intends to implement the lessons learned. ]
Not that long ago a group of young people on the Island of Pellworm set up a connection called ‘Pellworm 2030’. Together they aim to speak out the points of views that the young generation has on the future of the Island.
I have not got involved in this group until today. But I am keen to step in because I think ‘Pellworm 2030’ has great potential. I can imagine that this group which at the moment is not very active could get reactivated. I am aiming to convince more young islanders to get involved.
Then one also could connect with other European Islands and communities. For example Scottish, Croatian or Greek islands from which I met people at the ERP2022.
I have come to the conclusion that it needs more space for the opinion of young people.