Remarks
Reta Jo Lewis
Special Representative for Global Intergovernmental Affairs
Opening Remarks
Danish Parliament Building
Copenhagen, Denmark
April 22, 2012



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Good afternoon and thank you Mette for that very kind introduction.

I am delighted to be here today in Copenhagen to join in opening the first U.S.-European young elected minority leaders’ exchange.

I want to offer a warm welcome to the young elected leaders representing 26 different countries from across the United States and Europe, many of whom have traveled long distances to be here. I applaud your energy and enthusiasm, and thank you for taking the time to participate in this important and groundbreaking event. I also would like to welcome the young civil society activists here with us who are working tirelessly to achieve the goal of inclusive government.

Let me take a moment to express appreciation to our partners for this conference: Copenhagen Mayor for Employment and Integration Anna Mee Allerslev; the Danish-Ethnic Youth Council; the German Marshall Fund; and the Transatlantic Minority Political Leadership Conference. Without your guidance and assistance, this event would not be possible.

I am honored to be in the presence of so many young elected leaders who share my passion for public service. I was thrilled when the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs asked me to lead the U.S. delegation. Your commitment to building understanding through service, and for nurturing the respect that grows from that understanding is a true testament to your leadership potential. Both the United States and Europe can benefit from a visionary new generation of young leaders who are dedicated to creating more open and representative institutions. You are forging a path for the next generation, and I am inspired to be among you.

I look forward to engaging in robust and open dialogue with you over the course of the next three days. I am here to serve as a connector as we seek to build a transatlantic network of likeminded thinkers.

On both sides of the Atlantic, Americans and Europeans can learn a great deal from each other as we discuss our different views and actions on integration and inclusion. As current and future young leaders, we should pursue the goal of building more cohesive societies that draw on the talents of all members and in which all feel respected and valued.

We come together in uncertain times. It is hard not to hear the clamor of extremist voices, the voices of hatred and violence, lent strength by an era of economic hardship. We must strengthen the voices of moderation and work with all of our energy for inclusive governments. The essence of good governance demands that all citizens be represented at the table when decisions are made that affect our lives, as well as the lives of our children and communities.

President Obama has called for relationships based on “mutual interest and mutual respect.” It is time for all of us – government and civic leaders, business and nongovernmental leaders, and young leaders of the next generation – to not only be respectful and decrease incidences of violence and hate, but to work together for social cohesion.

We have found in the United States that our diversity has made us more vibrant and more successful, and in many ways defined who we are as a nation. And yet, we still have a long way to go in order to achieve full political inclusion for minorities. We look forward to learning from the European experience, and to sharing our own experiences, as we both work toward better future.

We in the United States place great value on our relations with Europe. Together with our allies, we must be vigilant in ensuring that our democracies are inclusive. Doing so will make our nations stronger while strengthening the transatlantic partnership.

I work for Secretary Hillary Clinton who is a strong advocate of inclusive governments. On many occasions she has stated that it is “important that women and minorities have access to opportunity and participation. Nations cannot flourish if half their population is consigned to the margins or denied their rights.”

It is my hope that we will leave Copenhagen having sown the seeds to build a vibrant self-sustaining transatlantic network of young minority elected leaders dedicated to building more inclusive governments. Drawing upon the expertise of the German Marshall Fund and utilizing modern technology, let’s work toward creating a space to exchange best practices, to provide peer-to-peer mentoring, and to encourage still younger generations to play an increasingly active role in politics regardless of their religious beliefs, ethnic or cultural background.

It is of critical importance that young minority leaders remain mindful of the values of inclusion. When I look across this room, I feel a sense of great optimism. I look forward to working with you in the days ahead and years to come toward a better future.