German Ambassador to the United States Peter Wittig, keynote speaker at the most recent United States Senate Youth Program Ambassador luncheon, has been playing a key role amid significant political upheaval since his March 2016 speech.
The early summer vote in the United Kingdom to separate from the European Union has changed the political landscape, and Ambassador Wittig has become a calming voice highlighting the necessity of international collaboration to tackle global issues such as trade, fiscal policy and the refugee crisis. His Washington Post Global Opinion column on the issue was published on September 14. He affirmed that “Germany Stands By Its Commitment In The Refugee Crisis,” in Huffington Post days later on September 17.
Ambassador Wittig addressed the 2016 USSYP class at the historic Anderson House, home to America’s Society of the Cincinnati. The richly decorated interior and the grand staircase showcasing 14th century Venice in José Villegas Cordero’s The Triumph of the Dogaressa created an unforgettable tableau for an afternoon focused on international diplomacy.
Ambassador Wittig shared experiences from more than three decades of foreign service as he addressed the attentive audience before him. He reflected on his early career, describing long meetings and late nights at the United Nations, saying that it was “Particularly rewarding to serve your country in those posts, shaping solutions to problems.” He characterized the German – American relationship as a “transatlantic engine,” noting that cooperation between the two nations is strong and multifaceted. He again championed this cooperation, in the realm of intelligence sharing, in a May 2016 article by intelligence expert David Ignatius.
Ambassador Wittig described several shared challenges facing Germany and the U.S.,including transitioning to clean energy to alleviate climate change, incorporating immigrant and refugee populations into a diverse society, guarding against the rise of terrorism, and maintaining strong economies both at home and globally. Using the current migrant crisis as an example, he stated, “Only a joint approach will solve this crisis, a joint approach that addresses the root causes of the refugee influx, especially the war in Syria, the instability in the Middle East and other regions, improving the situation in refugee camps and supporting the transit countries in the region.”
His audience of high school juniors and seniors seized the opportunity to ask a first question about college affordability, comparing the differing systems in America and Germany. With a knowing nod, the ambassador responded. His own son, a high school senior, had been in the midst of the college application process, and he readily acknowledged the excellence of American higher education.
The USSYP annual Ambassador luncheon always highlights our global interconnectedness, and reveals a literal world of public service career opportunities. Ambassador Wittig’s closing words reminded his listeners that they are all ambassadors; that international partnership depends on “Thousands of people-to-people contacts and relationships, from students, to scholars and scientists, to cultural and social figures, to business and political leaders — and these ties especially depend on you and how you and other young people fill them with life.”
© Photos by Jakub Mosur and Erin Lubin