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Together for Europe and the Youth: The Franco-German Experience
On January 22nd 1963, France and Germany, torn apart by two world wars, signed the Elysée Treaty, which laid the foundations for a historical reconciliation that would grow into a solid and long-term friendship. January 22, the day on which the treaty was signed, has been celebrated as “Franco-German Day” ever since. In particular, the two countries have since then recognized the youth’s essential role as bridge-builders between nations and actors for a lasting peace. The Franco-German Youth Office, founded in 1963, has already brought more than nine million young people from the two countries together. By reaffirming their commitment to youth initiatives through the 2019 Treaty of Aachen, the two countries confirmed that fostering exchanges between the youth cements alliances.
Today, this bilateral experience has got a European dimension: the youth is a central pillar of the European project. The European spirit is not inherited, it must be actively constructed and defended. Consequently, when young people engage with each other across Europe, they strengthen the Union in a lasting way. However, the youth has greatly suffered from the pandemic: interactions were restricted or made impossible, opportunities were lost. Plans for the recovery from the crisis are therefore also particularly targeted towards the young generation.
This is why France and Germany, together with Sweden and within the framework of the European Union, have supported the designation of the year 2022 as the “European Year of the Youth”. Europe’s long-term recovery will depend on how we engage with our young people today. Listening to their concerns, giving them the tools to mobilize and helping them become actors of their future will be essential to move on from the crisis and build the Europe of tomorrow.
During 2022 we will therefore continue to promote a large number of initiatives for the youth to help them become actors of their shared European future, taking advantage of the French Presidency of the EU Council of Ministers.
2022 marks the 35th anniversary of the Erasmus program. The EU French Presidency plans to expand its scope, while also committing to promote initiatives in support of youth employment and mobility. We will work towards setting up a European civic service and promote the European Universities Initiative, a network of universities across the EU that will enable students to obtain a degree by combining studies in several EU countries. (Mobility offers can also be found on the websites of our partners, the Institut Francais and the Goethe-Institut.)
Multilingualism is the key to building cultural bridges. We therefore promote the idea that more than one foreign language should be offered at schools and students should be motivated to develop an advanced level. That is something we feel very strongly about since learning languages helps build the friendships of tomorrow and contributes to fostering a European spirit. Even though the importance of the English language as a global lingua franca is undisputed, learning French, German and other languages broadens the horizon and opens doors, not least on the international job market.
Being the symbols and vectors of our future, young people must be heard and their concerns must be addressed. This is the reason why we have been adamant supporters of the Conference on the Future of Europe, which has provided a unique platform for the European youth to get engaged in the European project and share their aspirations, suggestions and concerns about Europe’s future. The conclusions of the Conference, in May 2022, will help shape the Europe of tomorrow.
We shall remember that no friendship and no union can be taken for granted. When we forget what binds us, we forget that the status quo is the result of constant and active efforts to build ties. On this day of Franco-German friendship, we would like to celebrate the youth, which has played and will continue to play a major role in strengthening the ties between European countries. We call on young people in Sweden to keep defending our European project and values. We shall all join forces for our common project, that of a European youth that is culturally rich, curious and engaged to shape its common future.
Etienne de Gonneville Dr. Joachim Bertele
French ambassador to Sweden German ambassador to Sweden