"Generation Europe” for a stronger Franco-German friendship 

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Networking programme for young German and French professionals "Generation Europe” for a stronger Franco-German friendship 

Sixty years after the signing of the Élysée Treaty, the "Generation Europe" youth programme brings together committed young people from Germany and France. In this interview, Theresia Crone and Adrien Guillot share their views on Franco-German friendship. 

6 min reading time

On the left is a young woman in a grey hat and a green pullover. On the right is a man with dark hair and a black jumper with a blue shirt collar. Both people are smiling slightly.

Theresia Crone from Germany and Frenchman Adrien Guillot are part of the first "Generation Europe" network intake.

Photo: Thomas Tiefseetaucher and Adrien Guillot

The Élysée Treaty is the political symbol of the historic reconciliation between Germany and France in the wake of the Second World War. Why do you want to strengthen Franco-German friendship now, 60 years later?

Crone: Right now, we are being reminded in various areas that our security and liberties cannot be taken for granted. Democratic values must be defended and fought for again and again. The reason why I am politically active is that a defensible democracy depends upon an active civil society. I am also convinced that the Franco-German friendship can not only provide a foundation for stability during the current crises, but can also serve as a permanent instrument for overcoming excessive self-interest and obstinacy, both in political and human terms. People who experience another culture first hand and enter into a dialogue are less ignorant and have a greater understanding; they learn to broaden their horizons. I can hardly imagine a more effective way of countering isolation and self-isolation.

Guillot: I've never met anyone who considered France and Germany as enemies: I don't believe that anyone in either country holds a grudge about the Second World War, which is of course one of the major achievements of the Élysée Treaty. France and Germany exchange ideas in many areas and collaborate very well. I often refer to our two countries as the best friends in the world and I sincerely hope this is true. But friendships have to be nurtured. My feeling is that we could be doing more, particularly in terms of cultural exchange and professional mobility.

The "Generation Europe" youth programme is committed to a Europe of solidarity and border-spanning joint social action. Ms Crone, where do you feel "Europe" most strongly in your daily life?

Crone: My grandparents grew up during the Second World War and my mother in the GDR. When I compare this with my own life, I realise the importance of the European Union as a peace project. I participated in German-Polish exchange programmes as early as primary school. When I was in secondary school, I had the opportunity to spend three months in France through the Brigitte Sauzay Programme. So I grew up in the firm belief that I can learn a lot from other people's points of view and that there's more that unites us young people than divides us. Nowadays, I live in Paris and regularly take the train across the border, without ever really thinking about the fact that this kind of mobility cannot be taken for granted. I study and live together with young people from other European countries and notice both commonalities and differences. I also believe that having a European network enabled me to grow up with a basic sense of security.

Together with partners from business, culture, science, and civil society, the German and French governments founded the "Generation Europe: Young German and French Professionals”  youth programme. The aim of the one-year programme is to build a network to develop and implement joint projects across national borders with a view to strengthening collaboration and friendship between Germany and France.
The first intake for the Young Professionals Programme comprises 24 young people from various social sectors, who will bring their different perspectives to bear on the joint projects. 

The idea is to develop ideas together with all 24 participants on how to approach future issues relating to the Franco-German friendship. Do you already have ideas for projects and activities within this context, Mr Guillot?

Guillot: My initial idea, based on my professional activities, is to take a more active part in Franco-German collaborative projects. Some of the ways this could be achieved include advertising research funding opportunities, facilitating exchanges between French and German academics and scientists, and playing a more active role in events aimed at the dissemination of scientific information. I would also like to push for improved access to bilingual schools, which I think is extremely important for families with children. Right now, it's hard for me to pinpoint an exact plan, because I have yet to meet with the other participants to see what opportunities the "Generation Europe" programme will present.

Ms Crone, you study German-French law at Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne and the University of Cologne: how would you describe the shared experience in your mixed German-French year group?

Crone: We started the course in Cologne, where my French fellow students had to find their feet in a different country, with a different language and legal system. It has been the other way round since the summer: it's now the German students who are having to deal with everything being new and unfamiliar. This has led to the development of a very special sense of cohesion. I often get the feeling that we no longer see ourselves as a group of two nationalities at all, but rather as one "big group of Europeans who are all in it together” – at least during the exam phases. Apart from these exhausting phases, I' really grateful for the opportunity get to know two legal systems, which teaches us to look at the law from several sides and to question it. For example, I get the impression that, traditionally, public interests, such as protecting the environment, play a greater role in French law.

Mr Guillot, you live in Berlin with your German wife and two children: what role would you say Franco-German history plays in the relationship between your German and French families? 

Guillot: To be honest, it has never been a topic of conversation in our families. We are all aware of the past, but we are much more anchored in the present and just enjoy each other’s cultures as they currently are. Having said that, Berlin is such a unique place and always reminds me that our countries were at war not so long ago and that the partitioning of Germany had consequences that lasted for several decades. Every day we witness the consequences of international conflict right on the EU's doorstep and, in my opinion, the EU has been very successful in preventing this, at least between its members.

Ms Crone, you are involved in climate protection in many ways. How much added value would a Franco-German collaboration on climate protection have for the EU?

Crone: When it comes to climate protection, the EU fails time and again for fear of being too radical. The powers that be wish to maintain the status quo and ignore the fact that we are "on the road to climate hell", as the Secretary-General of the United Nations recently put it, which is why the Federal Constitutional Court correctly stated in the so-called "Climate Resolution" that the only way for us to ensure our future freedom and security is to reduce emissions immediately. If Germany and France collaborate on the implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement, other countries will also be motivated to fulfil their obligations. Historically, both countries have been among the largest emitters in the world and are the biggest economies within the EU, which means that they have a multiple responsibility to take the lead.

Mr Guillot has the final word... 

Guillot: If I were to summarise my answers to your questions, I would say that France and Germany are indeed collaborating very well, and that as members of the EU, the two countries have gone from being adversaries to being on very good terms. Yet, there's still room for improvement to strengthen the Franco-German relationship and I hope the Generation Europe programme will give us the opportunity to contribute some new ideas.