"We are proud to welcome you," declared the Chancellor at the outset, and underlined the importance of Franco-German friendship. Without this, German reunification would have been impossible, said the Chancellor.
Angela Merkel also looked back to former Chancellor Konrad Adenauer. He once compared Franco-German friendship with a tree. Before the tree could be planted, he said, a field full of suffering had to be cleared.
"Today, we can say that this has grown into the tree of Franco-German friendship," said the Chancellor. "And that was by no means a foregone conclusion." François Hollande praised the relations between the two countries, saying, "You can’t just be a friend, it takes time to become a friend."
The focus of the evening though was not on the past, but on the future of Franco-German relations and on what they mean for young people today.
The Franco-German Youth Office is holding a Youth Forum from 19 to 23 January 2013 in Berlin attended by some 200 young people aged between 18 and 25. The discussion with Angela Merkel and François Hollande was one point on the agenda of the Forum.
What moves young Europeans
Young Europeans are interested in a wide range of issues, including education, youth unemployment, defence policy and the European vision.
With respect to education policy, the Chancellor pointed to the successful ERASMUS programme, which facilitates exchanges for students within Europe. With François Hollande she spoke out in favour of ensuring that funding for the ERASMUS programme is not cut within the scope of the pending negotiations on the EU’s multiannual financial framework up to 2020. The Chancellor also said that opportunities for skilled workers to gain experience in other European countries should be improved.
High expectations in terms of mobility
The Chancellor made it clear that she is very much aware of the high expectations young people are facing. It is true that young people today have better opportunities in Europe than was the case fifty years ago. At the same time, today a lot more is expected of them in terms of mobility.
When asked about common defence policy, both President François Hollande and Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed the need for closer cooperation. Progress is too slow in Europe, said François Hollande. He thanked Germany for the logistical support it is providing in France’s mission in Mali.
Angela Merkel said it is anachronistic not to cooperate more closely in the field of foreign and defence policy. One thing is vitally important, she added. "We must not let one another down. We are partners."
Self-confident European Parliament
Questions also addressed the role of the European Parliament. The Chancellor underlined its importance and spoke of the challenges involved in the interaction between national parliaments and the European Parliament, which has become "very much more self-confident" and today has a lot more power than it had only a few years ago.
As for the European sovereign debt crisis, Angela Merkel said that it is a long time since we have dealt so closely with the situation in other countries. Seen in this light, the crisis also offers us the opportunity, "to get to know one another more closely and to understand one another better".
Proud of what has been achieved
At the end of the ninety-minute discussion, both the Chancellor and François Hollande found that the meeting had been extremely positive. The French President called on Europeans to be proud of Europe and of what has been achieved.
Angela Merkel said, "People can see what we are working for." Direct contact is always important in order to find out what really moves young people.
Franco-German locomotive in Europe
At the French school in Berlin too, young people discussed the Franco-German contribution to moving ahead with European integration. Students discussed with French Minister of State Hélène Conway-Mouret, Berlin’s State Secretary Hella Dunger-Löper and the General Secretary of the Franco-German Youth Office, Markus Ingenlath.
All agreed that the excellent Franco-German relations are today still the driving force for progress in Europe. This event concluded the 25-part seminar series held by the Deutsche Gesellschaft e.V. under the banner "The Opportunity posed by the Elysée Treaty – how is the Franco-German locomotive running today?" The Federal Press Office has supported this series of events.