A student in first class in Saint-Omer (Pas-de-Calais), Fabien Jones was browsing his Instagram feed on June 22, 2021, when he came across this post from the Make.org citizen participation platform: “Young people , what are your priorities for the Europe of tomorrow? He clicked on the link and made a proposal: “Create a better exchange system between French and German high schools and colleges.” »
Between May and July 2021, 50,000 young French people responded to this consultation launched by the government as part of the conference on the future of Europe. A few months later, 45,000 young Germans took part in the same exercise. In both cases, they were invited to propose one or more measures and to comment on those formulated by the others. The comparative results of these two surveys were presented on February 9 in Berlin, at the initiative of the Franco-German Youth Office (OFAJ), which then invited around fifty contributors from the two countries for three days. , in Dresden, to share their ideas. Taken together, the two consultations allow us to get a fairly precise idea of what the young people of the two countries expect from Europe.
Citizens better associated with European decisions
From the number of votes (more than 122,000), it appears – and from quite a distance – that it is the climate and environmental issues that most concern young people on both sides of the Rhine. In this field, four proposals were approved by more than three quarters of the participants in the two countries: setting up an ambitious policy on a European scale to fight lastingly against global warming, deploying a common rail network on the scale of Europe, developing renewable energies and encouraging more responsible agriculture, particularly in the area of livestock farming.
Second area of concern: European democracy. Young people from both countries express the same need to know better how the European institutions work. But above all, they want citizens to be more involved in decision-making: for this, young Germans favor above all the tools of participatory democracy, while young French people are more likely to demand constitutional reforms, such as the generalization of the use of the referendum or the recognition of the blank vote.
The fight against tax evasion acclaimed
Although they gave rise to a slightly lower number of proposals on average, the other major themes (economy and social, health, rule of law, digital technology, education and culture) nevertheless made it possible to identify several broadly acclaimed by young people in both countries. Among them, the fight against corporate tax evasion and optimization within the European Union (EU), the intensification of educational exchanges between EU member countries, the increase of investments in research technological and digital, or even the preservation of the public hospital, to which young French and Germans believe that more resources must be given.
These two surveys – it is also the interest of comparing them – also reveal differences in sensitivities. Reindustrialisation, for example, appears to be a French concern more than a German one. In the area of health, the French expect Europe to monitor the quality of food more strictly, while the Germans attach more importance to policies to combat drug addiction. On issues of values and rights, cracking down on sex crimes and police brutality is a priority especially for young Germans; among young French people, the comparative report of the two surveys evokes a “singular plebiscite” around women’s rights.
Nuclear power, a divisive subject on both sides
Finally, there remain the so-called shared controversies, in other words the proposals which, in the two countries, are the least consensual. This is the case with nuclear power plants: the idea that they should be promoted to increase energy independence and produce less carbon-intensive electricity than that produced by coal or gas divides young French people as much as young Germans, so even that the former live in a State where the anti-nuclear movement is historically much less powerful.
Other divisive proposals: the creation of a federal Europe, the strengthening of the powers of Parliament, the establishment of a European defense policy or a European army, questions relating to immigration, or measures aimed at to make a specific place for young people within the European institutions: in this respect, 15-30 year olds, French and Germans, expect the EU to involve all citizens more, but not them more than their elders . Contrary to what one might think, a measure such as lowering the electoral majority to 16 years – which is one of the promises of the new German government – is far from achieving consensus among young people, in both countries. .
Student in a Franco-German course at the University of Saarland and member of the network of young “ambassadors” of the OFAJ, Josephine Ehm, 21, participated in the online consultation on the German side, but was also part of a small group of Germans from the border regions invited to the debates organized, in Strasbourg, then in Paris, within the framework of the conference on the future of Europe. From these various exchanges, she draws an assessment that is both very positive (in terms of the process) and relatively worried (as to the results themselves).
“What struck me, first, was the fact that there were so many people, online and in regional conferences, discussing the future of Europe. This proves that there is an urgent need to put European issues at the heart of society and to stop thinking that they only interest the elites”, says the young woman. “But, at the same time, I did not expect there to be so much reluctance and controversy over certain measures that I would have thought were more widely shared, such as the strengthening of the European Parliament. All of this shows that there is still a lot of work to be done to overcome these differences and define a coherent and consensual European project. »