Former German President & Patron of the 2017 GFYL Conference edition
In 1990 the Scorpions described the zeitgeist in their song "Wind of Change": suddenly freedom was possible for many, walls fell, hidebound structures collapsed. The EU became the institutional focus of hope, and in 2004 many members of the former Warsaw Pact acceded to it. That this became at all possible, and that freedom and peace have remained firmly entrenched for many millions of people, is one of the biggest and most wonderful peace projects in the history of our continent.
Today we are sensing another "Wind of Change“, this time blowing societies - including in Europe - towards isolationism, intolerance and egoism. It is endangering not only the EU as an institution, but also our open, tolerant, liberal and peaceful way of life. Now more than ever, we need a values-led identity for Europe. Feeling like a European and standing up for the EU's values is crucial for the EU's cohesion and for our lives in peace and freedom.
If such an identity is to grow, we need more than digital experience. People need to come together, as Europeans and as friends.
They need to escape their digital bubbles and come to appreciate the diversity of our continent as enriching, as a wonderful gift. It must be clear to everyone that Europe is not a project merely for politicians or grandiose speeches; rather, it can only genuinely live through the people. True, Europe also happens in Brussels; but first and foremost, it happens in the member states, in the regions and municipalities - and in the hearts of the people.
The reconciliation and friendship between Germany and France was the starting-point for many developments in the EU. It can and must now remain strong as we carry on along this road. It is good and right that the German-French Young Leaders Programme
conference should focus on exactly that topic under the motto "Crafting European Solutions - Commitment in Digital Ages".