Why does a small group of 20 and 30 something year-olds work together remotely in their free time to create a German-French programme for young professionals? Ilja, a German born in Russia with a French heart and Co-Founder and Chairman of the German-French Young Leaders Programme, explains what the German-French friendship means to him and why the programme exists.
What do German-French relations mean to you?
My relationship with France is two-fold: When I call it a "rational relationship" on the one hand I mean its importance for our peace order and our future. On the other hand, it is also a very personal relationship, a relationship linked to the French culture, its people, its landscape, the special atmosphere in the country, its music. I can no longer imagine my life without a link to France which created in me a very personal need to make a contribution to the development of the French-German friendship.
Why do German-French relations matter and what do they mean in Europe?
Franceallemagne is the very core of the EU - geographically, historically and politically speaking. The special friendship between Germany and France has been an essential element for the creation and the existence of the European Union. The mood between the French-German couple is directly reflected in the EU. Good French-German relations are the foundation for the European peace order: The stronger and the more stable the foundation, the better the future that can be built upon it. This also implies work and commitment in order to maintain and to stabilize this foundation and to make it resistant. In that respect, the German-French couple needs to provide strong impulses for securing a sustainable Europe.
Why did you decide to create a German-French programme for Europeans?
In many conversations with people of the same age group in Germany and France, I was confronted - to my surprise - with the following reality: On both sides of the Rhine there is a great number of open-minded and ambitious young professionals who do not know the neighbouring country. We are the first generation that is hyper mobile and can study in any corner of the world. Quite often young people are attracted more strongly by exotic and far-away places. This is understandable. But knowledge and understanding of the neighbour and its language suffer from it.
Our history shows that we, the Germans, are dependent on a strong friendship with France. The best way to build this friendship is by creating personal interactions with people, the country and culture through open and honest dialogue. The idea that came out of this was to create a platform for young professionals who do not speak the language of the neighbour but who would like to learn more about one another. We wanted it to be a forward-looking platform that enables the exchange of ideas about our common future. A brainstorming round at the Franco-German Youth Office OFAJ/DFJW on a new postgraduate programme was a trigger moment for GFYL.
What are your plans for the programme in the future?
Also in the future we want to remain a dynamic brainstorming platform for young and smart brains from France and Germany. My dream is to establish "Think Groups" as satellites of our Conference where our participants can brainstorm on specific relevant questions for a longer period of time, meeting several times per year. I believe in the potential of such German-French formats attracting young and new talents from both countries. The incubators of ideas and mutual inspiration. In order to guarantee the future of the programme, it is important to secure the funding for the next 3 years. We are currently looking for partners.
What has been the most important lesson you learned since you started the programme?
If you believe in ideas and people you can achieve a lot, and even realize your dreams. I never organized conferences of this scale and we had to start from zero. Because of the team and because we strongly believe in the idea of the German-French friendship and the European Union, we turned the programme into a success story from day one. It is very much our conviction and intrinsic energy that counts and that we want to transfer to our programme participants.
What has been your favorite moment of the GFYL programme?
What I like most about the GFYL Conference is the combination of intellectual profundity, new insights that open up horizons and the experience of true friendship. This makes me happy and confident for our future. My favorite moment last year happened during one of our cultural events at the Musée des Impressionismes where some of the participants, who gave talks on new digital trends only a couple of hours earlier spontaneously began to make wonderful music themselves. I find the human dimension of friendship the most intense during cultural events. Analogue remains sexy.
What are you expecting from this year’s Conference?
A lot of inspiring ideas and thoughtful discussions. We are going through worrisome times - rising nationalism and populism - on the one hand and experience the dawn of a new era - that is digitalisation - on the other. For this reason we will have a lot of exchanges on the question about how to react to the current critical developments and how to use the potential that digitalisation offers for the best. Like last year, we will have great, committed and talented participants at the programme. I am convinced that this year’s conference will be a personal enrichment once again.