Case Study: The Establishment of a Franco-German Youth Office

Aim of the Project
        To strengthen the bond and enhance understanding between the youth of France and Germany and ultimately end the ‘hereditary enmity.’

        Due to the rise of nationalism during the late 19th century, a divided and prideful Germany sought re-unification and consequently, the Franco-Prussian war commenced with the French being defeating by Germany. As further embarrassment to France, the German Empire acquired a vital strategic territory in Alsace Lorraine [formerly part of France] and coerced the French to pay reparations totalling five billion francs to the German Empire. Subsequently, throughout France there was a rise in ‘spirit de revanche’ or the desire for revenge against Germany. At one point, even a former Prime Minister, Leon Gambetta publicly told French citizens, “Never speak of them; never forget them!”
        When World War One began, the key objective of France was to regain Alsace Lorraine from the German Empire, which it successfully completed. Due to the deep seated hatred for Germany, France was one of the leading proponents of a ‘harsh’ peace agreement with Germany at the Paris Peace Conference, demanding the Rhineland fall into French hands and reparations for the destruction Germans caused in France during the war.
        After the rise of Adolf Hitler and German aggression, World War Two began and France was defeated by Germany’s ‘blitzkrieg’ within weeks, once again embarrassing France. Upon the liberation of France by the allied powers, French girls who were known to have dated German soldiers had their heads shaven in public to humiliate them. The ‘hereditary enmity’ between the two countries seemed to have no end in

Programme Activity
        With the rise of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics immediately after World War Two, Western Germany sought out to find some sense of security in the international system. Consequently, the best way they figured to make this happen was to integrate with the rest of Europe. The beginning approach to working towards this integration was reconciliation with France. In 1963, French President Charles de Gaulle and German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer signed the Elysee Treaty which directly led to the establishment of the Franco-German Office for Youth. This office, with main locations in both Paris and Berlin, jointly funded by the German and French governments and run by their Secretary Generals, was to serve as a competency centre for the governments of both countries and function as the coordinator between the civilian communities in Germany and France. Furthermore, their mission was to promote intercultural learning, reinforce the culture of the partner, enhance professional qualifications, strengthen collaborative projects for public engagement and motivate young people to learn the partner language. There are several ways in which the FGYO obtained these goals.
        The office implemented a high school exchange program between the two countries that involved 3,000 high school classes with a staggering 65,000 students a year. There were also several individual student exchange programs involving 3,000 students that allowed for collaborative projects between students of the two countries and the allowance of studying exchanges at music and art schools of one another. A Franco-German elementary school teacher program was also established that allowed for teachers from one country to go to the partner country in order to teach culture about their home country. Also as a result of the establishment of the FGYO, there were work scholarships that allowed young journalists to go to the collaborating country and write articles. Furthermore, press work and media partnerships were established between the two countries.

        Recently, the FGYO has made its programs widely accessible to students from a third country of which consists mostly of Central and Eastern European and Southeast European regions. Since the establishment of the FGYO in 1963, over eight million German and French youth have participated in the almost three hundred thousand exchange programs offered.

        Since the signing of the Elysee Treaty and the establishment of the Franco-German Youth Office, there has been a large decline of animosity between the French and Germans and many within the European Union call France and Germany the “twin engine” as they often collaborate successfully with one another in ideals such as pushing for further European integration. An exchange program such as the one implemented in this situation is one of the more effective means of public diplomacy simply because it both physically and mentally engages the parties involved and subsequently with time, a sense of understanding of each other will occur. By integrating the youth of one country with the general population of another country, the youth will get a first person perspective on what food, dance, culture and overall life is like in the partnering country without having a sense of lost identity. Now, over 40 years since the establishment of the program, students who were initially part of that program or had friends who were a part of the program and learned about the opposing country through them are now establishing economic and political alliances with one another. Had there instead been a truce between France and Germany where they would simply stay out of one another’s course of action, hostility may have continued to linger between the two countries until the present day.

Learning Point
        The success of the Franco-German Youth Office proves that even the most disdainful of relations between nations can be overcome through a mutual exchange and understanding of one another’s culture and way of life.


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