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Europe at a crossroad

Anne-Marie Descôtes, France’s Ambassador to Germany and a DAAD alumna, speaks about the importance of the European election in May and the future of European higher education exchange.

Ambassador, France and Germany signed the Treaty of Aachen at the beginning of 2019. What were your thoughts on that occasion?

The Treaty of Aachen is a Franco-German agreement on cooperation and integration. It should be understood as an addition to the Élysée Treaty of 1963, which laid the foundation for Franco-German reconciliation. It is now necessary to work further towards greater convergence. The Treaty of Aachen tailors our cooperation to the challenges of the 21st century and places it at the service of deeper European integration. It creates an open framework for supporting the European project, and not solely
for dialogue between Paris and Berlin. The Treaty shows that our two countries want to shape the future
together and we are approaching this task with great enthusiasm and energy.

Exchange in education and research has always played an important role in Franco-German friendship. How could it continue to develop positively in the future?

Germany has almost 220 Franco-German double degree programmes, 80% of them at the Franco-
German University (FGU) in Saarbrücken. Some 8,500 French young people are studying in Germany, and
8,790 Germans in France. Furthermore, with a total of 5,881 students, Germany was the number one country of origin for Erasmus students in France in 2018. In turn, Germany welcomes the second largest number of Erasmus students from France. We want to strengthen this exchange even further in the future. The FGU was established in 1997 with the goal of strengthening cooperation between Germany and France in the field of higher education, mainly by promoting mobility. Both countries have pledged to continue this cooperation within the framework of the Treaty of Aachen. The FGU will play a leading role in the establishment of European universities since it has unique expertise in the creation of double degree programmes. To ensure that relations continue to develop positively, it is especially important that not only students have access to mobility. That is why both our countries are making very strong efforts to facilitate mobility by apprentices.

President Macron has proposed to create the idea of European universities. Why are these institutions important?

The project of European universities has attracted great interest and prompted efforts to bring higher education institutions from France, Germany and other EU member states closer together as well as to create joint study programmes and strategic higher education alliances. A European university will form a network of three to six higher education institutions from at least three countries that act in close and strategic partnerships between the members of the network. Especially important is the realisation of a European higher education and research area, the strengthening of excellence and the resolution of major societal challenges, such as climate change, artificial intelligence and security. It is the responsibility
of universities, as centres of innovation, to contribute to address these challenges. The goal is to bring Europeans closer together and to improve the quality and the competitiveness of European higher education – with innovative pedagogy, joint qualifications, opportunities for mobility and long-term shared perspectives. With the aid of European universities we can train the Europeans of tomorrow and increase the international competitiveness of the European region.

The European idea is not having an easy time at the moment. How important is the European election in May?

More important than ever before. Europe stands at a crossroads. We indisputably need to overcome numerous challenges that require joint European answers. There is no alternative to the EU; therefore the primary concern is how the member states can advance their goals and visions for Europe together. Many people doubt the EU’s ability to address their concerns. That’s why the reform of the EU must first benefit the people. We want to show them that Europe protects them and guarantees their prosperity. Furthermore, the elections are an opportunity to remind people of the possibilities that Europe offers – such as European universities and Erasmus+.

What could give the European idea fresh impetus?

Brexit has shown us that Europe must reform. Everywhere in Europe there is growing anger, to which we
must respond. The revival of the European idea can be shaped around three axes: the defence of our freedom, the protection of our continent and the spirit of progress that we must again fill with life. Our freedom can be defended by measures to protect democracy and banish hate from the Internet. For the protection of our continent we must rethink the Schengen Area, conclude a European Defence and Security Treaty and guarantee fair competition. Finally, we should revitalise the spirit of progress in Europe: for example, with a common “social protective shield”, more sweeping obligations on climate and health and the recovery of innovative strength within the EU. We hope to find ways of implementing these plans for Europe with Germany as soon as possible.

France and Germany are constantly described as the “engine” of Europe. How can these countries best do justice to that role today?

France and Germany should once again take responsibility in the EU with renewed energy. This responsibility is not only historically motivated, but also forward-looking. The reconciliation between our countries was a strong symbol of our commitment to peace and democracy. France and Germany do not always support the same views, but this is precisely where the strength of our cooperation lies: both countries promote European debates and seek compromises. However, the driving force for Europe also depends essentially on the citizens who participate in the European debate – within the framework of European Citizens’ Dialogue events or by taking part in the European election in May.

Interview: Janet Schayan (12 April 2019)

This interview was originally published in the DAAD LETTER 1/19

You can read the whole interview in German here

Vita Anne-Marie Descôtes

Anne-Marie Descôtes has been France’s Ambassador to Germany since June 2017. She studied German studies and art history, including with a DAAD scholarship in Berlin, and graduated from the École normale supérieure and the École nationale d’administration. She subsequently worked as Cultural Attachéin Bonn, during which time she cooperated closely with the DAAD. Following her return to the French Foreign Ministry, she continued to support Franco-German relations and cooperation in education.

May 2019

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