France sends EU civil servants back to school

Harlem Désir [Axelle Lemaire/Flickr]

Harlem Désir, France’s Secretary of State for European Affairs, launched the EU’s “Back to School” programme in France on Monday. The initiative aims to spread knowledge of the Union to a generation that has “only known the euro”. EURACTIV France reports

Around 100 pupils assembled in the hall of the Lycée Claude Monet in Paris’ 13th arrondissement on Monday (13 April). They came to hear Désir, a former pupil of the Parisian secondary school, explain the structure of the European Union, and answer their questions on the issues it faces.

The pupils of the Claude Monet secondary school are not new to this exercise. “We have already had a series of conferences on Europe, particularly focusing on the crisis, including a visit by the economist Dominique Plihon”, explained Salomé, a final year pupil.

In returning to the school he left in 1978, the former First Secretary of the Socialist Party hoped to provide a close-up view of the European Union to a generation that has always known the euro, the Schengen area, and Erasmus.

“Today you take Europe for granted,” the Secretary of State said, “because you are the generation that has known almost nothing but the euro. Now you will have to combine the new European identity with your French citizenship.”

Harlem Désir’s visit marked the official beginning of the “Back to School” programme in France. The initiative was devised by the German government in 2007, during its rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union, and allows personnel from the European institutions to spend a day in a school, preferably where they were educated.

Successive Council presidencies and the European Commission have supported the programme, but France had never taken part, despite its period at the head of the Council of the EU in 2008.

Back to school

“The Back to School programme has already received over 200 applications from French EU civil servants, mainly from the Commission,” a member of Harlem Désir’s cabinet announced.

“This is a good showing for a first year, as Germany, the founder of the programme, sends around 300 civil servants to speak in schools each year,” the advisor added.

The secretary of state told pupils he had “launched the operation right across France”. It will take place from 27 April to 7 June, in the build-up to Europe Day on 9 June.

Talking about Europe

The pupils quizzed Désir on issues including the future of European integration, the coherence of EU foreign policy on Libya, and the rise of extremist parties in different member states.

Salomé said that its ” It’s good to have someone from your own country to answer questions on Europe, because they understand our context and our concerns.”

The programme appears to have been successful in the countries where it has already been rolled out. “We don’t have an official impact study, but the schools that have already participated in the programme often give us feedback about how much they appreciate this personal method,” a Commission spokesperson told EURACTIV.

In 2014, 700 EU civil servants participated in the programme, addressing 64,000 school pupils in 21 different member states.

"Back to School" sends personnel from the European institutions to spend a day in a school - preferably the school where they were educated.

The initiative was launched by the German government during its six-month Council presidency in 2007, and is supported by the European Commission.

Successive Council presidencies have continued the project.

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