Hollande warns of ‘a Europe that stops moving forward’

François Hollande [A.PAES/Shutterstock]

France’s former president, François Hollande, has given his two cents on Europe during a discussion with high school students. An interview from our partner, Ouest-France.

After responding to the invitation of some young Bretons, Hollande discussed Europe with them for two hours. “I had the feeling that Europe was misunderstood and unknown by the young generation,” he explained.

Why are you touring French high schools?

I felt that the youth was yearning for a need to understand and meet, in this case a former president that could provide them with not only Europe’s vision, but mainly his own experience and what he was able to understand of the process of European integration.

I am doing this following a call I made to high school students in February, their teachers and also their school headteachers. I received 350 responses. I therefore had to prioritise.

I thought I needed to visit the poor Parisian neighbourhoods as well as the regions that do not necessarily have the same affiliation for Europe, such as the Nord Pas-de-Calais. And I am coming to Brittany, because they have, instead, chosen Europe in every election.

Where does this misunderstanding among young people with regards to Europe come from?

Europe is part of their daily life and their environment. They always knew Europe and the euro. For them, Europe is therefore very close and part of their day-to-day, but also very far.

There are 27 or 28 countries that are not necessarily closely tied. It is also an economic Europe that does not always respond to their expectations, notably with regards to climate issues, future investments and new technologies…

Young people are conscious that Europe is their life and they are also keen to have a much more active Europe. Young people often ask themselves the same questions: why are we not doing more with regards to climate? Why is there such a divide on migration and refugee issues? Why are we not more focused on vulnerable regions?

Is the idea to incite the older students to vote?

No, that is not my approach. My ambition is to tell them what I have seen of Europe, what it can bring them, how it functions. It is an educational exercise. I am providing a testimony, an experience…

What do you expect from the Parliament that will be elected at the end of May?

We have to be clear. Elections will not change the future course of Europe. What will count is to know what majority will be formed to try and fix quite a few priorities. And according to the results, social, ecological or economic issues will be even more important.

But what will really count, is the attitude of heads of state and government. As a bloc of 27 or 28, we are too divided. The risk for Europe is that it is put to a halt, not that it could explode.

The example of Brexit is the is a prime example that is deterring all countries from leaving Europe. However, the risk is that Europe comes to a halt. The greatest danger is not for Europe to explode, but for it to stop moving forward.

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