For today’s interview, let’s go to France, where we talk to an active student Lucie Cohen-Solal. But first, let’s take a look at what the Estonian audience knows about French politics.
Do you know anything about French foreign or domestic policy?
“Macron’s endless calls with Putin and Le Pen’s far-right rhetoric”
“Macron is so hot”
“The people are protesting against an unpopular pension reform”
“Macron’s party is definitely one of the most successful in the ALDE bloc”
Tell me about yourself. Are you an active member of the community? If so, why do you think this is important? Is this a normal thing in your country/community?
I think I am an active member of my community although I am not involved in anything in particular. I was part of the local council when I was younger, and I worked with the mayor for two years to improve my city and the life of its residents. In addition to that, I help different French associations such as ‘La Croix Rouge’ or ‘Le Secours Populaire’ during Christmas time. I think it is important to be involved in something, though it can be difficult to combine personal projects with our student life. The French educational system is quite strict – we have a lot of holidays but most of the time we are in class from 8 am to 6 pm. Therefore, it is difficult for young people to get involved in an association or a project, if it is not during the weekend or the holidays. However, extracurricular commitments are beginning to be valued as French universities are looking for a variety of profiles and no longer choose their students simply based on the grades they have obtained in school. Young people are therefore being pushed to be active during their high school years both inside and outside of school.
How is youth activism organised in your country and what is the role of the EU in this area?
In France, young people under 18 do not have the right to vote. So, in order to be heard and to give their opinion, youth activism can take different forms such as demonstrations, blockades, petitions, and campaigns on social networks. There is no single structure for youth activism in France and it depends on each group and cause. This is why some people, including many young people, want to lower the voting age to 16. This issue of the voting age was particularly discussed during the last presidential elections in 2022.
The EU plays an important role in youth activism in France as in all member states. The EU promotes the political participation of young people through various programmes such as Erasmus, which encourages exchanges between young people from different European countries
How do people in your country perceive the EU? How do politicians perceive it?
The French perception of the European Union depends on many factors and can vary greatly from one person to another. Recent surveys show that, in general, French people see the EU as a source of cooperation, and economic and political stability. This view is shared by the more central and liberal political parties which is also the view of President Emmanuel Macron. However, others also consider that it undermines national sovereignty and harms national interests, especially in migration and taxation. This view is shared by the extreme parties who are more nationalistic. Finally, there is a difference in perception of the EU between the new and older generations. Young French people are more attached to Europe than their forebears because they are aware of international issues and the importance of cooperation between states.
What does the EU mean to you personally?
For me, the EU is an essential institution for economic, political and social cooperation. The objectives of the EU are values that I also share, such as solidarity, peace, democracy, and justice. We need this international cooperation to face external threats. Furthermore, the EU offers us many opportunities for meetings between the different member countries.
How would you describe your country to a foreigner?
If I were to introduce France to a foreigner I would mention its rich culture, fascinating history, delicious cuisine and many fashion designers. I am grateful to have been born in a country with France’s political and economic stability and to have the chance to live in a country that respects human rights. France is a country where you feel safe and helped by your government – we have social security, pension, health insurance, etc. However, France also has its flaws – the migration and environmental policy could be improved.
What do you hope for your country to achieve or develop in?
As a young French woman, the main area I would like to see France develop in the future is education. I think that many things need to be changed – it is proven that the average level of education of French young people is constantly decreasing. Sports and arts are not valued that much in French schools, the curriculum is still very academic and I think that’s a shame. School days are very long in high school, and it is difficult to combine school and personal passions. On the other hand, I think France can progress in its environmental policy. Ecological gestures like waste separation or energy saving are not yet adopted by everyone, especially in cities such as Paris.
How can the EU contribute to the prosperity of your country?
The EU can contribute to France’s economic prosperity by bringing different member states together and establishing common standards and regulations. The European Union hence allows trade and investment between states, thus offering France a single market. Furthermore, on a financial level, France benefits from EU investments in infrastructure, research and development, innovation, etc. In terms of social protection, the European Union can improve social protection levels in France.
What do you think the EU will look like in 30 years?
It is difficult to predict exactly what the European Union will look like in 30 years, but it can be expected to continue to evolve and develop to meet current and future political, economic and social challenges. This could include greater economic and political integration and increased foreign and defence policy coordination. It is also possible that new countries will join the EU and that relations with neighbouring countries will continue to develop. However, there may also be challenges such as economic and political divergence between member countries, tensions with other regions of the world and the issue of migration.
In Europe, especially in the Eastern parts of it, Emmanuel Macron has been condemned for talking to Putin at the beginning of the war. What has been the public’s opinion in France concerning his actions?
Public opinion in France regarding Emmanuel Macron’s conversations with Putin during the conflict is mixed. Some people support his efforts to maintain open communication channels with Russia and believe it is important to keep diplomatic relations intact. Moreover, France being a country of human rights, it is important to oppose the invasion of Ukraine which does not respect the right of people to self-determination. However, some criticize him for not taking a stronger stance against Putin and Russian aggression, and others do not understand why France should intervene in a conflict between two countries so far apart. Overall, public opinion on this issue is divided, reflecting the complexity of the situation and the different perspectives on how best to handle it.
Green energy has become more and more important. When thinking about nuclear energy, France comes to mind. However, a lot of European countries do not have a positive stance on it. What is France’s plan going forward? To keep investing in nuclear power plants or not?
France will continue to invest in nuclear power. The country has a heavy reliance on nuclear power for its electricity generation and plans to maintain a significant share of nuclear generation over the long term. However, there are also efforts to develop other renewable energy sources and reduce reliance on nuclear.
The campaign is supported by the German Embassy in Tallinn.
Image: Matt Hardy, Pexels