Local differences are an incredible source of prosperity!

Anne-Gaëlle Javelle is Director of the German Secretariat of the Forum for the Franco-German Future, a platform for dialogue between actors from innovative French and German local authorities. She explains to us the ambitions of this project for decision-makers: to promote local experiences and draw lessons from them at the level of both countries.

Missions Publiques. President Emmanuel Macron and Chancellor Angela Merkel signed the Aachen Treaty in January 2019, which aims to shape a common future by strengthening Franco-German cooperation and integration . How does the Forum for the Franco-German Future fit into this process?

Anne-Gaëlle Javelle. The Forum for the Franco-German Future is one of the priorities of the Treaty of Aachen. It is an atypical project insofar as it is multi-thematic and works with a large number of actors: institutions, civil society, citizens, local project leaders, administration, experts, etc. What our two governments expect from this project is to shed light across the board on the major transformations (ecological transition, digitalisation, security, etc.) that are taking place in France and Germany, and to bring out proposals so that our countries emerge stronger and more united.

To do this, the Forum starts from a central observation: these transformations certainly affect our two countries, but not in the same way and do not affect us all. For example, the Yellow Vests crisis in France reminded us that the price of petrol has an extremely differentiated impact on populations and regions – differences that are often erased by the national statistics presented in the media and political discourse.

For this reason, the Forum works directly with French and German territories that have a head start: some have already implemented innovative actions to respond positively to these major transformations. Local differences are an incredible source of prosperity!

"Local differences are an incredible source of prosperity!

Anne-Gaëlle Javelle

Director of the German Secretariat
of the Forum for the Franco-German Future

Missions Publiques. The first work cycle of the Forum for the Future is coming to an end: you have devoted 18 months to the two themes you have been given: economic resilience and ecological transition. Why these two themes? How did you approach them?

Anne-Gaëlle Javelle. Ecological transition and economic and social resilience are the two major challenges at the heart of our two countries’ concerns. In July 2020, our steering committee , chaired by representatives of the French and German governments, asked us to work on these issues as we were just coming out of the 1st wave of Covid – hence the resilience theme. The ecological transition had been momentarily overshadowed by the health crisis, but it remains the major issue of our time: there is a general consensus on the objective – to drastically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, which implies changing the very structure of our economies, our living and working spaces, and our consumption patterns. But how can we achieve this? How can we launch this transition? These questions remain largely unresolved. Hence the interest of our governments in these two themes.

Our first work cycle started in July 2020. Each cycle lasts about 18 months, so we will complete this 1er cycle at the end of March 2022.

Each cycle starts with the selection of 6 local initiatives in France and Germany, which we follow for several months. We interview local actors: public administrations, elected officials, civil society actors, economic actors… we even conducted a survey among the inhabitants of Mouans-Sartoux and Loos-en-Gohelle, with whom we worked. We organise dialogues between the protagonists of the French and German initiatives: the subjects of exchange are identified on the basis of the difficulties and opportunities encountered on the ground, as close as possible to the interests of the selected initiatives. Our support is a two-way street: the actors of the initiatives have the opportunity to learn from their colleagues from other French and German cities. When they are interested, we even go so far as to carry out action research: we accompanied Marburg for a year, sharing our observations with local elected officials, civil society and the local administration; our study was deemed so useful that the new municipal coalition expressed the wish to continue the cooperation with the Forum for the Future during the next cycle, which we will do!

Through these meetings and dialogues, we gain a better understanding of the choices that led to the success of each initiative; the local and structural difficulties they encountered. The commonalities and differences that emerge from these exchanges between France and Germany are very instructive – both for the local actors and for the Forum!

It is also what allows us to identify relevant policy recommendations for the national level. Many factors of success and failure of the innovations are linked to the local contexts specific to each territory; but in the course of the dialogues and this in-depth work with each selected initiative, we see common trends emerging: The structuring role of a European directive, the administrative weight of subsidy applications, the ministerial organisation, the attitude of local public administrations towards civil society actors… We understand how a particular French funding application presents an enormous opportunity to relieve French and German municipalities; how a particular legal provision creates a positive bias to encourage the establishment of organic farmers.

It is a real “decanting” exercise that we are carrying out by involving field actors and thematic and administrative experts in our reflections. In order to draw useful recommendations at the national level from the local level, we need to bring the two worlds together: to offer them a place where they can present their perspectives, exchange their ideas for solutions, and confront the inevitable contradictions between the top-down logic that prevails in national administrations and the local logic structured around much more transversal realities. We have called this place of exchange “the resonance chamber”. We have just completed the first edition last February. An incredible bilingual, multisectoral and multidisciplinary adventure!

Missions Publiques. What role do local values play in the local initiatives you work with? And how can they be given weight in the national/federal and European ecosystems?
Anne-Gaëlle Javelle. The question of values is a significant one. The territories that have succeeded in their transition all have in common the fact of having defined a common value with the support of their population and of having invested their efforts massively around this value. For example, Mouans-Sartoux, a small town in the south-east of France, has succeeded in ten years in offering 100% organic and local produce in its school canteens. Why was this so important? It all started with the mad cow crisis in the 1990s. The safety of the food offered to children at school became a cardinal value. As time went on, the town council incorporated the environmental quality of the food into this value. In 2008, it set itself the goal of achieving 100% organic and local food – a goal that was reached in 2018 when France had only just implemented a 20% organic threshold. If this city has gone so far, it is because it has made an extremely clear choice on this value from which it has structured all its efforts to date – 30 years of action!

Another example is the small village of Nebelschütz in Germany. Located in the former East Germany, this village with a Sorbian identity experienced a sharp decline after reunification. Its inhabitants moved to the West, and factories and shops closed down one after the other. In order to revive his village, the mayor relied on its cultural identity and its agricultural past. He has protected the traditional architecture, revitalised the local cultural life by opening a Sorbian kindergarten which has attracted new families to the village, and encouraged the installation of organic farmers and the circular economy. The Sorbian identity did not prejudge an environmental turn, but this choice helped to revive the village by preserving its identity.

These values are therefore often the source and thread of these local successes. The Forum for the Future’s approach is not to try to generalise the adoption of these values, of course, but to show how cities have succeeded in building a consensus with their population, their civil society and their economic actors around these values; then how they have succeeded in mobilising the means (local, regional and national/federal) to put them into action. It is already clear that it is because they first built a local consensus around these values that these territories have succeeded in achieving the extraordinary results for which they are known.


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