French-German Dialogue – Otzenhausen European Academy

Inter Alia Report

On the three day interactive French – German Dialogue at the Europäische Akademie Otzenhausen (13 – 16 September 2014)
By Dr Nicholas Rossis

The picturesque village of Otzenhausen is the home of one the most innovative institutions regarding political education that promotes a democratic and federal European social order. The varied methodologies of non-school-based youth and adult education concern a wide range of issues from international political to development policies at local level.

This year’s gathering introduced for a first time in the long history of the French – German dialogue a more interactive and complicated approach from a multinational perspective on the issues of cross-border citizen democratic participation. The groups participating in the dialogue have been composed by several ethnicities from the entire Europe that offered a very different and diverse outlook on the existing concerns and dilemmas.

The ultimate purpose of the workshop was to discover ways on how to improve the practices and instruments of cross-border citizen participation. Throughout the first day with the use of various educational techniques in group engagement, the participants familiarised with each other and explained their individual comparative advantages and expertise in relation to the subject matter. During the second and longest day, the participants divided in four separate groups. With the use of a methodological model based on Kurt Lewin’s Force Field analysis each separate group identified 4 areas of attention concerning the purpose of the workshop. Gradually and through regular presentations the sixteen areas of attention developed by the teams merged into four final broad ideas. Then the final four concepts would be further developed by four new teams into a tangible project with clear focus, purpose, result, timeline and budget. On day three each project would be presented in a semi-formal exhibition-like manner to the politicians, academics, policy makers and army representatives, where each team should take into consideration the comments and suggestions of the distinguished guests for the additional development of the projects.

It must be pointed out the meticulous insistence of the facilitators on using a positive phraseology and mentality throughout the process of the workshop. For example the use of the word “but” during the discussions was strongly discouraged, as the word “and” instead is far more appropriate and constructive. Also the word “feedback”, due to its regressive etymological connotations with the word “back” had been replaced with the word “feedforward”.

The Europäische Akademie Otzenhausen has the sufficient status as an academic lighthouse and institution to attract and gather local and regional political figures to participate in the dialogue, however despite the rare opportunity of direct contact with policy makers it seems that there is no follow up or more in depth development and scrutiny of the proposed projects or parts of them, at least for the time being. Nevertheless, the Akadamie seems to possess the wherewithal to portray an even more active and influential role in the European Union.

The current level of the French – German dialogue is a lesson for the most cross-border regions of Europe. It should be used a model for other regional proposals regarding the cross-border citizen participation. For example, despite the ostensible problems in the cross-border relationship between France and Germany, the predicaments the two countries deal with are negligible in comparison with other cross-border regions of Europe. The performance of the French – German dialogue for considerable parts of the rest of the EU is deemed as a success story and it could be a helpful paradigm of cooperation and citizen participation especially for the Balkans.

For this reason, Inter Alia proposed to the Akadamie that this kind of dialogue and exchange of ideas should expand and include a wider range of countries and regions as there is lot to learn from this healthy and working relationship. There is an open invitation to the Akademie to further discuss and develop the themes and the techniques used in the workshop as well as to widen the dialogue to less functioning cross-border regions in order to boost the democratic values of the European Union and demolish the tantalising cross-border stereotypes.