The next generation of EU officials must uphold the ideals of freedom and democracy, which are fundamental to the European Union, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier emphasized in a speech on Friday.

“There has never been a tougher time to fight for Europe, but I’m sure there has never been a more important time to fight for Europe,” Steinmeier remarked.

Speaking in Bruges, Belgium, to the graduating class of the College of Europe, an elite institution that prepares future EU officials, Steinmeier urged the graduates to maintain optimism despite the pervasive “crisis mode” in Europe.

He encouraged the graduates to remain hopeful, drawing parallels to the challenges his generation faced with the end of communism in Germany and Europe and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

“Yes, it is truly a tough time to enter public service. Every generation feels the call of history. Every generation faces challenges that define it,” Steinmeier said.

“But with one look at the world around us, I think it’s fair to say, more is asked of your generation than many generations before,” he added, highlighting the pressing issues of climate change and conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East.

The German president also pointed out the increasing division and extreme rhetoric in European politics, following the success of the far right in the European Parliament elections.

Steinmeier urged the graduates to defend democracy and the EU against extremism to ensure that young Europeans are not once again “killed for the sake of nationalism and hatred.”