Europe must be strong amid crises - French President
European Union – Speech by M. François Hollande, President of the Republic, in the European Parliament (excerpts)
Strasbourg, 7 October 2015
In actual fact, Europe has been facing a series of crises for years: the financial crisis, which was born outside our continent but spread and sparked an economic crisis from which we’re only just emerging, and a social crisis, with millions of young people without work. And now it’s a humanitarian crisis we’re facing, with an influx of refugees caused by the destabilization of entire regions in the Middle East, in Africa, as a result of armed conflicts and with the resurgence of religious hatred. And I haven’t forgotten the security crisis, with a war not so far away, on Europe’s borders, in Ukraine. And also terrorist attacks that have affected several countries on our continent, including mine.
With every crisis, fears manifest themselves. We must live with fear. But we mustn’t live dominated by fear. The fact remains that a temptation exists to withdraw into ourselves as a nation whenever there’s an ordeal. However, nothing is more futile than to try and run away, shy away, take cover when major events occur all over the world. We must speak from experience: history tells and confirms this to us.
This questioning may be sincere, but it can’t condemn Europe to over-cautiousness and impotence. On the contrary, it justifies an offensive Europe capable of both ensuring the protection due to its citizens and maintaining its standing, in accordance with its interests and values – values that justified the unification of our continent.
There’s no other solution than a strong Europe to guarantee our sovereignty.
In recent years, in recent months, France and Germany have sought to act together in the face of the ordeals we’ve experienced recently.
We’ve responded by asserting simple, clear principles: solidarity, responsibility and firmness.
Solidarity in the face of terrorism, because each of the attacks committed in one of our countries targets the whole of Europe, its ideals, its culture, its ways of life – in other words, the soul of our continent. (…)
Solidarity with refugees, who are victims of the upheavals in the Middle East and the tragedies of Africa.
Solidarity with those European countries which are on the front line undergoing the pressure of this, because they are our borders. Solidarity with the countries adjacent to places of conflict, which are taking in large numbers of refugees. Solidarity with Africa, which is fighting for its development and to prevent these very population movements.
So let’s face up to things directly: since the beginning of the year we’ve been facing an extraordinary influx of women and men – most probably 600,000. Many have fled war and massacres. Others are seeking a better life. They’ve all endured appalling conditions and been at the mercy of unscrupulous traffickers. Too many have died in atrocious conditions. We’re now familiar with some of their faces.
Europe has striven to save lives, first of all, and fight criminal networks thanks to Frontex’s operations. But I very readily admit that Europe has been slow to understand that the tragedies in the Middle East and Africa can’t be free of consequences for it. Europe hasn’t realized the hope it creates and will create for a long time, amid the distress of those waiting – in the darkness where they’ve been so long – for hope and light. Europe hasn’t provided help on a sufficient scale for countries which have nevertheless been accommodating ever-greater numbers of people in camps.
So Europe has had to organize itself as a matter of urgency, to live up to its asylum tradition and organize the repatriation of those who can’t be welcomed here in the long term.
Europe, along with the European Commission – and I pay tribute here to President Juncker – has established a comprehensive plan to support Italy and Greece, which are on the front line and can’t be left alone with their responsibilities; to help the Balkan countries, which are also experiencing a transit of people that is particularly hard to deal with; and to embark on closer cooperation with Turkey. And on this point we’re having discussions, which have begun and will have to be concluded with clear rules, because it’s in Turkey that the refugees must be taken in, as far as possible. But the quid pro quo is for us to help Turkey if we want it to help us and ensure that these refugees – whether they be in the camps or among the population – can work, feed their children and have a future. And if we don’t do it, then they’ll come, inexorably, they’ll come.
We must also set up reception and identification centres. That’s the essential condition in order for our borders to be respected. And finally, we must share asylum seekers out among the member states. That’s what we have done, not without difficulty, but we’ve done it: 160,000. And we’ll have to ensure the commitments made are properly applied. The plan must now implement each aspect as swiftly as possible. Those are the principles: solidarity, responsibility.
Greek debt crisis
The same principles applied when dealing with the situation of Greece. The negotiations were laborious. We played our part in them, Angela Merkel and myself, with the European Commission, with all the member states. Those discussions could have failed: it would have been much more than a failure, it would have been an abandonment. Abandoning a country whose culture and civilization still enlighten us. It would have been the first breach of the Euro Area’s integrity, and other countries would have been under pressure. And it would also have been an abdication of our mutual responsibilities: Europe’s responsibility and the Greek government’s responsibility. The negotiations led to a comprehensive programme of reforms and new financial support. I’d like this now to be translated into a discussion about servicing the debt. This is part of the overall resolution. Alexis Tsipras, the Greek Prime Minister, was brave and wanted his people to be consulted after the agreement was reached. Respect for democracy – and I say it here, in this other place of European democracy – respect for democracy isn’t at odds with respect for the common rules: responsibility, solidarity, always the same principles.
We must also show responsibility in countering terrorism. Vigilance is imperative, but it won’t be enough. We must equip ourselves with the tools essential for the work of the security services, while respecting freedoms. France has passed a law so as to be capable of better knowing terrorists’ activities and following them. And Europe must also play its role, and I’m thinking of the too-long-delayed issue of the European PNR. And I’m asking, as far as possible, for the European Parliament to adopt this legislation, which is essential if we want to act.
Europe also has a duty to be firm. In Ukraine, we had to respond to a brutal violation of international law and prevent a war so close to our continent. The Europeans, the 28, demonstrated unity in implementing sanctions, and there were debates, legitimate debates, on the effectiveness of this sanctions mechanism, and how long it would last. Germany and France were particularly involved in concluding the Minsk agreements and getting them implemented, and only last week Angela Merkel and I, with the Russian and Ukrainian Presidents, in what’s called the “Normandy format”, ensured not just that what was concluded in Minsk was adhered to, but that other separation processes were prevented. And in this respect, that format, that approach and that pressure exerted in the name of all Europe were particularly effective, because the election the separatists had planned to organize for the middle of October has been postponed, the Minsk process has been able to continue, light weapons have been withdrawn – soon it will be heavy weapons – and the war has stopped, though peace hasn’t yet returned. That’s what we’re capable of doing in the name of Europe, for Europe, and I’d also say in the interest of the world, because we’re prepared to be firm and responsible and show solidarity.
Firm also when it comes to the tragedy in Syria. It affects us all, because Daesh [ISIL] and the jihadists are against what we stand for; it affects Europe because the Bashar al-Assad regime has created and continues to fuel the disaster. He is still bombing, killing and slaughtering today. Yes, what’s happening in Syria affects Europe, because what is played out there will determine the balances in the region, the whole Middle East region, for a long time. And if we allow religious clashes (…) to intensify further, let’s not think we’ll be safe. It will be all-out war, a war which may impact our countries too. So we’ve got to act.
France has shouldered its military responsibilities to confront the threat. The whole of Europe must commit itself at the humanitarian, political and diplomatic levels. We must build, with all those able to contribute, a political future in Syria which gives the Syrian people an alternative other than Bashar and Daesh. And it’s our duty towards Syrians and in our interest as Europeans. And I call on the whole of Europe to exert pressure so that this political transition can take place. And let’s be quite clear, whatever the positions here, that it won’t be possible to reunite the opposition – I’m talking about the moderate democratic opposition – with the Syrian people’s executioner. It will be necessary to act continually to bring together all the nations which genuinely want a solution – Russia, Iran, the Gulf countries and of course the United States and Europe – so that we can get this political solution. To sum up what I think, as I’ve said, we’ll have to show a great deal of solidarity towards others.
And this is why cooperation with the African countries is essential. We’ll have the Valletta summit soon, in November, between Africa and Europe. And it’s by acting at the source of the difficulties that those considering leaving – and there are many in Africa – will be persuaded to stay in their region. It’s up to us to provide them with the conditions to live there. (…)
On all these issues, we must choose, I repeat, to go forwards rather than backwards, which would render us powerless.
We still need to make this brave choice, and we’ll have to do so in December at the Paris Climate Conference. I welcome Europe’s commitments in the framework of this conference because they were decisive in leading China, the United States and many others towards the prospect of an agreement. It is possible, it must be highly ambitious and will have to be built. (…)./.