French Minister calls for "a new contract for Europe"

European Union – Fight against terrorism/migration/economic policy – Article by M. Stéphane Le Foll, Minister of Agriculture, Agrifood and Forestry, in the daily newspaper Les Echos

Paris, 9 August 2016

A new contract for Europe

Faced with the risk of terrorism and the victory of Brexit, Europe must regain its ambition, on the basis of three commitments: to guarantee freedom and security, to deepen the organization of the Euro Area, and to work for its neighbours’ stability and development.

France has just lived through some terrible attacks. The victims and their families are in mourning, stricken to the core. Germany and Belgium have also experienced similar acts, for which Daesh [so-called ISIL] has claimed responsibility. Basically, our democracies are under threat and our freedoms are being questioned. And it is through unity that our countries will be able to overcome their enemies and tackle, in a lasting way, the challenges they face.

Europe is the manifestation of that unity. So protecting it is our collective responsibility. It is time to shoulder that responsibility fully and collectively. True, this means obligations for everyone. But it is also the only way of generating shared benefits, which each country seeks but none can achieve alone. Alone in the face of the world’s challenges we are nothing, and if we are weakened then our power, our rights and our freedoms will suffer heavily from it.

In order to function, Europe must change; we must change. It is up to us to ensure we awaken the Union and regain our collective ambition through a new contract.

The first commitment that must guide us is to design a Europe that protects our freedoms and security. The Brexit supporters’ victory is primarily the result of a fear of immigration from the rest of the world, but above all – and this is the most terrible part – the questioning of European workers’ freedom of movement, one of the four freedoms that form the basis of the single market. This is not about Schengen but is the simple result of a national decision to take in large numbers of workers from Eastern Europe – well in excess of European obligations – which was never politically accepted on the island.

In the face of this restless fear everywhere, there is a major political message to be sent. Yes, firmness is necessary to control immigration – but in order for it to remain a strength, an asset for our countries. To suggest that returning to the borders of old will enable us to protect ourselves is a lie. On the contrary, Europe must shoulder its collective responsibility on this, and be spurred into organized and coherent action.

Protecting ourselves means giving ourselves the means to fulfil this new contract, by developing a genuine external border police force. Frontex must be solidified through active cooperation between all countries. Likewise, we must coordinate our asylum policies. For example, we do not need a new Schengen, but we must think Schengen through better and adapt it to today’s challenges. This goes hand in hand with the European defence project, which must be revitalized. France, through the decisions the President has taken, shoulders a large part of the EU’s security, but in too isolated a way. The others must be more proactive in standing alongside us.

The supporters of division may object that our continent, when divided, dominated the world. That is correct, but in 1914 Europe alone accounted for 20% of the world’s population and 60% of its GDP. With 7% of the population and about 20% of global wealth today, unity is necessary if we want to continue influencing the world’s major choices tomorrow. So we must speak with a single voice, a strong voice, firm if necessary, particularly in the field of trade. Michel Rocard was quite right to say Europe is a set of democratic values linked to an environmentally-friendly and competitive economic system with a high level of welfare.

Defending this model, written into the treaties, requires us to go deeper in organizing the Euro Area: it is the second commitment of this contract. It must be remembered that the euro is primarily a currency that protects the weakest and smallest economies. The full solidarity of that currency must be reaffirmed, and in this regard we should welcome the recent changes in the European Central Bank. The euro is a factor of strength, and we should therefore dare to reorganize it, giving it a government and a parliament, in order to embark on the challenge of social and fiscal harmonization.

But against the backdrop of the Euro Area, the Europe of the Twenty-Eight must once again become the Europeans’ project, that of the future and therefore of young people. This means investing by doubling the Juncker Plan, but also educating, researching and innovating so that Europe’s young people will drive tomorrow’s ideas and progress. Finally, we must work to ensure the stability and the economic and social development of all those countries whose destiny is intertwined with ours, in the Mediterranean, the Middle East and Africa. A major investment and development plan must be our third commitment. Agriculture has a crucial role to play in this undertaking, for the sake of our southern neighbours’ food security and improved rural living conditions.

Europe is too often reduced to its institutions, but in reality it is much more than that. It is a political project in the noblest sense of the term. Europe is our destiny, François Mitterrand told us; today it is also the destiny of our neighbours. We must do everything to prevent those who want to destroy Europe from achieving their goal. Creating and building in the general interest is always harder and takes longer than destroying with the sole aim of crying victory on an election night. So let us get to work, on a new contact for Europe./.

Published on 09/08/2016

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