French President focuses on EU’s future after Brexit

European Union – Migration/Brexit/fight against terrorism/celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Jacques Delors Institute – Speech by M. François Hollande, President of the Republic (excerpts)

Paris, 6 October 2016

(…)

European Commission/Brexit

First of all, I want to pay tribute to President Jean-Claude Juncker, whom I see regularly and who has the privilege not of age – because he’s as young as I am – but of experience. In the European institutions he always makes a point of recalling that he’s probably the one who has held a seat the longest, but not in the same place, because after occupying practically every post in his own country he’s now President of the European Commission.

I want to express to him my heartfelt friendship and my gratitude for the action he’s taking in a very difficult period. He has no part in the United Kingdom’s departure, because he did everything to ensure the negotiations could be conducted to the greatest advantage of Europe and the UK. It was the British people who decided, in full sovereignty, to give their response and leave the EU. There’s no way we can say that Europe’s intransigence, or the Commission’s condemnation of a country that hadn’t always made allowances for it, caused this result. (…)

EU/financial crises

Jacques Delors often said Europe needed firefighters and builders but also architects, and he was right. The responsibility of heads of state and government is of course to resolve crises. If you think about it, Europe has always been in crisis, always lived with crises, always been subject to emergencies. That goes back a long way, including to the time when Europe comprised six countries. It experienced crises; it’s not the number that causes crises, it’s the situations. It’s also the conflicts between countries or governments. And of course it’s disagreements when it comes to assessing certain situations.

Europe has always lived with crises, and the role of heads of state and government at the European Council is to overcome them. What’s new in the period we’re going through is that we’re not experiencing just another crisis: we’re experiencing a crisis of Europe’s foundations, with the departure of a country, with deep divisions within the EU, with disagreements accentuated, with the return of nationalism, with the rises of populism. It’s not just one more crisis, it’s a crisis of Europe in relation to its foundations and its project.

From that point of view, we must return to basics (…) and understand what situation Europe is currently in. Since I’ve been French President, I’ve sat at many European Council meetings. Each time, we’ve had to deal with an emergency. The first European Council I took part in was in June 2012. Italy and Spain were in an extremely difficult situation. The banks were still under threat and there were serious risks of states being undermined and of speculation that could have brought down the European Union.

We spent the necessary time on it, generally at night, and we had to realize [what was at stake] – there was Mario Monti, who represented Italy, Angela Merkel, Germany of course, and Jean-Claude [Juncker] was there as a head of government. Some very important decisions were taken for Europe that night – to maintain the Euro Area, avoid Greece’s departure, ensure that Italy, Spain, Portugal and Ireland could be protected and that mechanisms would be established to provide the necessary finance – and the European Central Bank shouldered its responsibility. I believe that night was probably the most important one in recent years.

Then, later, there were other crises. The crisis with Greece – still Greece. One night, two nights, several nights to find the solution. For us, at political and I’d almost say cultural and civilizational level, it was essential for Greece to remain in the Euro Area.

EU/refugee crisis

We then experienced a deeper crisis, because it concerns values: the refugee crisis. That’s where the divisions were not simply between large and small countries, South and North, countries in surplus and countries in deficit. No, much more fundamental rifts emerged, in the sense that some countries were ready to take in [refugees] and others refused to. Some countries were ready to step up border controls, while others thought it was up to each country to get by. When we had to distribute refugees – and Jean-Claude remembers this – just as we distribute, or previously distributed, budgetary packages or sums in compensation, when we had to distribute human beings, that’s when we understood – I understood – that Europe was then facing a crisis of meaning, that it was no longer merely about negotiating one whole night and that we probably had to overhaul the common framework, the spirit that must unite us.

That’s why it’s no longer about institutional architecture. It’s no longer merely about which financial mechanisms we’re going to deploy to prevent this or that difficulty or failure. It’s about how we’re going to start again.

Brexit/immigration

Then the British question arises, which is as old as Britain’s presence in the European Union. In the discussions I had with David Cameron, precisely to make it easier for the UK to remain in the EU, I told him that General de Gaulle fought for years to stop Britain joining the Common Market. There even had to be a referendum in France – it was [under] President Pompidou – to ensure we could welcome Britain into Europe. [I said to Cameron:] “You’re ready today – after so much shared work, so many efforts we’ve made to understand each other better – you’re ready to leave. You’re ready to give up everything that was ultimately a form of concession or compromise within the European Union.” I think David Cameron imagined he would win his referendum. We also had that hope. But beyond the choice between having and not having a referendum, the people’s response must be seen for what it is. What did this revolve around in the UK? Basically immigration, not whether it was beneficial or not for Britain to stay in the EU.

It’s clear that this issue of immigration, this issue of coexistence, this issue of accepting others – in this case, the others were European, they were Polish, they were Bulgarian, they could be Hungarian – that accepting others was no longer taken for granted. We’re facing this situation, so how do we manage to overcome it? In Bratislava, the 27 of us met to give ourselves an agenda, set ourselves a goal and face up to our priorities.

The goal was to set ourselves a rendez-vous in Rome next March, because it’s the 60th anniversary [of the Treaty of Rome]. The agenda is to examine the most important issues step by step – I’ll come back to this: security, growth and employment and everything that helps us live together, and particularly culture, education, university and young people. (…)

EU’s future/national sovereignty/federalism

I’m profoundly convinced that the ordeals and challenges Europe is undergoing won’t be solved by turning inwards, shutting ourselves away behind national borders and giving up on collective solutions.

But it would also be illusory to think that the European idea can ignore the legitimacy of national sovereignty. It was probably because we assumed this that populist temptations arose and surged. Jacques Delors himself, however, had anticipated [it], with the phrase that sparked many questions and sometimes caustic comments: the “federation of nation states”. He clearly understood that it was the appropriate phrase, respecting states and therefore nations but at the same time leading them to work together on certain joint projects. Hence the need to unite Europeans but respect societies’ cohesion, not to rush people along but to make them converge towards a common ideal without their having to give up what makes them each unique as a people.

A country like France, which has fully taken part in history and the European enterprise, is a country that is committed to ensuring that its exception, its uniqueness – some people call it identity; I’m not sure that’s the right term, but at any rate the very idea of France – that the idea of France can have a place in Europe. Then the second question arises, namely subsidiarity. What must Europe do? What must states do? We discussed this too in Bratislava, and thought several priorities could be promoted by Europe, more effectively than separately by nations. I’m talking essentially about three areas.

Border protection/defence/counter-terrorism

Firstly, border protection. We have external borders; it’s our responsibility to safeguard them. Unless we do this, countries will want to return to their national borders. Our common good is the external border, and in order for it to be respected we must have resources devoted, dedicated to this obligation. The coastguards, the border guards have just been reinforced. Our security is also about ensuring that the people who come to us can be registered and that refugees can be directed where they’re expected, because that’s the right of asylum. But on the other hand, that migrants can be deported, resettled in their countries of origin when they can’t exercise a right to enter European territory.

If there are no rules, there’s no respect. And if there’s no longer any cohesion between European countries, there’s no longer any Europe. So the first priority in terms of European responsibility is to protect. Protect borders and also protect rights, and particularly the right of asylum. Security has also become a common European good. France has long prided itself in having a defence system enabling it to project forces abroad, guarantee its independence through nuclear deterrence and probably be the country with strategic autonomy in Europe, which has allowed us to conduct a number of operations and do so, even in the name of Europe, only recently for Africa.

But I’m aware that the greatest service France can do Europe is to help us build together common defence and security elements. Germany has shifted on this issue, and it’s very important that it has been able to do so. Just because the British have decided to leave doesn’t mean they mustn’t be associated with the process. But all European countries must now coordinate to take part in a defence effort and to know what we can do jointly and what we can guarantee, through our own capabilities, in each of our countries.

Protection also means forces to combat terrorism. Terrorism has struck France but has [also] struck Europe: Belgium, Germany, Denmark and the British. We’re aware that terrorism is going to remain a threat, and this must make us do together what we can’t succeed in doing alone. To combat terrorism, you must agree to cooperate, coordinate your intelligence services, your police, your border controls. Who can do that better than Europe? In this sense, Europe is regarded no longer as a risk but, on the contrary, a shield against a number of threats. This is the first major priority we must promote in order to ensure Europe can be understood by Europeans as an additional safeguard, an additional protection, a [source of] security.

Growth/employment

The second priority is growth and employment. Of course economic policies depend on the choices every government must make for its own country. But we know we need impetus. It’s true that some countries which are in surplus should do more in terms of revitalization. It’s correct to say that some countries which have a deficit – a current balance of payments deficit or a budget deficit – must continue the effort to be competitive and get back on a sound footing. That’s what France is doing for the time being; we’ll see. But unless there’s a boost from Europe, and not just through the Central Bank’s policy, unless there’s a shared determination to create growth and employment through major investment –not only investment in infrastructure [but also] investment in energy, the ecological transition and the digital sector – we won’t be able to achieve our results. If we want to have European champions that are on a global scale, we must invest more, and that’s the second priority.

Culture/education/research

The third is to ensure that culture, education, universities and research can be promoted throughout Europe. There too, we’ll always have our own institutions, our tools, but if we don’t have this ambition to be the best in the world – and we are in many fields, judging by the Nobel prizes awarded today or yesterday –, if we don’t have this determination to be the best in our field, and even in every field, Europe won’t be able to promote those values. Nor is European culture the sum of all our respective countries’ cultures. It’s what has ultimately created the European system, which can be associated with a social area, a human area and values.

Europe’s role in the world

That brings me to European identity. European identity means being able to influence the world’s destiny. What often troubles me is to see that Europe is present at the G20 and G7 table, present through countries, present through institutions, but does it carry enough weight? What we’re seeing today and have already been seeing for several years is the return of empires, powers. It’s probably a law of history. Empires that we thought were declining or had disappeared are reawakening in forms that strangely resemble what may have existed before the First World War. There are also new powers emerging at economic and demographic level. Does Europe regard itself as a power? Does Europe talk like a power? Europe isn’t merely a claim to power. It’s a power that seeks only peace, harmony, development and crisis resolution.

We stand out on the world stage and that’s why, in the face of crises like Syria, where Europe’s voice – if only to say, and it’s right, that we must do everything to ensure humanitarian aid can arrive – can resonate. What is Europe’s voice [saying]? It often lends support to people who are suffering, and Europe is exemplary. But can we do more? Yes, not simply through our countries but together. When a conflict lasts so long that whole peoples can be massacred, as in Aleppo, can’t we ourselves as Europeans do more, if we so decide, to resolve the world’s major issues? Which means having force capabilities, it’s true, diplomatic services that we can pool, and also wishing to do so. But do all the countries have that wish?

I’m warning them. There are countries – European countries – that think the United States will always be there to protect them, to the point where they even buy weapons only from the United States and not from Europeans. This can happen. There are countries that think there will always be a cover that will come and shelter them from every influence. There are some that think the conflicts in the Middle East don’t concern them, that Africa has no link to Europe apart from a few migrants who may run aground in terrible circumstances on the Italian coast. Those countries must be warned. Today we’re in a global world. Conflicts necessarily affect us.

So those European countries must be told – and I won’t stop doing so – that if they don’t defend themselves they will no longer be defended, whoever wins the American presidential election. And we’re rather hoping she will be, without taking sides, but there’s not even a choice. But beyond that, whoever is elected president (1) in November, the United States no longer has the same idea of defence protection, while being our ally in NATO. This issue doesn’t arise, but Europeans must realize that, while they’re the world’s leading economic power – and they are – they must also be a political power with a defence capability.

European identity isn’t simply about defending oneself: it’s about standing up for values and conveying a message to the world. What method is there for achieving this? The one which Jacques Delors proposed during his first term as leader of the European Commission: a shared goal, a timescale and a programme of measures. That’s the line Jean-Claude Juncker adopted in his speech to the European Parliament, and France wholeheartedly supports this approach.

Finally, there are the institutions: the European Commission, which must be the guardian of the treaties, admittedly, but it must go beyond that – it must continue to inject momentum and no doubt be constantly mindful of compromises, but also, initially, make proposals and serve Europe’s general interest. There’s the Commission, the European Council. There are the states which, at some point, have to seek the right blend, balance, but which must be spurred on by the Commission and by the European Parliament, which represent the people. I’m not challenging – quite the opposite – the right, the duty even, of national parliaments to take an interest in Europe. We mustn’t be afraid of them wanting to look at what’s being done in Europe, in the name of transparency. It would be wrong to pit national parliaments against the European Parliament.

Brexit

Let me conclude. Jacques Delors himself also faced a crisis brought on by the United Kingdom. Back then, Mrs Thatcher – whose economic programme I see some have now taken up again – wanted to remain in Europe but receive a rebate in return. Today, Britain wants to leave but doesn’t want to pay anything. This isn’t possible. I’m extremely fond of the United Kingdom and I know what the British people have been capable of in tragic moments in France and Europe’s histories. We’re also bound by geographical proximity, by so many economic and cultural ties, and by [our] peoples. But at the same time, a continued state of ambiguity does not serve the interests of Europe or even the United Kingdom.

The United Kingdom has decided to carry out a Brexit – even, I believe, a hard Brexit: we must ensure that the British people’s desire to leave the European Union is carried through to the end. We must be that firm. If we aren’t, we undermine the very principles of the European Union, i.e. other countries or other parties will have the idea of wanting to leave the European Union in order to have the supposed advantages, no disadvantages and no rules. Firmness actually means ensuring that Europe will be able to safeguard its principles, especially the four freedoms, including the freedom of movement.

There has to be a threat, there has to be a risk, there has to be a price. Otherwise, we’ll be in negotiations – I know that Michel Barnier is working on this – which can’t have a happy ending, and which will necessarily have economic and human consequences. For all these reasons, France – in conjunction with our partners, and letting the Commission do the job of negotiating, of course – is going to defend an idea of Europe. A Europe which isn’t simply about defending a market or financial centres; it isn’t simply about wanting more investment here than there might be elsewhere. Europe is about borders, protection – protection of a model, a culture and values which deserve to be fiercely defended and promoted with dignity everywhere. That’s why this Europe must be defended, because, as Jacques Delors said, it’s our Europe./.

(1) M. Hollande uses the word “présidente” in French, denoting a female president.

Published on 18/10/2016

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