President on Europe’s challenges ahead of Bratislava summit

European Union – Meeting of European social democratic leaders/Italy/fight against terrorism – Speech by M. François Hollande, President of the Republic (excerpts)

La Celle Saint-Cloud, 25 August 2016

Ladies and gentlemen, I wanted to invite all the progressive heads of government and heads of major political parties involved in coalitions in Europe, ahead of the Bratislava summit.

Italy/earthquake

Matteo Renzi was due to be with us, but what’s happened – the very serious disaster in Italy – has necessarily led him to cancel his participation. So I wanted us to send a message to the Italian people and to the authorities of that country, which is a friend: first of all to express to Matteo Renzi the full support and solidarity of Europeans, of French people, and to say that all resources can be made available to Italy if it requests it, so that we can still save lives.

As I speak – I spoke to Matteo Renzi on the telephone yesterday evening – there are more than 240 people reported dead and many injured, and most probably people who haven’t yet been found. Such disasters once again highlight vulnerabilities but also how much solidarity there can be.

Political left/future of EU

Finally, in addition to the disaster, this is also a message we must all take on board. What we think is an obvious reality – Europe, democracy – is also vulnerable. Events can sometimes have consequences that end up undermining the foundations of what we believe is a permanent fixture. Europe isn’t exempt from this human law: whatever we’ve been capable of doing we’re capable of undoing much more quickly.

I wanted this meeting of European progressives, who include even the likes of Alexis Tsipras, because the entire left must be conscious of its responsibility. We instigated Europe. Our predecessors built it, even well after the war, and ensured we could have an ability to act beyond our nation-states. So I wanted this meeting because, following Brexit and in the face of the rise of populism – whose consequences and effects we’re seeing every day, through intolerance, stigmatization, populism and, above all, its desire to call the European Union and even European values into question –, we must take an initiative commensurate with the situation.

In a few days’ time the Bratislava summit will be held, and progressives must go to that summit with a vision of Europe and concrete measures to put in place. But above all, they must persuade not only the other heads of state and government but also our own fellow citizens that Europe is a force enabling us to control our destiny better than we could in isolation, provided it’s used to this end and no doubt reoriented.

This doesn’t mean the state doesn’t have this ability and this legitimacy. Here in France, we must take all our decisions so that our economy, our solidarity, our defence, our diplomacy can be strengthened. We’re at a site belonging to the Foreign Ministry, and the wish was to have this meeting here, because many meetings have been held in La Celle Saint-Cloud precisely to take situations into consideration and achieve peace.

So we wanted – and we’re going to show it – to ensure that, through Europe, citizens can have an additional ability, over and above the state, to control our destiny.

We’re going to make some proposals in three areas.

EU/security/migration/diplomacy

First of all, protection. There can be no political space unless it’s capable of protecting itself, in the sense of having borders and being able to ensure they’re respected, in order to take in those who should be – for example, through asylum – and prevent others coming when they aren’t able to live decently here in Europe. Borders must be respected and therefore protected.

We must also protect ourselves in relation to scourges and threats which we’re aware of, [such as] terrorism. It’s very important for Europe – and our German and French interior ministers in particular have managed to take action to this end – to further strengthen certain mechanisms, particularly on the exchange of files or the encryption of certain messages or exchanges, so that we can effectively combat this threat, which can strike at all countries, including European countries.

That’s the first priority: security, protection and defence. I haven’t forgotten defence, because there’s necessarily an additional step to take when it comes to Defence Europe. France will support all proposals to this end, including for each country to bear its share of the burden.

But security, protection and defence also mean being capable of giving Europe a statute that gives it the ability to resolve conflicts and act at diplomatic level. In a few days’ time the foreign ministers will have to meet, at European level – Jean-Marc Ayrault will be leading the meeting – so that we can make Europe act and not merely stay on the sidelines, particularly when it comes to what’s happening in Syria, Iraq and Africa.

EU/economy/young people/Youth Guarantee

Protection and security also apply at economic level. It’s unacceptable for major multinational groups to find ways of gaining wealth and therefore profits in Europe without being taxed according to those same results.

We must ensure that large companies can be subject to French law, as far as we’re concerned, and European law, particularly at fiscal level. We must fight against fiscal and social dumping and on the issue of posted labour. We’ve all agreed it’s necessary to further strengthen checks and review elements of the directive, which, as we know, has been greatly abused.

We also want there to be confidence in Europe’s destiny at economic level, by means of the new investments that can be freed up through the Juncker Plan, which must be doubled and therefore continued, particularly in fields as essential – I’ve mentioned them – as digital technology, new energies and transport infrastructure.

Finally, we must ensure that, in terms of finance, we can also have regulatory mechanisms; that’s the whole purpose of the financial transaction tax, which we’re continuing to promote.

The second major priority is therefore investment, i.e. everything which can contribute to more being done than what we can do in each of our countries.

Finally, we’ve also set ourselves the priority of preparing the future – research, education, culture, and (…) the mobility of young people. The major issue is about whether new generations would themselves like to take up the challenge of Europe.

They want to see Europe as an area of protection but also of values and exchanges, and not just one of [free] movement but of success too. But this isn’t just about the mobility of workers, it’s about that of all young people who must have the opportunity of visiting, learning and getting to know a country in Europe other than their own.

We’re also going to propose that the Youth Guarantee, which has already been introduced and budgeted for, can not only be continued but taken further so that what we do nationally we can do Europe-wide as well (…).

Syria/chemical weapons use

I want to end on international issues; very serious things are happening in Syria at the moment. When I was in Italy with Matteo Renzi and Angela Merkel I emphasized how disastrous the situation in Aleppo is from a humanitarian point of view. There are forces today which don’t want there to be a peaceful solution and don’t want there to be a political transition.

We now have proof – provided by the United Nations – that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons. We knew this in 2013 – and you know the position I was prompted to take –, we had confirmation of this happening even after 2013; that’s what the report says. It’s also true that Daesh [so-called ISIL], too, used chemical weapons which were probably similar to the regime’s, perhaps also taken from the regime.

So we’ve got an extremely serious situation on our hands in which there’s a humanitarian disaster and proof of crimes, which is why the belligerents mustn’t be supported. This responsibility is on Russia, which has to understand that negotiations must now be resumed as swiftly as possible.

Turkey itself wanted to enter Syrian territory to fight Daesh, and we can understand this stance, given the terrorist crime Daesh committed in Turkey. At the same time, we must ensure that through this action there’s a common determination to move towards negotiation and a political solution in Syria. I’ll have the opportunity of coming back to this.

Europe/populism

So let me finish by coming back to Europe. What’s at stake with the rise of the populists is our idea of living together with others. Living together with others: this is the main issue the European enterprise has to address first of all. We don’t want to be merely an agglomeration of countries; we must share values, policies and choices. We aren’t European simply because of a market and currency, but because we think we’re stronger with Europe and are masters of our destiny, we’re able to live together with others. In France, too, this is a major issue, living together with others, which requires rules and compliance with them. It also means everyone has to conform to rules and that there’s no provocation or stigmatization.

Thank you./.

Published on 06/09/2016

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