EU better together and better collectively - President
European Union – European Council – Press conference by M. François Hollande, President of the Republic
Brussels, 10 March 2017
Q. – On the Rome declaration, we’re expecting great ambition from the heads of state, in a political climate of great fatigue in Europe. What could you say to restore a little momentum to the European project, a new boost?
THE PRESIDENT – First of all, Europe must be proud. Proud of what its history is. For 60 years it’s been capable of a very great adventure – namely, first of all, building peace, creating a major market, ensuring cohesion between peoples, and setting Europe as an example so as to give the world the best possible solidarity.
But there are weaknesses. There are difficulties. Europe showed it was incapable of taking decisions at the right time. What must it do for the coming years? It must show that it’s united – that’s the first condition – and that it has values. You can’t make progress unless you have ideals to provide, for the peoples who make up Europe and for everyone watching us.
Secondly, we must be capable of moving forward more quickly in small groups, particularly for security, defence, employment, young people, culture and research; capable of moving faster and more powerfully in small groups without losing overall solidarity and cohesion among the 27 [member states], because Europe is now going to work as 27. That’s the thrust of what we must do.
Q. – Will the concept of a multi-speed Europe feature in the declaration? For the moment it’s worrying the eastern countries a little.
THE PRESIDENT – It’s not about having several speeds, and it’s not about excluding anyone. It’s about being capable – for those who want it, and without the treaties needing to be revised – on defence, on security, on Economic and Monetary Union – i.e. the Euro Area, tax and social harmonization, so that we can have real convergence – being capable of going faster and further without closing the door to anyone. Above all, we mustn’t accept mechanisms that could exclude people, but neither can we allow any single country to prevent the others from moving ahead faster. That’s the approach we must take.
Q. – And what about the phrase “political power” put forward by civil society figures like Cohn-Bendit and political figures like Mr Verhofstadt?
THE PRESIDENT – Yes, I take it on board. I think Europe must assert itself as a power, not to dominate the world but to help the world find its equilibrium and protect its environment and also democracy and peace. In the face of protectionist threats, in the face of isolationism, in the face of resurgent empires, Europe is not only a necessity but a force that serves the world. Europe is the world’s leading economic power and nobody knows it, or at any rate not enough. But it’s not enough to have a strong economy, even though this also involves a lot of precarity and inequality: you have to have political power. That’s what I’m going to argue for. Europe is a powerful political force. For those who wonder what Europe is for, we must ask ourselves a single question and provide an answer to it: Are we stronger together or not? Europe enables us to do, among 27, what we wouldn’t be capable of doing alone, including when it comes to resolving problems and combating terrorism, inequality, poverty and even immigration – everything that can be a challenge. We’re better together and we’re better collectively. It’s very simple.
Q. – What would your message be to young Europeans who are currently campaigning, who are gathering all over the place – in European capitals, in Paris, in Frankfurt – to demand radical reform?
THE PRESIDENT – I’d say they must say one thing to those in doubt, because you have to go and persuade those in doubt and not merely go and see those who are already certain it’s necessary to build Europe: imagine what Europe would be without Europe, without the EU? Look at the history books; this may already be a first experience, but above all look in terms of the world as it is, the threats we’re experiencing and the risks. What would a great country like France be without the European Union? Ask that question in each of your countries. It’s by doing that bit of research, that bit of work, that you manage to lead people towards that solution called Europe, which, after all, many generations have sometimes fought to achieve.
Q. – What do you say to European leaders about the rise of the far right?
THE PRESIDENT – The far right is a threat existing in many European countries, not only France. It so happens that there are elections in France in a few days’ time. So what I’m expecting all the Europeans, the heads of state and government, to do is make people understand clearly why we must build Europe and drive out narrow national self-interest, because if everyone comes here merely to seek their own interests, the pro-sovereignty campaigners, nationalists and extremists will use all this to argue for withdrawal from the European Union and the Euro Area.
In any case, what I have to do is show the French people, demonstrate to them that not only can Europe be [a source of] progress for everyone but that a lack of Europe, an absence of Europe, withdrawal from Europe would first of all be an additional risk for everyone. That doesn’t mean all other political solutions are necessarily better – I believe so, it’s what I’m arguing – but it means that I know one which would be the worst of all, namely what’s being proposed by the pro-sovereignty campaigners, protectionists and extremists.