Europe needs radical reform, says French President
Excerpts from the speech by M. Emmanuel Macron, President of the Republic, to the Parliament meeting in joint session (excerpts)
Versailles, 3 July 2017
Born of troubled times, our institutions are crisis- and turbulence-proof, they have shown how solid they are, but like all institutions they are also what men make them. (…) As the person responsible for ensuring that the public authorities function properly, I’ll act by following three principles: effectiveness, representativeness and responsibility.
Firstly, effectiveness. We need time to think out legislation and time to frame, discuss and pass it; time, too, to ensure the right conditions for it to be applied. So, wanting our institutions to be more efficient doesn’t mean succumbing to the cult of speed, it means prioritizing the result. Let’s end the proliferation of legislation – we know about that affliction, it’s been mentioned so often and I myself fear that I was involved in it in a past life. It weakens the law, which loses some of its vigour and certainly some of its purpose through the accretion of legislation. The purpose of the law isn’t to slavishly attend to the minutiae of our country’s life, but to build a framework for far-reaching trends, important shifts, essential debates and to set a course. (…)
But legislating less also means devoting greater attention to fundamental texts, those laws addressing gaps in the law and clarifying unprecedented situations – that’s Parliament’s role. Legislating less means more effectively allocating Parliament’s time, in particular setting time aside for oversight and assessment. I know that many of you have already pondered this a great deal and I’m not underestimating the progress made over the past few years on it. But we must go even further, because adopting laws can’t be the be-all and end-all of Parliament. Our societies have become too complex and too fast-paced for a piece of legislation to be fully effective without coming up against the reality principle.
The voice of the people concerned by the legislation which you adopt can’t be perceived as an affront to legislative dignity; it is life, it is genuine, it is what you’re working for, what we’re working for. It’s why properly monitoring how legislation is applied, ensuring its long-term relevance and impact over time, amending or repealing it, has become a burning obligation today.
For all these reasons, I would like a complete assessment made of all the important legislation – current texts such as the one on social dialogue or the fight against terrorism, for which we’ve recently laid the groundwork – during the two years after they have been brought in. It is even desirable for us to assess the usefulness of older legislation in order to open up the possibility of abrogating laws which may have been adopted too quickly or were badly framed in the past, or whose existence today may act as a brake on the smooth running of French society.
Finally, the pace at which laws are framed must respond to society’s needs. There are urgent situations which can’t be tackled fast enough because of the specific pace peculiar to parliamentary work – think about the regulation of practices resulting from digital technology as regards copyright protection, the privacy of our fellow citizens and national security. Collectively we take too long today and we’ve got to introduce the possibility of swift action into this long legislative process I’ve just mentioned. As such, the successive readings of bills [by the National Assembly and Senate] could be simplified; I even think that you should be able, in the most straightforward cases, to pass laws by committee – many of you have done a great deal of work on all this (…).
I’m not unaware of the constraints weighing down on you, the lack of resources, the lack of teams and the lack of space partially impede the imperatives of effectiveness I’m putting to you. Regarding this, there’s a measure our compatriots have long been calling for, which to me seems essential to implement: reducing the number of members of Parliament. A Parliament with fewer people but a greater amount of resources is a Parliament where work is more fluid, where members of Parliament can surround themselves with better qualified and more staff; a Parliament which works better. This is why I’ll propose cutting by a third the number of members in the three constitutional assemblies. I’m convinced this measure will favourably impact on the general quality of parliamentary work.
This isn’t about giving in to prevailing anti-parliamentarianism – quite the opposite, because most French people are also certain that this reform is essential. The goal of the reform, which will have to be conducted while ensuring that all the Republic’s territories – in mainland and overseas France – are fairly represented, is not to fuel prevailing anti-parliamentarianism but to give the Republic’s elected representatives more resources and clout. (…)
The President must set the direction of the five-year term, and this is what I have come to do before you here. It is for the Prime Minister, who directs the government’s action, to flesh this out. (…)
That’s why I shall be asking the Prime Minister to set everyone clear objectives on which they’ll report to him annually.
Likewise, in order to be effective, ministers should be central to public action and regain more direct contact with their departments. Both the reduction in the number of private office staff to 10, which I instigated, and the renewal of all heads of central departments address this priority.
It’s about giving department heads, who then have the government’s full confidence, direct knowledge of the policies they’ll have to implement, and thus sharing, within the government and the whole administration, the common responsibility for which the people have set our course.
Themselves obliged to achieve results by the road map linking them to the Prime Minister, ministers will nevertheless not lose sight of the conditions for implementing their policies. To this end, I want a more deconcentrated administration which advises more than it sanctions, which innovates and experiments more than it constrains. That’s the virtuous circle of effectiveness. This administration must restore to all the regions the means to take action and succeed.
For ultimately, our democracy is fuelled only by action and our ability to change everyday lives and the real world.
But this concern for effectiveness won’t be enough to give our democracy back the oxygen it’s been deprived of for too long. If we’re to do away with the ineffective Republic, we must equally do away with the Republic focused on the short term, petty calculations and routine. We’ll regain the deep rhythm of democracy only by reconnecting with the variety of the real world, with the diversity of this French society from which our institutions have too carefully kept themselves distant, accepting change only for others but not for themselves.
Reality is plural; life is plural. Pluralism is necessary for our institutions, which grow weaker inside a closed circle.
We’ve brought France’s great diversity in here. It’s a social, professional, geographical diversity, one of gender and background, age and experience, beliefs and commitments. It’s an unprecedented melting-pot of skills and destinies, and you, today, are its faces. (…)
Representativeness, however, is still an unfinished battle in our country. I’d like to fight it resolutely with you. So I’ll propose that Parliament is elected with a dose of proportional representation, so that all views are properly represented there.
To this same end, we’ll limit the number of mandates that may be held concurrently by members of Parliament, because this is the cornerstone of a renewal that won’t be carried out in response to public pressure and exasperation but will become part of the natural rhythm of democratic life. Members of Parliament themselves will see their mandate as an opportunity to move the country forwards and no longer as the gateway to a career for life.
There are other institutions of the Republic which, over time, have become part of the status quo, when the real purpose of their work should have been to embody the living movement of French society.
The Economic, Social and Environmental Council is one of them. Its mission was to create a link between civil society and political bodies, involving constructive dialogue and proposals followed up with actions. This original intention has been somewhat lost. I’d like us to reconnect with it.
The Economic, Social and Environmental Council must become the assembly of the future, coursing with the lifeblood of the nation. To this end, we must review the rules of its representativeness from top to bottom, while reducing the number of its members by a third. Having achieved this representativeness, we’ll make this assembly the sole hub for public consultations.
The state doesn’t work, doesn’t reform, without consulting. And that’s perfectly natural. But the number of consultation bodies has greatly increased. We can’t even count them anymore. They are all justified insofar as they represent vibrant parts of civil society. But that was the initial role of the Economic, Social and Environmental Council. By reforming it, we’ll make it the single consultation body provided for by all our legislation.
This will be one element of greater representativeness for our civil society. At the same time, [there will be] an element of simplification of our procedures and simplification of the fabric of the law.
The Council must be capable of becoming our Republic’s forum, bringing together all views and all skills and, in a way, acting as a place to express all approaches in the world of business and work: those of entrepreneurs and unions, employees and self-employed people, but also voluntary and non-governmental organizations.
At the same time, I’d like the right to petition to be reviewed, so that direct expressions by our fellow citizens are more effectively taken into account and French people’s proposals can be presented, in a defined and structured framework, to the nation’s elected representatives.
There too, the representativeness of our democracy depends on it. This representativeness should come alive not every five years but every day in the activities of legislators.
Based on greater representativeness and driven by a concern for effectiveness, democratic debate and more specifically parliamentary debate will, I’m sure, regain their vitality. The desire to take action and move society forward will regain its paramount role in our institutions and will join that other sovereign principle from which we’ve too often strayed, namely responsibility.
Parliamentary activity revived through a clear goal and better structured debates means a Parliament better suited to carrying out its mission of oversight, without which the executive’s responsibility doesn’t come alive and is weakened.
In Parliament, I’d like both the majority and opposition parties to have even more ways of adding definition and stringency to the executive’s political responsibility.
Ministers themselves must become accountable for the actions carried out in the course of their everyday duties. This is why I’d like the Court of Justice of the Republic (1) to be abolished. We’ll have to find the right way of organizing things, but our fellow citizens no longer understand why only ministers still have a special court.
Fostering responsibility everywhere in our institutions also means ensuring the full and complete independence of the judiciary. This is a goal that must remain, despite the deadlock and half-failures encountered in the past. To this end, I’d like us finally to complete the separation of the executive and the judiciary, by strengthening the role of the Judicial Service Commission and limiting the executive’s intervention in the appointment of public prosecutors. At the very least, the Commission should give its assent to all these prosecutors’ appointments.
I aspire to a radical change in the practices and rules. I’m not unaware of the institutional and constitutional evolution this requires. That’s why I shall be asking the Keeper of the Seals, the relevant ministers and the presidents of both assemblies to make me concrete proposals for the autumn enabling us to achieve this objective. (…)
That brings me now to the final principle of the action I intend to take: building peace.
As we know, the world in which we’re mapping out a path for France – both a new one and one in keeping with its ancient tradition – is a dangerous world. There are growing threats to our environment, including our immediate environment. With each new crisis, the shadow of war itself looms. A global deflagration is no longer the bogey raised by pessimists: it’s a serious possibility for realists. Assertions of power are returning or emerging. Terrorist movements are developing in many regions, with capabilities that increase their ability to do harm. They are there in our societies. Regional wars are reaching new levels of barbarity. Yesterday’s alliances are crumbling away, the multilateral order is unsure of itself, and authoritarian regimes and “illiberal” democracies are flourishing.
Cyberspace is spreading and amplifying the instruments of this dog-eat-dog war. The world’s downward slide is imposing its erratic pace, its excesses of all kinds, destroying mankind, uprooting it, wiping out its memory, disrupting its imagination. That’s the world we’re living in today! It’s not about understanding this in a defeatist way – no! It imposes duties on us – no doubt the most serious ones a nation can bear: to keep open everywhere the path of negotiation, dialogue and peace in the face of the most sinister endeavours.
France’s role and being true to its history mean being able to build peace and promote human dignity.
This is why we must take action everywhere, firstly to protect our interests and, first and foremost, our security. This is what led me to reaffirm our engagement in both the Sahel and the Levant, to combat terrorism and all fanaticism, not only in our interests but also in those of the peoples concerned. And on this point I’m aware of the daily commitment our armed forces have been making for so many months. But such action can be effective only if it’s over the long term and therefore seeks to build political solutions enabling crises to be overcome, and therefore [we must] be able, in all those regions, to talk to all powers, including those which don’t share our own ultimate goals or our own values, in order to find a solution and build it!
In this framework, I won’t propose that we usurp the role of other peoples because we’d like to impose our principles or values elsewhere, because I don’t want new failed states to appear.
France must always be respectful. At the same time as combating terrorism and all excesses, at the same time as protecting its own security and values, it must respect peoples’ sovereignty. But wherever freedoms are not respected, we’ll work, through our diplomacy and our development actions, to help minorities, work to support societies to ensure rights are respected. This requires demanding, sometimes lengthy and thankless work, which is necessary in order to put France back at the heart of dialogue between nations. I’ve been busy doing this for several weeks, from Mali to Ukraine, from Syria to the Gulf, talking in depth to all the world’s leaders. France must help build or rebuild many different balances everywhere, even if they sometimes remain fragile.
In this context, our military tool takes on major importance. I’ve already ordered a strategic defence and security review. With the guiding principles of independence and autonomous decision-making, our armed forces will carry out the missions I’ve entrusted them with: deterrence, the cornerstone of our security; protecting our fellow citizens and our interests; and intervention wherever compliance with the law and international stability are under threat. The prevention and resolution of crises will be handled comprehensively, never forgetting that only stabilization and development will allow us to create the conditions for lasting peace.
This ability for dialogue, this French credibility and this ability to build peace everywhere depend on our armed forces. And yet, this independence I aspire to doesn’t mean solitude. France will be loyal to all its alliances.
Our armed forces will undergo strategic and tactical modernization over the coming years. I know they’re ready for this, because they’re at the forefront of today’s world, showing a vigilance and commitment that are a credit to our country.
As you see, the threats have never been so great, and the multilateral order is no doubt more fragile than it’s ever been, divided, shaken, at a time when it’s probably more necessary than ever.
In the coming years, France’s role will be to defend security and equality in the face of excesses, defend freedoms, defend the planet against global warming – defend everything which makes up our common universal good and which today, in too many places, is being undermined!
Let me highlight the unprecedented time we’re living in. Since the 18th century we’ve built ourselves [a society] on a balance we thought was everlasting, between democracies, liberal values, our freedoms and a market economy that enabled the middle classes to move forward. All this has now been fundamentally shaken, transformed, threatened.
Authoritarian regimes succeed in the market economy. Democracies which we previously thought were allies forever are threatening the international order and beginning to doubt their own rules. Our destiny, our role today – even more than yesterday – is precisely to reiterate them, promote them, create them and stick to them. This will be my goal, our goal, and no other.
These developments in the world are, in a way, testing our endurance and cohesion. For example, it’s what we’re experiencing with the major migration crises currently gripping Africa, the Mediterranean and, once again, Europe. In the coming months we’ll have difficult decisions to take, and we must anticipate them more effectively by means of an ambitious security and development policy covering all fragile conflict zones. We must explain again and take action everywhere, when there’s war and when there’s global warming, which so destabilize those regions.
But we must also curb this major migration more effectively through a policy to monitor and combat people-trafficking. To this end, in a coordinated way in Europe, we must take effective and humane action enabling us to take in political refugees, who are in genuine danger – because those are our values –, without confusing them with economic migrants and giving up the essential maintenance of our borders.
To stick to this course successfully, we need a stronger, overhauled Europe. More than ever, we need Europe. But then again, it’s no doubt more weakened than ever by divisions and by the doubt that has taken hold of our people.
However, Europe is in our country as much as we’re in Europe, because it’s impossible to think of our continental destiny other than through the European project. We are Europe. It’s a project of peace, of freedom, of progress, which was conceived and implemented bravely by the generations who preceded us and lived through the war. Today we’d like to forget all that! To believe that the response to divisions, to Brexit and to so many upheavals in history is even further diminution, a kind of renunciation, a faltering of history.
To neglect Europe, to get used to making do with it, to blame it for all our misfortunes is to betray those generations who went before us. It is to betray what enables us today, in our current position, to freely debate Europe, to love it or not.
But to neglect Europe, to get used to making it solely the focus of technical negotiations is also, in a way, to abdicate our history and diminish France.
The European enterprise today is also – we really must say and see this – weakened by a proliferation of bureaucracy and the growing scepticism that stems from it.
I firmly believe in Europe. But I don’t always find that scepticism unjustified. That’s why I’m proposing to you that we step back, escape the tyranny of timetables and calendars, the technical maze.
The decade which has just ended was a cruel one for Europe. We managed crises. But we’ve lost our way. This is why it falls to a new generation of leaders to take up Europe’s original idea, which is in essence political, a voluntary, realistic and ambitious association of states determined to ensure useful policies prevail on the movement of people and goods and particularly young people, on security, on monetary and fiscal matters and also on political and cultural ones.
The European countries – for which Europe can’t simply be reduced to a market, but forms an area where a certain idea of mankind’s value and the requirement for social justice are acknowledged as pre-eminent –, those states, those countries must once again seize a decisive project and organize themselves accordingly – even if this means examining unsparingly the way we currently operate.
We have a daily task to carry out, humbly – I’ve started it, thanks to the mandate from the people –, to have a Europe which affords greater protection, to undertake essential reforms and to uphold Europe’s ambition on the many subjects which are part of our everyday lives. But this won’t be enough. It’s up to France to take the initiative and I’d like to do this, in the coming months, through the close work I’ve already begun, with the Chancellor of Germany in particular.
By the end of the year, on these foundations, throughout Europe we’ll be launching democratic conferences to radically reform Europe precisely on the basis of this essential political project, on the basis of this essential ambition which unites mankind. Everyone is then free to subscribe to them or not.
But gone are the days of tinkering around the edges. We must go back to where Europe started, if I can put it like that, to its very beginning, and in doing so revive the desire for Europe, not letting demagogues or extremists monopolize people and ideas or making Europe a crisis-management body which daily tries to extend its domestic regulations because the neighbours don’t trust it any more.
We’ve got to rediscover the initial inspiration for the European commitment. The certainty found in the visionaries of past centuries and the founding fathers of Europe that the finest part of our histories and our cultures would express not through rivalry, still less war, but through a uniting of powers. Not through the hegemony of one party, but through a respectful balance which makes us all succeed.
The times we live in need this union. Because it’s this union alone that will enable us to take up the challenges of modernity. Because clearly it’s in this Europe that we share a common view of the world and mankind, a view steeped in the same beginnings and forged by the same trials of history.
These challenges are the environmental transition, which puts the relationship between mankind and nature on a new footing, the digital transition, which rewrites social rules and forces us to reinvent continental law, whereby for so many centuries we’ve wanted rules to respect mankind.
Finally, there’s the challenge for contemporary humanism faced with the dangers of fanaticism, terrorism and war, which we’ll respond to through more European defence, which is being built, and also a Europe of culture and innovation.
Peace isn’t just Europe’s foundation stone. It is its ideal, always to be promoted, and only Europe, and France in Europe, can achieve this today.
So yes, we’ll make a break from the easy ways out that we’ve given ourselves in previous years, so that we’re equal to what the times demand of us. (…)./.
(1) Special court established to try cases of ministerial misconduct.