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G20 summit/Euro Area situation

Published on November 4, 2011
Statements made by Nicolas Sarkozy, President of the Republic, during his joint press conference with Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany

Cannes, November 2 , 2011

THE PRESIDENT – Ladies and gentlemen, given the situation created by the announcement of a referendum in Greece, Angela Merkel and I considered it essential to organize a meeting with the European institutions and the IMF to decide on a common position and listen to Prime Minister Papandreou. We thus agreed on the following points.

- We want a coordinated, firm, definitive European response which includes implementing the decisions the 17 Euro Area countries unanimously adopted at the 27 October summit in Brussels. This implementation will be speeded up, and the German and French finance ministers will have a meeting tomorrow with Commissioner Olli Rehn to set up the European fund we talked about at the 27 October summit.

- Secondly, we’re ready to help Greece because solidarity is at the heart of the European enterprise, as is the principle of loyalty. But this requires Greece, on her side, to meet her commitments.

- Thirdly, we clearly told the Greek authorities – this includes the majority but also the opposition party in Greece, which is listening to us – that the Europeans, like the IMF, will be able to envisage paying the sixth tranche of the Greek aid programme only when Greece has adopted the whole of the 27 October package and all uncertainty over the outcome of the referendum has been removed.

- Given the gravity of the situation, we solemnly call for a political consensus to be formed swiftly in Greece. As regards the announced referendum, clearly, in our view, the principle of appealing to the people is always legitimate, but it’s also clear that we can’t remain in a situation of prolonged uncertainty. If there has to be a referendum, we think it should take place as soon as possible and we’ve valued what the Greek Prime Minister has told us about a possible referendum around 4 or 5 December.

- Finally, on the underlying issue, the question raised is clearly that of Greece’s European future. Does Greece want to remain in the Euro Area or not? We hope so, we very much hope so and we’ll do our utmost for this to be possible, but it’s up to the Greek people to answer the question and it’s this question they should answer if a referendum is organized. (…)

We don’t want to let the euro be destroyed and we don’t want to let Europe be destroyed. And in the extremely unstable world situation, we decided on a number of rules. These rules apply to every one of us. We would like to carry on with the euro and Europe with our Greek friends. We’ve done absolutely everything for this to happen, but the solidarity pact is based on rules. It’s up to the Greeks – and them alone, now that they’ll be responsible for deciding whether they wish to continue the journey with us or not. But the rules of sound management we have given ourselves and the confidence the euro and Europe must inspire are absolutely fundamental points; they’re principles; it’s a European commitment; it’s up to us to defend it.

Q. – We’ve heard you intend to ask the Greek parliament to vote on the rescue plan before the referendum. It that a way of short-circuiting this referendum?

THE PRESIDENT – We have nothing to ask the Greek parliament, which freely runs its own affairs. It’s not for us to decide whether or not there will be a referendum. We’re simply saying we can commit the money of European taxpayers, French taxpayers, German taxpayers, only when a number of rules unanimously voted for at the Brussels summit on 27 October are complied with. If those rules aren’t complied with, neither Europe nor the International Monetary Fund will be able to pay out a single cent.

Apart from that, we have no advice to give; we have no instructions to give; the Greek people are an independent people; it’s a very great civilization, and we trust them to take the decisions for their future. We leave the Greek people free to decide. But we’re accountable for the Euro Area’s stability, for solidarity in Europe and for the rules we’ve created for ourselves. It’s an axis between Germany and France that has been further strengthened by the crisis.

We’re not asking anything, we’re simply saying: here are the rules, which are the rules adopted by the 17. If any country wishes to be exempted from those rules, it has absolutely every right to do so, but the Greeks must now decide in total clarity. As for us – Mrs Merkel and I, and M. Juppé, Mr Schäuble, M. Baroin, who were at the meeting – we want to continue with the Greeks but there are rules, and we can’t agree to their not being complied with. In the past, whenever Europe has agreed to bend its rules, it’s succeeded in taking a step but has compromised its future.

Europe is too important for us to play with the rules we’ve created, in today’s unstable world. (…)

Q. – First question on the referendum: doesn’t it show there’s a real problem of democracy in Europe? Decisions are taken by the council of Euro Area heads of state and government; they’re then implemented in the different countries without the people feeling involved in what’s going on – apart from in Germany, where the Bundestag takes part. In a sense, people may also be rebelling against what’s seen perhaps as an ever harsher Franco-German Directoire to save the euro.

THE PRESIDENT – Sorry to remind you, but the programme adopted by Europe for Ireland worked. Why did it work? Because the governing majority – Brian Cowen’s at the time, if I remember rightly – and the opposition broadly agreed.

In Portugal, it worked. Why? Because the governing majority – Mr Socrates at the time – and the then opposition, now in power, were in agreement.

And in Spain, it’s working. Why? Because Mr Mariano Rajoy, in opposition, agrees with Mr Zapatero, in government.

Europe can be effective only if the European countries’ politicians – both opposition and majorities – agree to play by the European rules. That’s democracy.

Second point: according to what you’re saying, we’d doubtless have to organize a referendum as soon as a European Council took a decision, but I’ve heard you complaining so often that the European Council doesn’t take enough decisions. So is it now taking too many, in your opinion?

Finally, third point: a harsh Directoire? Do you really think Mrs Merkel and I, as well as M. Juppé, M. Baroin and Mr Schäuble, are doing what we’re doing for the pleasure of it? Don’t you think we’re shouldering enough responsibilities in our respective countries, and that some should also be taken in Europe? And don’t you think if we hadn’t done what we’ve done, people would have questioned Germany and France’s traditional leadership and wondered why the two most powerful economies and the two countries that pay most aren’t doing their duty, namely of shouldering their responsibilities?

I think if there’s a problem, it’s not a problem of too much leadership but rather of a lack of leadership; and you can be sure that – despite all the crises we’ve had to deal with – we’ve decided to preserve unity and solidarity in Europe. The Chancellor and I are profoundly European. And if we’re putting ourselves on the front line, it’s precisely because we have to; it’s our duty. It’s not such a pleasant job, you know, at times like these, but it’s necessary. (…)./.

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