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EU / budget / European elections

Published on February 6, 2013
Speech by M. François Hollande, President of the Republic, to the European Parliament

Strasbourg, February 5, 2013.

Mr President of the European Parliament, cher Martin Schulz,

Mr President of the European Commission,


Thank you for the honour you do me by allowing me to address the European Parliament here in Strasbourg. France respects the role and the place of your assembly in all the European institutions.

I address you as the representative of a nation which has linked its destiny to that of Europe and which still bears a special responsibility today. I address you as a political leader whose belief in Europe has guided his commitment. I address you as a head of state who has made the reorientation of Europe central to his action and who has dedicated himself to this task for nine months. I address you as the president of a republic that has, for 200 years, pledged to ensure that each new generation has a better life than the previous one.


Europe is a wonderful idea, a great adventure, an extraordinary political enterprise; it has succeeded in making history without breaking up nations, it has created a model that is admired on all continents, it has established peace, human rights and democracy, and this has been recognized – and rightly so – by the Nobel prize.

But for too long Europe has doubted itself, hesitated over its decisions; it has sometimes rushed ahead blindly and sometimes stood still; it takes too long to make major decisions, decisions that are expected, hoped for; and it spends too little time reflecting on its direction and its overall architecture. Europe prides itself on being a major market, but it fails to defend it in the face of unfair competition. It allows its currency, the euro, to be vulnerable to irrational trends in one direction or another. Lastly, Europe is a continent where growth is too weak, where mass unemployment reflects the depth of the crisis, which is not, as has been said, a short-term transition but a major transformation.


It may be true that the Euro Area crisis is largely behind us, but we’re a long way from having learnt all the lessons, and the threat we’re now facing is no longer market distrust but the people’s mistrust, and we all know – following a series of statements – that national interests are taking precedence over Europe’s interests.

So the issue that the heads of state and government, like the European Commission, like the European Parliament, must resolve is as follows: it’s not a short-term issue, it’s about our own future. What can we do to regain support, to revive enthusiasm for Europe, and first of all, how can we respond to the challenge of financial stability and economic growth?

I would like to pay tribute to the efforts and the progress made in this area for several months now.

Europe has been able to implement the measures necessary to ensure budgetary discipline, and I want to pay tribute to the European Parliament, which made a significant contribution through the “six pack” and the “two pack”. The states themselves have ratified the Fiscal Compact and France – under my leadership – has taken responsibility for it. At the same time, the European Council also adopted in June a Growth Compact that is in line with the views of the European Parliament; this Europe, which was considered too slow, was also able to establish instruments for stability and solidarity, notably the European Stability Mechanism. Lastly, the European Central Bank redefined its activities by clearly announcing its plans to address speculative trading, and so calm was restored to the markets, and the interest rates on certain sovereign debts could be brought down. We also allowed Greece to remain in the Euro Area, when some had already announced – too soon – her departure. Lastly, the principles of a banking union were defined in order to prevent the excesses of a financial system, and this will be a considerable challenge, involving banking supervision, a resolution mechanism, and deposit guarantees so that savers are better protected.

Europe has been able to make progress, but at the same time this cannot be the end of it, since in my view there can be no respite while 25 million Europeans remain unemployed. There can be no respite while in certain EU countries one out of every two young people is looking for work. There can be no respite while millions of people still face job insecurity. There can be no respite until an energy transition has been defined that will allow us to move from one world to another.

We must respond to the challenge of growth and employment. This will certainly, inevitably, involve reducing the debt and improving competitiveness, but I want to say here that however necessary this policy may be, it must be adapted to national circumstances, and applied judiciously over the long term, otherwise we will condemn Europe to endless austerity, and I refuse to do that.

France has herself made commitments and will honour them, but at the same time we must collectively and continuously adjust our goals according to the realities of the situation.


The next stage we have to begin is the coordination of national economic policies; we need to reduce the imbalances. There are countries with surpluses, with high levels of competitiveness, others with deficits, which have efforts to make. The countries in the former situation must boost domestic demand to allow the others, at some point, to see economic activity return.

Similarly, we must think about the place in the world of our currency, the euro; it can’t fluctuate depending on the market’s moods. A monetary area must have a foreign exchange policy, otherwise it will see an exchange rate imposed on it which doesn’t reflect the real state of its economy. It isn’t a matter, in this speech, of assigning from outside an objective for the European Central Bank, which is independent, but of setting in train the essential reform of the international monetary system. Otherwise we’re asking countries to make efforts on competitiveness which are annihilated by the euro’s rise in value.

The time has come to launch the major project of deepening Economic and Monetary Union; France is ready for this. It has two principles: integration and solidarity. Integration means defining shared objectives, harmonizing fiscal policies, bringing in structural reforms to make our economies stronger, as well as common policies on infrastructure and research. Integration means us having new financial instruments in order to launch innovative projects in the areas of new technologies, renewable energies, and energy and ecological transition. And since we’re for integration, we are for solidarity, since you can’t have one without the other.


Solidarity isn’t just a matter of transfers between European nations: solidarity means having a social ambition, guaranteeing all young Europeans a job or training at the end of their studies, by strengthening exchanges between member states. Solidarity means fighting unemployment, particularly in the hardest-hit areas; that’s the objective in particular of the Globalization Adjustment Fund. Solidarity involves job transitions, supporting employees throughout their working lives, enabling them to keep their entitlements to retirement, unemployment insurance, and social security when they change job or profession and at times even country. Solidarity is moving towards the minimum wage. Solidarity also means financial instruments, through new resources, through the financial transaction tax, through everything that can enable us to imagine the future together.

From this viewpoint, the European Parliament has paved the way. You’ve gone beyond political sensitivities and floated the idea of common borrowing; I daren’t say Eurobonds, but you’ve imagined what the very terms “integration” and “solidarity” could be. And the discussion on the European Financial Framework must be put in this context, and I want to open up and be direct with you. We’re experiencing all the difficulties of this negotiation: some want cuts, others – sometimes the same people – want guarantees about their rebates or reductions. Most of the countries have an interest in this or that part of the European budget but not in another, so my position can be put simply – yes to making savings, no to weakening the economy – and therefore our position, France’s position, boils down to four principles:


The first principle is a level of spending that maintains the common policies: firstly the Cohesion Policy, which finances the essential investments, not only for the beneficiary countries but for the whole of Europe, which benefits from it in terms of growth. The [other] common policy is the [Common] Agricultural Policy, which enables us to strengthen a food industry invaluable for the European Union but which must also respect the environment, and this is why direct aid and rural development are complementary. But I don’t pit the two policies against each other, as it’s easy to do – Cohesion Policy against Agricultural Policy. We must keep the foundation of European policies; otherwise, how can we build?


My second principle is that the budget, the Financial Framework that must be proposed, must build on the Growth Compact adopted last June, and this means increasing the resources envisaged for innovation, infrastructure and new energies, because where would the coherence be in defining a Growth Compact in June and then creating a deflation compact through the European Financial Framework?


My third principle is that the budget must support the most vulnerable Europeans and those most exposed to the crisis. Hence the challenge of the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived, which must be not only maintained but properly resourced; of the Globalization Adjustment Fund, necessary if we want to face up to the restructuring that many countries are undergoing; of the European Social Fund’s place in regional programmes; and finally, the challenge of youth employment, which must become a real European programme with genuine priority for the choices we have to make.


Finally, the last principle I’ll uphold in the forthcoming negotiation is a system of resources that is fairer and more transparent. In the immediate term the sum of rebates and reductions must stop rising, but in future genuine own resources will be essential, otherwise the European enterprise itself will be called into question.

This is France’s position; I’m not sure it’s far removed from the European Parliament’s aspirations. A compromise is possible, but it must be reasonable, and those who want to cut back the European budget beyond what is acceptable must be made to see reason. Because I say here that there’d be no point in negotiating an agreement between heads of state and government if it were not followed by a matching vote by your assembly. Everyone must properly understand how the Community institutions work, and so you MEPs and we heads of state and government must, along with the Commission, show clear-sightedness and responsibility.

That’s France’s position in these negotiations, which must provide Europe with a framework for action over seven years and show that we heads of state and government and MEPs are capable of taking decisions together. Our credibility – not just our financial but our political credibility – is at stake.


Beyond these budget choices it’s a conception of Europe which is being debated, and I’m going to tell you mine. Europe can’t make do with being a market, a budget, a currency – invaluable though these instruments are. Nor can it be just a collection of treaties, a set of rules – necessary – for living together. Nor can Europe be simply a sum of nations, with each one coming to get from the EU what’s useful for it, and it alone. Europe – because this is its history, this is its destiny – is above all a political will, in other words a commitment whereby everyone accepts the balance of rights and obligations, rules are respected and confidence creates solidarity – in other words, a project for which we can’t endlessly be discussing rights we’re entitled to and calling everything into question at every stage.


On the other hand, I believe it legitimate to work on a new EU architecture. I’m pressing the case for a differentiated Europe – to use Jacques Delors’ expression; it wouldn’t be a two-speed Europe, which incidentally would quickly become an unequal Europe or a divided Europe; it isn’t an à la carte Europe either. No, a differentiated Europe is a Europe in which states – not always the same ones – decide to forge ahead, embark on new projects, release funding and harmonize their policies, beyond the substantial core – which must remain – of common powers.

But there’s nothing new in what I’m saying to you. It’s this approach which allowed us to make borders a thing of the past with Schengen, create a single currency with the euro and introduce the financial transaction tax. This approach is a path to enhanced forms of cooperation, one open to everyone, everyone who wants to take part in them, and one day able to bring us together around these principles. In this Europe, the European Parliament will have a major role to play, because through its control it will ensure overall coherence.


I also want to make Europe more transparent, I’ve argued in favour of budget, fiscal and social integration – this has happened. It calls for a political union that’s stronger – otherwise it is hemiplegic –, which means a Euro Area government and new financial instruments for taking action, and a budget – under certain conditions – for the Euro Area coordinated with the European Union budget. All this being controlled by the European Parliament and the national parliaments.

I would like next year’s European elections to provide an opportunity for a major debate on Europe’s future, which will allow us to determine the policies we’ll – no doubt – have to conduct and above all, the architecture we’ll have to propose. Without forgetting the candidates for the essential posts of our EU, so that there’s a great collective deliberation in Europe and that we emerge with stronger legitimacy. Because Europe must have the institutions which will allow it to influence the world’s destiny.

Europe is a continent of peace and democracy which seeks nothing for itself but brings to the rest of the world its heritage, its values and its principles. And so Europe must play its part in fighting for democracy and human dignity.


That’s why I decided on behalf of France to intervene in Mali. I took this decision in the framework of international law. There was no time to lose, or more specifically, if we had taken our time, the whole of Mali would have been conquered by terrorists. I made this choice on behalf of France because it was our responsibility. We were in the region. We could immediately provide the aid the Malian President needed from us. I also took this decision on behalf of Europe, and on behalf of the international community.

I want to thank the European Parliament for its support and understanding at this unique moment, in which a European country stood up for an African country. Not to reopen the wounds of the past, but rather to bring dignity to a nation that had helped my own country free itself from servitude during World War II.

I assure you, here, that Mali will regain her territorial integrity; the time is near. Then it will be time for a political effort, for dialogue, reconciliation and stability in that country and in that part of West Africa; a time for development. That will be the moment for African organizations to come forward. They stand ready; they are already on the ground. It must also be a moment for Europe, because we must work not only for peace but for the security of that part of Africa.

The Malian army and Afisma [African-led International Support Mission to Mali] forces must be trained and equipped so that they can provide security on the ground, prevent atrocities and the settling of accounts, foster a political transition, and restore democracy and the electoral process.

There are expectations of Europe, for these reasons, and Europe is also expected to participate in the Sahel’s development, learning from the policies that previously tried and failed to prevent the collapse of these countries’ economies and, in particular, the development of trafficking. I want to highlight the fact that the fight against drug trafficking is key if we want to fight terrorism, because terrorism is fuelled by drug trafficking throughout the world, and particularly in West Africa.


In this worldwide redistribution of power, we must leave no doubt of Europe’s determination to support these values. But, here too, we must accept the consequences, with the clear-sightedness that is essential for developing a strategy to conduct a genuine common foreign policy, to have a European defence. France stands ready. Here too, it is time to end piecemeal initiatives and pool our forces and resources, to bring our industries closer together and also harmonize our positions in international bodies in which Europe must speak with one voice and act to resolve the conflicts that offend human consciences.

I am thinking of Syria. Of Iran, and preventing nuclear proliferation. Of the need to influence negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, because the time has come there too, and Europe must not wait for the United States, but should already be hastening the resumption of talks.

Europe must also do its part on climate change. France welcomes the opportunity to host the 2015 Climate Conference, but we will not succeed alone. Here too, Europe must set an example on renewable energies and energy efficiency.


I believe in Europe, because I think it is useful, not just for the Europeans but for the whole world, and the best way for Europe to protect its interests is to champion its model and its values at global level. We must get back to the very meaning of the European project, a project founded on values and on the free movement of people, knowledge, ideas, creations, culture and creativity. It is by continually recalling this ambition that we will be worthy of our history and, most important, of the hopes of new generations.

People expect a Europe of knowledge, a Europe of universities, research, culture. We Europeans have a culture that transcends our continent. We shouldn’t consider it a legacy to protect, but rather a movement to promote. That’s the point of the cultural exception – the idea that intellectual creations are not merchandise like other works, the conviction that our nations’ cultural identity is essential, and that pluralism and freedom must be defended at global level.

Once again, here before this assembly, I – like others before me – call for a cultural dimension to the European enterprise. That means guaranteeing intellectual property and copyright; defining as a group the economic and fiscal rules ensuring that artists are paid more than those who circulate their work, i.e. access providers; ensuring that we have a digital Europe in which technologies serve civilization.

Ladies and gentlemen, François Mitterrand stood before the European Parliament 18 years ago – 18 years! – and asked those who were listening to do everything in their power to make sure Europeans loved Europe. Eighteen years later, let’s admit that we are far from having accomplished that task, and the risk is no longer indifference but detachment, if not a breakup.

It is our responsibility, and as heads of state and government, the European Commission and the European Parliament, we must confront it head-on.

Let me say quite clearly: either the wake-up call will be collective or it won’t happen, but time is short.

We can end this difficult period by embarking on a new path. Europe has been able to overcome much graver trials than those of a crisis, but we must outline a new ambition. And this new ambition must not lessen our previous one. It’s an illusion to think we should abandon the project we’ve been working on for years in order to build new hope. On the contrary, the things that remain to be done must be based on everything we’ve already achieved. And I know that any European advance must correspond to a new stage of democracy.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is you who are going to decide to take this new step, to accomplish the European project and advance democracy.

Thank you./.

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