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European Union/political change

Published on November 12, 2014
Interview given by M. François Hollande, President of the Republic, to La Voix du Nord

Paris, November 11, 2014


Q. – You belong to the first generation of European leaders who didn’t experience the war. Is there still the same link between you, and the same faith in Europe as your elders, De Gaulle and Adenauer, Mitterrand and Kohl?

THE PRESIDENT – The Europe founded in the 1960s was built on the challenge of economic reconstruction, but above all on the determination to make our continent an area of peace. It was about overcoming the barbarism of the Second World War by opening up a new era of freedom and prosperity. But the other Europe then stood opposite, the one still under Soviet dominance. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, whose anniversary we’re also celebrating, Europe’s size and content changed. It was about enlarging and reunifying countries that had been separated for more than 50 years.

Q. – For many leaders of Europe today, the main memory is this separation in Europe and the conquest of democracy.

THE PRESIDENT – That’s why the 11 November and 8 May commemorations retain their full meaning. They remind all Europeans where they come from and what great tragedies they’ve been through. The commemorations are not nostalgia, they’re not wallowing in the past, they’re acts of hope and vigilance: ensuring that no conflict can be possible again – because the worst is always possible. Have the ideologies that produced the wars disappeared?

Racism, anti-Semitism, nationalism and fanaticism have unfortunately gained ground in recent years. We mustn’t tolerate any of this.

Q. – Is it wrong to think Europe is currently immune to wars?

THE PRESIDENT – On our continent there have been bloody conflicts, and there still are. The former Yugoslavia isn’t so distant: it was 20 years ago. In Ukraine, men and women have been dying in fighting for several months. As for terrorism, although it’s not comparable to all-out war, the threat of it hangs over all European countries. So it’s France’s duty to combat those who stir up fanaticism and attract the youngest people into bloody conflicts, where they have no place. We must also act against the fundamentalist groups that are occupying territories in Iraq and Syria to introduce their barbarism there.

The new generations must understand that the struggle for peace never ends. For a long time people thought the wars of the 20th century were so terrible that they protected us against any new conflicts. We owe those victims of 1914-18 a promise: that our first duty is to avoid other conflicts and prevent the absurd chain reactions that can lead to them.

Q. – François Mitterrand said, “nationalism is war”. Today, 70 years after the last world war, aren’t we witnessing a resurgence of nationalism?

THE PRESIDENT – There’s a resurgence of egoism – that regressive pretence that consists in thinking each country can get by alone, including in Europe. One of the threats hanging over us is the dislocation of what we’ve managed to build together: political Europe, the euro and free movement. And there’s another scourge: the rejection of the Other, which can lead to the establishment of new borders inside Europe where they had disappeared, even though everything must be done to control illegal immigration. Finally, there’s the temptation of separatism, with a feeling that a territory can be stronger when it’s smaller – a trend which is exactly the reverse of European integration.

Q. – From 1914 to 2014, the battlegrounds have moved…

THE PRESIDENT – The battle is no longer situated in the trenches of our respective countries. It is another kind of battle. This is no longer about capturing territory, it’s about our place in globalization. Europe must provide protection so that our continent remains the world’s leading economic power. And then there’s the major challenge for the whole planet; the battle we must fight concerns our own behaviour. A climate conference will be held in Paris in December 2015. The IPCC – which brings together the world’s greatest scientific experts – says that in the space of more than 100 years, things warmed up barely 1ºC, and that between now and the end of the century it could exceed 3 or even 4ºC. If this were the case, it would be as major a disaster as a world war, with territories devastated, populations obliged to flee and bloody clashes. That’s the major issue of the 21st century. The 20th century was one of conflicts which pitted one part of the world against another. In the 21st century, the question is about what the world wants to do with itself. We have to be soldiers protecting the planet. This is also the price of peace./.

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