Official speeches and statements - July 7, 2016
1. European Union - British referendum - Speech by M. Manuel Valls, Prime Minister, during the National Assembly debate on the consequences of the British referendum and the preparations for the European Council (Paris - June 28, 2016)
Mr President, ministers, ladies and gentlemen deputies, the shock is considerable and, as everyone fully understands, historic: for the first time since the European enterprise began, a people - the British people - has decided to leave the EU. We often take things for granted, and what’s been done can’t be undone. How many times have we heard people talk about the irreversibility of the European enterprise?
That was to overlook history. History invites itself in when it wants - and especially when people decide it, when people remind everyone who tells them «You have no choice» and «There’s no Plan B» that they alone are sovereign. The British people have spoken. We must respect this democratic decision. It must be accepted by all of us.
The choice is therefore simple: either we do as we’ve always done, closing our eyes to the facts and merely trying to plug the gaps, through small adjustments, or we finally take the bull by the horns, get to the bottom of things and treat this shock as a jolt and an opportunity, because it would be a historic mistake to believe that this referendum only concerns the British people. No! The future of every EU people is at stake here, and therefore also, and above all, the French people. That’s why the government wanted to come and speak to you, in full agreement with you, Mr President of the National Assembly, and at your request.
Because I believe deeply in Europe, through my roots, my origins and my convictions, I refuse to let this grand design go adrift. I refuse to let it capsize and sink, dragged down by the growing weight of populism. I refuse to let us give in to fatalism and pessimism. I refuse to let us be passive. To that end, everyone—and I’m playing my role in this—must re-examine their certainties and question themselves once again.
I’m well aware that some people will say the result of this referendum comes as no surprise. After all, the United Kingdom has always had a «distinctive» relationship with Europe: one foot in and the other out, as people tend to say. That analysis would be fatal. Last Thursday’s vote reveals something much deeper. The time for diplomatic caution is over. We must—if you’ll allow me the expression—clear the air.
This vote shows, in a way, people’s malaise. For a long time they’ve doubted Europe. They don’t understand what it does, don’t see what it brings them. For them, Europe is invasive when it comes to what’s secondary, and absent when it comes to what’s essential. Even worse, they have the feeling that it imposes its decisions and systematically works against their interests. The Brexiteers’ slogan, «take back control» puts things very clearly. We can’t ignore it. Europe will be made with the people. Otherwise it will come apart.
Once this observation has been made, what must we do? I’m convinced that this crisis, like all crises, provides an opportunity for a major transformation. As over recent years, whenever the essentials of Europe are at stake, France has a duty to step up to the plate. It was true a year ago, when we had to rescue Greece and persuade our partners that it must remain in the Euro Area.
I haven’t forgotten that some people wanted to seal that great country’s destiny with a sweep of the hand. Some people wanted to make a Euro Area member country leave, forgetting the very principle of solidarity. The outcome of events has proven them wrong. Even though not everything has been resolved, the country is in better shape today and is grateful to France for it. Rescuing Greece in itself meant rescuing Europe.
A year ago, France, through the voice of the Head of State, played its role. It will do so again today—because we are France, a country that is respected, listened to and heard, because we’re a founding country, because—together with Germany, conscious of our responsibilities—we want to uphold and reinvent Europe, our common horizon, as the French President recalled yesterday evening with the German Chancellor and the Italian Prime Minister, because we know it’s the EU that strengthens us and disunity that weakens us.
I also have a warning for those who believe we’ll strengthen our national sovereignty by scrapping Europe, those who think that we’ll cope better in globalization, that we’ll deal better with the migration crisis, that we’ll combat terrorism more effectively by acting alone, by depriving ourselves of support, solely in the framework of our national borders. Nothing could be more wrong.
But to be European, today and tomorrow, means respecting people’s choices. It means wanting to influence the course of things. We all remember these words uttered by François Mitterrand: «France is our homeland, but Europe is our future». Being European does not mean betraying France. On the contrary, it means loving and protecting it.
For several days, President François Hollande has been taking the initiative. He wanted, first of all, to meet the presidents of both assemblies, then the party leaders. He then had meetings with the presidents of the European Council and the European Parliament. He spoke to the German Chancellor, the Italian Prime Minister and many of his counterparts. Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, Minister of State for European Affairs Harlem Désir and Finance Minister Michel Sapin have been in touch with many people.
Today and tomorrow, the Head of State will be at the European Council, where he’ll send a firm message to the British. Not that we’d like to punish them. That would be absurd, because the UK is and will continue to be a great friend, to which we owe so much. In three days’ time, we’ll be celebrating the Battle of the Somme together. And of course we’ll continue to cooperate, particularly on defense, on migration management and economically.
But Europe needs clarity. Either we leave or we remain in the EU. I understand that the UK wants to defend its interests, but Europe must also fight for its own interests. Since January 2013 it’s been hanging on the British decision. We’ve shown patience and understanding. From now on, ambivalence and ambiguity are no longer possible, because we need stability, and not only for the financial markets. It’s not the British Conservative Party that must impose its agenda.
Let’s be clear. As the European Parliament demanded this morning, the UK must activate as soon as possible the withdrawal clause from the European Union, stipulated in the Lisbon Treaty, to save everyone from an uncertainty that would be damaging, and to protect the EU’s integrity. There’s no time to lose. There will be no negotiations until Article 50 is triggered. If the British want to keep access to the single currency, then they’ll have to respect the rules in their entirety. France will speak firmly, but it must also speak truthfully.
We must invent a new Europe. Inventing means taking a major new step. There was reconstruction after the Second World War and then, during the Cold War, consolidation and enlargement. We welcomed young democracies: Greece, Spain and Portugal. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, we worked for the continent’s reunification.
The historic achievements of the European enterprise, in which France has always played a key role, are irreplaceable. And France guarantees these achievements will be kept. Despite peace, despite tremendous trade and cultural exchanges, despite the creation of a single currency to which the French people are committed, despite Airbus, Ariane and Erasmus, despite all that, a crack has opened up and been constantly growing.
This crack has deep-rooted causes. It is not just a question of persnickety norms, but also of democratic sovereignty and identity. Identity, because people have got the impression that Europe wants to dilute who they are and what centuries of history have shaped. But a Europe that were to turn its back on the individual nations—Philippe Séguin clearly foresaw this—would simply pave the way for nationalism. Such a model putting itself before nations and dismissing what makes each of them unique would fail, and yet some people have led them to believe this is the only possible model.
It’s a matter of identity, but also of sovereignty and democracy. We thought we could force ourselves to grow and enlarge, that when people said «no» it would be forgotten thanks to «more Europe», that referendums could be bypassed and that the growing rejection of Europe could be treated solely through explanation.
Let’s admit it: since 2005, we’ve avoided the real debates. And we’ve let populism spread its lies and establish the idea that the European enterprise and national sovereignty are incompatible. So we must regain control, reconnect with the motivations for joining the European project, and above all reinvent the reasons for joining, by answering these questions: «Why are we European? What’s our collective project? What interest do we have in being together? To defend what values?»
Europe—I believe, ladies and gentlemen deputies, that we share this strong belief—is a culture, a shared history, democracy, the continent where freedoms have been won. It’s about shared values: gender equality and strict standards of human dignity. It’s the aspiration to universality, to protecting nature and the planet. In a word, Europe is a civilization, a centuries-old identity, with deep philosophical, spiritual and religious roots. This identity is not monolithic; it is diverse. Each of our countries has its own characteristics.
Only a Union can protect these in the face of competition from continent-sized countries. Europe is our interface with the world. It must give protection when we need it. It must also greatly increase our strength, enable us to carry more weight than if we were alone. All this lies behind the initiatives France wants to promote.
First of all, it’s about putting security challenges at the heart of the EU. The terrorist threat and the migration crisis are putting the Schengen Area to the test, and we must regain control. In a dangerous, unstable, sometimes chaotic world, Europe is nothing unless it protects itself. Thanks to France, much has already been achieved: the European Passenger Name Record (PNR) and controls on the movement of weapons. We need to go further by exerting genuine control over our external borders, not by leaving Schengen but by profoundly reforming it and working to ensure that the rules governing this area are firmly implemented. Yes, Europe has borders. A border isn’t just a symbolic reality which defines us, which says what we are and what we’re not, which says where Europe begins and where it ends. Europe isn’t an indefinite entity, exposed to the four winds.
Europe must also make a defense effort worthy of the name and be capable of intervening abroad—as France does, sometimes alone, especially because, increasingly, the United States is disengaging. We must no longer hesitate. That’s the principal message France wants to get across to its partners: tomorrow’s Europe must be protective.
And Europe must also exert influence—and no doubt the word is weak—more effectively, by protecting Europeans’ interests. There too, let’s stop being naïve. Third countries like China, India and the United States defend their interests tooth and nail all over the world; and are we not supposed to? Let us adopt a new mindset, in all areas: economic, industrial, financial, commercial, agricultural—the dairy industry in particular—as well as cultural, environmental and social! Europe must no longer be perceived as the Trojan Horse—not to mention the fall guy—of globalization. It must protect its interests, its workers and its businesses. And since it is in the news right now, I’m thinking in particular of the steel industry, which employs thousands of people in France.
We must show the same firmness in negotiating the transatlantic treaty, TTIP. We must state the facts: this text—in which not a single one of our requests has been granted, whether in terms of public procurement contract access or geographical indications—is unacceptable. We cannot open our market up more widely to US businesses while they continue to bar access to ours. Europe is only 8% of the world’s population, but it’s an economic and trading power.
To maintain its ranking, make its voice heard, carry weight with the major blocs, build a strong and strategic relationship with that continent of the future, Africa, and defend its cultural exception, it must assert itself as the power it is, and give itself every means to do so. As the President said very powerfully on Friday, Europe must be a sovereign power taking its own destiny in hand. With this in mind, it must invest heavily for the sake of growth and jobs and develop an industrial strategy in new technologies, the digital revolution and the energy transition. The Juncker Plan is already a success. In France alone, euro14.5 billion-worth of projects have been funded through it. We need to go further, more quickly, double this plan and step up investment to support growth, because it’s a matter of urgency. We must continue tax and social harmonization—and from the top down!—to give our economies rules and our fellow citizens safeguards.
Some people say this is impossible, but what we’ve achieved when it comes to [combating] banking secrecy, when it comes to a common set of social rights, we can also do when it comes to fighting all forms of dumping which are undermining the European project from within. With the establishment of a minimum wage, with the fight against fraud regarding the posting of workers. This fraud, to take but one example, rides roughshod over the most basic rules regarding workers’ rights: pay, working hours and housing. And should Europe remain somehow powerless? No. If we don’t act on this, one of the pillars of the Treaty of Rome—the free movement of workers—will be swept aside. This is why the 1996 directive must be thoroughly modified. The Commission has proposed this; it’s up to us to adopt it without ignoring the obstacles. Otherwise we shall have to shoulder our responsibilities.
Finally, we’ll have to strengthen the Euro Area and its democratic governance. In my general policy speech, back in April 2014, I asked for a more active European Central Bank. A great deal has been done, on our initiative more often than not: the Euro Area is more powerful and resilient than it was in 2008. But there must be greater convergence between member states and greater legitimacy in the decisions taken. This is why there needs to be both a Euro Area budget and parliament.
So we’ve got to reinvent Europe, but there also needs to be a new way of building Europe. By giving the impression that it intervenes everywhere, all the time, Europe has grown weaker. Europe must be proactive when it can be usefully effective, but it must be able to step aside when powers have to remain at national and even regional level. This is what President Juncker firmly believes, but this new philosophy is far from getting through to everyone in Brussels and elsewhere. It’s high time we overcame pointless opposition. Europe does not signal the end of states, rather the shared exercising of national sovereignties when this proves more effective, when the people choose it. As Jacques Delors has already said, it’s a federation of nation states. And the role of France is to give a lead to the nations. One example: France fought for border guards to be swiftly deployed because we know that our country’s sovereignty, that the operational control of our borders must start in Lesbos and Lampedusa.
We also need a Europe that comes to decisions quickly. It can do this, as shown by the negotiations conducted in record time for the Juncker Plan. And if a few have to pursue what the 27 aren’t ready for, well let’s do it! Let’s leave rigid ways of thinking behind! Europe is not about being uniform; there are differences.
Finally, the European democratic debate absolutely must be of a higher caliber and more thorough. It’s also something the British ballot has taught us: if we don’t talk about Europe, the populists have no difficulty making things up, getting things wrong, and I think the British are realizing this today. It’s serious for Europe and fatal for democracy. Europe can’t be confined to states reporting back on the management of their budgets. There must, of course, be rules, and France respects them; but let’s be wary of this image of a punitive Europe, advocating an ultra-free market and budgetary austerity. Our fellow citizens reject this too, and they wouldn’t understand if the European Commission’s sole message in the next few days was to punish Spain and Portugal. We don’t want that any more. (...)
So I would like the European bodies to have much more opportunity to report on their action before national MPs, and you should also make full use of the powers of scrutiny that Europe has made available to you. I welcome the formation, on the initiative of President [of the National Assembly] Claude Bartolone, of a fact-finding mission, which he will chair, on the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union. The government would obviously like to involve Parliament as much as possible in these matters and is at the disposal of both the National Assembly and the Senate. There needs to be a change of culture: European matters are domestic matters. Many proposals are on the table today. Some suggest a new convention, a committee or work to be done with experts. No doubt we’ll have to choose one of these paths.
Others talk only of a referendum. We must, of course, give the people the opportunity to have their say! But let’s be clear, let’s not mislead the French people: a referendum can’t be used to get rid of a problem. Even less can it be used as a roundabout way of resolving problems of domestic politics: we’ve seen what comes of opening Pandora’s box. I want to be even more clear. Through a referendum, the National Front is pursuing basically only one objective, which has now been laid bare: to make France leave the European Union and thus consign it to the history books. What a strange ambition for our country and what a warped view of patriotism. Our role as politicians isn’t to follow but to illuminate, to show the way forward and be equal to the task. Yes, to be equal to the task. The issue France faces isn’t about leaving Europe, leaving the European Union, but about radically reforming the European project. The presidential election will also provide an opportunity to settle these debates. I personally think at the moment that we also have to find new solutions for co-building with the people, centering on projects and proposals. I’m thinking of the example of COP21, which was interesting. We must be able to get citizens regularly involved. The European and national parliaments have a full role to play, of course.
Let’s take a concrete example: national parliaments—and so you yourselves—will have to express their views on the free-trade treaty between the European Union and Canada. The European Commission must understand this. On these issues, the decision taken by the nation you represent can’t be ignored. Strengthening the nation means being stronger to promote and reinvent the European project.
Ladies and gentlemen deputies, there’s an urgency which Europe must address right now: the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union; security, with the protection of our borders; and growth and support for investment, of course. There’s also the long time [things will take]. It must be said: the process of radically reforming Europe will take time. The next chapter of history is unwritten. Europe has a choice. Either it refuses to completely change and its people will continue to shun it, thus consigning Europe to the history books, or it is prepared to reform, to act for its people, with due regard for everyone and the interests of all; it will then be able to win back the hearts of Europeans.
Change in order to radically reform, to open up a new horizon for our children: this task is our responsibility, it must be that of Parliament and this country’s political forces, working as one and in unity and looking at the big picture in order to confront the real challenges ahead of us. We owe this to France, to its profoundly European people and to the new generations. This is the choice we face. It’s our responsibility to know how to make it.