Greece - Speech by Prime Minister Manuel Valls in the French National Assembly
National Assembly Deputies,
Ladies and gentlemen,
In the last 70 years, Europe, that old dream, has become a reality for our countries and our peoples. Together, with determination, we have transformed our history and sealed durable peace, ensuring that democracy takes root across the continent, from the South to the East.
That is a magnificent achievement, by nations which united their forces and their destinies to enhance their strength. Economically, of course! But also politically and diplomatically.
Europe is a voice that speaks out and carries.
Of course, there are weaknesses and shortages. There are democratic vacuums that still need to be filled. There are economic difficulties, it is undeniable. But we must be sure of one thing: without Europe, we would lose not only an ideal, but also a great part of ourselves. In a world that is changing so fast, our Nations would find themselves alone, their strength diluted. They would be weakened and gradually lose their footing.
The Government wanted today’s debate to take place so as to involve the Nation’s representatives, for we have reached a crucial moment. First and foremost for Greece and the Greek people, but also for ourselves and European integration.
Ladies and gentlemen, Deputies, we need to refuse a Europe of resentment, punishment and humiliation. A Europe where anti-Greek or anti-German feelings could emerge – as they are already emerging here and there – and where egotisms, rejection of others and populism would take root. A Europe where, at the end of the day, the weakest of us would be left to their own devices.
Europe is about pride of who we are, not turning inwards. It is about respecting peoples and individuals.
Between France and Greece, between Paris and Athens, there is a very strong, historic and cultural link. Greece is, of course, Europe’s cradle, thanks to its history and culture, and the democracy it brought us.
In the early 19th century, the song of freedom of the Greek people, taking their independence, was intoned enthusiastically by French poets, writers and artists, including Chateaubriand and Hugo, Delacroix and Lamartine.
Greece is a European country, and a great one at that. It is in the European Union, and has been in the European Community since 1981, thanks in part to France and the efforts of President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing. At that time it was emerging from the dictatorship of the Colonels.
Some great characters have been part of this common cultural soul that we have forged. Great names and works of literature, music and cinema have resonance here in France. Examples include Mélina Mercouri, and Costa-Gavras who cast great French actors – amongst others – in a film dedicated to his own country: Z.
And of course, lest we forget, Jacqueline de Romilly, a Frenchwoman who dedicated her life to the Greek culture and language, so much so that she was honorifically naturalized by Greece in 1995.
Greece is a French passion, and Europa, the goddess who gave her name to our continent, is central to mythology! We therefore need to remain faithful to the past, as well as to the future of this relationship.
Greece is also aware of what Europe has brought it.
We therefore need to hear the messages of a people that has been subjected to unprecedented austerity, not just in words, but in actions. No! By their vote, the Greeks did not seek to burn their bridges with Europe! They did not say no to the euro! For, deep down, everyone knows that the consequences of leaving the single currency would be terrible. Everyone knows that it is not possible to leave calmly and smoothly.
An exit unavoidably means a collapse in income; soaring prices of imports, including for basic necessities; and social, political and public order consequences that nobody amongst us is capable of predicting.
Is that what we want for the Greek people? Is that the image of Europe that we want to project, for the world to see? No! In any case, that is not France’s position.
Europe needs solidarity, ladies and gentlemen. But in the face of the colossal challenges of our times, it also needs unity and stability.
Keeping Greece in the euro, and thus at the heart of Europe and the European Union, is also, as you know, a geostrategic and geopolitical stake of the utmost importance.
I do, of course, have in mind our relations with Turkey, with the Balkans that are already fragile, and the tensions at Europe’s Eastern borders. Through its links, including with Russia and the Orthodox world, Greece is a major player in the Eastern Partnership. I also have migratory issues in mind. Along with Italy, Greece is currently one of the countries that is most exposed to the mass influx of migrants. As a NATO member, Greece is also Europe’s forward base with a Middle East that is heating up.
To weaken Greece would be to weaken ourselves collectively.
It would mean weakening Europe with repercussions for the global economy. This worry is shared by the American and Chinese leaders, and we need to hear and listen to their concerns. The world is watching us, is watching Europe, and is wondering what will happen.
That is why France, and first and foremost the President of the Republic, aware of what is in play, is sparing no efforts to find solutions and enable a convergence of points of view.
With the President, we are working ceaselessly to ensure Greece fulfils its commitments, so as to listen to the choice of a people while ensuring Europe’s cohesion. That is the condition – the sole condition – under which we will be able to reach an agreement that satisfies all the parties.
That is, after all – contrary to what we sometimes hear claimed – the history of Europe: reaching common solutions and building Europe together, respecting democratically elected governments, while respecting the sensitivities of all, which are not the same in Dublin, Bratislava or Lisbon.
Nothing is easy, obviously. The damage is real and the risks are serious, even very serious.
That is why France, as a founding EU member, maintains its position and draws from within that strength which has always made it a guarantor of Europe’s destiny. That is our role. We cannot give in to resignation.
We are France, which means that we do not give in; we act. We carry Europe in ourselves and in our hearts. We know its great price, but also its incalculable wealth. We cannot shirk our historic responsibilities. That is what I want to say here, in front of the Nation’s representatives: the President of the Republic is playing his full role, methodically and determinedly, with his sense of history.
Yes, France is doing everything possible, as is its role and as is expected of it, alongside its partners, drawing on the strength and the cohesion of the relationship between France and Germany. France’s role is compromise, ladies and gentlemen, for that is how we build Europe. That does not mean breaking, or excluding. It does not mean overturning the table. It is not France’s role to exclude or to overturn the table.
France’s role is to build, alongside Germany in particular, Europe’s future.
When what is essential is in play – and that is the case – France and Germany, together, have the duty to rise to the event.
Of course, we each have our own sensitivities; that is true for governments, true for parliaments and true first and foremost for peoples. But the strength of this relationship is that we are able to move forward together.
Both our countries know that well. This relationship is not exclusive, but it is unique as, together, we have the ability to generate wider momentum.
We are two sovereign countries, aware of our responsibilities, and the meeting at the Élysée Palace on Monday evening was essential to restore ties with all players and, despite difficulties, get things moving. And it was at the Élysée Palace that the President of the Republic and the German Chancellor made it possible to move forward, few hours after the referendum. Everyone should be pleased about that.
Nothing is easy, but it is up to us to rise to the importance of the moment. That is what the President was doing, alongside the German Chancellor, on Monday, and was doing again last night in Brussels, with the Minister of Finance.
I would like to commend the determined action of Minister of Finance Michel Sapin, who has, since the outset of the negotiations, constantly increased discussions and done his utmost to share France’s vision and support Greece. I would like to thank him for his action in support of our country’s interests, and those of Europe. His task, as he knows, is far from being finished in the coming hours and days.
Ladies and gentlemen, I want to make this clear: France’s determination is absolute.
And if we are working so actively, that is not – as I have heard in some quarters – because we are being pulled along by Germany or – as I have heard in others – because we are indulgent with the government of Alexis Tsipras. Such contradictions, when we combine the criticisms! No, it is because it is in our own interest, France’s interest. And our interest is Europe.
Ladies and gentlemen, fully understanding the current situation also means looking back over the last decade.
Greece saw great economic growth during the 2000s, partly thanks to the stability offered by eurozone membership and to European Union assistance.
But it was unable to modernize its economy and reform its administration, to put in place taxation worthy of that name and therefore to carry out the necessary changes, in both the public and private sectors.
Thus, when the financial crisis broke out, the Greek economy was already very fragile, with extremely high public debt and a great trade gap.
The preventive mechanisms to anticipate a crisis in the eurozone did not work at that time. Crisis management mechanisms therefore had to be invented urgently, and thus tentatively.
Without the solidarity of its European partners, Greece would have been bankrupt in 2010. That was avoided by providing it with massive financial support – close to €240 billion – and putting in place a reform programme to help its economy recover.
France, with its previous majority, supported that.
I will make no judgment, and I do not wish to cause controversy, as in such times we need unity and togetherness, and France needs to speak in a single voice.
Today, to accept a Greek exit from the eurozone would be an abandon of sorts, and it would be totally contradictory to the choices France has made, with our principles and with our values. It would be a declaration of weakness. I refuse that, in the name of what France is. France refuses Greece’s exit from the eurozone, in the very name of our principles and commitments. We refuse it. And I am convinced that the Greek people also refuse an exit from the eurozone. That is not the decision they made, and we cannot tell them to leave the eurozone in the name of some – I don’t know what – idea of Europe.
At the cost of real efforts, often painful for the people, as I said earlier, and which nobody should underestimate, the Greek economy had, admittedly, not recovered at the end of 2014, but growth had returned, and the public budget was producing a primary surplus. However, the problem of the debt remained whole. And, fundamentally, the Greeks could not see the fruits of their efforts.
In early 2015, the newly elected Greek Government wanted to review the terms of the support programme, and in particular the detail of the reforms required for Greece to receive the rest of the planned financial assistance.
The talks were long and difficult, I will not come back to that. But two weeks ago, we were very close to an agreement. The institutions – the European Commission, the ECB and the IMF – had made new proposals, including, in particular, a reduction in budgetary targets. The aim was to allow Greece to honour its past commitments while, essentially, returning to growth.
The Greek Government decided, however, to break away from the negotiations unilaterally, which we regretted, as Michel Sapin and I said here a week ago – and organize a referendum. That was its sovereign decision, allowing the Greek people to express their opinion. It is not up to us to discuss that choice.
Yesterday’s summit in Brussels allowed dialogue to resume, restarting a process and restoring the link that is so important if we are to move forward. That was necessary.
This work of dialogue needs to continue, for the foundations have been laid in recent months. We are convinced: an agreement is possible. An agreement is within arm’s reach!
The condition for it is, as the President of the Republic said, solidarity. It is also responsibility, that of the Member States and of Greece. Of course, that of Greece. France and our European partners legitimately attach great importance to that, and especially those who, in recent years, have made considerable efforts and sometimes even sacrifices.
Europe is not an unlimited drawing right. It is a set of common rules to respect. Without that, Union is impossible!
France is fully mobilized, in line with its values, to help Greece. But the Greek Government also has to want to help itself.
It is therefore also up to the Greek Government, on the strength of the support of five democratic political groups of both the majority and the opposition – such as New Democracy and Pasok – to stand up and be equal to its history and the history of Europe. It is also a moment of truth for it!
The basis for a complete, comprehensive and sustainable agreement are known.
Firstly, necessary, detailed reforms to modernize the economy and help it recover.
Solid, responsive and effective State institutions are needed for a fully functioning State, and to make progress on essential issues such as VAT and pensions, while protecting those with small pensions. Implementing those reforms is the essential condition, as we know, for a new financial support package to be granted.
Secondly, resources to finance Greece’s growth, for, as I have said, that is what the Greeks want, first and foremost. The President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has proposed a package of €35 billion, which should provide the Greek economy with the air it needs to restart.
Thirdly, and lastly, a clear prospect of debt treatment is needed. No subject is – or should be – a taboo. I want that to be clear. It is essential to establish a sustainable trajectory for Greece’s debt in coming years. That is a vital means of moving towards a sustainable solution to the current crisis.
It is therefore urgent to conclude this agreement, and, as we know, we have little time left.
This morning, the Greek Government formally submitted its request for a new assistance programme under the European Stability Mechanism. I would like to say here that its request, this letter, is balanced and positive. It shows real determination to move forward and reform. Indeed, we are not the only government to say so, and others have already expressed their opinion since this morning. It is therefore an important step forward to enable dialogue, and to help that dialogue, in the coming hours and days, to produce concrete results.
On Thursday, the Greeks will present a full programme of precise reforms for the short and medium terms, because we need visibility.
On Saturday, based on the evaluation carried out by the institutions, a new Euro group meeting will take place, ahead of another meeting of the Heads of State and Government on Sunday.
We therefore have five days. It is to some extent – without emphasis, but with conviction – Europe’s destiny and political integration that is in play. We therefore need to be fully committed.
It is time for action. But I want to be very clear with you: as the President of the Republic said last night, the National Assembly will be asked to decide, regardless of the result. If there is an agreement, the National Assembly will have to vote on it.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Europe requires both humility and unwavering determination. It has a gradual history, made up of incremental changes, and even jerks. Its ability to overcome crises has helped it grow.
But, whether we like it or not, political Europe is being tested, painfully and in uncertainty.
Deep down, all of us here have wanted political Europe, disappointed as we were by a Europe that focused solely on an economic project. Here it is. It is up to France, and the Franco-German partnership, and all the countries to seize the opportunity offered by the crisis: the opportunity of a strengthened eurozone and therefore of a stronger Europe.
That, too, is urgent!
We need to acknowledge the real progress that has been made in recent years to strengthen the eurozone. It is much more robust than it was just a few years ago. I have in mind tools like the European Stability Mechanism and the banking union.
However, as shown by the Greek example, work to integrate the eurozone is still far from complete.
The issue that is emerging is, of course, that of Europe’s economic governance. It is nothing new, and has always been France’s position. It can be considered that this governance is being put in place, but not quickly enough. We need to speed up, opening an economy and tax convergence agenda and promoting an ambition to move forward in the social arena, regarding salaries and any form of unfair competition. We need an economic policy for the eurozone to ensure our single currency fully supports growth and jobs in both the North and the South of Europe and with – I know that this is a very difficult issue, including here in Parliament – genuine democratic representativeness.
All those challenges are ahead of us.
After the urgent issues are resolved, we will also have to address those challenges, ladies and gentlemen! As always, France will have to be – and will be – working for Europe to maintain its position, to move forward and remain in the heart of its peoples, and for it to continue its history.
There are fundamental questions around the nature and consequences of this debate, here in France, as well as in other countries. Of course there is, as I was saying, this relationship with Greece. We had the generation of Europe’s founding fathers, those who built it, like Valery Giscard d’Estaing and Helmut Schmidt, François Mitterrand and Helmut Kohl. Each played their part in this history.
But the responsibility of our generation is to ensure that we don’t see Europe breaking up. I do not want that to happen. It would be a terrible symbol for a European Union country to exit the eurozone because the other countries chose that. We cannot let that happen. Everyone has responsibilities, starting with the Greek Government. But, in the very name of that history, that of our values, that of France’s role, we want Greece to remain at the heart of Europe. France will do everything it can to ensure it does!