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European Union/Jacques Delors

Published on July 20, 2015
Article by M. François Hollande, President of the Republic, in the weekly newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche

Paris, July 19, 2015

Jacques Delors has just been made an honorary European Union citizen by the European Council. This is not simply one more title in a career distinguished by so many honours and awards. It is recognition of a vocation, a path, a life entirely dedicated to Europe.

Not that Jacques Delors has not had a profound impact on the building of our country. It is to him, in the early 1970s, that we owe our vocational training system, and the contractual policy to redistribute the fruits of growth, as well as the eradication of inflation and the control of public accounts which he began in the early 1980s. Yet the reason he wanted to carry out so much structural reform in France was for our country to play its full part in the European area.

In 1985, when he became President of the European Commission, Europe was emerging from the first post-war recession. It was hamstrung by self-centred national goals and bogged down by budget and trade conflicts. Jacques Delors was able to revitalize it and restore to it a vision, a project.

For Europe can move forward only if it embodies the idea of transcending its capabilities. No nation can conceive of giving up part of its sovereignty without the certainty that it will come out of the process stronger. He knew intuitively that to emerge from crisis, Europe had to define a new ideal that could kindle hope, because he knew that the European idea runs out of steam when it is no longer translated into deeds.

The EU cannot boil down to rules, mechanisms and disciplines. It must convince people that, just as it was able to safeguard peace, today it is the best invention for protecting the values and principles forming the basis of our common culture, our so-called way of life, which is also our social model.

In order to achieve this, Jacques Delors understood that the economy is the essential force. And solidarity the necessary lever. So he gave Europe a large internal market, while introducing into the European budget structural funds to support growth. This was the approach of the Single European Act. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, he saw before others that German reunification was a major political challenge for European union. And it was the choice of the single currency, which he defined as early as 1989 on the principles that have so influenced today’s decisions on Greece: solidarity and responsibility.

Throughout his time as Commission President, Jacques Delors – who often says nobody ever fell in love with a growth rate, a market or a currency rate – wanted Europe to be a Europe of its citizens. This was [the purpose of] his European Social Charter project, and it was also the purpose of the Erasmus programme for young people. Let us agree that this has been the rub for the past 20 years!

Europe has let its institutions be weakened and the 28 governments have trouble agreeing in order to forge ahead. Parliaments remain too far removed from decisions. And people are turning away by dint of being bypassed.

Populists have exploited this disenchantment and are attacking Europe because they are afraid of the world, because they want to return to divisions, walls, wire fencing. But it is the law which protects and the federation of nation-states which gives weight, not chaos and self-absorption.

What threatens us is not too much Europe but not enough, because in the face of globalization and the emerging powers, in the face of risks linked to instabilities on our borders, coups, wars, terrorism, climate disasters and what they create through population displacements, people are looking to Europe to support tomorrow’s technologies, promote an industrial model, make a success of the energy and environmental transition, invest in knowledge, reduce regional disparities and ensure solidarity internally through investments and externally through development activities. In short, to be capable of being a power that benefits world stability.

With Jacques Delors, Europe was enlarged, but he gave us a warning, proposing deepening, with differentiated integration. Let’s listen to him. Circumstances are leading us to move faster. This week, the Euro Area has been able to reaffirm its cohesion with Greece.

The calibre of the Franco-German relationship has played a big part in this. The European spirit has prevailed. But we cannot leave it at that. I have suggested picking up on Jacques Delors’ idea of the Euro Area government and adding a specific budget to it, as well as a parliament to ensure it is democratically controlled.

Sharing a currency means a lot more than wanting convergence. It was a choice 19 countries made because it was in their interests. Moreover, no government in the past 15 years has taken the responsibility of exiting from it. This choice calls for greater organization and, with those countries that decide on it, a vanguard. France is ready for this because, as Jacques Delors showed us, it always grows when it takes the initiative in Europe./.

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