"More than ever, we need Europe."
Address by the President of the Republic (Paris - January 31, 2020)
My dear compatriots,
At midnight tonight, January 31, the United Kingdom will leave the European Union. Indeed, the British people took a sovereign decision in the June 2016 referendum. We must respect this decision, France has always respected it.
This departure is a shock. It’s a historic warning sign that must resonate in each of our countries, be heard by the whole of Europe and make us reflect. Because, indeed, for the first time in 70 years a country is leaving the European Union. This evening I don’t want to go back over the reasons for the vote; moreover, it isn’t my place or role to do so. But I remember how much the 2016 campaign was built on lies, exaggerations, simplifications and checks which were promised and will never arrive. Here too, we must remember at every moment where lies can lead in our democracies. But we also have to learn very concrete lessons from this for ourselves.
I actually very profoundly believe that this Brexit is possible, has been possible and comes into effect in a few hours’ time because we’ve too often made Europe a scapegoat for our own difficulties and also because we’ve failed to change our Europe enough.
We need Europe more than ever, let’s be clear. Up against China or the United States, we need more Europe in order to defend our interests. To make a success of the climate transition, we need to carry it out at European level. To feed ourselves and cope with major migration, digital and technological changes, we need more Europe. And so I would be lying to you this evening if I told you our country’s future could be built with less Europe or a withdrawal.
But I’m conscious that Europe won’t be able to continue moving forward unless we reform it in depth and make it more sovereign, more democratic, closer to our fellow citizens and thus also more straightforward on a day-to-day basis, and succeed in rebuilding a clearer European project for you all. Basically, a project where the desire to leave Europe will no longer be the answer to today’s difficulties because I think it’s the wrong answer. Brexit has been the focus of much approximation and exaggeration, and I want to tell you this evening what the next stages and the real consequences of it will be for you.
Tomorrow, very practically, nothing will change in our relations with the UK. Throughout 2020, we’ll go through what is called a "transition period", in other words we’ll be able to travel, export, trade and fish exactly as before. You won’t wake up tomorrow morning with different rules governing your daily lives. There will be only one change, an institutional one. From tomorrow morning, the UK will no longer take part in European decisions. For France, that means an additional five MEPs will now sit in the European Parliament and replace some of the British MEPs who have just left the Parliament. I also want to say to our fellow French citizens living in the UK that their rights will be maintained, protected, upheld, they already are, and that we’ve obviously guaranteed in this transition period all the rules allowing them to continue their normal lives and their activities.
I also want to say to all British people living in France, sometimes for very many years, that things won’t change for them tomorrow morning either. France is their home. It is today and it will be tomorrow. There will unfortunately be a few very practical consequences. They won’t be European citizens any more, and those who haven’t applied for French citizenship will no longer, for example, be able to stand in the forthcoming municipal elections. But these consequences are greatly reduced.
Secondly, we need to prepare the future relationship. Indeed, we’ve got to build with the UK the relationship we have tomorrow. This is the whole point of the negotiations which are going to start. And for these negotiations we’ll remain united as 27. We’ll have a negotiator and I’m deeply committed to the maintenance of our interests—i.e. those of our fishermen, farmers, manufacturers, researchers, workers and students—during the negotiation. But there will be a simple rule. I would like the partnership we’re going to build with the UK to be as close, solid and long-term as possible. But it won’t be the same as the relationship we’ve known for the past few decades. You can’t be both inside and outside [the EU]. The British people chose to leave the European Union. They won’t have the same duties anymore, so they will no longer have the same rights.
So over the next few months, we’ll have to negotiate this new partnership. I very much want this, but I also want it to be exigent because I want to protect and defend you, and protect the unity of our Europe, which is essential.
Nevertheless, beyond this future relationship between France and the UK, we share a long history forged through blood, freedom, courage and combat. I don’t forget this either. It’s why our bilateral relationship will continue to be strong. On 18 June this year, we’ll be celebrating the 80th anniversary of General de Gaulle’s Appeal in London. And the French know what they owe the British people and will never forget it. That’s why, when it comes to defense, science and culture, we’ll continue to have strong bilateral ties. And I’ll continue to defend them. I’ll be going to the UK soon to foster and strengthen them.
Those, my dear compatriots, are the few words I wanted to say to you this evening about what won’t change tomorrow, in order to avoid needless anxieties, and also about what will change radically in our Europe, because a country has just, in a very tangible way, decided to leave us and at midnight will actually do so.
It’s a sad day, let’s not fool ourselves. But it’s a day which must also lead us to proceed in a different way. To build with even more determination a powerful, effective European Union which succeeds in convincing you more and picking up the thread of this story which makes the European Union a unique and, in my view, irreplaceable venture.
Long live the friendship between the UK and France, long live Europe, long live the Republic and long live France!
Letter from the President of the Republic to the British people (Paris - February 1, 2020)
Dear British friends,
Your country has just left the European Union, after 47 years of life together.
It is the result of the sovereign decision the British people expressed in the referendum of June 2016, a democratic choice France has always respected.
Yet I must also tell you, as an ally and, even more, as a friend and true European, how deeply sad I am at this departure. And I am thinking, today, of the millions of Britons—from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland—who still feel deeply attached to the European Union. I am thinking of the hundreds of thousands of French citizens in the UK and British citizens in France who are wondering about their rights and their future: I assure them that we will protect them.
I must tell you, too, that this departure is a shock for Europeans. It is the first time a country has left the European community. The UK was not there when it took its first steps in 1950, but we owe it so much—Winston Churchill’s historic foresight, for a start. And since 1973, while our European relationships may at times have been turbulent, the UK has been a central player in the European project—particularly in building the single market—, a more influential player than the British have often themselves imagined.
This departure has to be a shock, because there is nothing trivial about it. We must understand the reasons for it and learn lessons from it. The rejection of a Europe which political leaders, in the UK and elsewhere, have too often blamed for all evils, to avoid having to deal with their own failures - that’s one reason. Another is, let’s acknowledge this, the consequence of a Europe seen as not effective enough, not protective enough, distant from the realities of daily life.
I am convinced therefore that Europe needs new momentum, in a world where the need for control, security and protection is stronger than ever. Perhaps you’ll tell me it is no longer your problem? I do not believe that for a minute, because the UK has no interest in a weak European Union. I fight every day, and will continue to do so, for this united, sovereign and democratic Europe, whose strength will make our continent strong.
In this respect, I know the feeling—however you voted in 2016—that France was "tough" from the start of the Brexit negotiation. I wanted to defend the existential principles of the way the European Union functions: compliance with our rules within the single market, European unity, and stability in Ireland. These are not bureaucratic inflexibilities but the very foundations of the European edifice. But never has France or the French people—or, I think it is fair to say, any European people—been driven by a desire for revenge or punishment.
It is in this spirit of mutual respect and commitment to the European Union and with such powerful ties between our two countries that we must look to the future and build our new relationship.
The British government wishes to move swiftly forward; we are ready for this. It is in our common interest to define as close and deep a partnership as possible in defence and security, and in police, judicial, environmental, scientific and cultural cooperation. At the same time let me be honest, as I have always been: ease of access to the European market will depend on the degree to which the European Union’s rules are accepted, because we cannot allow any harmful competition to develop between us.
More directly, I would like to begin a new chapter between our two countries, based on the strength of our unrivalled ties. This year we will celebrate the 80th anniversary of General de Gaulle’s June 18 Appeal: the French know what they owe the British, who allowed our Republic to live. I am coming to London in June to award the city the Légion d’Honneur, in tribute to the immense courage of a whole country and people. Ten years on from the Lancaster House Agreement, we must deepen our defence, security and intelligence cooperation. I would also like Prime Minister Boris Johnson and I to draw on history to boldly build new, ambitious projects, as when the Channel Tunnel finally, physically, connected our two countries.
Dear British friends, you are leaving the European Union but you are not leaving Europe. Nor are you becoming detached from France or the friendship of its people. The Channel has never managed to separate our destinies; Brexit will not do so, either.
At 11.00 p.m. last night we did not say "goodbye", but an early "good morning".