François Hollande sets out major European initiative

Allocution du président de la République en...->]

Economic policy/EU/Mali/Syria – Opening speech by M. François Hollande, President of the Republic, at his press conference (excerpts)

Paris, 16 May 2013

I told you we’d meet every six months; so I’m on time for the second meeting. This press conference will enable me to go back over what we’ve done in the past year, but above all to sketch out the next stages in my action.

Yesterday I was in Brussels. I was chairing the donors’ conference for Mali. France’s intervention was welcomed and recognized there. The credit goes to our soldiers, and I want to pay tribute to them at this time. Six died. They’ve done much more than liberate a country from servitude and terrorism: they’ve made France loved throughout Africa and illustrated our role, which is that of a great nation: to be able to influence global stability.

France/EU/economy/past year

Yesterday I was in Brussels because I wanted to share with the European Commission, which was meeting in full force – it was the first time since 1997 that a French President had met the college of Commissioners. So it was an event for them, but also for France, because I wanted to share with them my conception of Europe.

I spoke on behalf of a state that has demonstrated its budgetary credibility, a country that has begun restoring its competitiveness and, through negotiation, embarked on reform of the labour market. This is the effort I want to pay tribute to: that of Jean-Marc Ayrault’s government and that of all French people. It’s enabled us to gain time – two years – to achieve our target, which is to reduce the public deficit, thus confirming the well-founded nature of the effort I began when I was elected: to get movement on policies in Europe.

The policies have been changing in the past year. When I look at what’s happened, the Euro Area has been stabilized, solidarity instruments have been introduced, banking union has been defined. There’s also been a new doctrine on the part of the European Central Bank. Greece, who we thought at one point was under threat of no longer being able to be part of the Euro Area, has been rescued, as have other countries. Interest rates, which seemed intolerable for some countries, have fallen. I’m not talking about ours, which is at an historic low: never has the state borrowed money at such a low cost.

This result, for which I claim responsibility, has been possible only because France has been able to play the role of link between northern and southern Europe, in the framework of the essential – and I mean essential – Franco-German partnership, without which Europe can’t move forward.

But what’s hitting Europe today is no longer the financial crisis. I hereby repeat: that’s behind us. That doesn’t mean there are no longer any threats, but the causes have been regulated and stamped out. What’s hitting Europe is no longer the financial crisis, it’s the recession: a recession caused by austerity policies; a recession that’s been affecting all the Euro Area countries – some less than others, but I could make comparisons, including with Germany – for the past six months; a recession that’s threatening the very identity of Europe and the peoples’ very confidence in their destiny.

The European Commission has begun to understand the risks and threats. It’s decided to adjust, adapt the pace of short-term fiscal consolidation. That’s a good sign. But for me, this delay – two years for France – isn’t a respite, it’s a bounce-back, it’s an opportunity for a faster recovery in France and in Europe, because what’s at stake, I repeat, is growth, emergence from the crisis and an end to the recession. (…)

EU/French initiative

There you are: the first year of my five-year term – Year One, as it were – has been entirely devoted to defending our sovereignty, sorting out our economy, safeguarding our social model and putting right injustices. But I’m well aware there’s a recession, there’s rising unemployment, there are results expected. And what matters to the French people is – if I can put it this way – the here and now. Year Two, the one that begins today, must therefore be the year of the offensive. And I mean the offensive.

The offensive means first of all launching a European initiative. Europe – and it’s a paradox – is the world’s leading economic power. However, it’s regarded as a sick continent, in decline, in doubt. My responsibility – because I’m the leader of a founding state of Europe, a state that has made this choice, a nation that’s profoundly European, even if today it’s turning away from the current direction –, my duty is to get Europe out of the lethargy gripping it and ease the peoples’ disaffection, which can only compromise the European Union’s very future.

The initiative I’m taking consists of four points, and I submit it to our partners. The first point is to establish, with the Euro Area countries, an economic government that would meet every month around a real president, who would be appointed for the long term and entrusted with that single task. This economic government would debate the main economic policy decisions to be taken by the member states, harmonize tax, begin to bring about convergence at the social level – top-down – and embark on a plan to combat tax fraud.

The second stage of the initiative I’m proposing focuses on future generations, with a plan to integrate young people into work. The European Financial Framework – the European budget – has already provided for €6 billion for youth employment. Let’s release some of those funds straight away, even before the 2014 Financial Framework is in place, so that we can support all Europe’s young people, who have trouble finding training or employment today. Still as part of this initiative, to prepare for the future, Europe would define an investment strategy, particularly for new industries and new communication systems.

Third phase of the initiative: a European energy community destined to coordinate all renewable [energy] efforts and succeed together – even though Europe has countries which don’t have the same energy policies – in making the energy transition.

Fourth phase: a new stage of integration with a fiscal capacity for the Euro Area and the possibility, progressively, of raising a loan.

The European idea requires movement. If Europe doesn’t move forward, it will fall or, rather, it will be erased; it will be erased from the map of the world, it will even be erased from people’s memories. So there’s no time to lose in promoting this new ambition. On several occasions Germany has said she’s ready for political union, for a new stage of integration. France is also ready to give substance to this political union. Two years to achieve it. Two years, whatever governments are in power. This is no longer a matter of political sensibilities, it’s an urgent European one. (…)

Published on 17/05/2013

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