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What I Want for France and for Europe

What I Want for France and for Europe

Source: Address by M. Jacques Chirac, President of the French Republic, at the meeting of the mayors of Savoie, Chambéry, May 4, 2000. (Excerpts)

(...) A great country like ours always has the ability to exert influence and give a lead to Europe. The exercise of the presidency reinforces this ability. So this is a most important time in our life as a nation, a propitious time for taking the initiative and for action. And France is embarking on its presidency with ambition and determination.

Indeed, the Prime Minister will be informing Parliament of the objectives of its presidency within the next few days, and Parliament will be debating them.

(..) In today's world, no individual entity can by itself fulfil all the people's expectations. Our fellow citizens need to feel they belong to various levels of community. They need to feel they belong to a department or a region. They need the State. They also need Europe.

That is why holding the European presidency is important for France.

Of course, that doesn't mean our country has been made responsible for leading or governing Europe. That is not the way the Union works. And we ourselves would not allow ourselves to be led by others during the years between two French presidencies. Europe is a collective and a deliberative body, which is as it should be. In the Union, the dialogue between the States within the Council acts as a motive force, and it is a dialogue which draws on the views of the people represented in the national parliaments and the European Parliament.

But, as Europe moves forward, France will have a key responsibility to ensure the success of decisions that point the way to the future, to make headway on others, to seek the best entente with our partners, initiate projects and open up new areas of discussion and cooperation.

Today, since I am addressing you and since it is at your level, that of their everyday lives, that Europeans will decide whether our Union is a success, I would like to tell you how I intend to work, going beyond the reform of the institutions and European defence, to make Europe the Europe of every citizen, the Europe of the peoples, serving their citizens, responding to their expectations and their initiatives.

Much still remains to be done, however. Europe is still evolving. Sometimes it finds it hard to find the way forward. But each step is important and I hope that during the French presidency Europe will try to take more concrete action and pay more attention to Europeans anxieties and concerns.

We still do not always realise what we owe to Europe.

First of all, we owe it reconciliation and peace, established on a lasting basis, and now taken for granted. But history, like recent events, on the very doorstep of the European Union, show that reconciliation and peace can never be achieved once and for all. Yet there can be no higher responsibility towards a nation than to guarantee peace. That was the raison d'être of the construction of Europe during the 1950s. It remains a burning need.

But today the EU also stands for economic development. Europe accounts for more than two thirds of our trade. We owe that to the single market, the abolition of customs barriers, the common agricultural policy, to freedom of movement, services and goods and capital. Henceforth we will owe it even more to economic and monetary union, i.e. to the euro.

Euro/Single Market/Subsidiarity/Social Europe

The euro already represents an acquis for all the political, economic and financial leaders, but it is still an abstract idea for our compatriots and will remain so until we buy our goods with euro notes and coins. The changeover will come at the beginning of the year 2002.

That is an important date. I personally will ensure that we take stronger action to provide more information and prepare more effectively for the introduction of the euro during the French presidency. Getting all the French to adopt the euro is a crucial challenge. We must give strong support to this change in our monetary habits. I am counting on everyone, and first and foremost on the mayors, who are closest to our fellow citizens, to do their best to ensure that this operation succeeds.

By eliminating any exchange rate risks between our countries, the euro facilitates exports, reduces their cost and, in regions like yours, is a very strong factor in the development of tourism. Thanks to the euro, we no longer have the competitive devaluations we suffered from so much a few years ago. I am sure that many Savoyard firms look back to that period with no regrets.

The euro was the right option for growth and employment. It gives a tremendous boost to development. It is responsible for much of the economic growth the whole of Europe is now enjoying. And let me point out that the strength of a currency must be judged over the long term and not on the basis of short-term exchange rate variations.

The euro is our currency, it is the common good of all Europeans. It is a currency based on sound foundations. Firstly, its real value is protected thanks to the control of inflation. That guarantees our incomes and our savings. Secondly, the euro is founded on the economic strength of Europe, which is increasing thanks to the growth and rapid modernization of the European economy as a whole. Lastly, our currency is founded on an increasingly close political entente between the euro area countries. So the euro is built on robust foundations, and fortunately so, since it is in Europe's interest to have a solid and strong currency.

The French presidency will seek to ensure that European economic policy gains every advantage it can from the single currency. That means that reforms must be pursued throughout Europe. We must complete the large internal market. We must improve the quality of the public services and reduce their costs, as we have already managed to do for the telephone. We must reduce the tax burden (including social security) on a lasting basis by controlling public expenditure. We must invest directly in the knowledge-based economy and information society. We must encourage work rather than welfare. We must guarantee the future of our social protection.

There is lively competition between different areas, at both national and local level. The public authorities, beginning with the State, must compete to attract and keep those who create activities and jobs. They must offer the best services, the best infrastructure, the best educational system, the most skilled labour force.

They must also ensure that regulations and tax rules do not penalize either initiative or employment.

Our economic and monetary union is a novel system, without precedent in history. It offers the Europeans greater prosperity, more work and, for consumers, better products, services and prices.

Yet Europe still seems too remote to many people. The individual finds it difficult to see what practical contribution it makes to his or her life. I think there are two reasons for that. The first is inherent in the very nature of the European enterprise, as we first conceived it and as we want it to be.

Europe has a mission of its own to fulfil, which is not that of the States. It does not take their place, even less that of the public authorities who are closest to our fellow citizens. Nor is it or should it be a provider of public services. It does not and should not manage social transfers. Its agents do not act at grass-roots level, among the people, nor should they. It must intervene only if it can do so more effectively than the States and only when we decide to do so collectively. Its actions must always be justified by their added value. That is the principle of subsidiarity, a vital principle which we must uphold. France is always on the watch in this regard, and will be even more so during its presidency.

We must certainly not ask the Union to try to become less remote by acting in our place: it would risk doing so in a technocratic and uniform manner, disregarding the diversity of national and local realities, a diversity that is a source of vitality and initiative and constitutes one of the riches of the new century of Europe we want to open up.

The second reason for this sense of remoteness is that from the outset the Union has focused mainly on economic development. It has achieved its greatest successes in areas outside everyday life, by establishing major economic balances. The Union seeks to ensure respect for freedom of movement and the rules of competition. It effectively implements sectoral policies. However, none of these fields of action strikes a real chord among the people.

It is time Europe paid more attention to matters of more direct concern to the people, which affect their lives. Because of that conviction, I decided in 1996 to present a memorandum on the European social model. Europe must no longer be defined to too great an extent in terms of its economic dimension. We must make every effort to establish a better balance by creating a people's Europe.

In practical terms, this people's Europe must acquire a new capacity to control the developments which globalization sometimes makes us tend to disregard.

Europe is in effect a tremendous means of empowerment. It opens up new horizons for our economy, our social system, our culture. It helps reenergize us and make State action more effective in a globalized world. It extends the realm of the possible. It has allowed us to acquire a capacity for action we would not otherwise have. Europe has created a new area, an area of more than 350 million inhabitants, the largest economic and trading power in the world. That area is now also our area. We must breathe life into it, acting jointly with all our partners.

In a Europe without frontiers, open to a world of ever more rapid change, we must seek to achieve lasting prosperity while also providing greater security for the individual. We need a strong Europe that will create the conditions for economic growth by drawing on the advantages of globalization while also cushioning the shocks it can produce, i.e. by humanising it.

We must advance into this new world determined to carry out the necessary reforms while remaining masters of our destiny, faithful to our identity, loyal to our traditions.

In that way we will build the future by reinforcing our social safeguards and ensuring the security and protection of the people, yet without damaging our environment or undermining our culture. Everyone knows it is not easy to combine these objectives. It requires a strong resolve, which must be shared by the member States and the European institutions.

It also calls for pragmatism and realism.

This Europe must guard against any temptation towards social dumping.

Social Europe has made constant progress over the past decade. It has adopted a large number of rules on worker protection. Are people aware, for instance, that the rules on working on screen, which now apply to one employee out of two, are European in origin?

Europe has also paved the way for a European social dialogue as a means of creating a balance between government intervention and collective bargaining. It allows the employees of major European firms to participate in strategic decisions which affect them. It has defined the guidelines for a genuine European employment policy.

Today it is endeavouring to coordinate our social protection policies more closely so that we can tackle such major challenges as the future of our pension systems.

France wants to organize and speed up the construction of this social Europe benefiting all Europeans. At the Nice summit, the French Presidency will propose the adoption of a social agenda with a view to deciding a complete timetable of measures to strengthen our social model and prevent any risk of unfair competition between our countries.

Europe is also essential as a means of providing real protection from the dangers of our times.

Maritime Safety

The pollution of the seas is a striking example. The environmental disaster caused by the shipwreck of the Erika is all the more unacceptable in that it was caused by human negligence and I know that the people of Savoie were particularly sympathetic and supportive during those hard times. We must enhance shipping safety to prevent this kind of accident. There is no better means of achieving that than by taking action at European level. This will allow us to develop effective measures for our entire coast and persuade the maritime powers in the rest of the world to do likewise.

On the basis of our proposals, the Commission has set out a first package of measures, to be completed under our presidency. They relate to stronger controls in ports and at sea, speeding up the modernization of the fleet and the liability of shipowners, charterers and certification companies.

I will seek to ensure that this package of measures is implemented rapidly.

Environment Over and above that, Europe must spearhead the fight to protect the environment. In this respect, the globalization of the economy can give rise to many dangers if we aren't vigilant: pollution, waste, over-exploitation of the forests, the seas and the soil which radically changes our eco-systems and can perhaps irreversibly damage the living conditions of future generations. With this in mind, the French Presidency will endeavour to obtain a good agreement at The Hague Conference on the greenhouse effect.

Illegal Immigration

There is another problem which Europe must help us to tackle more successfully: illegal immigration. There are no longer any borders between our countries. Nevertheless we need strict controls at the entries to the Union and to harmonize immigration and asylum policies, as we jointly decided to do in Finland last October.

Drug Trafficking and Money Laundering

The same applies to drug trafficking, crime and money-laundering.

Everyone knows we will not manage to deal with these evils unless we strengthen our police and judicial cooperation. Europe must remain a Europe of free movement but without ever offering a sanctuary to mafioso organisations or criminals.

Food Safety

The same is also true of health. The mad cow crisis reminded us that vital safety imperatives must always take precedence over the free movement of goods.

If the Union is to become entirely credible in the eyes of the European citizens, it must do more in this respect. That is why I firmly support the creation of an independent European food safety authority responsible for ensuring strict respect for health concerns.

In the same spirit, I will look very carefully at the Union's decisions on genetically modified organisms. We must apply the precautionary principle and the principle of responsibility in this field as in others, with all the implications that involves.

Ethics Furthermore, the Union must pay more attention to ethical questions. France has taken a number of measures to ensure that advances in the life sciences always respect the interest of man, for instance by preventing genetic manipulation and cloning. But what is the point of protective legislation if people need only go outside our country to do what is banned in France? We were in favour of the Council of Europe's convention on bioethics. In its turn, the European Union must take account of ethical imperatives, incorporating them in the forthcoming Charter of Fundamental Rights, and in particular it must oppose the idea of patenting human genomes.

Sport/Doping This ethical requirement must be reflected in every field, one of which is doping, something which has changed our traditional image of sport. A year and a half ago, at the Pörtschach summit, I initiated the European debate on ways of combating these abuses. This led to cooperation between Europe and sports organizations with a view to bringing ethics back into sport and taking more account of its specific nature. I will endeavour to ensure that these efforts continue.

Security and trust will be the best way of inspiring initiative and progress. This Europe, which is more humane, more protective and closer to the concerns of our fellow citizens will also be stronger, more self-assured, enriched by the new links between the peoples who make it up. Historically, Europe was born in the minds of men. It must never cease to affirm its identity.

Culture and Education

I am thinking first of all of culture and education. These are essential issues if we want to create of Europe of youth, creativity and intelligence.

All pupils in European schools must have access to the Internet, which encourages discovery, exchanges of ideas and mutual recognition. We must also look to harmonize courses of study and improve the equivalence of diplomas. Students in higher education must be able to spend at least six months at the university of another EU country. There is no need to point that out to you, given that your University of Savoie takes in such a high proportion of European students, at Chambéry and Annecy. One of the major achievements of our presidency will be to create a European area of knowledge and mobility.

In the context of the new Europe, it is now also urgently necessary for us to catch up in the field of learning foreign languages. We must set ourselves the aim of every European speaking two languages in addition to their mother tongue. That is the best way for us to understand each other better and give French and Francophony its due place again.

The more Savoyards speak Italian, the more Piedmontese speak French, the less the Italians and French will be forced to speak English to each other. French culture will gain ground as the French become increasingly curious about other European cultures and engage in closer dialogue with all the peoples who do not want to see their own culture disappear. It is by supporting cultural diversity that Europe will affirm its identity. If it did not do so, it would condemn itself to being no more than a cartel of interests centred round a single culture. And that culture would not be ours.

Charter of Fundamental Rights

Our Community is primarily a community of values rather than a community of interests.

If, as I hope, it brings the Charter of Fundamental Rights to a successful conclusion, the French Presidency will establish a body of principles and values on which tomorrow's Europe can be based. Naturally, the countries which want to join the Union will also have to subscribe to them.

Institutional Reform and Enlargement

France has always envisaged a grand design for Europe, for it understood very early on that its place in the world depended on that. Today, our ambition for Europe is undergoing change, while remaining essentially the same. But in a Europe which is going gradually to enlarge, we can achieve this ambition only if we undertake a radical institutional reform, which will give us the means of continuing to act.

In the course of their long struggle for freedom, the peoples of Eastern Europe were always sustained by the hope of joining us. That hope is now acquiring substance. We must turn the increased pace of development of the candidate countries and their accession to the Union into a factor of progress for Europe as a whole.

But in their present form, the European institutions will no longer function effectively when Europe becomes larger and more diverse. The French Presidency must do all it can successfully to complete the necessary reforms. Michel Barnier is actively at work on this on behalf of the European Commission. We see his presence in Brussels as grounds for confidence.

During the difficult, ongoing negotiations, we must create the conditions to enable tomorrow's Europe to take the decisions our fellow citizens expect. We must also retain our influence within an enlarged Europe.

I want to see a strong and constructive Europe, not a stationary Europe. We must guard against any risk of European inertia in the future. That is in the interests of France.

This reform will be one of the main challenges of our presidency. I will have the opportunity to go into this subject in greater detail in the weeks to come.

The French must have confidence in themselves. Personally, I have confidence in them. Since the outset, they have been largely responsible for the concept and building of Europe. They have benefited from it and they have contributed a great deal to it. France is known as one of the key motive forces for Europe.

Nothing of importance can be done without it.

The new world that is emerging will be based on a strong sense of belonging to a national community able to play its part to the full. Faced with the widespread concern caused by the increasingly rapid pace of economic and social change, this sense of belonging, far from weakening, is growing ever stronger. But in a changing world it is vital to establish new ties of solidarity. We need Europe to help us make them more coherent and more effective.

Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,

In addressing you I also want to tell all the mayors of France that our ambition for Europe concerns them first and foremost.

Everything is connected when it comes to democracy. It is up to you to ensure that democracy is alive in everyday life. You are its driving force and prime movers. In France and in the world, as they are and as they change, democracy can be established only if all the institutions, all the public authorities, and the European Union itself, can fulfil their duties to the full in the service of the general interest.

That is what I want for France and for Europe.


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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).