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Valéry Giscard d'Estaing 

(Former French President, Patron of GFYL 2017)

 

Opening Speech German French Young Leaders Conference 2017

Berlin – Haus der Commerzbank, 11 May 2017

Sehr geehrte German French Young Leaders,

Sehr geehrter  Generalsekretär des Deutsch-Französischen Jugendwerks,

Exzellenzen, meine Damen und Herren,

Ich freue mich sehr, heute, hier in Berlin, unter deutschen und französischen jungen Leadern zu sein! 

I was a little bit surprised about the fact that this program targets people who have been “little or not at all” affected by German-French relations yet - which seems quite exotic to me, in today’s Europe ! 

Congratulations to Ilja Skrylnikow and his staff for launching this platform! That is a great opportunity to get in touch with young people of your neighbor country and learn a new language. I will ask the new French President to reestablish the European classes, in the French Lycées, that were – absurdly! – suppressed by his predecessor.

I would like to say some words about Europe, and I hope this will give you some insights on how things are evolving. First of all, it is a matter of fact that we face a great “Europe-fatigue” today. Europe has become a sort of “Sleeping Beauty”, for the media society. I see three main reasons for that:

 

  1. There is a lack of vision for Europe’s future, 

  2. There is no natural leadership in Europe anymore 

  3. We face quite great confusion about how the EU works today.

 

Let me tell you more about these 3 reasons and then, let’s see how to wake the beauty up again!

"It is a matter of fact that we face a great 'Europe-fatigue' today. Europe has become a sort of 'Sleeping Beauty', for the media society."

1. There is no clear vision anymore for what should be the future, the aim of Europe

Seventy years after the end of the Second World War, peace has become normality. People need a new reason to believe in Europe. Instead of providing one, the political leaders only do crisis-management. They come together quite often, but not much is coming out of these “summits of the last chance”. This creates frustration, passiveness, and disaffection. 

"People need a new reason to believe in Europe. Instead of providing one, the political leaders only do crisis-management"

A crucial moment in which the purpose of the EU could have been discussed was, of course, the Brexit campaign. Regrettably, instead of delivering a positive, engaging view for the future, the “remain-camp” in Britain only provided arguments about “what we would lose by leaving the EU”. That did not convince people about the project itself (and neither against leaving it!) – but left the “leave-camp” promoting their vision for a better future outside the EU. In the French presidential campaign, there was a discussion about Europe but it occurred mostly on a defensive basis, in confrontation with Marine Le Pen’s program.

 I would like to launch a solemn appeal to the new French President, to stress the return of France to its role as founding member State of the EU: may France ratify the declaration added to the Lisbon Treaty about the symbols of the EU! The Heads of State had not overtaken the Article we had written at the time of the European Convention about the flag, anthem and currency, in the Lisbon Treaty. 

 

But sixteen member states (including Germany, Spain, Italy, Belgium etc. – all the neighbors of France) have added a "Declaration to the Lisbon Treaty on the symbols of the EU" (Declaration no. 52 of the 65 added by some member States) stating that "the flag with a circle of twelve golden stars on a blue background, the anthem based on the 'Ode to Joy' from the Ninth Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven, the motto 'United in diversity', the euro as the currency of the EU and the 'Europe Day' on 9th of May will for them continue as symbols to express the sense of community of the people in the European Union and their allegiance to it". As one of his first pro-European actions, President Emmanuel Macron could renew France’s allegiance to the European symbols! 

 

2. Compared to the seventies and eighties, when we had a clear ambition, today there is a general lack of political will.

The national leaders do not hesitate to use “Brussels” as a scapegoat for their own shortcomings. But they seldom convey their energy in a common plan with clear achievements. In the days after the British referendum, the Heads of State achieved consensus about the attitude to the British. Together with a notable over-reaction in the anglo-saxon media, the impression that gained ground is that the decision of a country to leave the EU means the “beginning of the end” for Europe. 

"But looking at the greater picture, you may see that there is no reason to panic and that the Brexit was, in fact, a predictable and even clarifying event."

But looking at the greater picture, you may see that there is no reason to panic and that the Brexit was, in fact, a predictable and even clarifying event. Hasn’t the UK always been apart in the EU? Only three years after the Rome Treaties, the British launched the EFTA (European Free Trade Association) in 1960, a trade-bloc alternative to the EEC. And even once inside the Union, they pushed for a flexible and larger and larger trading-system and, still now, slow down the integration process of the current members.

 

So from the beginning, it was clear that the British played another game and that they would never fully participate in the unification process. Why should we wonder then, that they finally removed both of their feet instead of just keeping one foot inside the EU and the other outside?

 

The departure from the EU should be organized calmly. It is not a question of changing the rules of the Union but only of defining the points that will cease to apply to the UK. So it's more an overview than a negotiation, except for the European budgetary engagements the UK will have to trigger.

3. Instead of giving a clear lead, politicians and media mostly maintain confusion.

 So let me stress one point very clearly. There may be geographically one Europe, but there are two projects for Europe:

 

  1. On the one hand, the great free trade zone project, the EU-27. 

  2. On the other hand, the smaller and more homogeneous group of countries that adopted the Euro, in the historical line of the Schuman-Monnet project.

Great Britain was against the philosophy of the second of these projects (which aims to become one day a political Union). But for some reason, it decided to leave and will have to leave both – even the free trade zone which undoubtedly provided the most convenient frame to its economy!

 

Between the actors of the EU, there is also a lot of confusion: look at the starting negotiations about the Brexit. The Treaties provide the European Council, that is to say the Heads of States, with the mission to negotiate an agreement with the leaving country. Article 218 (2) of the Treaty on the functioning of the EU says: “The Council shall authorise the opening of negotiations, adopt negotiating directives, authorise the signing of agreements and conclude them”. On the contrary, in every newspaper, we see Michel Barnier from the European Commission being described as “the EU negotiator”. 

 

It is an example of how national leaders distanced themselves from the European concerns in the latest years. Moreover, the Commission, which originally was created to represent the “European common good”, has constantly been seeking to become Europe’s government. But don’t get misled by this action: it will always be the Heads of States and democratic governments who take decisions in the EU! 

 

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Having said that, what should be done? First of all, everybody must recognize the idea of the two Europes: 

 

  • The great free trade zone, the EU 27, is a very diverse group, economically and culturally speaking. It will reject any progress of integration and will probably extend further on the continent, in the coming years. 

 

  • Second, the Euro-zone, which includes in particular the six founding countries who have maintained for 60 years the will to unite despite the many upheavals. 

It is this group which can move on forward with the integration process.

 

What should be its vision for the future? I propose this one: Europe gave us peace, now it is time for becoming a real economic power. Let’s move from peace to power! Let’s aim to become one of the world’s economic super-powers in sustainable production, innovation and high quality of life! We are ready to compete with other giants like the US and China! 

"Europe gave us peace, now it's time for becoming a real economic power. Let's move from peace to power."

But clearly, the key factor for change is political leadership. We need courageous leaders to shape this European super-power. Germany and France are at the heart of Europe. Without a strong and trusty partnership of our two countries, this super-power will not be created. I am confident that the German chancellor and the new French President will commit to this project. Their historic role is to complete the picture initiated by the founding fathers in the 1950s by writing a positive and future-oriented storyboard for Europe. 

 

To do this, they should establish a clear agenda for the steps to do:

 

Deliver a full monetary, budgetary and fiscal Union, armed with a European Treasury, before 2025. This is a concrete and realistic reform. Same currency and same taxes all over the zone and same debt with a European Treasury! A General Secretary of the Council of the Eurozone could be appointed, and he/she should be French!

"To assure an adequate participation of all European citizens, we need a change in mentality: ask yourself 'what can we do to improve Europe?' instead of 'what can Europe give me?'"

To assure an adequate participation of all European citizens, we need a change in mentality: ask yourself “what can we do to improve Europe?” instead of “what can Europe give me?”.

 

Maybe we should rethink the structure of the European Parliament. Perhaps a “People’s Congress” - made for two third by representatives of the National Parliaments, and for one third by representatives of the European Parliament and meeting once a year for a great “state of the Union speech” made by the EU President, would better represent the citizen’s concerns. 

Media have a great role to play. Why do they persist with promoting negative and cynic comments like “European summit failed again” or “the end of the Euro”, the “dislocation of the European Union” etc.? They should diminish confusion and promote a positive image of Europe! 

By the way, opinion polls like Eurobarometer – and the French election! – show that people are far from being as Eurosceptic as presumed! 


Politicians and media should celebrate Europe more! The EU is not a damaging project for our countries, but the most accomplished example of peaceful cooperation in the world! It is the shared space of freedom and democracy that offers the highest social standards to its citizens.

"The EU is not a damaging project for our countries, but the most accomplished example of peaceful cooperation in the world! It is the shared space of freedom and democracy that offers the highest social standard to its citizens."

The euro is not a millstone around our neck but a golden opportunity for customers and business. It is the world’s second reserve currency! All the economic improvements should, of course, be accompanied by a strong commitment to culture, as the European civilisation has a high impact and global outreach.

"Europe needs the enthusiasm and creative capacity of young people, for it is youth that makes Europe live."

Europe needs the enthusiasm and creative capacity of young people, for it is youth that makes Europe live!

 

The Chinese President Xi Jinping has fostered the concept of the “Chinese dream”. He called upon young people "to dare to dream, work assiduously to fulfill the dream and contribute to the revitalization of the nation".

What about us? Where is the European dream? Think about it! Work hard and be imaginative!

 

Ich danke Ihnen und hoffe, Sie werden französisch lernen!

Je vous remercie et espère que vous apprendrez l’Allemand!

 

Es lebe die deutsch-franzoesische Freundschaft,

Vive l’amitié franco-allemande !

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