The Referendum on the UK’s Membership of the European Union

"Facing up means preserving the unity of Europe"

Statement by Jean-Marc Ayrault upon arrival at the informal meeting of Ministers of Foreign Affairs in Luxembourg

"It was important for me to be here this morning with my fellow Foreign Ministers and Ministers of State for European Affairs.
We are sad, but the British people have made their choice and we must respect it. We are sad for the United Kingdom and sad for Europe.
But we must face up to this situation, and facing up means preserving the unity of Europe, continuing to implement its priorities, while being even more mindful of the aspirations of the people throughout Europe. So there is a lot of work ahead.

But what is important today is to respect the vote of the British people. I say this because some think that we are in a state of chaos. I can say that no, there is no chaos, because we have treaties. And Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union sets out the conditions for withdrawal from the EU. So there must be no uncertainty. The British government must announce the official decision of the British people and we must start implementing this Article, for the cohesion and stability of both Europe and the United Kingdom. This must be done as a matter of urgency. There is no time to lose. Any period of uncertainty would be detrimental.

So these are the issues which we will discuss today. We will make another statement later.

Thank you"

A strong Europe in a world of uncertainties - Joint contribution by the French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier

The decision of the British people marks a watershed moment in the history of Eu-rope. The European Union is losing not only a member state, but a host of history, tradition and experience, with which we shared our journey throughout the past decades. France and Germany therefore take note of this decision with regret. This creates a new situation and will entail consequences both for the United Kingdom and for the EU. The Treaty of Lisbon sets out the procedures for the orderly departure of a Member State (article 50). Once the British Government has activated these procedures, we will stand ready to assist the institutions in the negotiations clarifying the future relationship between the EU and the UK.

The British case is unique. But we must also acknowledge that support and passion for our common project has faded over the last decade in parts of our societies. Neither a simple call for more Europe nor a phase of mere reflection can be an adequate answer. To prevent the silent creeping erosion of our European project we have to be more focused on essentials and on meeting the concrete expectations of our citizens. We are convinced that it is not the existence of the Union that they object to but the way it functions. Our task is twofold: we have to strictly focus our joints efforts on those challenges that can only be addressed by common European answers, while leaving others to national or regional decision making and variation. And we must deliver better on those issues we have chosen to focus on.

France and Germany remain most firmly of the belief that the European Union provides a unique and indispensable framework for the pursuit of freedom, prosperity and security in Europe, for shaping peaceful and mutually beneficial relationships amongst its people and for contributing to peace and stability in the world. Our two countries share a common destiny and a common set of values that provide the foundation for an ever closer union between our peoples. We will therefore move further towards political union in Europe and invite the other Europeans to join us in this endeavour.

France and Germany recognise their responsibility to reinforce solidarity and cohesion within the European Union. To that end, we need to recognise that member states differ in their levels of ambition member state when it comes to the project of European integration. While not stepping back from what we have achieved, we have to find better ways of dealing with different levels of ambition so as to ensure that Europe delivers better on the expectations of all European citizens.

We believe the EU can and needs to develop common answers to today’s challenges abroad and at home. In a context of rising global challenges and opportunities, we see the European Union as more necessary than ever and as the only framework capable of providing appropriate collective answers to the changing international environment. France and Germany will therefore promote a more coherent and a more assertive Europe on the world stage. To deliver better, Europe must focus on today’s main challenges – ensure the security of our citizens confronted with growing external and internal threats; establish a stable cooperative framework for dealing with migration and refugee flows; boost the European economy by promoting convergence and sustainable and job-creating growth and advancing towards the completion of the Economic and Monetary Union.

We are seeing the European Union being severely put to the test. It is challenged by a series of crises in its southern and eastern environment. It is recovering slowly on the path of economic growth. Looking back at the history of the European edifice, we strongly believe in the strength of the EU and its ability to overcome these situations. But something is new in these critical times, namely the perception that these crises jeopardise the very fabric of our societies, our values, our way of life. We see terrorists attempting to spread fear and division in our societies. We have to face increasingly interwoven internal and external challenges. We see the need to preserve the combination of growth, competitiveness and social cohesion which lies at the heart of our European model, while preserving our common values both internally and vis-à-vis the outside world.

We know there are no quick solutions to these very demanding problems. But we are determined to address them, working to deal with current challenges while remaining focused on important long-term issues. In this spirit, we have agreed on the following proposals.

A European Security Compact

The EU has to face a deteriorating security environment and an unprecedented level of threat. External crises have become more numerous, closer to Europe – both east and south of its borders – and more likely to have immediate consequences for European territory and the security of EU citizens. Power politics are back on the world stage and conflict is being imported into our continent. The terrorist threat is growing, feeding on complex networks in and outside Europe and stemming from crisis zones and unstable, war-torn regions all over the world. Europe’s role as a credible force for peace is more important than ever.

The security of EU member states is deeply interconnected, as these threats now affect the continent as a whole: any threat to one member state is also a threat to others. We therefore regard our security as one and indivisible. We consider the European Union and the European security order to be part of our core interests and will safeguard them in any circumstances.

In this context, France and Germany recommit to a shared vision of Europe as a security union, based on solidarity and mutual assistance between member states in support of common security and defence policy. Providing security for Europe as well as contributing to peace and stability globally is at the heart of the European project.

We see the EU as a key power in its neighbourhood but also as an actor for peace and stability with global reach. An actor able to make a decisive contribution to tackling global challenges and to support a rules-based international order underpinned by strategic stability, based on a peaceful balance of interests. We have considerable achievements that deserve recognition and can provide inspiration. The historic agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme was only possible because of the EU’s determined and persistent commitment. European engagement in the Minsk process has helped to contain a military confrontation in eastern Ukraine that could have easily spiralled out of control. Our diplomatic efforts have paved the way for a political settlement to the conflict which we will continue to pursue. In Libya, we support the emerging government of national accord endeavouring to address the risks posed by state fragility and instability in the Southern Mediterranean. Beyond the crises, we are convinced that Africa needs also a continuous commitment, being a continent of great challenges and opportunities.

One of the main features of today’s security environment is the interdependence between internal and external security, since the most dangerous and destabilising risks emanate from the interaction between external threats and internal weaknesses. To respond to this challenge, Germany and France propose a European Security Compact which encompasses all aspects of security and defence dealt with at the European level and thus delivers on the EU’s promise to strengthen security for its citizens.

A first step is to share a common analysis of our strategic environment and common understanding of our interests. France and Germany propose that the EU conduct regular reviews of its strategic environment, to be submitted and discussed at the Foreign Affairs Council and at the European Council. These reviews will be supported by an independent situation assessment capability, based on the EU intelligence and situation centre and expertise from outside European institutions, with production of strategic and intelligence analysis approved at European level.

On the basis of this common understanding, the European Union should establish agreed strategic priorities for its foreign and security policy, in accordance with European interests.

- The European Union Global Strategy is a first step in that direction. But we need to push further: on a more contested and competitive international scene, France and Germany will promote the EU as an independent and global actor able to leverage its unique array of expertise and tools, civilian and military, in order to defend and promote the interests of its citizens. France and Germany will promote integrated EU foreign and security policy bringing together all EU policy instruments.

- The EU will need to take action more often in order to manage crises that directly affect its own security. We therefore need stronger and more flexible crisis prevention and crisis management capabilities. The EU should be able to plan and conduct civil and military operations more effectively, with the support of a permanent civil-military chain of command. The EU should be able to rely on employable high-readiness forces and provide common financing for its operations. Within the framework of the EU, member states willing to establish permanent structured cooperation in the field of defence or to push ahead to launch operations should be able to do so in a flexible manner. If needed, EU member states should consider establishing standing maritime forces or acquiring EU-owned capabilities in other key areas.

- In order to live up to the growing security challenges, Europeans need to step up their defence efforts. European member states should reaffirm and abide by the commitments made collectively on defence budgets and the portion of spending dedicated to the procurement of equipment and to research and technology (RT). Within the EU, France and Germany propose the establishment of a European semester on defence capabilities. Through this process, the EU will support efforts by member states by ensuring the coherence of defence and capability-building processes and encourage member states to discuss the priorities of their respective military spending plans. The establishment of a European defence research programme will support an innovative European industry.

- The European Union must invest more in preventing conflict, in promoting human security and in stabilising its neighbourhood and regions affected by crisis all over the world. The EU should help its partners and neighbours develop their capacity and governance structures, to strengthen their crisis resilience and their ability to prevent and control emerging crisis as well as terrorist threats. France and Germany will conduct joint initiatives in stabilisation, development and reconstruction in Syria and Iraq when the situation allows. Together, France and Germany will strengthen their civilian crisis management tools and reaffirm their commitment to support and sustain political processes of conflict resolution.

- In order to ensure our internal security, the immediate challenges are primarily operational. The objectives are to implement and monitor EU decisions and make the best use of existing frameworks: PNR; Europol and its counterterrorism centre; the fight against terrorist financing; and EU action plans against trafficking of weapons and explosives. A special emphasis should be put on strengthening transport safety. We want also to increase our dialogue and cooperation with third countries in North Africa, the Sahel strip, the Lake Chad Basin, West Africa, the horn of Africa and the Middle East, as well as regional and sub-regional organisations (African Union, G5).

- In order to address the root causes of terrorism, France and Germany will develop a European platform to share experience and best practice in preventing and counteracting radicalisation.

- In the medium term, we should work towards a more integrated approach for EU internal security, based on the following measures: creation of a European platform for intelligence cooperation, fully respecting national prerogatives and using the current frameworks (e.g. CTG); improvement of data exchange; European contingency planning for major crisis scenarios affecting several member states; creation of a European response capability; establishment of a European civil protection corps.

- In the longer term, it would make sense to enlarge the scope of the European public prosecutor’s office in future (currently limited to prosecuting offenses concerning the EU’s financial interests) to include fighting terrorism and organised crime. This would requireharmonisation of criminal law among the member states.

In order to drive this effort, France and Germany propose that the European Council should meet once a year as a European Security Council, in order to address internal and external security and defence issues facing the EU. This European Security Council should be prepared by a meeting of Foreign Affairs, Defence and Interior Ministers.

Common European asylum and migration policy

Large-scale migration towards Europe will be the key challenge for Europe’s future.

There shall be no unilateral national answers to the migration challenge, which is a truly European challenge of the 21thcentury. Our citizens expect that we firmly regain control on our external borders while preserving our European values. We have to act jointly to live up to this expectation. Germany and France are convinced that it is high time to work towards establishing truly integrated European asylum, refugee and migration policy. Given the urgency of the matter, we should not rule out the possibility of a group of member states that share a sense of common responsibility making progress on common policies.

- Securing our external border is no longer exclusively a national task but also a common responsibility. We are determined that the EU should establish the world’s first multinational border and coast guard. In the short term, FRONTEX will be manned by mean of secondments from member states. France and Germany should propose a joint contribution to that end. Over the medium term FRONTEX should be scaled up not only in terms of having its own permanent staff but also with adequate technical equipment to fulfil this task.

- We also propose the creation of a European ESTA for visa-exempt third country nationals as a useful instrument to reinforce our borders and security.
- It is our common duty to protect those fleeing from war or political persecution. In our efforts we strive to allow refugees to find shelter as close to their homeland as possible.

- Asylum seekers reaching Europe have a right to be treated according to the Geneva Convention no matter where they reach our shores. To this end we must further harmonise and simplify our standards and procedures in specific areas. We shall stand ready to grant EU support for the establishment of efficient asylum systems where needed. Over the medium term the European Asylum Office should be transformed into a European Asylum Agency to support this process of standardisation and host joint databases to prevent the misuse of differences in standards as well as multiple registrations and discourage secondary movements. This European Asylum Agency would help reinforce convergence in the way applications for international protection are assessed, with due regard to the Dublin basic principles such as the responsibility of the member state of first entry to deal with an asylum application.

- Solidarity remains a cornerstone of our European project. Citizens expect that the benefits and burdens of EU membership be evenly shared among member states. A situation in which the burden of migration is unevenly carried by a limited number of member states is unsustainable. As a first step, the Dublin system has to be improved to deal with exceptional circumstances by means of a permanent and binding mechanism which foresees burden sharing among all member states. If necessary, Germany and France stand ready to proceed on this matter with a group of like-minded partners.

- The EU must find a common answer to the rising number of migrants seeking to enter the EU for economic reasons. The asylum system is a misleading entry point for them to use. Europe should stay open to what migration and mobility can contribute to our societies in the fields of the economy, culture and diversity. We need to work towards a European Immigration Act that clearly states what the legal options are when it comes to working in Europe, taking into account the different states of national labour markets in the EU. At the same time, we have to improve EU tools and support in the field of return policy, underpinned by EU funds to finance the deportation of those who entered the EU illegally.

- In our relations with key countries of origin and transit, we will work to reduce push factors for irregular migration, for example by generating economic and social opportunities, particularly for young people. We expect constructive cooperation in crucial fields such as return and readmission, border management and control and the fight against migrant smuggling. Germany and France have already held high-level migration dialogues with a number of African states on behalf of the EU and will extend this dialogue to other countries. Root causes of migration, such as poverty, lack of security and political instability should also be addressed by the EU.

Finally, hosting and, in some cases, integrating refugees and migrants poses a challenge to all European societies that must be dealt with in a spirit of responsibility and solidarity. Germany and France do not share the same historical experience of immigration and integration but are committed to learning from each other. Through dialogue, exchange and cooperation, we intend to foster a more objective debate about the challenges and opportunities of immigration and integration for our societies. We hope thus to use the lessons we have learned to benefit other European states that are confronted with similar challenges.

Fostering growth and completing the Economic and Monetary Union

To this day, our common currency constitutes the most visible and ambitious undertaking of European unification. The euro has helped protect its member states from international speculation and contributed to building a common economic area. The euro reflects our commitment to the irreversibility of European integration.

However, we must admit that the crisis and its aftermath have shown up deficiencies that make citizens question whether the common currency delivers on its promises and even casts doubt on the sustainability of the project itself. We therefore intend to proceed on three fronts simultaneously: strengthening economic convergence, enhancing social justice and democratic accountability and improving shock resistance to safeguard the irreversibility of the euro. France and Germany have always seen it as their major responsibility to build a robust Eurozone able to assert its model in a more and more competitive world.

We believe we urgently need to revive this spirit to carry the debate forward. And it is the responsibility of our two countries to bilaterally proceed beyond that. We have to acknowledge that the requirements of membership and the fiscal implications stemming from the common currency have been higher than one could have expected when the euro was founded. We must therefore respect the wish of others to decide on their own when to join the euro.

- To overcome the crisis, the euro area has to enter into a renewed phase of economic convergence. To this end, France and Germany will shoulder the main responsibility of organising a process of economic convergence and political governance which balances obligations and solidarity to accompany the process. Surplus and deficit countries will have to move, as a one-sided alignment is politically unfeasible.

- Growth potential has been severely hampered by the crisis. Europe urgently needs to unlock the untapped potential inherent in the completion of the single market in specific sectors of strategic interest. France and Germany remain committed to bilateral initiatives to rapidly harmonise regulation and oversight as well as corporate tax schemes. To unlock growth and to increase the productivity of the European economy, a renewed effort for more investment, both private and public, is necessary. France and Germany reiterate their commitment to structural reforms to attract international investment and to further enhance the competiveness of their economies.

- In that respect, specific initiatives should be taken in order to foster growth and convergence between member states in strategic sectors such as energy, the digital sector, research and innovation or professional training. In the short term, common targets could be set, linked to regulatory objectives and investment means based on the amplification of the European Fund for Strategic Investment. Over the medium term, those strategic sectors should evolve towards a common regulatory framework and even a shared supervisory authority, and benefit from a structured European investment capability to foster convergence through cross-border investment. Bilateral initiatives by Germany and France should be undertaken within that framework.

- The current architecture of the euro is not sufficiently resilient to external shocks or internal imbalances. Leaving the EMU incomplete jeopardises the survival of our common currency in the long term. Completing the EMU will involve the continuous intensification of political governance as well as fiscal burden sharing. In light of existing imbalances a deepening of the EMU will not come as a big bang but as the result of a pragmatic and gradual evolution taking into account the necessary results in terms of growth and employment. These results are indispensable to reinforce confidence in the European Union among member states and citizens and create the appropriate political conditions for new steps of integration towards completing the EMU.

- We should acknowledge that EMU member states share different traditions of economic policy making, which have to be balanced out for the euro to function properly. A future architecture of the euro will neither be solely rules based nor prone to mere political decision making nor will it be steered exclusively by market forces. Every step in deepening the EMU will encompass all of these aspects.

- Since economic policy-making in the EMU is increasingly a domain of shared decisions, citizens rightly expect to regain control via supranational institutions accountable to them. In the short term a full time president of the Eurogroup should be accountable to a Eurozone subcommittee in the European Parliament. In the longer term, the Eurogroup and its president should be accountable to a parliamentary body comprising members of the European Parliament with the participation of members of national parliaments. This chamber should have full authority on any matters regarding fiscal and macroeconomic oversight.

- In this context we should develop the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) into a fully-fledged European Monetary Fund subject to parliamentary control.

- A fiscal capacity – a common feature of any successful monetary union around the globe – remains a missing keystone in the EMU architecture. In the long run it should provide macroeconomic stabilisation at the eurozone level while avoiding permanent unidirectional transfers. Whereas these capabilities should be built up over time and in line with progress on common decision making regarding fiscal and economic policy, it should start by 2018 at the latest to support investment in the member states most severely hit by the crisis. Germany and France should form a group prepared to lead on this matter.

- Public support for the euro is undermined by a lack of progress on its social dimension and fair taxation among its member states. Hence, as a general principle, any step to further deepen the EMU should be accompanied by progress in the field of common taxation, in particular with regard to transnational corporations, as well as the development of a social union underpinned by common social minimum standards.

Common Statement by the Foreign Ministers of Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxemburg and the Netherlands, (25.06.2016)


The Foreign Ministers of Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands take note with regret of the fact that the British people have spoken out against EU-Membership. The decision of the British people marks a watershed moment in the history of Europe. The European Union is losing not only a member state, but a host of history, tradition and experience.

This creates a new situation. As a consequence of the decision of the British people, the agreement the European Council had found on 18/19 February ceases to exist. We now expect the UK government to provide clarity and give effect to this decision as soon as possible. The relevant provisions of the Lisbon Treaty (article 50 TEU) provide for an orderly departure. We stand ready to work with the institutions once the negotiations in order to define and clarify the future relations between the EU and the UK will start.

We remain of the firmest belief that the European Union provides a historically unique and indispensable framework for the pursuit of freedom, prosperity and security in Europe, for shaping peaceful and mutually beneficial relationships amongst its people and for contributing to peace and stability in the world.

Since its creation in 1957 by the six founding Members, the EU has gone a long and successful way. It has reunited Eastern and Western Europe and it has brought about the longest period of peace on our continent in modern times. Moreover, it has been a driving force to bring the people of Europe together and thereby delivered on its promise that we have committed ourselves to in the treaties: To create an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe. We will continue in our efforts to work for a stronger and more cohesive European Union of 27 based on common values and the rule of law.

It is to that end that we shall also recognize different levels of ambition amongst Member States when it comes to the project of European integration. While not stepping back from what we have achieved, we have to find better ways of dealing with these different levels of ambition so as to ensure that Europe delivers better on the expectations of all European citizens.

It is in this light that we strongly reaffirm our joint commitment to the European Union. However, we are aware that discontent with the functioning of the EU as it is today is manifest in parts of our societies. We take this very seriously and are determined to make the EU work better for all our citizens. Neither a simple call for more Europe nor a phase of mere reflection can be an adequate answer. We have to focus our common efforts on those challenges which can only be addressed by common European answers, while leaving other tasks to national or regional levels. We must better deliver on those issues that we have chosen to tackle on the European level. And we must accept our responsibility to reinforce solidarity and cohesion within the European Union.

Today, Europe is faced with huge challenges in a globalized world that require a better European Union: We must further concentrate the EU’s activities in today’s main challenges: ensuring the security of our citizens in the face of growing external and internal threats; establishing a stable and cooperative framework to deal with migration and refugee flows; boost the European economy through promoting the convergence of our economies, a sustainable and job-creating growth and advancing towards the completion of the European Monetary Union. These challenges take place against a backdrop of growing instability and geopolitical changes at our European borders.

We express our confidence in our common European future.

European Union – British referendum/bilateral relations/Turkey – Interview given by M. Jean-Marc Ayrault, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, to iTélé (25 juin 2016)


Q. – Is this Brexit a slap in the face that the Europeans didn’t see coming? And what about you, did you see it coming?

THE MINISTER – There was a major risk, but you have to remember that the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, decided to hold this referendum to solve a problem within his own political bloc with respect to an important question that had never been asked of EU members in any country: are you in favour of remaining in or leaving the European Union? And that question… We have had referendums in France. Referendums are never easy. We had the Maastricht referendum on a European Union, including at economic and monetary level, we had the referendum on the treaty establishing a constitution for Europe, but there has never been a referendum on staying or leaving.

It was a very serious decision, and it has shocked all Europeans. And we have to be aware of the gravity of what has happened. At the same time, you will have noticed that Europe responded immediately. Europe continues to exist, with its 27 members. There are treaties. The presidents of the Commission, the Parliament and the European Council have spoken. The European Central Bank has intervened to protect Europeans’ interests.


Q. – But my question was: are French leaders, is the President, are you, is Laurent Fabius, your predecessor, are you sufficiently mobilized to get across the idea of this united European Union?

THE MINISTER – There’s still a lot to do to restore popular support for Europe, even if a very large majority…

Q. – But is it being done?

THE MINISTER – No, it isn’t. For a long time, we’ve been aware of the fact that we must make Europe more attractive, and it’s one of the things that makes me a committed European. Ever since I became foreign minister, I’ve constantly been travelling around Europe and working in particular with my German counterpart, whom I’ve known for a long time, on ways to rekindle Europeans’ interest in the EU, making them participate more in the European project. That’s a challenge, but that isn’t the point of the British referendum.

The point of the British referendum is more complicated than that. I think we should acknowledge that Britain has been in the EU for 43 years and now it has decided to leave. The British people have voted this, it has to be respected, and so it means we must quickly begin the negotiations under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union in order to protect the interests of Europeans and enable Europe to move forward and also continue to improve.


Q. – Are you angry with Cameron for holding this referendum and proposing it during the general election campaign as a way to win re-election?

THE MINISTER – Look, you’re the one who said that. I’m not judging Mr Cameron.

Q. – You’re not bitter this morning? When you saw what happened, you didn’t say to yourself: Cameron was like the sorcerer’s apprentice?

THE MINISTER – No, I was… I am sad for Britain. You know, Britain is a great country, a great nation, a great people. We all remember the attitude of the British during World War II. It’s part of our shared history. It doesn’t mean we’re no longer going to speak to one another – bilateral relations are going to continue with Britain, which like France is a permanent member of the Security Council. But its existence for the past 43 years as a member of the European Union – that chapter is over, and that’s too bad. I’m sorry about it. But remember, that’s how the British people voted, and again, their vote must be respected.


Q. – How can we relaunch the Franco-German partnership? That’s the key question you have to address now.

THE MINISTER – But I work on that every day!

Q. – Especially now, since the Brexit result. On Monday, François Hollande is going to Berlin at the invitation of Angela Merkel, who has also invited Matteo Renzi. In practical terms, what are France and Germany going to do together?

THE MINISTER – First of all, we’re already doing a lot of things together; we see each other a lot. I’ve been working with Frank-Walter Steinmeier on concrete proposals for several months now.

Q. – What are they?

THE MINISTER – They will focus on the security of European citizens, in order to ensure the internal security of the European Union; on a defence policy that is more, let’s say, dynamic, stronger because I think we have to deal with new threats; also a policy that is concrete for Europeans, since too many people are still currently unemployed and there are challenges that must be met. And so we propose making major investment in the energy transition, in the digital sector, in research, in everything that will lead to higher employment.

And we also propose playing a more proactive role in relations between Europe and Africa, which is facing security as well as development problems. And so, if we want to avoid substantial immigration problems in the years to come, we must help that continent.

Lastly, Europe must target young people because there are of course young people who benefit from the Erasmus programme, but we must think of all the others as well. And so we must provide them with concrete proposals. And we’re also proposing a Europe that involves its citizens in its decisions.

Q. – Hubert Védrine, one of your predecessors, said that we had to stop and think. Do you think that we have to “stop and think”?

THE MINISTER – We must first of all think [about the situation]. But saying stop, what does that mean? I think that a lot of things have already been started. For example, we have the Schengen Area, and what we’ve noticed for some time now is that Schengen is incomplete and that we need to protect Europe’s external borders more effectively. We created the Passenger Name Record (PNR) to screen air passengers, but we also need border guards. So to achieve that, we need to bring Schengen to completion. So if we were to take a break and stop, I think that would be a mistake. However, thinking about what Europe should be and how it can be a lot more compelling for European citizens, yes, that’s a good question. I am not…

Q. – Should we have less Europe in order for it to do better?

THE MINISTER – The main thing is to make Europe do better.

Q. – Once again, not taking action in every area, not regulating in every area.

THE MINISTER –We must make Europe do better.

Q. – Should it regulate less?

THE MINISTER – Europe must be more efficient for its citizens. I believe that’s clear. But it must offer better protection and prepare better for the future. Still, we must be very cautious vis-à-vis those who propose going even further in transferring powers and sovereignty, those who say: “We must forge a federal Europe, a United States of Europe.” We mustn’t rush, we must consolidate what’s been started, but the main thing is that we must ensure that what Europe does is concrete and effective for people. There is still too much unemployment; too many people are in precarious situations. The fear of immigration played a huge part in the British vote, but there are also people who are suffering, and people who are attached to a way of life, a social order.

And so, when it comes to globalization, Europe must continue to champion a certain societal model, one that is not backward-looking but brings hope to young people. I did observe one thing, which is interesting: 70% of young Britons voted to stay in the EU. It’s their future that matters, and that’s what we should be thinking about.


Q. – You mentioned immigration, which was an issue that played a big role in the result in the UK. With respect to Calais, should we immediately reconsider the Le Touquet Agreement and give England back its border?

THE MINISTER – Look, the border is where it is; it’s the result of the Le Touquet agreement that was negotiated between France and the UK. There are some very important bilateral agreements with Britain: one of them is very important, it’s a defence agreement – that one will be maintained –, namely the Lancaster House agreement; and there’s also this one. There are those who say: “we must call the Le Touquet agreement into question and restore the border, not to where it is today, but put it back on the other side of the Channel". After that, do you expect us to put boats in place to pick up people who risk drowning in the sea? Come on, let’s be serious! I think that…

Q. – So does that mean the Le Touquet agreement won’t be called into question?

THE MINISTER – Well, no, that would be totally irresponsible. I think this is something specific and clear. And everyone who is proposing we do otherwise is being very rash. And so what I’d also like to say is that the debate in Britain – this struck me very much – developed as the weeks went by. Initially, it focused very much on the economic consequences for the British, of leaving Europe. And then it moved on to a much more emotional debate about immigration, with a lot of inaccuracies. But despite everything, the consequence today is a substantial loss of spending power for the British: the pound has lost 10%. And you’re going to see that the risk for the British is, well, the departure of certain companies’ headquarters, the risk of major international investors turning away from Britain, which will no longer be in the single market. So the whole challenge in the coming weeks – and we mustn’t waste too much time – is negotiation in the framework of Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union…

Q. – On withdrawal. Now in that same negotiation…

THE MINISTER – To define the relations between the European Union and Britain, which, it has to be said, unfortunately becomes a third country.

Q. – In that negotiation, I imagine you’re going to do everything – it’s a bit like in a divorce –, we’re going to do everything to ensure things happen with as little pain as possible and quickly restore constructive links. In doing that job, aren’t you going to show that ultimately, leaving the European Union isn’t so serious, thus leaving the field open to parties like the National Front?

THE MINISTER – I think above all we must look at what’s happening now and what’s still in danger of happening for the British. So it’s serious, but it’s the consequence of their vote, so it has to be respected.


Q. – Aren’t you afraid of a “Frexit”? Aren’t you afraid of providing justification, that today’s events will provide justification to those who want…?

THE MINISTER – Yes, but I know what she’s said; she’s not the only one saying it. But you see, the leader of UKIP, from the same political family, Mr Farage, who led the campaign, he was celebrating this morning. But what’s he offering the British people apart from withdrawal? Nothing! “Sort things out”. It’s exactly the same with Mme Le Pen! So leaving the European Union isn’t nothing. I was in Luxembourg today at a meeting of foreign and European affairs ministers; there was great seriousness around the table. The British Foreign Secretary was there. I can tell you everyone was well aware that something was happening and that things wouldn’t be like before, at any rate for the British. (…)

Q. – And is your response that there will be no referendum in our country?

THE MINISTER – Well, not on this issue. At any rate, I wouldn’t like one. I’m not against referendums. There have been some, there may be others, but on this issue…

Q. – Because you’re afraid of the result?

THE MINISTER – No, no, I think it’s the way Mme Le Pen asks the question, because the reality, the consequence of what’s happened is that Britain will no longer be in the single market, and the single market is a big advantage. There will be no more free movement of people, and that’s also an advantage. So Britain and the EU will have to negotiate point by point. So it will be less good for Britain, obviously. If that’s what Marine Le Pen is offering the French people, let her accept the consequences! In any case, I want to tell you that the real vote isn’t the one she’s proposing. The real vote is in less than a year: the presidential election. Then we’ll choose a project and we’ll be talking – I’m convinced of this now – about the core issues: France’s future, France’s future in Europe and also how Europe can change and, ultimately, better address citizens’ expectations. So then, the French people will decide! When people say we’re afraid of the vote, I’m not afraid of the vote, I’m sure they’ll choose a strong Europe, a Europe which protects, which prepares for the future, which maintains the way of life, the model of society and the values Europe represents, and that won’t be Mme Le Pen’s project.


Q. – Nicolas Sarkozy, the leader of the Republicans, is calling “to halt the EU’s enlargement process and stop the hypocrisy over Turkey, which has no place in the European Union”, in his words.

THE MINISTER – But that’s not the issue today. I mean, the enlargement of Europe to include Turkey really isn’t the current issue today. At any rate, it wasn’t even mentioned during the British referendum [campaign].

Q. – In any case, the lifting of visas for Turkish nationals is on the agenda.

THE MINISTER – That’s another thing! That’s another thing!

Q. – Nicolas Sarkozy is calling for that to be halted too.

THE MINISTER – Of course! Of course. But listen, there are conditions for visas being issued. There are 72 conditions, and for the time being those conditions haven’t all been met. So for us, until they’re met there will be no liberalization of visas, that’s clear. There are rules in order to enjoy certain advantages; they must be complied with. There are rights and there are duties. And when you’re in the European Union, there are advantages, there are rights and duties. And I repeat: for the British people, well, it will be more difficult. So I think we must indeed respect the British people’s vote but, at the same time, be transparent, be clear and not lie about the reality.


Q. – What future is there for the UK itself? Do you fear that Scotland, which supported remaining in the EU, will demand a referendum on its independence? The same goes for Northern Ireland, which is demanding a referendum on a united Ireland. Might it all flare up?

THE MINISTER – It’s… I hope not. As you know, the UK is a great country, but as soon as the vote had taken place the Scots, who had already had a referendum, called for another one. A large majority of them voted for Europe, and they want to stay in it. And so it’s a question that will be posed to the future British prime minister. It’s a momentous question, as you know. And as for Ireland, I wouldn’t like passions to be inflamed, because for a long time this was painful and difficult. So you see, when you take a political decision –

Q. – So you’re telling the Scots and the Irish, “don’t do anything, it’s not the right time”?

THE MINISTER – No, I don’t want to tell the Scots or the Irish what to do. First of all, Ireland is an independent country. There’s Ireland – the Republic of Ireland. I spoke on the telephone this afternoon to my counterpart Charles Flanagan, whodid express to me his concern. And then there’s Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, and which voted overwhelmingly in favour of the European Union. So admittedly it’s complicated, but I think the leaders of these countries must be left to shoulder their responsibilities. It’s not my job to tell them what to do. We’ve simply got to recognize that there’s a difficulty and it’s genuine.


Q. – For two years we’ve seen most of the European elections giving victory to people who are angry – be it in Austria, be it recently in the municipal elections in Italy or in other European ones, in Spain and today in Britain. Does this make you worry about the next elections here in France?

THE MINISTER – Yes, what worries me is the rise of nationalist parties. They’re called populist but very often it’s the nationalist parties which basically want us to go backwards in relation to Europe and want us to re-establish borders, and want people to think… at any rate people are made to believe that it would be better for them. I think this is a real issue, but we must look for the causes. I’m not going to make a moralistic judgment about how people voted. If they vote like that, it’s probably because it reveals a malaise. So we must address the issues. There’s also, of course, the fear of immigration. I think this counts for a lot. But each country also has its specific characteristics. You mention Austria; they also have a political system which is deadlocked. This is also behind the rise of the far-right party. So I think we really have to work to improve how our democracy functions in each of our countries but also at the level of Europe, to establish more links between political power and the people, so they feel genuinely represented, genuinely stood up for, that they count and what they say is taken on board.


Q. – A final question: are you afraid that we’re heading towards a Europe basically moving at several speeds?

THE MINISTER – Well, it already exists. I mean, for example, not everyone is in the Schengen Area – that’s one example. Not everyone is in the Euro Area – that’s another. Even so, there are 28 of us, and there are going to be 27 of us. So it’s possible! Some countries – this is provided for in the treaties – may want to go further. I think we’ve got to accept this prospect. This doesn’t call Europe into question because there’ll still be a big market, there’ll be free movement, there are legal rules and common values. I think European history, as you know, is something quite extraordinary. At the table in Luxembourg today, I recalled that for many countries, Europe signified the end of dictatorships in Spain, Portugal and Greece. And then after the fall of the Berlin Wall, it was Central Europe, the Eastern European countries which joined to regain freedom and democracy. So that’s what we’ve achieved, and we can’t let that unravel today. And I can tell you that France, a founder member, will fight to ensure that the European project not only remains, but is increasingly attractive. That really is our responsibility.


Q. – When you see the consequences, the impact of Britain’s decision on the whole European continent, don’t you tell yourself that it’s time to wake up to the fact that there’s a common political area and that it’s occasionally necessary to get involved in other people’s business because it ends up affecting us, and that therefore, politically, we should stop telling ourselves: it’s the British who are voting, so we won’t interfere?

THE MINISTER – No, frankly I think… Because I’ve seen in certain newspapers, “Why didn’t you go and campaign to tell the British people what they had to do?” I can tell you that I didn’t want to do this and it wasn’t for me to do so.

Q. – You’ve no regrets?

THE MINISTER – I think it would have been totally counterproductive and wouldn’t have changed a single ballot paper, a single vote. And I think that British citizens, OK, they’re a great people, as I said earlier, and unfortunately, they’ve made this choice, but it’s their choice. So now they’ve got to accept responsibility for it. Even so, maybe what’s happened there should prompt the rest of Europe to make Europe something better, something more attractive to the whole population, to young people, and to all those who ultimately have the greatest doubts about their future. I believe that this can serve as a jolt. Well, at any rate, this is what I think and hope.

Q. – Thank you very much for appearing on i-Télé this evening to talk to us, obviously, about the consequences of this Brexit.

THE MINISTER – Thank you.

Dernière modification : 09/10/2017

top of the page