Speech by M. Nicolas Sarkozy, President of the Republic, to the European Parliament

Speech by M. Nicolas Sarkozy, President of the Republic, to the European Parliament (excerpts)

Strasbourg, 16 December 2008

When France began her presidency, the situation in Europe was marked by the interruption of the Lisbon Treaty ratification process in the wake of our Irish friends’ referendum rejecting the treaty. Back then we didn’t imagine a war breaking out between Georgia and Russia, nor the virulence of first the financial, and then the economic crisis Europe would have to confront. The French presidency tried to organize all its action on the basis of two firm beliefs: first, the world needs a strong Europe; second, there can’t be a strong Europe if Europe is divided. Of course, I don’t pretend for a minute these are original ideas, but that doesn’t make them any less necessary. Throughout the past six months, we’ve tried to ensure a strong and united Europe, thinking for itself. (…)


When the Georgia crisis arose on 8 August, we were driven by a single aim: to stop the war and not allow a recurrence of what had happened in Bosnia. Quite honestly, without making a harsh judgement, when the conflict took place in Bosnia – we’re talking about something happening in Europe – Europe was absent and it was the United States of America, our allies, our friends, who faced up to its responsibilities and Europe which had to follow. [In the case of Georgia] the presidency was absolutely determined that Europe would face up to its responsibilities. And in August we first of all negotiated the ceasefire, on 12 August, then on 8 September the agreement on the [Russian forces’] withdrawal. In the end, war was avoided. The withdrawal began and, above all – and for this, tribute has to be paid to every EU member country – Europe remained united. (…) The presidency, together with the European Commission President, did everything to avoid the spiral of war. On 8 August, Russian forces were 40km from Tbilisi. Today, virtually all the Russian forces have left Georgian territory, outside South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Europe answered the call, without this involving engaging in an aggressive policy towards our Russian neighbours. (…)


Then came the financial crisis. (…) With President Barroso we tried to obtain two things. The first, Europe’s unity, which we built up progressively, first by bringing Europe’s four largest countries together with the Commission, Central Bank, and Eurogroup President. And secondly, by convening a Eurogroup meeting at head of State and government level for the first time since 2000.

Finally, at a meeting, convened in September, of all the heads of State and government, we got a recovery plan for the European banks supported by all Europe’s States, – not, as you know, without problems since the virulence of the crisis had led some countries to take decisions ahead of time. In fact they very probably couldn’t have done anything else. I’m thinking of our Irish friends overwhelmed by attacks on their entire banking system. A month later, the whole of Europe was united around the same support plan for the banks. President Barroso and I tried to ensure that this European support plan to prevent the explosion of our banking system became the global plan. (…)

Europe displayed its unity and its solidarity. I’m thinking in particular of the famous weekend when €22 billion of credit had to be mobilized for Hungary, attacked in her turn, after it had become necessary to mobilize €1.7 billion for Ukraine, and still today we are having to attend to a number of Baltic countries, not to mention the other problems we have to deal with in the world.

In the financial crisis, Europe was united. Europe asked for the Washington summit, Europe asked for the G20 meeting and on 2 April next year Europe will be organizing the summit on the reform of global governance.

With one voice, Europe has said that it wanted entrepreneurial capitalism, not speculative capitalism, wanted the reform of the financial system, wanted a new role for the emerging countries and wanted to raise the moral standards of capitalism. Europe has tried to defend its convictions with one voice.


As regards the economic crisis, the discussions haven’t been straightforward, for two reasons. Firstly, our countries’ financial situations aren’t all the same. And secondly, our economic culture and political identities aren’t the same. Nevertheless, in the end, everyone rallied round the need for a concerted stimulus of around 1.5 percentage points of GDP, as the Commission had recommended. (…)


There has also been the Union for the Mediterranean. (…) On its own, no country in the world is capable of bringing peace between the Israelis and the Arab world. Europe must play its part. Europe must be present to prevent a head-on clash between the Arab world and the world’s leading power, the United States. The Union for the Mediterranean provides a forum for a constant dialogue between Europe and the Mediterranean, i.e. the Arab countries. A dialogue we need, the Arabs need, Europe needs, so that Europe stops being solely a provider of funds (…) because Europe mustn’t content itself with paying, it must also press for peace. A balanced peace, particularly between the Palestinians, who have the right to a modern State, a democratic State, a secure State, and Israel who has to the right to security for her country which is a miracle of democracy.

The Union for the Mediterranean: we needed to do some persuading, persuading of what? That the Union for the Mediterranean wasn’t jeopardizing Europe’s unity, but on the contrary, strengthening it. And finally, let us Europeans be proud: the Union for the Mediterranean is co-chaired by the European presidency and Egypt and has five deputy secretaries-general, who include an Israeli and a Palestinian. It’s the first time the Arab countries have accepted Israel being a member of the executive of a regional organization like the Union for the Mediterranean. (…) In exchange, the Israelis agreed to the Arab League’s participation in the work of the Union for the Mediterranean. Moreover this Union is in no way hindering the Czech and Swedish presidencies from developing in the future the eastern partnerships Europe needs.


And then there’s energy and the climate. (…) I have to be frank and say that we had to get everyone to face up to his or her responsibilities. It would have been insane at the very moment when a new United States president was setting ambitious environmental protection goals for the world’s leading power for Europe to give up its own. Irresponsible. (…) To succeed, we had to do some persuading and find compromises. What compromises? (…) I wanted an environmental proactivism which wouldn’t result in a policy destroying the social fabric of the EU’s new members.

To out-and-out environmentalists, I can say for me it has never been a matter of not imposing environmental obligations on Poland, Hungary and the others, but of avoiding putting those countries in a situation in which they risked a social explosion and never forcing them to choose between environmental protection and growth. It’s new growth. Sustainable growth, green growth that we have proposed to them, but one which prevents a price explosion or consequences for Polish workers, Hungarian workers, East-European workers, which no democratic country in the world could bear. (…)


Migration policy. How can anyone imagine a Europe, most of whose countries are in the Schengen Area, with, as its premise, freedom of movement for people and goods, being able to go on without adopting common principles for drawing up a common immigration policy? This has been done. (….) We now have the foundations of a unanimously agreed common immigration policy.


Just a word on defence. Next year, I shall have the opportunity, with Chancellor Angela Merkel, of organizing the NATO summit, and I believe that what’s important in what we’ve decided is that the 27 now understand that we’re talking about security and defence policy for Europe and NATO, that the European security and defence policy complements NATO and there are no grounds for creating opposition between them.


Finally the institutional problem. (…) What’s the situation today? Today 25 countries have virtually completed the process of ratifying the Lisbon Treaty, 25. The 26th, the Czech Republic, has just taken an important decision since the Constitutional Court has said that the Lisbon ratification process could take place. In a brave and responsible statement, the Polish Prime Minister has said that his aim was to propose the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty. So, now there’s just the case of Ireland.

This is the agreement we have unanimously come up with. It’s very simple. It consists firstly, if the Lisbon Treaty comes into force, in guaranteeing every Member State one Commissioner. (…) Secondly, we have made a number of political commitments relating to the specific nature of the Irish situation: neutrality, taxation and the family. There was no difficulty in making these political commitments. So what’s the problem? It’s better for everything to be put on the table. The problem is the legal force of these political commitments since Ireland has a Supreme Court and no one is in any doubt that the advocates of the "no" – and this is their right – will apply to this court to question the legal force of the political commitments made.

This is the compromise the presidency has proposed. No re-ratification of the Lisbon Treaty by all those who have ratified it. No amendment to the Lisbon Treaty. I don’t think it’s in our interest to resolve one problem only to create 26 others. Clearly.


On the other hand, at the time of Europe’s next enlargement, in all probability bringing in Croatia, very probably in 2010 or 2011 if things go as they should, at that point, President Pöttering, a new treaty will be needed for the new entrants. So we have suggested that when Europe enlarges, and only then, we add two things to Croatia’s accession treaty. First, the so- called "Irish" protocol and, second, a clause relating to the number of MEPs since because the European elections will have been held on the basis of the Nice Treaty I don’t see how we could do otherwise. Under the Lisbon Treaty, a number of States were allocated more MEPs, and we’ll settle this problem too at the time of the first new enlargement. On this basis, the Irish government, courageously, has pledged to consult the Irish again on the Lisbon Treaty before the end of 2009. So this means that if things go as I hope they will – but it’s for the Irish to decide – the Lisbon Treaty would come into force only one year late. (…)

* * *

Finally, I’d like to tell you, personally, that this six-month presidency has taught me a lot and that I’ve loved the job. (…)

I tried to change Europe, but Europe changed me. And I want to say one thing because it’s something I’m convinced of: I really believe that every head of State and government would benefit from exercising this responsibility at some point. First of all, because they would understand that solutions to the problems they experience in their countries can very often be found only through agreement with their neighbours, and that, going beyond the differences between us, there are so many things which bring us together and, most importantly, that it’s easier for Europe to have big ambitions than tiny little ones.

The last thing I’m totally convinced of is that at the European Council, European Parliament and European Commission, it’s easier to get big projects through than small ones. Because small ones don’t have the necessary power to overcome national egos. Big projects, big ambitions, big ideas – with big ideas and big ambitions we can overcome national egos. So, may Europe remain ambitious and understand that the world needs it to take decisions. When you sweep things under the carpet you lay yourself open to future difficulties. Problems have to be resolved immediately and it isn’t true that the European institutions are preventing decisions being taken. What prevents this is the lack of courage, lack of proactivism, the fading of an ideal. When it comes to taking decisions, we mustn’t wait for Lisbon, we mustn’t wait for tomorrow, we must take them now and I have every confidence in the Czech presidency pursuing the presidency continuum./.


Last modified on 18/12/2008

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