Members of Parliament,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I have come to talk to you about Europe. “Again”, some might exclaim. People will just have to get used to it, because I will not stop talking about it. Because this is where our battle lies, our history, our identity, our horizon, what protects us and gives us a future.
“Already? Is it really necessary? ”, others might say. Because for them it is never the right moment to talk about Europe. It is always too early or too late. They have got used to such tactics. It is so much easier to never explain where we want to go, where we want to lead our people, and to remain with hidden arguments, because we have simply lost sight of the objective. It is so much more comfortable to hold long discussions about instruments, without knowing exactly where we are going.
We have all therefore got used to not saying what we think, what we want, passing it off as tactics. Experience shows that this gets us nowhere. Broaching this subject at the Sorbonne University makes a lot of sense, as I am sure you will agree, Dean. We are all aware of the prestige of this lecture theatre. But the Sorbonne did not start out as a prestigious building. It was first and foremost an idea. An idea supported by a few scholars and their disciples who built their future sitting on straw.
This lecture theatre does not make the Sorbonne, however. The Sorbonne lives today because of the idea that its professors and students have of knowledge: an idea whose vitality has already lived on through eight centuries. Europe, too, is an idea. An idea supported for many centuries by pioneers, optimists and visionaries, and it is always up to us to claim it for our own.
Because the best ideas, those which drive us forward, which improve people’s lives, are always fragile. And Europe will only live through the idea that we have of it. It is our responsibility to bring it to life, make it ever better and stronger, to not stop at the form that historic circumstances have shaped it into.
Because this form may change, but the idea remains, and its ambition must be ours. Living collectively was the ideal of Robert de Sorbon. And the intellectuals and scholars came from across Europe to forge European thought. Through wars and crises, through all the vagaries of history that have impacted Europe, this thought has not stopped growing and spreading. And where chaos could have triumphed, civilization has always won out. We have inherited all of this history. We have inherited the two shock waves which could have brought our Europe to an end, the shock waves of the last century, the two world wars which decimated Europe and could have overwhelmed us. But together, we overcame the challenge without ever forgetting the lessons.
The idea rose from the ruins. The desire for fraternity was stronger than retribution and hate. It was the lucidity of the founding fathers to transform this age-old fight for European hegemony into fraternal cooperation or peaceful rivalries. Behind the Coal and Steel Community, or the Common Market, the project forged a promise of peace, prosperity and freedom. When Greece, Spain and Portugal entered the Common Market a generation later, these words were not technical. They were the symbol of freedom for those leaving dictatorship behind. When what was then known as Eastern Europe, from Poland to Bulgaria, joined this project a generation later, it was this same hope that drove us. We could finally repair the story which started in 1947. For many countries who had lived through the worst oppression, joining the European Union was an unprecedented promise of emancipation. Doubtless, we were not sufficiently aware that this much-desired Europe grew up sheltered. Sheltered firstly from the rest of the world. Security was not its business: this was performed by America. Its economy already knew the path to follow: catch up with America. Sheltered from the people, too. In its early stages the European project was a mission carried by a few individuals, sewing a torn continent back together by overcoming populist passions.
his remains the crucial issue. But the barriers behind which Europe could blossom have disappeared. So, today, it finds itself weaker, exposed to the squalls of today’s globalization and, surely even worse, the ideas which offer themselves up as preferable solutions. These ideas have a name: nationalism, identitarianism, protectionism, isolationist sovereignism. Many times have these ideas lit the fires where Europe could have perished, and they are back again today in a new guise.
They claim legitimacy because they cynically exploit the people’s fear. We have ignored their power for too long. For too long we were sure in our belief that the past would not come back, we thought that the lessons had been learned, we thought that we could settle into inertia, habit, putting our ambition somewhat to one side, this hope that Europe had to carry because we took it for granted and risked losing it from sight.
Because the sad passions of Europe have reared their heads once more and are drawing people in. They know how to make us forget the concert of misfortunes which it has survived down the centuries. They reassure us and, I dare say, they could tomorrow clinch victory, not because the peoples are gullible!
Not because the European idea is dead! But because our weakness, blindness or lack of awareness have created the conditions for their victory. Because we have forgotten that we must stay behind this ambition! Because we have forgotten to defend Europe! Because we have forgotten to stand up for Europe!
Because we have let doubt take hold. What do they say to our people? That they have the solution. That they will protect. But what are the challenges we face? There are many challenges: from climate change to digital transition, migration and terrorism, global issues to which an inward-facing country can only hope to offer limited responses.
They are lying to the people, but we have let them do it, because we wanted to establish the idea that Europe had become a powerless bureaucracy. Throughout Europe, we explained that when there was a constraint, it was Europe’s fault! When powerlessness was at the door, it was not us but Brussels! And in doing so, forgetting that Brussels is us, always, at every moment! We stopped proposing, we stopped wanting. I will not cede anything, anything to those who promote hate, division and national isolationism. I will not allow them to make any proposals.
It is up to Europe to make them, up to us to support them, here and now. Because yes, we cannot allow ourselves to keep the same habits, the same policies, the same vocabulary, the same budgets. We can no longer choose to turn inwards within national borders; this would be a collective disaster. We must not allow ourselves to be intimidated by the illusion of retreat. Only by refusing this lie will we be able to meet the demands of our time, its urgency, its seriousness.
Read the full speech attached on the top of the article
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