“Europe must move with different speeds. Or it will explode”

Three months before his departure from the Elysee Palace, Francois Hollande wants to help Europe emerge from the impasse. The French President has invited the Elysee Palace, the leaders of Germany, Italy and Spain, Angela Merkel, Paolo Gentiloni, and Mariano Rajoy, to discuss the future of the European Union, and last Wednesday he received the representatives of five European Newspapers, including La Vanguardia.


La Vanguardia: the possibility of the victory of marine Le Pen (Marine Le Pen) presidential elections in France, causing concern in other European countries, who see in it a mortal threat to the European project. You share this concern?

Francois Hollande: the Threat is. For more than 30 years as the extreme right did not have such high performance. But France will not surrender. First of all, because France is France, and the voting on April 23 and may 7 will determine not only the fate of our country, but also the future of the EU. After all, if the winning candidate from the National front, it will be immediately initiated the procedure of exit from the Euro zone and even the EU. That is the purpose of populists: to withdraw from the EU to shut the world out and to build a future, surrounded by borders and watchtowers. My last duty is to do everything possible to ensure that France did not succumb to such a project and has not undertaken such a heavy responsibility.

But the European community, which on March 25 will celebrate its 60th anniversary, is in crisis…

— Yes, but I don’t agree with this statement and don’t give in to discouragement. I want to have Europe was a way expectations: the project, strength, power. All Europeans are asking the EU they are better protected. To European sovereignty made their boundaries more reliable, have prevented the terrorist threat and, in the end, preserved their way of life, culture, the unity of the spirit.

— But Europeans should be able to defend themselves?

— The defense is deliberately not raised at the signing of the Treaty of Rome. France insisted on it. Today, Europe could become stronger by strengthening defense. To ensure its own security and to play its role in the world, to seek ways of resolving conflicts which threaten it. This should be a priority for Europeans in conjunction with NATO.

— And how is it linked with NATO?

The Alliance needed, and well protected Europe in any case it does not contain any contradiction, is not anyone’s opponent. The cornerstone of Alliance solidarity: when any of the countries is attacked, all others must come to her aid. US President, Donald trump seems to be doubted, but in the end reaffirmed its support for NATO by offering a more balanced way to distribute the financial burden. The new US administration also has obligations to its European allies, and it’s not just about budget issues, but about the understanding of the values that we defend in the world. The Europeans should increase their contribution to the defense. France decided to increase it to 2% of GDP in the next five years.

— So, Donald trump has acted as a catalyst for European defence?

— That’s right! We came to that understanding before he was elected, and along with Germany have done much in this direction. It should be recognized that differences with the United States led to a certain awareness. Europe should exclude any form of dependence, which would mean her obedience, which of course is bad, or the breakup of a relationship that will be even worse. Understanding exists, now you have to deliver coordinated our defense policies, the integration of our efforts, strengthening the forces and means of our defence.

— Britain should play its role in the defence of the European system?

— France and Britain have a close relationship in the defence field, including strategic nuclear deterrence. Speaking of European defense, not all EU countries have to participate in it, some just there is no such tradition, but the doors should be open to all. I offer a structured cooperation in order to unite the country, seeking greater unity. It seems to me that Britain, even without being a member of the EU, should participate in the European defense.

— You accept at Versailles the leaders of Germany, Italy and Spain. Why did You decide to invite representatives of these four countries?

— We with Angela Merkel hold regular consultations. For all questions and before going to all the European councils. It is in the interest of Europe. But we are not talking about any kind of exclusive relationship. On the eve of the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, signed March 25, we thought it right to invite the representatives of Italy and Spain. Nobody is going to impose the point of view of the four most populated countries in the Eurozone, we are talking about the fact that Europe went ahead with determination and commitment, which is beyond the scope of our presidential terms. And this happens precisely when the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker (Jean-Claude Juncker) outlines possible scenarios for the future of the European Union.

— Franco-German axis is no longer enough?

— It is in the highest degree necessary. Based on my own experience, I can say that if the main issues is not trust between France and Germany, Europe will not be able to move forward. But this is not enough. When Merkel reached agreement, we do not impose his authoritarian everything else, and trying to convince.

— Some believe that the Franco-German axis is unbalanced. You are accused of making excessive concessions to the Chancellor.

— France took Germany much further than expected. For example, the issue of banking Union. Or here’s another example — Greece. France has calculated the cost of a Greek exit from the Eurozone, and Germany in the discussions developed rules and obligations, which were followed by Alexis Tsipras.

— You stopped the German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble (Wolfgang Schäuble)?

— He understood everything, let’s say so. I could claim that victory, but it’s not the best way, because, acting on the principle of “France defeated Germany” or “Germany had forced France to concede,” we’ll all be the losers. When France carried out structural reforms to boost its competitiveness, Germany has agreed on the fact that we were given time to reduce the budget deficit, so that in 2017 he was below 3% of GDP. Thus, we are now. I was right, because not provoked a crisis that would lead to a split in Europe. We, Germany and France should be United by the Euro, the European budget, the problem of refugees, the situation in Ukraine, the agreement on the climate.

— You managed to refocus on Europe as promised?

Yes, shift has happened. Installed flexible interpretation of the budget rules of the European Treaty, which allowed Italy and Spain to avoid sanctions, and France — the devastating austerity measures. Banking Union had put an end to Bank crises. Now if any banking institution goes bankrupt, it will be the ones saving the banks and not the taxpayers. In the end, Juncker investment plan is a reorientation in favor of growth. Those who argue that no reorientation was not, in fact, act contrary to the rules.

Such, at least half of the candidates for the French presidency!

Yes. But in today’s Europe, I was most worried about a return to national egoism, the desire of each country to ensure only their own interests, forgetting about common aspirations. For some, it is the income of the structural funds, for others the advantage of the single currency, and for many — the single market and the free movement of workers. Nobody is satisfied, and the loser is Europe. Without a new European spirit, the EU will begin to spread, and in the long term will disintegrate.

Are you talking about Greece?

— Not only. The principle of solidarity is infringed when some countries refuse to make commitments on refugees, does not want to comply with the obligations contained in the agreement on climate change when expressing a willingness to exclude a country from the Eurozone, not to increase its contribution. Since then, both began to talk about the new policy, I often hear the phrase that “we don’t want to pay more than what we get.” It’s a return to the formula of Margaret Thatcher: give my money back (“I want my money back”). UK is gone, but the evil spirit left. If everyone would strive to get that paid, then that means the end of joint venture.

Could it be the restart of relations with countries such as Poland and Hungary, who challenged the authority of European institutions?

— Europe is not a trade counter, this system of values. But because the European Commission is mandated to ensure that the European principles are not violated. Perhaps the imposition of sanctions, including financial. But it is impossible to temporarily exclude country because of its government, and then re-take. The European institutions must ensure the unity and put at the forefront of treaties and agreements. However, if we leave aside these difficulties, I realize that we’re at a turning point. Restart the European project implies a clear choice of one of the forms of its organization. Europe “twenty-seven” can not be uniform. For a very long time, the idea that Europe may be different, develop at different rates, causing strong resistance. But today, it seems a necessity. Otherwise, Europe will explode.

— Is there any alternative?

— No. Either we are different or there’s nothing we can do together. Someday we will come to a common agreement, a common market with a common currency for some. And on this Foundation member countries who so wish will be able to go further in matters of defence, tax and social harmonization in the field of science, culture, youth policy. We need to imagine several levels of integration.

— While continuing the process of integration?

— No country should hinder others to move forward faster. Let’s be Frank: some members will never enter the Eurozone. Remember that. And let’s not wait to deepen economic and monetary Union. Hence the proposal for a single budget for the Eurozone. If we all the time strive to do everything at once twenty-seven countries, we risk not to do anything.

— And what about those who refuse to accept refugees?

— In the fall of 2015, when the discussion in the European Council to this effect escalated, I said countries who have persisted in denial: “You don’t want to accept refugees, you are not going to accept them, but you should politically accept this situation.” Preference was given to the principle of voluntariness. And today, we see that the goal is not achieved? Why be surprised? Europe can impose sanctions in case of disrespect to fiscal discipline or the rules of the competition, but turns out to be unarmed when some countries disregard the principles of solidarity and condoning violations against migrant workers. Europe must establish a more rigid hierarchy of priorities.

— Chairman of the ruling Polish party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski (jarosław Kaczynski) said they would not support the re-election of his compatriot, Donald Tusk (Donald Tusk) for the presidency of the European Council. Is this a problem?

— I did two and a half years ago, defended the candidate of Tusk for this post. I have no reason to doubt her. Can a country prevent its citizens to be the head of the European Institute? From a legal point of view — no, because the relevant decision adopted by a qualified majority. The political discussion of this issue is in the competence of the European Council. There is a choice of the candidate, revoked by the country of origin. For me personally, I am against the termination of his mandate.

— How do You explain the disappointment in the European project? Was underestimated the demands of national identity? Discontent with globalization? What mistakes were made?

— The expansion of Europe was carried out in the name is undoubtedly worthy of political principles, but it led to the fact that some countries have begun to compete with others, while being in a very advantageous situation. Needed a longer transition phase? For sure. But now it’s too late. And, of course, easy for populists in the West to criticize the delocalization of enterprises, and in the East to defend at any cost the freedom of movement. Then the EU has failed to sufficiently protect their trade interests in the world. She wanted to become a model of openness, because he believes in the exchange of goods, but created the impression that there is too much opportunity for developing countries. We will not fall into protectionism. But it is necessary to fight all forms of dumping. In the end, the main problem of Europe is not the meaning of accept her decisions, and being slow at a crucial moment. Europe is quite right, but always too slow! This happened in the case of Greece — how much time did you have to wait for the July agreement 2015! And since that night negotiations in the European Council — how many meetings of the Eurogroup held to pay Greece what is promised! To create a banking Union needed three years to adopt rules and to establish governing bodies. About refugees — what time is it again left to start the patrol of coastal waters, open centers for distribution of migrants and the conclusion of the agreement in Turkey! And to strengthen the fight against terrorism? The European decision-making mechanism is not suitable in the modern world. Populists use instant messaging on Twitter. When trump signed their immigration decrees that caused public outcry, his goal was not only practical, as the media effect. Effective Europe — it means the authorities that make the decisions quickly. This is the most important lesson of the crisis years.

— What would You like to say to the UK, which wants to leave the EU, while maintaining the benefits?

It’s impossible and as a result, it has become the third country to the European Union. The problem the UK now that she had hoped, leaving the EU to enter into a strategic partnership with the United States. But faced with the fact that America closed from the world. UK took a bad decision at the wrong time. I’m sorry about that.

— Are you worried about a trump presidency?

— Not emotions or fears. It is a political reality for the next four years. We already know the main directions of its policy: isolationism, protectionism and closing borders for immigrants and the increase in budget expenditures. As for his ignorance about what the European Union is, it behooves us to demonstrate our political unity, economic significance and strategic autonomy.

— Ignorance or contempt?

— Some of the President’s circle has expressed in that spirit instead. But trump gives Europe considerable space and a rare opportunity. Space, because the United States does not want to play the role at the international level. Opportunity because we first world economic power and we have the means to act. If I want to Europeans? Everything will depend on the imminent elections in France, Germany and perhaps Italy.

— Victory trump reinforces populist parties or harms them?

And then, and more. On the one hand, trump believes the populists and nationalists. He tells them: “It’s possible, once I do this.” On the other hand, it gives opportunity to those who are open, progressives in the broadest sense of the word, clearly demonstrate your project. To a certain extent this contributes to clarity.

— What threat is Russia is now a democratic country and in the international arena?

— What does Russia want? Russia wants to regain influence in the regions that had belonged to during the Soviet Union. In particular, she has tried to achieve in Ukraine. Russia also wants to participate in solving world conflicts, to get the benefits. We see it in Syria. Russia established itself as a power. It tests our resilience and continuously measured the forces with us. At the same time it is using all means to influence public opinion. It is not the ideology that the Soviet Union, but sometimes these are the same methods aided by new technologies. We should not exaggerate, but be careful. I am often asked: “Why are You not talking to Putin more often?” I never stopped the dialogue with him! But talk does not mean to give in, to talk does not mean to take an already accomplished facts. And here Europe is also against the wall. If it is strong and United Russia wants to support it long-term and balanced relationship. But all ideological ploy should be taken to clean water. You need to clearly tell who is with whom, who gets funded. Because all extreme right-wing movements are somehow connected with Russia.

— Can you imagine the European project after Your departure from the Elysee Palace?

— I am President until the end of may. And I can appreciate this perspective and do only this work.

Interviews carried out with the participation of Sylvie Kauffman (Sylvie Kauffmann, Le Monde), Chrisafis Angelique (Angelique Chrisafis, The Guardian), Marco Zatterin (Marco Zatterin, La Stampa) and Christian Wernicke (Christian Wernicke, Sueddeutsche Zeitung), together with Gazeta Wyborcza.