United way to a new political Europe

By Dominique de Villepin

Financial Times

Published: June 29 2005

Europe is in crisis. Yet never have its peoples so forcefully expressed their hope to see a Europe of values and determination, capable of addressing their social imperatives, being built. True to our continent’s history and our vision of the future, France wants to move forward with them on the path mapped by Jacques Chirac, French president.

All around, states are organising to get the most out of globalisation. India is moving closer to China; Brazil, South Africa and other emerging countries conduct one-third of their foreign trade with each other; South American countries are developing economic ties. We must be able to defend our political, economic and social interests, presenting a united front.

This is imperative for security: in the face of the terrorist threat, the risk of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons proliferation and illegal immigration, there can be only a collective response. This is imperative for growth and jobs: it was European collective pressure that allowed us to cut Chinese textile imports. This is imperative for gaining control of our future: the cost of research investments is too heavy for a single country. Becoming or staying the best in health, agri-foodstuffs, advanced materials and aerospace requires us to pool capabilities. It is an imperative finally for the defence of our values: democracy, human rights and cultural diversity are founding characteristics of our common project.

Either we give ourselves the resources to build this new political Europe, or we resign ourselves to making our continent a vast free-trade area, governed by the rules of competition. Everyone must put an end to the ambiguity through action. We need ambitious projects.

First: European economic governance. Europe is the world’s leading trade power. Twelve member states, including France, have created a stable and protective currency: the euro. And yet growth remains below that of the US and Asia and unemployment is still high. So I propose a dialogue between the eurogroup and the European Central Bank to define, while respecting the ECB’s independence, a genuine European economic government for eurozone countries. I also suggest that we consider together the economic challenges confronting Europe: given the oil price rise, for example, how can it be that we have not yet had a debate on managing strategic reserves?

Second: agriculture. It has made Europe independent with regard to food supply, made Europe the world’s second-largest agricultural power, and given it huge economic power. At a time when the food problem is becoming urgent worldwide, we have to strengthen our agriculture while pursuing its adaptation. European consumers want to be sure they will not encounter supply or health problems and that prices will remain affordable: only the Common Agricultural Policy enables us to take up these challenges.

Third: innovation and research. There are not, on one side, “old” Europeans committed to the CAP and, on the other, “modern” Europeans defending the Lisbon strategy. We are all looking to the future, as the siting of the Iter research reactor in Cadarache demonstrates. But to address under-exploitation of European strengths in physics, mathematics and chemistry, I propose the creation in France of one or two European research and technology institutes. They will be open to all European states wishing to participate. In France we have decided to create “competitiveness centres” to bring together high-level, but widely dispersed skills: why should they not take on a European dimension?

Fourth: European security. Police co-operation, exchanges of intelligence and border controls form the basis of internal security: in this framework Britain, Germany, Spain, Italy and France are moving forward. On defence, progress achieved must serve as a basis for still-closer co-operation.

Fifth: European democracy. Identity has been forged through support for common values. Student exchanges under the Erasmus programme are strengthening this feeling, paving the way for the emergence of a European democracy. But this programme is confined to a limited number. The European voluntary service is itself embryonic. So I propose a debate on creating a genuine European service, which would give all young Europeans the opportunity of working in the humanitarian sector or emergency services outside their home countries.

Europe’s peoples have never been so close. Like France and Germany, they want political leaders to come to find solutions rather than just raise issues. Mr Chirac paved the way at the Brussels summit by accepting a budget compromise, just as he had accepted a compromise on the CAP in 2002. Europe must take the initiative. Our peoples want a new political Europe, with a capacity for action, a conscience and a moral code. Europe has become the testing ground for new political, economic and social ideas. Let Europe speak out.

The writer is prime minister of France