Europe must show strength after UK vote - President

European Union – British referendum – Statement by M. François Hollande, President of the Republic¹

Paris, 24 June 2016

The British people have decided by referendum to leave the European Union. This is a painful choice that I deeply regret, for the United Kingdom and for Europe. But it is their choice and we must respect that, taking on board all its consequences.

The United Kingdom will no longer be part of the European Union and the procedures set down in the treaties will be implemented quickly – that is the rule, and the consequence.

France, for both its own sake and that of the UK, will continue to work with this great friend, with which we are bound by so many historical and geographical ties in economic, human and cultural terms, not to mention our close relations in the defence sector, which will be preserved.

The British vote is a great test for Europe. In these circumstances, it needs to show its solidity and strength, finding the right answers to control the economic and financial risks attached to the United Kingdom’s departure. Steps have already been taken, and I am confident in their effectiveness.

But Britain’s decision also requires us to clearly acknowledge the weaknesses in the way Europe functions and the loss of peoples’ confidence in the European project.

There is a great danger of extremism and populism. It always takes less time to dismantle than to assemble, or to destroy than to build. France, as a founding country of Europe, will not accept that.

We have to take heed. To move forward, Europe can no longer do as it has in the past. The peoples expect the European Union to reaffirm its values of freedom, tolerance and peace. Europe needs to be a sovereign power deciding its own future and promoting its model.

France will therefore be leading efforts to ensure Europe focuses on the most important issues: the security and defence of our continent, to protect our borders and preserve peace in the face of threats; investment in growth and jobs, to implement industrial policies in the sector of new technologies and the energy transition; tax and social harmonization to set down rules for our economies and safeguards for our citizens; and a strengthening of the eurozone and its democratic governance.

I am convinced that Europe needs to promote projects, and not be caught up in procedures. It needs to be understood and overseen by citizens. It needs to make rapid decisions where it is expected to, and once and for all leave up to nation states their own competences.

That is the mandate I will promote at the European Council meeting on Tuesday. Beforehand, I will meet with the leaders of France’s major political parties. I will also visit Berlin on Monday, in order to discuss what has to be done – particularly for the preparation of this Council meeting – with Federal Chancellor Merkel and, no doubt, Matteo Renzi, President of the Italian Council of Ministers. Germany, because the cohesion of the whole European Union depends on our unity. Europe is a great ideal and not just a great market. And if it has lost its way, it is no doubt because that has been forgotten.

Europe needs to remain a source of hope for young people, as their horizon. Today, history is on our doorstep. We have a choice between a weakening of Europe, at the risk of turning inwards, or a reaffirmation of its existence, at the cost of deep changes.

I will do my utmost to ensure we choose deep change and not a turning inwards. France has a special responsibility because it is at the centre of Europe, because it wanted Europe, because it has built Europe, and because it is the country that can lead others and guarantee the future of our continent.

As a Frenchman and a European, this is my firm belief, and it is what will guide me in the running of our country at such a decisive time. We know that history is our judge today, as it has caught up with us. We must be equal to the situation we are facing.

Thank you./.

¹Source of English translation: French Foreign Ministry/

European Union – British referendum – Statement by M. Manuel Valls, Prime Minister

Paris, 24 June 2016

This decision by British voters is a seismic shock. It’s caused an explosion on a continental and global scale.

But it’s also the British people’s free, sovereign decision. Above all, we mustn’t deny or scorn it. We must respect it, although clearly we must draw every conclusion from it.

The United Kingdom will leave the European Union. I strongly believe this departure upsets certainties and established plans and demands a collective response commensurate with what’s happened.

The decision also, no doubt, reveals a malaise ignored for too long. For too long we’ve closed our eyes to the warnings and doubts expressed by European people… and this is where we are.

I’ve often been criticized recently for speaking rather seriously, because I’ve said history can be tragic: the terrorist threat, terrorist acts, which have struck Europe; the migration crisis, with its succession of tragedies; the rise of the far right on our continent, which would be turning its back on its founding values.

We can see how impossible it is for us to continue as before. Indeed, the risk is quite simply of a dislocation of Europe; and for our nations, dismantling Europe – this Europe that was build for peace and prosperity – means growing considerably weaker.

So it’s time to be worthy of our founding fathers. It’s time to radically reform, reinvent another Europe, by listening to the people. And Europe can’t exist without the people’s voice.

Europe must no longer intervene everywhere, all the time. It must act where it is effective, where it is expected, whilst of course asserting our identity, ensuring security and controlling our borders, and defending our economic interests.

I’m deeply patriotic; I love my country, France. I believe in this unique nation. And I’m also fully European, through my roots, origins and beliefs. Yes, the European project must be rebuilt by answering these questions: what type of project, values, identity and borders?

This is how we shall restore faith in Europe. And this is how our fellow citizens will regain full ownership of the European project. And it is in the very name of these European beliefs that I think we can make it a success, because there has to be hope in the European project.

Thank you./.

European Union – British referendum – Statement by M. Jean-Marc Ayrault, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, on his arrival at the informal foreign ministers’ meeting in Luxembourg

Luxembourg, 24 June 2016

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 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. No, there is no chaos, because there are 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 is 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./.

Consequences of Brexit – Interview given by M. Jean-Marc Ayrault, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, to iTélé

Paris, 24 June 2016

Decision to hold referendum

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 the single currency, we had the referendum on the European treaty, but there has never been a referendum on staying or leaving. So 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 is a treaty. The presidents of the Commission, the Parliament and the European Council have spoken. The European Central Bank has intervened to protect Europeans’ interests.

EU/popular support

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 feel like they are participating to a greater degree 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 in order to protect the interests of Europeans and enable Europe to move forward and also continue to improve.

UK/future relations with Europe

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 no longer party to Mr Cameron’s decisions. He…

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.

Europe/future challenges

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 there are all the others as well. And so we must provide them with concrete proposals. And we need to have 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. So we introduced the PNR system to screen air passengers, but we 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. And it’s their future that matters, and that’s what we should be thinking about.

UK border/Le Touquet agreement

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, and the Le Touquet agreement was negotiated. There are some very important bilateral agreements with Britain: there’s one which 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, given that the majority of the people going to Britain are Europeans first and foremost. 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, company 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 European treaty…

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 – You know, what upsets me…

Q. – We’re going to listen to Marine Le Pen in a moment on this subject.

THE MINISTER – Yes, but I know what she’s said; she’s not the only one saying it. But you see, the leader of the same party, of the same political family, Mr Farage, who led the campaign…

Q. – Nigel Farage...

THE MINISTER – He was celebrating yesterday evening or this morning, I can’t remember. He was celebrating. 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. It isn’t nothing! I was in Luxembourg today at a meeting of foreign and European affairs ministers; there was great seriousness around the table. There was even the British Foreign Secretary 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. – We’re going to listen to the reaction from Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front. (Excerpt from her statement.) 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 an advantage, after all. There will be no more free movement of people, and that’s an advantage, after all. 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. I’m always quite struck by what I’d call Nicolas Sarkozy’s dubious knack of posing problems that don’t exist. This issue isn’t on the agenda. I haven’t heard it being talked about. 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.

Brexit/Scotland/Northern Ireland

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.

Europe/rise of nationalism

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.

Multi-speed Europe

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, were, 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.

British referendum campaign/EU involvement

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: the British are voting, so we won’t interfere.

THE MINISTER – (...) 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./.

European Union – British referendum/Germany – Replies by M. Harlem Désir, Minister of State for European Affairs, to questions in the Senate

Paris, 23 June 2016

British citizens are voting. Let’s respect the ballot under way, because they’re expressing a sovereign choice.

France would like the United Kingdom to remain in the European Union; it’s in its interests and it’s in Europe’s interests.

Whatever the British people’s decision, France will continue to champion an ambitious idea of the European project. In terms of the economy, citizenship and security, we have common challenges and we must tackle them together.

The President will meet Mrs Merkel the day after the referendum, before the next European summit.

France and Germany must walk hand in hand and address the major crises together, as they have done in the Ukraine crisis thanks to the President’s initiative of organizing a Normandy-format meeting with Mr Poroshenko and Mr Putin. In the face of the Syria crisis and the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean, we’ll once again rise to the challenge of building Europe together.


Again, let’s leave the sovereign British people to reach a decision. I repeat that the government wishes the United Kingdom to remain in the European Union.

France has been a major player in every major stage of building Europe: the ECSC, the Common Market, the CAP, the Schengen agreements, the single currency etc. France has always taken initiatives, even when it comes to the least popular projects, such as defence. It was the President who first activated Article 42 (7) of the Lisbon Treaty so our neighbours could intervene alongside us in Iraq, Syria and Mali.

It’s France which is promoting flexibility in the Stability Pact, the recovery in Europe and the path to growth, through the Juncker Plan. Its voice must be heard and it will be./.

Published on 27/06/2016

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