Normal (IL), le 12 septembre 2011. Discours prononcé par le Consul général de France sur le thème The European Union as an Agent of Peaceful and Democratic Change à l’occasion de l’ouverture d’European Union Week à Illinois State University.

Normal (IL), September 12, 2011. Speech given by the Consul General at the opening of European Union Week at Illinois State University on the theme The European Union as an Agent of Peaceful and Democratic Change.



I would like to thank Illinois State University for its kind invitation and to commend the organization of this European Union week. It is a great honor for me, as Consul General of France in Chicago, to open this event and to share with you some reflections about the EU. It reminded me of a quotation of former State Secretary Madeleine Albright: “to understand Europe, you have to be a genius… or French”. I am not a genius but my accent and my poor English clearly prove that I am French.

The subject of today’s speech “The EU as an Agent of Peaceful and Democratic Change” is vast and covers several aspects of the EU. I will not attempt to cover every issue, if you have questions on topics I did not address, I invite you to ask them during the Q&A session following the presentation. The title of my talk is not as straightforward as it may seem at first glance. The EU is a very strange political animal! To understand how the EU is an agent of peaceful and democratic change, you need to consider the history and nature of Europe. The EU is not only a Trade organization but also an ambitious political construction.

You also must take into account that the EU is still a work in progress, with ups and downs, crises and breakthroughs.

I. Peace as the cornerstone of the European project

Let us start with a brief history and with what is now considered as the founding act of the European construction: the Schuman Declaration of May 9th, 1950 (Robert Schuman was the French Foreign Minister at the time).

What makes this declaration so important?
In his proposal made exactly five years after the end of the Second World War on European soil, Robert Schuman clearly articulated that the French-German reconciliation and the construction of Europe are intertwined and directly linked to the question of war and peace.

First, in his declaration, Schuman stated that Europe has a role to play on the world stage: “the contribution which an organized and living Europe can bring to civilization is indispensable to the maintenance of peaceful relations”.

Second, “A united Europe was not achieved and we had war”. This was a clear recognition that there would be no lasting peace without a united Europe.

Third, the definition of a new method to unite Europe. I quote “Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity”.

Fourth, the recognition of the exceptional responsibility of France and Germany who in the Declaration are urged “to place their production of coal and steel under a common high Authority, within the framework of an organization open to the participation of the other countries of Europe”. For Schuman, such a bold scheme “makes it plain that any war between France and Germany becomes not merely unthinkable but materially impossible”. Simply stated, this provision makes France and Germany’s coal and steel sectors, essential for war production and equipment, closely interdependent.

Today, thanks to the European construction and the support of our American friends, we have lived the longest period of peace since the Roman Empire 2000 years ago. Beyond peace, the construction of the European Union was also driven after the war by a broad sentiment that European countries were in decline, both from a physical and moral point of view. Paul Henri Spaak, one of its founders, once said “to make Europe is about serving an idea, trying to save a continent and a civilization”. In other words, in joining forces, in sharing sovereignty, the European countries would be able to preserve both peace and their place on the world stage. In a recent speech, the French Primer Minister tellingly said: “we have made Europe for peace. We pursue Europe to protect our way of life, to protect our prosperity and, more importantly, no to be ousted of history”.

This is why today, the EU is not just the world’s single largest market, the home to 500 million citizens speaking 23 different languages, it is a political construction encompassing 27 countries, among them, 17 have adopted the same currency, the Euro. What I would like you to remember is that the integration of the economies of the European countries is not the aim but rather the vehicle to achieve stability, peace and prosperity. The Germans say “a Mittel zum Zweck”. For example, the process of creating a common currency was not only based on economic philosophy but a bold step taken in response to German unification. It was a way to deepen European integration and commitments at a challenging time for the balance of powers in Europe.

II. Projecting peace and stability:

The expansion or enlargement of the European Union has played a very important role in peace and stability. Since its origin, the European Union has grown from six founding members to 27 State members.

Brief timeline of the EU:
1957: Belgium - France - West Germany - Italy - Luxembourg – Netherlands
1973: Ireland - Denmark - UK
1981: Greece
1986: Portugal – Spain
1995: Austria - Sweden – Finland
2004: Hungary - Poland - Czech Republic - Slovakia - Estonia - Latvia -_ Lithuania - Slovenia - Malta – Cyprus
2007: Bulgaria - Romania
Current candidates: Croatia - Iceland – Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia – Turkey

Beyond economic considerations, the decision to expand was made for political reasons. This was the case for Greece and Spain after the end of dictatorial regimes, and also for the so-called new members after the end of the Cold War. The perspective of accession to the EU is a powerful incentive for political leverage prompting candidate-countries to conduct reforms in compliance with the Copenhagen criteria set up in 1993:

Stable political institutions ensuring democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights.
Viable market economy
Capacity to respect the different obligations of a Member country
And, one condition which is often forgotten, capacity of the EU to assimilate a new candidate.

A good example of this leverage effect is the Stability Pact for Central Europe proposed in 1994 by the Prime Minister of France to prepare for the inclusion of countries from central Europe. The Stability Pact was an instrument supported by the EU and the OSCE with different incentives to promote “good neighborly relations” between the countries of the region. This initiative, which was effective in resolving border and minority issues, was later developed for the Balkans, to help them cope with the aftermath of the wars.

Through the expansion process, the EU has contributed to peace and stability. But the EU is also concerned about the peace and prosperity in its immediate vicinity, as demonstrated through the so-called European Neighborhood Policy put in place in 2003. For the countries of the Mediterranean Basin, you have the Barcelona Process dating back 1975 and now the Union for the Mediterranean launched in July 2008. There are also other instruments and agreements for bordering countries such as Ukraine, Russia or Moldova.

The EU also has a contribution to make on the world stage. It is today the world’s largest single market founded on a very liberal approach, based on four circulation liberties: goods, persons, services and capitals. These principles were revolutionary after the World War II and instrumental in the modernization of many European economies, including France. Today, the EU represents 40 % of world trade compared to 15 % for the US. It is the first US partner, as well as the first partner of China, Russia and India.

III. The EU is neither a hard or soft power but a smart power

Why a smart power? Because of the way it functions. Discussion, negotiation and compromise are at the base of the decision-making process. To reach a decision or a common position, you need a majority in agreement, and for foreign policy issues, the unanimity of all 27 member-countries. The major challenge of this model is to overcome differences in culture, tradition, historical background, and interests. Clearly, this is not easy and often frustrating but it is the root and rule of multilateralism which gives legitimacy and balance to decisions agreed upon.

The EU is also a smart power because it has the ability to combine both its soft and hard powers.

In terms of soft power, the EU is, for example, the biggest donor of overseas development assistance (60 %). It has substantial economic resources and capabilities to influence policies abroad in order to promote peace, stability, prosperity, democracy and human rights. For example, many trade agreements have some strings attached regarding human rights and rule of law.

Beyond being an economic engine, the EU uses its soft power to promote democratic values throughout the world. Campaigning against the death penalty and torture is on the top of the European agenda, which also stands for decent treatment for all, including the sick and elderly. The EU is also a model of cultural and linguistic diversity (European students learn at least 2 foreign languages and there is an increasing number of study abroad programs). I do think it is a great asset to have young people with this knowledge and experience in today’s global world.

In terms of hard power, the EU has developed since 1999 a crisis management and rapid response military capability, and carried out some 24 civilian and military operations overseas, at times with the support of NATO. To that point, I would like to stress that 21 of the 27 EU Member States are also NATO members.

Through the Common Security and Defense Policy, the EU meets international security challenges by sharing civilian expertise in areas such as policing, the rule of law, and civilian administration. Similarly, “boots on the ground” military operations help secure and stabilize post-conflict areas and fragile states. In the last ten years, the EU has dispatched peacekeeping missions to several of the world’s hot spots:

in the Balkans, where the EU assumed command of the military stabilization force in Bosnia and Herzegovina and helped preserve peace in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. In 2008, the EU launched a rule of law mission called EULEX that helped Kosovo to develop an independent, multi-ethnic justice system, as well as police and customs services;

In Africa in early 2008, an EU military force of more than 3,000 troops was stationed in border areas of Chad and the Central African Republic. Also, the EU naval operation called Atalanta helps deter, prevent, and repress acts of piracy off the coast of Somalia;

In Afghanistan, the EU Police mission is an important element of the international community’s effort to support the Afghan people to take responsibility for law and order within their own country. In Iraq, the EU is helping train police and criminal justice communities, and was a major contributor to the management and funding of elections.

I don’t want to leave you with the feeling that the EU is a perfect picture. Today, there are many problems to solve.

The sovereign debt crisis: the necessity to save the global financial system and promote growth to avoid a major collapse after Lehman Brothers fall caused increased deficits and public debts. This crisis is deeply affecting some European countries but has also contributed to the formation of an economic government within the Eurozone.

The debate about the borders of the EU, the identity of the EU and its capacity to integrate immigrants.

The institutional arrangements which are still a work in progress.

The appropriation of the EU by its population and by the political class.

We must never forget that the goal set by Jean Monnet, the chief architect of the European Unity and one of its founding fathers was I quote: “We are not forming a coalition of States. We are uniting people”.

Let me conclude in saying that I recognize that China’s spectacular development looks very attractive; however especially in times of uncertainty the transatlantic relationship remains the anchor of the international structure and the world economy. The US and Europe represent together more than 50 % of the world’s GDP. The accumulated amount of US foreign investment in Europe is 40 times larger than in China (EU is 22 times larger) and, in 2010, the market for US exports was 3 times larger in Europe than in China.

Furthermore, transatlantic relations are not only based on trade and economy but are also deeply rooted in our common history, cultural heritage and robust democratic values. As President Obama said at the last EU/US summit “America can’t meet our global challenge alone nor can Europe meet them without America”./.

Dernière modification : 16/09/2011

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