Speech by the President of the French Republic in Greece [fr]

On September 7 and 8, President Macron made an official visit in Greece. During a solemn speech from Pnyx Hill, he presented his plan for the re-founding of a more democratic Europe.

Athens, September 7

(Opening in Greek) I do not know, ladies and gentlemen, if I should take your applause as indicative of your relief that I have stopped speaking in Greek or your thanks for my having tried.

I thank you anyway... Thank you, Prime Minister, dear Alexis, thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for welcoming me to this place, for welcoming me today, but before I start my speech today, I would like to more than spare a thought for my fellow citizens, I wish to stand with those who, since yesterday, are living in worry and destitution, several thousand kilometres from here in Saint Barthelemy and Saint Martin, who have been hit by a terrible hurricane. The hurricane has left victims. damaged lives and serious damage in its wake and, this evening, I would like to spare a thought for them, too.

Thank you, Prime Minister, for welcoming me here. Our presence, your presence, here this evening is the recognition of a profound and secular friendship which links Greece and France. Because there are few nations who have transmitted and inherited in some way the values which have made and make our Europe in the way our countries do. Very few nations have such an intimate link between their own culture and their identity. Indeed, these ties which unite us, are the ties of freedom, Human Rights, values which have made our Europe and which no vicissitude of history has been able to sway.

I cannot, however, limit myself to the emotion of these historical sites, no matter how strong. Rather, I wish to hear what they have to say. Because these places demand that we listen to them, because it was here that the modern State was created, here that the city of Athens was built patiently by the sovereignty of the people, the sovereignty of their destiny, we must ask ourselves without complacency “what have we Europeans done with our sovereignty?”. Because it was here that the risk of democracy was taken, the risk that puts the government of the people into the hands of the people in the belief that respectable law is better decided by as many as possible and not as few, we should ask ourselves: what have we done with our democracy?

And the words that, not far from here, Pericles spoke in honour of warriors who died in war, let us listen to them and reflect even more deeply. “Freedom”, he said, “is our rule for governing the Republic, and our daily relationships. Suspicion has no place.” But we Europeans, do we still have trust in ourselves?

On the Pnyx, it was free speech, debate and even controversy that prevailed. Therefore, I would like to be frank with you this evening and speak plainly: in Europe today, sovereignty, democracy and trust are in danger. You will know this better than anyone, because the so-called “Greek crisis” brought this into the open.

This crisis was not entirely restricted to Greece. It was a European crisis, and in a sense, I would dare to say, a European failure. Should we just accept to swallow this bitter pill and give up on the European ideal? Should we give up this fight, because we have not been able to live up to the European promise? Or should we instead resort to summits during every crisis, every bump in the road, a few individuals locked away in a room not talking to anyone else? This is tantamount to resignation and would be a profound mistake, a double error.

Firstly because Europe has always been built by triumphing from war and failure. Greece itself joined the European Community to turn the page following years of military dictatorship. Europe does not exist without this unbending willpower! Europe itself has always been nothing but a metamorphosis! Those who would like to fantasize about an identity set in stone know nothing of the myth born on these shores, the myth of a constant metamorphosis! We should not aim, therefore, for such an identity, especially when we have made mistakes. When Europe stops, it betrays itself and runs the risk of dismantling itself.

It would also be a mistake because we see history moving faster, every day contributing to the break-up of the order which established itself over the last thirty years making it impossible to say what order will come from the current changes.

So yes, in a world where the alliances of the past are, in some cases, breaking apart, and new risks are appearing rocking countries that we believed steadfast, bringing out new powers in this world where our values, that which held us in the certainty that the established order was ours, are profoundly shaken. Europe is one of the last havens where we collectively continue to harbour a certain idea of humanity, law, freedom and justice. We need Europe now more than ever. The world needs Europe. Organizing its dismantlement would therefore make no sense. It would be a sort of political and historical suicide.

That is why, this evening, I want us collectively to get back that primary energy, the force to rebuild our Europe, not to continue what does not work or try to tweak it, but to start with an uncompromising critical assessment of these last years, to give us the primary strength, the primary ambition.

As you mentioned, Prime Minister, there was the founding generation who created an unprecedented space for peace, freedom and prosperity. There was a generation who grew this Europe, sometimes leading it astray, taking the wrong path. Our generation has a simple choice, a unique alternative: continue to manage Europe as it is, pretending not to see what is under our eyes. In this case, this generation will take the responsibility of letting Europe die. It will die from the clashes, brutal exits, or it will be left to wither and die, year on year.

But the other choice, which I am going to propose to you this evening, it to rebuild Europe, because our generation can choose to rebuild Europe today, now, by radically criticizing it because we would be wrong to leave the criticizing solely to those who hate Europe! Those who love Europe should be able to criticize Europe to rebuild it, correct it, improve it, rebuild it! But with this same energy, same desire, not figures, not technicalities, not bureaucracy, no! We must bring back the primary force of hope which led certain individuals in Europe, despite the divisions of the post-war period, to desire a bigger story, more beautiful than themselves.

Indeed, I am here tonight to talk about these hopes, these three hopes of sovereignty, democracy and confidence.

Reconquering our sovereignty is essential. Because I will not allow the so-called “sovereigntists” be the only ones to use this term. No, sovereignty is what allows us to decide for ourselves, to decide our own rules, our own future, it is what makes our world. Sovereignty is not the property of those who prefer to withdraw into national borders! Do not leave sovereignty to those who wish to wither, those who pretend that looking inwards is a defence, a protection, a decision when actually it is a hate for others, a refusal of those who come from abroad, a denial of decades of shared history where we have finally tried to move beyond nationalisms!

True sovereignty is constructed, it must be constructed in and by Europe! This is what we believe in! The sovereignty that we want, is sovereignty which is there precisely to bring our forces together to build together a European power to decide not to be subjected to what the superpowers will do better than we will.

I believe in sovereignty, our national sovereignties, but I believe in this European sovereignty. Why? Because our challenges are no longer on a nation-scale. Take climate change and the disasters it is producing! Take the migration challenge that your country had to face a little over two years ago and you are still dealing with the consequences, the fears that it created, the beautiful stories that came from it. Take terrorism which, in each of our societies where we thought we were safe, has broken lives and made us doubt. Take the nuclear powers emerging where we thought we had secondary powers.

Faced with this world and each of these new risks, faced with the risk of economic and financial crises which we have suffered, that you have suffered at your heart for nearly ten years now, how can we protect ourselves? As Nations alone? Are these people really serious? Do they want to lie to the people once again? No, nations have weight! They decide democratically! Yes! The right level is the European level! Our European sovereignty is what will enable us to be digital champions, build a strong economy, and make us an economic power in this changing world. And not be subjected to the law of the fittest, the Americans and, soon, the Chinese, but our own law.

It is Europe that will enable us to acquire the means to protect us from these great global shifts, and from new migrations, but above all to prevent them. It is Europe that will allow us to generate ambition for development with Africa and with the Middle East, so as to be present, and to help them develop and build a future.

It is through a Europe of new, greater cooperation that we will prevent terrorism and manage to eradicate it. And because we must never forget that terrorists want to see just one thing from us: shrinking inwards, withdrawing, fear of others. That is their greatest weapon. So we will cede no ground.

Face with all these risks, I believe, like you, in European sovereignty that will allow us to defend ourselves and to exist, to defend ourselves by applying our rules and preferences. Who will protect respect for your lives and for the data of your businesses in this digital world? Europe, and no other region. Who will protect us in the face of climate change? A Europe that seeks another form of energy production, a Europe that will protect us from dependence on authoritarian powers that sometimes have a grip on us. That is the sovereignty we need to believe in, which we need to find once more, because we have our own European preferences and we must never forget that. Not being sovereign means allowing others to choose in our place.

But are we like them? Is there any other continent with such a commitment to freedom, democracy and the social balances that hold us together, to this reconciliation of justice and freedom which are at last combined? I know regions where they like the economy and development, but where political authority prevails over freedom, in Asia. I know great powers that love freedom and have succeeded in capitalism, but which do not have the same commitment we have to equality and social justice, on the other side of the Atlantic.

But nowhere else is there such a political and social space where collective preferences – our preferences – are defended as such. That is what European sovereignty is about! If we give it up, the result is simple: we will be subject to the rules of one side or another.

Yes, our choice is to overhaul Europe without repeating the mistakes of the past.

In the early years of the eurozone, we made many mistakes, sometimes based on lies. Here, we need to say that too with humility and determination. Sometimes we have lied to the people, suggesting that life in Athens could be like that in Berlin without reform, and that was not true. But who paid for that? The political leaders who lied? No, the people who believed those lies.

It was the Greek people who paid, after all these years, when the crisis broke out – the financial crisis that became a sovereign debt crisis. The Greek people, after years during which we sought to correct all those mistakes through policies which, born of distrust, created, in one fell swoop, it has to be said, injustices and incomprehension. We lost the zest for social cohesion, which held us together. We lost it because we lost ourselves in a civil war, within Europe, between powers that had lost confidence in one another.

That is the history of the decade that is coming to an end: a form of internal civil war where we have sought out our differences, our little betrayals, and where we have somehow forgotten the world in which we live. A civil war where we have preferred to correct these little differences and betrayals, forgetting that, opposite, there are radically different powers and that the only relevant question was how to make the eurozone an economic power that could stand up to China and the United States. How to make our Europe a diplomatic and military power capable of defending our values and interests in the face of authoritarian regimes that emerge from deep crises that can shake our societies. That is our only challenge, not another.

So yes, I want us to rediscover the strength of a sovereignty that is not national but European, by reconciling a Europe capable once more of combining responsibility and solidarity.

That will require common goals and a will to defend what made us what we are through essential institutional reforms. In the coming weeks, I will come back in detail with a roadmap that I will propose to all our European partners. But yes, we will need a Europe in which we once again dare to defend social and fiscal convergence, because that is what holds us together and avoids the divergences that split us asunder. We need to rediscover the zest of this eurozone and invent strong governance that will ensure our sovereignty, with a eurozone budget, and a genuine executive responsible for that eurozone, and a eurozone parliament he will have to report to.

Through concrete proposals that I hope will be speedy, we need to overhaul this sovereignty to allow our Europe to rise above its petty divisions and build, over the next decade, the terms of its sovereignty. Not for those of the past, but for you, young people.

We who are leading Europe today cannot pretend nothing is happening. We still have that luxury. But in ten, fifteen, twenty years, what Europe will we leave to the next generations?

I do not want to write your future, but I want to say, quite simply, that you can choose, that you have that same luxury we have had, that you can make choices that are, of course, sometimes difficult. But choices nonetheless. That is what European sovereignty is about. That is what will allow you, young Europeans, to write your own future. That is what means that what we have experienced in the last decade is not, in any case, equal to our history! Because what have we promised to Greece’s young people? What have we given them in the last decade? For half of them, austerity and joblessness! What have we offered them? A bright future – if they were prepared to go to Berlin or Paris, for example. That was not the initial promise. The initial promise was that of a sovereign Europe where people could succeed at home, in a wider, stronger space than mere nations. So that is what we need to rediscover. That is the heart of European sovereignty, your sovereignty, as young people, to choose!

That sovereignty is the ability of nations to decide their own destiny. What is that worth, if it is not the people who decide the course that we follow? And how can we not see that Europe’s failures over so many years are also failures of democracy?

Through its scale and the expansion it saw, through the diversity it adopted, the European project suddenly encountered, some ten years back, a refusal from the people, from its peoples. What happened in 2005, in Europe, in France, in the Netherlands, was that peoples among the founding States suddenly decided that the project was not for them anymore. Did we listen? No, we did not. Those who led Europe at the time decided not to respect their choice. They pretended nothing had happened, and sought compromises aside from the people, so as to continue a method that for decades had worked so well: building Europe a little to the side and explaining it afterwards.

What happened in 2005 is that a page was turned and we did not realize straight away that Europe could no longer move forward without its peoples. It could no longer continue towards the destiny it had chosen itself, desired and therefore explained, driven by the peoples of Europe together. What happened a few months ago in the United Kingdom is not a whole different story: suddenly, the people of that island rose up against choices often supported by its own leaders and said “this Europe is not for me. I do not have my place here, and I no longer understand it. These rules have become absurd. Look at this Europe where I am losing my own rights, and where I am expected to make more and more effort to live less well.” That is what the British people said last year.

So yes, these ballots have brought an end to an adventure in which Europe had always moved forward as if sheltered from our people’s will. And when I fight the sometimes bureaucratic excesses that mean that Europe seeks to move forward through rules its citizens no longer understand, that mean that Europe moves forward by controlling every detail of daily life because it has lost its grand purpose, it is to rediscover the zest of this European democracy. When I fight for a revision of the posted workers directive, I fight against a Europe that has ended up producing absurd rules where our peoples are no longer able to understand the societies in which we want them to live.

Everything that has held us together for decades is coming apart because these approaches are becoming absurd. We need to play our part in addressing this: it is we, those who believe in Europe, who have allowed cracks to appear in democracy, distancing peoples and making them hostile. And similarly, it is we who must rediscover the path of sovereignty: we need the other form of courage, rediscovering the path of democracy.

That will require, first and foremost, a new method to overhaul Europe. That is why I want this roadmap that I intend to propose to all EU Member States – this roadmap to build the future of our Europe over the next decade – not to involve a treaty negotiated sneakily behind closed doors in Paris, Brussels or Belin. No, I propose that we try a new method: that by the end of the year, we sketch out the major principles of our approach, where we want to take our Europe, and define our objectives clearly. We can then, at the beginning of next year, submit those principles and objectives to the peoples of Europe. I propose that wherever leaders choose to take this path – something I hope for most earnestly – in each of the Member States, we organize six months of consultations, democratic conventions that will be an opportunity for our peoples, throughout our countries, to discuss the Europe they want to see.

Lastly, I want us to put behind us this sort of childlike dilemma Europe is currently tied up in. A dilemma where on the one side, some want to make the people say “yes” or “no” and manipulate them for months, where the referendum becomes the weapon of populists and anti-Europeans alone; and where on the other, those who believe in Europe end up afraid of their peoples and hide behind their own doubts, saying to themselves “let’s move forward but without changing the treaties, for fear of having to hold another referendum. Let’s move forward in baby steps, behind closed doors. The people will not understand.”

We need to choose another, a third way, the one invented here, at this very spot. That way was not that of demagogy, but that of democracy, of controversy, of constructive debate driven by critical thinking and dialogue. It was the way that involved entering into the detail of each question and its complexity, to decide what we want to do for the common city. That is what I want to see in the first half of 2018 in all the countries of our continent, of Europe, to rediscover the zest of what was invented at this spot where we are standing, and which formed the basis for our democracies. So yes, through these six months of democratic conventions, we should debate this roadmap, the principles for which the governments will have designed, and then we can meet again to reconcile them and, on that basis, after debate, including grassroots debate locally and digital debates across Europe. Then we can build what will be the foundations for an overhaul of Europe for the coming ten, fifteen years, we can build the terms of what we really want together. That is the ambition I want to see as a method in the coming months.

Looking back over Greece’s history means seeing the strength of this democracy and debate. That is I what I want us to rediscover together for our Europe. But beyond that, I want the everyday operation of tomorrow’s Europe to once again be more democratic. I want us to put behind us the rules invented by the few for the many, and to reinject more democracy into everyday operations.

That is why I am advocating transnational lists for the next European elections. Our British friends have decided to leave. We should not try to redistribute the few seats they free up in the European Parliament between us. No! Just think: at last we can have a European debate, and European lists, a genuine European democracy that will live through countries. And tomorrow, if we want a more integrated eurozone, an avant-garde core of European countries, we should ensure greater democratic strength. We should establish a eurozone Parliament to design the rules to make those who make decisions democratically accountable – which is not the case today.

All that is what I want us to rediscover together, because the true fuel of Europe is not a hunger for standards, but democratic vitality. Rediscovering the initial promise of Europe is possible if we assume our desire for sovereignty and our need for democracy. To once again cite Pericles, we will achieve nothing in distrust and treachery. For years, this distrust has undermined the adhesion that is essential to the European project. It has worn away confidence which now needs to be rebuilt. That requires a return to the very meaning of the European adventure, to the deeply held conviction that supports it.

As Europeans, we share a history and a destiny. We can rebuild confidence because we will rediscover this path. Look where we are standing: even now, during the night, you can see the hill behind me: the Acropolis. Whoever you are, whatever your age, your nationality and your origin, does the miracle of this hill, the columns of the Parthenon, the silhouette of the Erechtheion and its caryatids not awaken in you the feeling that something was born here that concerns you, that belongs to you, that speaks to you?

Yes the Acropolis of Athens is a mirror reflecting our European identity, we recognize ourselves, we read our common destiny in this mirror and this temple was that of the gods from antiquity, but today the beliefs that created it have vanished and yet we still have this force in our minds. We can still fell its sacred element.

As André Malraux said, some nearly sixty years ago in this very place, there is a hidden Greece that is lying in the hearts of all men and women of the Western world. This hidden Greece is what we do not grasp, which means that even if we allow ourselves to get caught up in our trivial European debates and these civil wars that I mentioned earlier, we can be a few thousand miles away and still recognize a European, an image that reminds us of Europe, a feeling that unites us, a smell, a colour, something we read, that makes us feel European again.

This Europe of literature, cafés, public discussion, our peoples’ warmth and civility that exists nowhere else in the world, is one whose true cement is culture, our culture.

We will never fight enough for Europeans to recognize of their own accord this shared foundation that for centuries has been expressed in myriad ways, the Europe of the literary sets, reviews, travellers, libraries and ideas, the Europe of luminous capitals and fascinating fringes, this Europe that has existed through so many and so many paths that at times did not even mention its name, that did not wait for our institutions, our treaties, our reorganizations, and our controversies. The Europe of Madame de Staël and Benjamin Constant spoke nearly every language, it was there, this Europe that has united us for so many centuries, it is the Europe of culture. And for this spirit of recognition and mutual understanding to live, and for us to finally restore European confidence, we should clearly begin with culture as our basis.

Student exchanges are key, our young people should travel to even a greater extent, academic exchanges, learning one another’s language, far beyond my fervent attempts earlier, this is what should make our Europe vibrant, not obscure rules and decisions. That means being even more ambitious in this Europe of culture, university and academic exchanges.

In the proposals we will make, in this ten-year roadmap, I would like to see us embrace this bold and far-reaching ambition so that this Europe of culture, knowledge and language sharing can be completely overhauled.

We also need a Europe of heritage. I spoke of the Acropolis whose restoration and new museum were extremely costly. All that makes up our common history—Greek art, Roman art, medieval, baroque and classical art—all of these buildings, all of these works are the very substance of our collective memory and our being.

Protecting and perpetuating them must be a concern of all Europeans. When civilization is attacked, its culture and its heritage is attacked. Look at what has happened throughout the Near and Middle East and in Africa! Therefore we must defend this heritage, support it, reinvent it, reclaim it as our own, because it is our identity and our future!

The few European Union contributions do not suffice to assist either Greece or Italy in meeting the huge challenges in this regard or so many other countries, and France is not the exception to the rule, where what reflects our past suffers from indifference and even neglect.

I would therefore like us to be able to hold cultural heritage conferences at European level as soon as possible to adopt a coordinated approach to these areas, in order to restore genuine ambition for heritage and culture. Let us start over through culture and so that Europe can protect heritage and reinvent its future. I would suggest that these conferences be held in Athens where everything began and we will see that through culture, we can rediscover what unites us. Through culture and heritage, we will rediscover this power of exchange and of the sites that we do not understand, which means that moving past division, at every crucial time for our Europe, we have decided to move forward together, to build something that is stronger than ourselves.

I would also like to review the conditions for the circulation of academic and artistic work in Europe. For literature, philosophy, poetry, history, geography, film, live performances and sciences are our common ground. We therefore need to create European programmes for priority works, whether they be part of the cultural heritage of every country or a contemporary creation. Knowledge we have of each other comes from all of this, from these chance meetings. Today, each publisher, writer, translator and designer is doing what they can to become known, and to translate what should be translated, however, more needs to be done. We need to organize this essential area of our culture, to reform a Europe of translators, of communicators, of this cultural ambition that unites us. Languages, inventions, our common imagination are what has forged Europe, overcoming our differences. We, Europeans, are the inhabitants of this improbable Babel that the diversity of language and traditions continue to enrich and enthusiastically animate.

So, yes, let us once again acquire this ambition for culture, through which our confidence will be revitalized. Sovereignty, democracy and culture are the three areas of opportunity that I would like to offer to the young people of Europe in the hope that they will seize them and consider them their own. Their future lies in these areas, their responsibility, our responsibility, the responsibility of our generation of which I spoke earlier, is to ensure that young people discover the meaning of a strong and legitimate Europe. So yes, some people may consider this undertaking to be destined for failure. I am sure some people will ask if we will talk about technical aspects, details or texts and ask whether we should change a treaty or not. Or if we should amend a treaty and if so, what articles? We will address these questions but since we are lost in these tangled discussions, which have become confusing, we have veered off course and lost sight of our strong determination and ambition. But should this make us fear this extreme ambition? Should we fear what previous generations did not?

Imagine the concern the founders of Europe had to hide when they extended their hand to their former enemies on a continent that was still filled with victims. Imagine the crazy ambition that some people described they had when they were getting ready to tell us that we were going to have a single currency. That was just thirty years ago!

Are we no longer allowed to have ambition? I think we are. So the challenge I am putting forth to you tonight, a few weeks before all of the European countries, what France thinks, wants and prefers, to submit to the debate: are you afraid of the European ambition that will help you rediscover the meaning of sovereignty, democracy and culture?

Look at the time that we are sharing, it is the moment of which Hegel spoke, the moment when the owl of Minerva takes flight. This is such a wonderful time because there is something comfortable and reassuring about it. The owl of Minerva provides wisdom but it continues to look back, it is also what Hegel said with humility when speaking of philosophy, it looks back because it is always so easy and so nice to look at what we have, a determined space of what we know!

Do not be like the owl of Minerva, have this crazy ambition again to desire a stronger, more democratic Europe, revitalized by its culture and what unites us! I am asking you and especially you, the young people of Europe, to have this extreme and perhaps a bit crazy ambition!

What we are hoping for is in our hands; let us desire this together for ourselves and our children! I promise you that we will succeed! To do so, apply the words of the poet, George Seferis, and I quote: “And when you look for the miracle you’ve got to scatter your blood to the eight points of the wind because the miracle is nowhere but circulating in the veins of man.”

So let us together give this miracle a chance for our Europe!

Thank you.

Last modified on 23/08/2019

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