In the end, it is the young people of Europe who must ensure the movement of ideas and people, who must want Europe. This is what has always united us, more than rigid rules or borders. This is why we must trust in Europe, in what all of us have learned over the centuries, to find the path of this unity.
Finally, the essence of the European project is democracy. I would even say that it is its greatest strength, what really fuels it. As in the 1930s, democracy is being accused of weakness. In Europe today there is a fascination with “illiberal” democracies. There is a fascination with brutal unilateralism, because Europe has supposedly become ineffective, and with it democracy. I will tirelessly argue the opposite.
For Europe, sovereignty, unity and democracy are inextricably linked. And those who think we could choose sovereignty without democracy are mistaken! Those who think we could simply, casually, create democratic “gimmicks” without wanting a project of sovereignty and unity are equally mistaken! We must promote this indivisible triangle.
But I am telling you very emphatically this afternoon that we have drawn a line under one form of European integration. The founding fathers built Europe in isolation from the people, because they were an enlightened vanguard and perhaps because they could do that, and they made progress by proving subsequently that it worked. Perhaps they enjoyed a trust that is no longer exclusive to leaders; that is how things are. They lived in another time, when means of communication were not the same.
European democratic doubt — the doubt which the “no” votes in the French and Dutch referendums made us experience — put an abrupt end to that chapter. And I think we were wrong to move Europe forward in spite of the people. There was a time when we thought we had to, in a way, shake up our democracies by pushing Europe forward despite everything. That was a mistake, and that mistake was compounded by a lack of proposals: we twisted people’s arms and said, “careful, we’ll no longer be making proposals and we’ll no longer be coming to ask your opinion.” And we entered that “glacial period” when France, like many others, was afraid to make proposals because it was afraid of something taboo, something dreadful: a treaty change.
The German taboo is financial transfers; the French taboo is treaty change. Ultimately, if we want Europe, both will happen, I want to reassure everyone of that, but we must stop being afraid of the people. In terms of our approach, we must simply stop building our Europe in isolation from them. But we mustn’t fall into the trap of the populists or extremes, which consists in saying: “let’s ask the question in a simplistic way: yes or no?”. We know the answer: it is always “no”, whatever the question. We need to overhaul the European project, through and with the people, with much greater democratic stringency than a mere binary question.