Referendum on the UK’s European Union membership
Official statements from President of the Republic François Hollande, Prime Minister Manuel Valls and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development Jean-Marc Ayrault.
JOINT STATEMENT ISSUED BY THE FRENCH, GERMAN, BELGIAN, ITALIAN, LUXEMBOURG AND DUTCH FOREIGN MINISTERS (BERLIN, JUNE 25, 2016)
The Foreign Ministers of Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands take note with regret of the fact that the British people have spoken out against EU membership. The decision of the British people marks a watershed moment in the history of Europe. The European Union is losing not only a member state, but a host of history, tradition and experience.
This creates a new situation. As a consequence of the decision of the British people, the agreement the European Council had found on 18/19 February ceases to exist. We now expect the UK government to provide clarity and give effect to this decision as soon as possible. The relevant provisions of the Lisbon Treaty (Article 50 TEU) provide for an orderly departure. We stand ready to work with the institutions once the negotiations in order to define and clarify the future relations between the EU and the UK will start.
We remain of the firmest belief that the European Union provides a historically unique and indispensable framework for the pursuit of freedom, prosperity and security in Europe, for shaping peaceful and mutually beneficial relationships amongst its people and for contributing to peace and stability in the world.
Since its creation in 1957 by the six founding Members, the EU has gone a long and successful way. It has reunited Eastern and Western Europe and it has brought about the longest period of peace on our continent in modern times. Moreover, it has been a driving force to bring the people of Europe together and thereby delivered on its promise that we have committed ourselves to in the treaties: to create an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe. We will continue in our efforts to work for a stronger and more cohesive European Union of 27 based on common values and the rule of law.
It is to that end that we shall also recognize different levels of ambition amongst member states when it comes to the project of European integration. While not stepping back from what we have achieved, we have to find better ways of dealing with these different levels of ambition so as to ensure that Europe delivers better on the expectations of all European citizens.
It is in this light that we strongly reaffirm our joint commitment to the European Union. However, we are aware that discontent with the functioning of the EU as it is today is manifest in parts of our societies.
We take this very seriously and are determined to make the EU work better for all our citizens. Neither a simple call for more Europe nor a phase of mere reflection can be an adequate answer. We have to focus our common efforts on those challenges which can only be addressed by common European answers, while leaving other tasks to national or regional levels. We must better deliver on those issues that we have chosen to tackle on the European level. And we must accept our responsibility to reinforce solidarity and cohesion within the European Union.
Today, Europe is faced with huge challenges in a globalized world that require a better European Union. We must further concentrate the EU’s activities in today’s main challenges: ensuring the security of our citizens in the face of growing external and internal threats; establishing a stable and cooperative framework to deal with migration and refugee flows; boost the European economy through promoting the convergence of our economies, a sustainable and job-creating growth and advancing towards the completion of the European Monetary Union. These challenges take place against a backdrop of growing instability and geopolitical changes at our European borders.
We express our confidence in our common European future.
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 defense 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 defense 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 center 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.
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 control of 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.
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 the 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. I can say that no, there is no chaos, because we have 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 must be done as 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.