Cannes G20 summit
Q. – In retrospect, wouldn’t what happened in Greece today, following your and Mrs Merkel’s intervention, ultimately justify Europe now adopting pre-emptive sanctions against all those countries which don’t stick to their deficits? The Germans are calling for it. Wouldn’t the spectacle we’ve witnessed in recent months – which shows the difficulty you have in bringing extremely indebted countries into line – ultimately justify Europe moving onto another stage?
THE PRESIDENT – Listen, if I remember rightly, France has spoken in the same way as Germany about sanctions. I think I was even one of the first to raise the issue of the suspension of voting rights; it was controversial at the time. I’m not saying it’s the solution: it’s an illustration. Of course, there are no rules without the possibility of sanctions if the rules aren’t complied with.
What happened? Everyone’s well aware of it. Countries joined the Euro Area and weren’t ready for it. We decided on a single currency before establishing an economic government and convergence. And finally, as if all that weren’t enough, we relaxed the pact when all these problems linked to the euro’s creation already existed. But that’s in the past. In any case, you can go on about the subject till the cows come home: we have a problem to resolve.
The problem today is very simple: the euro is the heart of Europe. And Europe is the heart of French policy. We can’t accept an explosion of the euro, which would mean an explosion of Europe. The problem must be viewed this way and no other. If the euro is the heart of Europe, it’s a guarantee of peace on the continent where people behaved more brutally and violently than on any other continent in the world, not in the 15th but in the 20th century. And it’s perfectly natural for the two founding countries of Europe and the two main European economies to step up to the front line to defend a set of European achievements handed down to us by our predecessors. The euro crisis is undoubtedly one of the most important that Europe – not just the euro, Europe – has experienced since its creation.
We had to find a solution; that solution lies in a clear, open but firm approach. The euro entails obligations, rights of course and obligations for all those who belong to it. There’s solidarity between all the Euro Area members, if a minimum number of common rules are respected. That’s what the Chancellor and I reaffirmed yesterday, and I’m very happy that there are enough politicians in Greece who have understood this message and risen above party political interests to speak of the national interest, because we’ve always said – and it’s been quite clear among us – that we want Greece to remain in the euro, but that we can’t want it if they themselves don’t want it. (…)
It’s absolutely essential that the Euro Area sends the whole world a message of credibility. When we take a decision, it must be implemented. When we set a rule, it must be complied with, swiftly and firmly. That’s the message we wanted to send, and that’s the position really underpinning the axis between Germany and France.
There’s full agreement on all these subjects, and to a certain extent this axis, the solidity of this alliance between Germany and France, is the Euro Area’s backbone. On the leverage effects of the fund, on the broadening of the fund’s capacities, on economic policy, on the reform of the Euro Area institutions, we’re in total agreement. I’d like to say it’s not simply agreement between Chancellor Merkel and me, of course, it’s also total agreement between Mr Schäuble and M. Baroin, Alain Juppé, Mrs Merkel and me. (…)
Q. – Do you think the political messages that have come from Greece today give you assurances that that country will really implement the 27 October plan? And how did things go this morning with Mr Berlusconi, in so far as Italy also seems to be having trouble implementing the measures demanded of her?
THE PRESIDENT – It’s not for me to get involved in the Greek political debate, which is complicated enough as it is. I’d simply say we noted with great interest the statement by the opposition leader in Greece indicating his support for the 27 October plan; that’s an extremely important point that I want to welcome, because it’s brave and responsible. Moreover, the statement by Prime Minister Papandreou to the effect that the referendum isn’t an end in itself, that it’s a means, but that it’s not necessarily useful if the opposition gets behind the 27 October plan – that’s a declaration of state, it’s an interesting declaration.
Apart from that, I repeat: Greece is an independent and free country. The Greeks freed themselves from dictatorship by themselves. I admire the Greeks and Greece; I have very old family ties and in no way do I want us to give the impression of interfering in political life.
On the other hand, when it comes to defending the euro and defending Europe, it was our duty. The red line for us is very simple.
Countries are free to administer their own affairs, but the euro and Europe are our heritage and have to be defended. That’s how far we can and will go. We won’t go further, but when it comes to defending Europe and the euro, yes, we’ll do our job.
On Italy, we listened. Mr Tremonti, M. Juppé, M. Baroin, Mme Lagarde, the President of the Commission and the President of the European Council were there. Firstly, I want to express my confidence in Italy’s economy, which is one of the strongest economies in the world – it ranks third in Europe, it’s perhaps the seventh or eighth in the world. Italy has an absolutely outstanding tradition of producing entrepreneurs.
Prime Minister Berlusconi told us the results of the government’s meeting. We noted them with interest, but he himself clearly sees – with his experience – that the issue isn’t so much about the substance of the package as “will the package be implemented?”. And this is what we’ve got to work on. And this is what we’re working on with the Italian authorities. The message we’ve got to get across is about credibility. The Euro Area is determined to take itself in hand, do its duty and establish a policy which is carried through to the end. This involves everyone; it obviously involves France and Germany. We’ll have the opportunity in the coming days and weeks to take other decisions. Prime Minister François Fillon talked about this. There isn’t one set of countries with absolutely no problems, and then another set of countries with all the problems. We’re together, we have to react now, and if yesterday’s meetings were useful, it’s perhaps because they were a form of positive electric shock treatment so that all this gets put in order. (…)./.