What can one make of this speech of President Macron’s in Athens, on the 7th September? Clearing the bar of abject banality by no more than the necessary centimetre, it threatens to set a criterion for the next five years. One thing at least is clear: Macron is perfectly happy to make enemies of presidents Juncker and Tajani, of the European Commission and Parliament respectively, by threatening their prestige. And what should Mutti think? Had the speech been given on the floor of the Bundestag instead of al fresco in Athens, its Teutonic length would surely have been cut short by a withering glance from the Mistress of Europe.
Macron and Merkel appear to suffer from different strains of utopian delusion. Although at opposite ends of their political careers, both have had apotheosis cast casually upon them. We are in for a bruising time, then, as matriarch and upstart negotiate the paths of their respective, improbable, and dissonant agendas. Macron is for the siphoning of power from the member-nations into the super-nation, that is, from Berlin to Brussels. No can do. His proposals, as brought out in the speech, sound academic and corny at best; not the marks even of adolescent statesmanship.
The speech from the Pnyx is best taken, if taken at all, at a gallop. It is turgid and repetitive, rambling and at times incoherent, although by no means devoid of content. It has been translated by The Europeans from LREM’s transcript with a clenched-teeth determination that far exceeds the call of duty. Why? Because the world needs a ‘Macron baseline’ if only to judge the development of his rhetoric over the next five years.
We charitably assume that decline is out of the question.
President Macron’s Speech at the Acropolis
7th September 2017. Unabridged.
[Opening remarks in Greek] ❝ Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister [Alexis Tsipras], for receiving me here, and I note, by our presence, your presence this evening, a recognition of the profound and centuries-old amity that links Greece and France. For few nations have, like ours, transmitted and inherited in some way the values that have made and continue to make our Europe. Few nations have so intimately entwined their own cultures and identities. Yes, these bonds that unite us, they are those of liberty, of human rights, values that have made our Europe, and that no twist of history has been able to break.
I cannot however limit myself to the emotion, vivid though it is, inspired by these places of memory. I wish rather to listen to them. Because these places put us under an obligation. Since it was here that the modern form of the state was invented, here that this city of Athens was patiently built through the sovereignty of the people, the sovereignty of their destiny, we must ask ourselves without indulgence: “what have we done, we Europeans, with our sovereignty?” Since it was here that the risk of this democracy was taken, which entrusted to the people the government of the people, and considered that the greater number was better than the smaller for enacting a law that could enjoy respect, let us ask ourselves: what have we done with our democracy?
And these words, which not far from here Pericles uttered in honour of warriors fallen in combat, let us hear them again resound strongly. “Liberty”, he said, “is our rule in the government of the Republic, and in our daily relations. Suspicion has no place.” But we Europeans, do we still trust each other?
On the Pnyx, the taste for free speech, debate, even controversy, prevailed. Likewise, I want to give you tonight a speech of truth, a speech without prevarications: in Europe today, sovereignty, democracy, and trust are in danger. You know it better than anyone, because what was called “the Greek crisis” brought it into the open.
This crisis has not been solely a Greek crisis. It has been a crisis for Europe, and in this sense, I dare to say, a failure of Europe. Must we merely content ourselves with this bitter observation, and then renounce the European ideal? Because we have not lived up to the promise of Europe, must we then abandon the struggle? Or — what amounts to the same thing — must we resign ourselves to summits, crisis after crisis, emergency after emergency, of a few people who confer behind closed doors and speak to no-one else? This would be a profound error, a double error.
First of all because Europe has always been built on wars and setbacks. Greece itself was able to rejoin the European community and turn the page on the years of military dictatorship. And Europe cannot exist without this unrelenting will! Europe itself has never been other than a metamorphosis! Those who like to fantasise about some static identity are unaware of the myth born on these shores: that of constant metamorphosis. We are not constrained to reproduce ourselves, especially when we have made an error. When Europe halts, she betrays herself, and runs the risk of falling apart.
It would be a mistake, because all of us see History accelerating, then to dismantle a little more each day the order that was built up over thirty years, without anyone being able to say what order would arise from the changes in progress.
Then yes, this is a world where historical alliances sometimes fracture, where new risks appear and buffet countries we thought unshakeable, where new powers emerge; where the very values we held to, in the certain belief that the established order was ours, are now deeply undermined. Europe is one of the last havens where we continue collectively to nourish a certain idea of Humanity, of law, liberty, and justice. Today more than ever, we have need of Europe. The world needs Europe. In this regard, contemplating its dismemberment would make no sense. It would be a form of political and historical suicide.
That is why tonight, I want us to rediscover together that original energy, the will to re-found our Europe, not to pursue what doesn’t work and try to make adjustments, but rather to begin a critical examination, without concession, of these last few years, and to regain that initial strength, that original ambition.
You said, Mr. Prime Minister, that there was a founding generation who built an unprecedented space for peace, liberty, and prosperity. There was a generation that made this Europe grow, sometimes losing its way, getting things wrong. Ours has a simple choice: continue to manage Europe as before, pretending not to see what is under our noses. In that case, our generation will take responsibility for letting Europe die. She would die from crises, from brutal attacks, or else fall apart progressively year after year.
But the other choice, the one that I wish to propose to you this evening, is that of reconstruction, because our generation can choose to rebuild Europe today, now, through radical criticism, because we are wrong to leave the critique of Europe to those who detest her. Those who love Europe must be at liberty to criticise her in order to remake her, correct and improve her, to reconstruct her. But with that same original energy, that same earnest desire; not with accounts and stratagems, not with bureaucracy, no! We must rediscover the strength of hope that, amongst all the divisions of post-war Europe, moved some people to wish for a grander story, one better than their own.
Then yes, it is to speak of these hopes, of these three hopes, of sovereignty, democracy and trust, that I’m here tonight.
The reconquest of our sovereignty is the first requirement. Because I will not leave this term to those who are called “souverainistes“. No, sovereignty means taking decisions for ourselves, setting our own rules, choosing our own future and shaping our world. Sovereignty is not the property of those who prefer to shrink the frontiers! Do not hand over sovereignty to those who claim that we defend, protect and decide only when we retreat into ourselves, detest the “other”, close the door to those who come from outside, and renounce decades of common history during which we strove to overcome nationalism!
True sovereignty is constructive, it must be built in and by Europe! Which is what we believe in! The sovereignty that we want consists precisely in combining our forces to build together a European power that allows us to decide, and not remain subject to whatever the superpowers are capable of doing better than we do.
I believe in sovereignty, in our own national sovereignties, but I also believe in this European sovereignty. Why? Because our challenges are no longer felt at the national level. Look at climate change and the cataclysms it’s producing! Look at the challenge of migration that your country had to confront just over two years ago, the consequences of which it is still feeling today, the fear that it engenders, the wonderful stories that have come from it. Look at the terrorism, that in every one of our societies, which we had imagined to be sheltered from history, has returned to shatter lives and make us doubt.
Faced with this world and its many new risks, faced with the threat of economic and financial crises that we have been subjected to, that you have suffered deeply from over nearly ten years, what is the best protection? Nations standing alone? Come on, is that a reasonable answer from those people? Do they want to keep lying to us? No, nations pull their weight! They decide democratically! Of course! But the proper level is the level of Europe! It is our European sovereignty that will allow us to win out in digital technology, to build a strong economy, and to have a strong economic effect in this changing world. And not to be subject to the laws of the most dominant, to the Americans today and the Chinese tomorrow, which are not our own laws.
It is through Europe that we shall build the means to protect ourselves from these great upheavals in the world, from new migrations, but above all to prevent them. It is through Europe that we shall build the ambition for development in Africa, the Near- and Middle-East, to make it possible for people to live there, and to help them develop themselves and build a future.
It is through a Europe of new and stronger cooperation that we shall prevent terrorism and come to eradicate it. And because we must never forget that the terrorists, correctly, expect only one thing of us: shrinking, retrenchment, fear of the “other”. This is their greatest weapon. So let us not give up.
Faced with all these risks, I believe, with you, in a European sovereignty that allows us to defend ourselves and to exist, to defend ourselves by applying our own rules and preferences. What will protect our privacy and the data of our enterprises in this digital world? Europe, and no other entity. What will protect us in the face of climate change? A Europe that wants a different form of energy generation, a Europe that will protect us from dependence on authoritarian regimes that sometimes have the upper hand. This is the sovereignty in which we must believe, with which we must revive ourselves: because we have our own European choices to make, and we ought never to forget that. Not to be sovereign is to let others choose for us.
But are we like them? Is there another continent with such an attachment to liberty, democracy, the social equilibrium that holds us together, that reconciliation of justice with liberty, the two at last drawn together? I’m aware of regions in which the economy and development are worshipped, but where political authority prevails over liberty, in Asia. I know of great powers that love liberty, that have made capitalism succeed, but that do not have the same attachment to equality and social justice as we do, on the other side of the Atlantic.
But nowhere else is there such a political and social accommodation to the collective will that is so defended, as ours. That is it, European sovereignty! If we renounce it, then it’s simple: we shall submit to the rules of some other power.
Yes, the choice is ours: to rebuild without recommitting the errors of the past.
It must be said here with both humility and determination, that during the first years of the Eurozone, we committed multiple errors that sometimes rested on lies. We sometimes lied, and we lied to the people by letting them believe that, without reforming anything, they could live in Athens as in Berlin, and that wasn’t true. But who has been made to pay? The politicians responsible for these lies? No, the people who had believed the lies.
It is the Greek people, after all these years, when the crisis occurred, this financial crisis that turned into a crisis of sovereign debt, it is they, the Greek people who have paid, for years during which the solution was to correct all this with policies that, motivated by mistrust, created at one stroke, it has to be said, injustices and incomprehension. We have lost our taste for the very social cohesion that held us together. We have lost it because we ourselves are lost in a civil war, in the heart of Europe, between powers that no longer trust each other.
That is the history of the decade just ended: a type of internal civil war, in which we wanted to look at our differences, our petty betrayals, and when we somehow forgot the world in which we lived; when we preferred to correct these little differences and petty treacheries by forgetting that facing us were radically different powers, and that the only question worth posing was: how to develop the Eurozone into an economic power that could hold up in the face of China and the United States? How to make of our Europe a diplomatic and military power capable of defending our values and interests against authoritarian regimes emerging from deep crises that can destabilise us. That is our only challenge, and not some other.
Then yes, I want us to rediscover – through reconciliation of a Europe that again knows how to combine responsibility and solidarity – the strength of a sovereignty that is not only national, but truly European.
This will involve common objectives: a willingness to defend gains made through indispensable institutional reforms. In the coming weeks. I shall return to this in detail with a route-map that I shall propose to all our European partners. So yes, we need a Europe in which we again dare to defend social and fiscal convergence, because this is what keeps us united and avoids the divergences that break us apart. We must rediscover the spirit of the Eurozone and bring in strong governance to make us sovereign, with a Eurozone budget and a true executive in charge of it, and with a Eurozone Parliament to which he must be accountable.
We must, by means of concrete proposals that I want to speed up, rebuild this sovereignty so that our Europe can leave behind its petty divisions and construct, within ten years, the terms of its sovereignty. Not for the people of yesterday, but for you, the younger ones.
We who lead Europe today cannot act as though nothing had happened. Yet that luxury is still open to us. But in ten, fifteen, twenty years, what kind of Europe would we be leaving to you?
I don’t want to script your future for you, I just want you to retain the possibility of choice, to have the luxury that we have had, to make choices, admittedly sometimes difficult, but to choose nonetheless. That’s European sovereignty. That is what will permit you, the youth of Europe, to write your own future. This is why what we have witnessed these last ten years, is in no way at the pinnacle of our History! Because what did we promise to Greek youth? What have we been giving them for ten years? Austerity and unemployment for half of them! What did we offer them? A radiant future, provided they wanted to go to Berlin or Paris, or elsewhere. That wasn’t the original promise. The original promise was one of a sovereign Europe where one could succeed at home, within a greater and stronger region than our mere nations. That is what we need to rediscover, that is the heart of European sovereignty, which will permit you younger people to choose!
This sovereignty, which is the capacity of nations to decide their destiny, what can it be other than the people deciding the direction we pursue together? And how can we not see that the defeat of Europe over so many years is also a defeat for democracy?
Because of the size to which it had grown, the broadening it had known, the diversity that it had embraced, the European project a little more than ten years ago suddenly came up against people’s resistance, nations’ resistance. What happened in 2005 in Europe, in France, in the Netherlands, was that these people of the founder-nations decided at a stroke that the project was no longer for them. Have we listened to them? No. The then leaders of Europe decided not to respect their choice; they behaved as though nothing had happened, going around the people to continue a method that for decades had succeeded so well: that of building Europe on their own and explaining later.
What happened in 2005 was that a page was turned, and what we didn’t see immediately was that Europe can no longer advance separately from its peoples; she can follow her destiny only if she has chosen, willed and therefore explained, borne along by all the peoples of Europe; and what happened a few months ago in the United Kingdom was not some other kind of story – it was the people of that island suddenly waking up to the choices too often taken by their own government, and saying, “this kind of Europe is not made for me, I can’t find my place there, I no longer understand it. The rules have become absurd, look at this Europe where I lose my own rights, where I’m always being asked to do more while living less well”. This was what was being said by the British people last year.
So yes, these votes marked the end of an adventure in which Europe had always gone forward as though sheltered from the will of its peoples. And when I combat the often bureaucratic drift that would have Europe advance by regulations that its citizens no longer understood, by occupying itself with every piece of quotidian minutiæ because it had lost sight of its grand plan, it is to rediscover the essence of European democracy; when I struggle to revise the directive on foreign workers, I am fighting against a Europe that has ended up by producing absurd regulations, with the result that our people can no longer even understand the societies in which we want them to live.
Things that maintained us for decades are breaking down because their operation is becoming absurd. But we must acknowledge our share of the blame: it is we who believe in Europe, who have let democracy fracture, have allowed Europe to alienate the people and make them hostile; and while we must have the courage to retake the road of sovereignty, we must likewise have that other courage to rediscover the path of democracy.
That will come first of all through another method for rebuilding Europe: that’s why I wish this route-map that I want to propose to all of the nation-members of the European Union, this route-map for constructing the future of our Europe over the next ten years, not to become a treaty negotiated on the quiet, a document discussed behind closed doors in an obscure room in Paris, Brussels or Berlin; no, I propose that we try a new method, that between now and the end of the year we agree the grand principles of the approach, the goals towards which we want to take our Europe, that we define our objectives clearly, and that from the beginning of next year we be in a position to place them before the European peoples. That wherever leaders choose to follow this course, as I urge every one of the member-states to do, we can over a period of six months organise consultations and democratic conventions, giving time in all our countries for our peoples to discuss the Europe that they want.
Finally, I want us to leave behind that type of infantile dilemma in which Europe is mired today, in which one side goes around making people say “yes” or “no”, responses that can be manipulated for months, where the referendum becomes the only weapon of the populists, of the anti-Europeans; and in which the other side, those who truly believe in Europe, finish up fearing their own people and hiding behind their own doubts, saying to themselves, “let’s advance without ever changing the treaties, for fear of provoking another referendum; let’s advance, but do it incrementally amongst ourselves, because the people wouldn’t understand it”.
Let us choose another path, a third way, the path given birth here, on the very spot on which we now find ourselves, which was not the path of the demagogue: it was that of democracy, of controversy, of debate and progress through critical thought and dialogue; that which consists in close examination of every complex question touching on what we want for our common home. That’s what I want for the first semester of 2018 in all the countries of our continent, of our Europe: to rediscover the essence of what was invented in this very place, which made our democracies. Then yes, in these democratic conventions over six months, let us debate this route-map that the governments will have constructed in principle, and let us reconvene six months later to bring it all together, and on that basis discuss, share in live debate and online throughout Europe; let us build what will be the foundation of our Europe’s reinvention for the ten or fifteen years to come; let us construct the terms of what we truly want, together. This is the method behind my ambition for the months to come!
Revisiting the history of Greece is to meet the force of democracy, the force of debate; and this is what I want us together to be able to rediscover for our Europe. But beyond that, I want the daily functioning of present-day Europe to become more democratic again, I want us to set aside regulations invented by the few for the many, and to put more democracy into our routine administration.
That’s why I want to defend the idea of transnational lists for the next European elections. Our British friends have decided to leave us: let us not try to reallocate to ourselves the several seats that they will vacate in the European Parliament, no! Let us consider that at last we can have a European debate, a European candidature, a truly European democracy that will endure in all the member-nations; and then tomorrow, if we want a more integrated Eurozone, with the heart of Europe to the forefront, let us bring to bear more democratic forces, set up a Parliament for the Eurozone that would usher in democratic responsibility for the rule-makers, which is not the case today.
I want us to rediscover all this together, because the true nourishment of Europe is not fascination with norms, it is democratic vitality. Reconnecting with the original promise of Europe is possible if we act on our desire for sovereignty, and on our need for democracy. To quote Pericles again, we gain nothing by mistrust and betrayal. For several years, this mistrust has eroded the adhesion required by the European project; it has eaten away at confidence, which we must find a way of rebuilding, and in doing so, return to the very sense of the European adventure: the profound conviction that supports this will be indispensable.
We Europeans share a history and a destiny, and it’s because we shall again find this path that we shall be able to rebuild confidence. Look at this place where we stand; trace again in the failing light the hill behind me, the Acropolis. Whoever you are, whatever your age, your nationality, your origin, tell me, European citizens, whether the miracle of this hill, the columns of the Parthenon, the silhouette of the Erechtheion and its caryatids, do not awaken in you the feeling that something was born here that affects you, belongs to you, speaks to you!
Yes, the Acropolis at Athens is a mirror held up to our European identity; we recognise ourselves in it, we read in it our common destiny; and this temple was that of ancient gods, but today the beliefs that gave rise to them have gone, and yet we still think of this strength. We still feel its spirit.
As [André] Malraux said almost sixty years ago in this very place, there is a secret Greece that lies in the heart of all men of the Occident. This secret Greece surpasses us, which is why — if we must persist with our petty European debates and these civil wars that I mentioned earlier — it suffices only to go abroad in order to recognise a European, an image that reminds us of Europe, a feeling that unites us, a smell, a colour, a reading that makes us feel European again.
This Europe of literature, of cafés, of public discussion, of a conviviality and civility that exists nowhere else, whose binding principle is culture, our culture.
We can never fight strongly enough for Europeans to become keenly aware of themselves and this common foundation, which over centuries has found expression in a thousand ways, the Europe of literary circles, of journals, explorers, libraries and ideas, the Europe of magnificent capitals and fascinating byways. This Europe that has existed in innumerable and often nameless ways, that did not wait for our institutions, treaties, projects or controversies. The Europe of Madame de Staël, and of Benjamin Constant who spoke almost all of its languages; it has been there, this Europe that unites us, for so many centuries: it is the Europe of culture. And for this feeling of recognition and mutual appreciation to flourish, for us at last to rebuild confidence in Europe, it is precisely through culture that we must set out again.
Student exchanges are a key essential, the circulation of our youth must be ever more frequent, academic exchanges, the reciprocal learning of our languages, well beyond my laboured attempt [in Greek] at the beginning of this speech; this is what will bring Europe alive, not regulations and obscure decisions. It is to be still more ambitious in this Europe of culture, of academic exchanges!
In the propositions that we shall put forward in this ten-year route-map, I want us to rediscover the audacity, the profound ambition, to radically rebuild this Europe of culture, of knowledge, of the sharing of languages.
Necessary to us also is our European heritage. I spoke about the Acropolis, whose restoration and new museum have come at a high price. Everything that embodies our common past — Greek art, Roman art, mediæval art, baroque and classical — all these buildings, all these works are the very substance of our memory and of our being.
Protecting them and bringing them alive must be a preoccupation of all Europeans. When civilisation comes under attack, the attack is focused on its culture, on its heritage. This can be seen everywhere in the Near East, the Middle East or in Africa! And so we must defend this heritage, transmit it, develop it, repossess it, because it is our identity and our future!
The European Union’s assistance to Greece or Italy is no longer sufficient today, as they face immense challenges in this matter, as do many countries, and France is no exception, where what testifies to our history suffers from indifference or even negligence.
I therefore support the rapid establishment of Heritage Foundations at the European level, to adopt a coordinated approach to building an ambitious programme for heritage and culture. Let us begin again through culture, so that Europe can protect its heritage and reinvent its future. I suggest that these foundations meet in Athens, where everything began, and we shall see that through culture we shall rediscover what unites us, that through culture and heritage we shall find strength in exchanges and in those sites that so impress us; which means that beyond our divisions, at every crucial moment for Europe, we shall have decided to advance together, to build something stronger than ourselves.
I want also to review widely the conditions for the dissemination of works of the mind in Europe: literature, philosophy, poetry, history, geography, cinema, live performances, the sciences, are our common nourishment. There, we need also to create European programmes for seminal works, whether they come from the cultural heritage of particular countries, or from the contemporary imagination. The exchange of knowledge arises from all of this, from these chance encounters. Today everyone, whether publisher, writer, translator, or creative artist, makes himself known and translates what he will, but the result is not enough: we need to organise this essential domain of our culture, to re-train a Europe of translators, of carriers for this cultural ambition that unites us. These are the languages, the inventions, our common imagination, that have forged Europe in spite of its differences. We are, we Europeans, the inhabitants of this improbable Babel in which the diversity of languages and of traditions never ceases to enrich us and fill us with enthusiasm.
So, yes, let us again have this ambition for culture, on which our trust can be re-founded. Sovereignty, democracy, culture: these are the three hopes that I want to offer to the youth of Europe, so that they can take what is appropriate from it. There lies their future: their responsibility, our responsibility, the responsibility of our generation of which I spoke earlier, is to help young people discover the sense of a Europe both strong and legitimate. So, yes, perhaps for some, this enterprise might appear destined for failure. I know that some will say: let’s talk about methods, details, documents; do you want to change the treaty or not? How to modify it, and which articles? We’ll come to that, but because we’re lost in the labyrinth of these confusing discussions, we have also lost our direction, the ardent wish, and the ambition. But should we therefore fear this extreme ambition? Should we fear what preceding generations did not fear?
Can we imagine the secret anxiety of Europe’s founders when they extended their hand to former enemies in a continent still filled with their victims? Can we imagine the absurd ambition, so described by some, when they told us we were going to have a common currency? That was thirty years ago!
Do we have no right to an ambition? I would say quite the contrary. So the challenge that I want to put to you this evening, some weeks in advance of proposing it to all of the countries of Europe, what France thinks, desires, prefers to submit to debate, is this: are you afraid of a European ambition that will allow you to rediscover a sense of sovereignty, of democracy, and of culture?
Look at the times in which we live; it’s the moment of which Hegel spoke, the moment when the owl of Minerva flew away. It’s delectable, this moment, because it has something agreeable and reassuring about it. The owl of Minerva carries wisdom, but always looks behind her; this is also what Hegel told us, I venture to say, – she looks behind her because it is always so easy and so agreeable to look at what we have, the space determined by what we know!
Do not halt at the owl of Minerva, take again this crazy ambition of willing one Europe, stronger, more democratic, re-founded by its culture and what unites us! I ask of you, and in particular of you, the youth of Europe, that you embrace this extreme and perhaps slightly crazy ambition!
What we hope for is in our own hands: let us desire it for ourselves and for our children! And so I promise you this: we shall succeed! In this, let us follow the words of the poet Georges Seferis, which I quote: “And when we seek the miracle, we must cast our blood to the four winds, for the miracle lies not elsewhere, but circulates in the veins of Man”.
Let us then give this miracle a chance, together, for our Europe!
I thank you.❞
Translation by Edward Shilling