Last Tuesday, François Hollande expressed his views on the European integration in his address to the MEPs in Strasbourg.
During near half an hour, the French president exposed his vision and his objectives stressing the priority given to jobs and growth in order to re-launch the EU and reply to the growing citizens’ distrust, but also the importance of more solidarity both towards the European youth and between Member States.
François Hollande’s speech was globally welcomed by the European representatives. For Isabelle Durant, Green EP Vice-president and former Belgian minister of Transports, the French Head of State delivered a “very nice speech” exposing a “real European federalist vision”. The socialist MEPs share the same opinion, paying tribute to Hollande’s performance and conviction.
Hollande’s intervention was eagerly awaited and had a quite clear objective: (re)affirming the role, even the leadership of France within the EU, mainly vis-à-vis Germany and the UK. Indeed, confronted to the will of Angela Merkel to impose her views and methods and to the intention of David Cameron to reconsider the relations between London and the EU, François Hollande draws a different strategy, clearly Europhile, to show his difference and be more influent.
With such a strategy, the French leader wants to retake the initiative. As Alain Lamassourre, French MEP and EPP (Christian-Democrats) member, underlined on Radio France Internationale (RFI), “on European topics, François Hollande has been more spectator than actor, let alone leader”. This opinion should be nuanced but remains relevant. Facing the German chancellor and the UK PM, the French Head of State is trying to leave his mark and play a major role.
By introducing himself as a federalist, Hollande is challenging Germany and Great-Britain, putting himself in the steps of François Mitterrand and Jacques Delors. The reference to one of his predecessors and to the former president of the European Commission is clearly intentional insofar as the current French President wants to appear as the political heir of these two famous French politicians. His vision of Europe clearly goes in this direction, and Hollande wants to be the defender of this political legacy vis-à-vis Merkel and Cameron.
To make it clear, the Europhile speech of François Hollande should be understood more as a political strategy to counterweigh Germany and Great-Britain than as a call in favour of the European integration, even if the current French president had, at several times, the opportunity to express his euro-romanticism in the past. So, he wished the June 2014 European elections give the occasion to debate about the future of Europe with citizens, which is a subtle way to express his Europhile activism, pointing to David Cameron who is thinking about the relation between his country and Europe in a purely national (even nationalistic) way.
In conclusion, François Hollande was convincing in Strasbourg. But the question remains whether his Europhile strategy will have an impact and concrete results in the framework of the current budgetary negotiations in the European Council.