Podium: Vive the United Europe of States

Jacques Chirac From the French President's address at the fourth annual Conference des Ambassadeurs
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SOME PEOPLE think that France has lost some room for manoeuvre with the ending of the bipolar order. That's wrong. Firstly, because the disappearance of dictatorships is always good news. But above all because, precisely as a result of the ending of the Cold War, France has regained a great freedom of initiative and action. Since the start of this decade, and for the first time for centuries, France has no enemies. The new, often diffuse threats with which it is confronted are the same as those hanging over our main partners. Having drawn a line under territorial and colonial ambitions, while seeking to strengthen the bonds forged by history, France has managed to adapt to a world where the risks, like the components of power, are changing fast and profoundly. In order to promote its interests, France must be able to build up around it different units, varying with the issues involved.

In this new set of alliances based on different areas of mutual interest and differing in nature and the intensity of the activities carried out within them, the most important circle is, of course, the European Union. The French, even though they are, justifiably, irritated by certain bureaucratic excesses, grasp the full significance of the adventure on which our continent has embarked thanks to the genius of a few visionaries.

For the first time in history, a power is being borne not by force of arms, but through the freely expressed will of its constituent peoples. For the first time, the purpose of this empire forged for intellectual reasons isn't to ensure the domination of one people over its neighbours, but to assert their union on a basis of respect for each country's identity and the collective promotion of shared values. This is what gives the institution we have built its unique character. The EU doesn't want to be the United States of Europe, but the United Europe of States. And, for the first time since the Roman Empire, Europe will, on 1 January next year, have a single currency.

Like all my predecessors, and with Helmut Kohl, I wanted to make a success of the most ambitious European venture to date. Because it's the necessary complement to the single market. Because it gives France back a monetary sovereignty - shared, admittedly - but which it had in reality progressively lost. Because it protects our peoples from monetary crises and fluctuations. Because it establishes for us collective economic disciplines which are the best guarantees of sustained, healthy growth and thus of jobs in all our countries. Because, at last, it will enable Europe to be America's equal in the decisive monetary sphere.

Similarly, we shall soon have to find appropriate solutions in an essential area: the euro's external representation. This accelerated economic integration must be supplemented by further progress in the People's Europe, especially in the sphere of employment and the European social model. This is our way of counteracting some perverse effects of globalisation and it's crucial if we are to ensure our people's lasting support for the European enterprise.

The Agenda 2000 negotiations and reform of the institutions will be difficult. Their successful completion is the inescapable pre-requisite for the forthcoming enlargement. But they must in no way serve as a pretext for postponing it. Let me forcefully reiterate: France would like to see the earliest possible accession of all the applicant States satisfying the conditions laid down in the treaties. Enlargement is both a moral duty and an opportunity for Europe.

The real difficulties which will have to be overcome must not make us lose sight of the EU's long-term goal: to form a democratic, peace-loving, powerful and prosperous entity of 500 million men and women, which will be the first in the world. The time has also come to supplement this ambitious programme in two spheres.

Firstly, culture. We must speed up the harmonisation, which has begun too slowly, of diplomas awarded by the major European universities. The other sphere is that of foreign policy and security. With the euro, Europe has proved that when it wants to do something, it can. Let's have the will to do things for ourselves on the international stage! It will take time, I know. But progress has to be made.

To carry its partners with it, France must, even more than in the past, develop close and trusting relations with each of the other EU member countries. Also, and above all, it must propose to Germany new and even more ambitious ways of affirming our friendship and co-operation. At the heart of the European enterprise, the relationship between Paris and Bonn and tomorrow between Paris and Berlin is, more than ever before, fundamental.