Giscard d’Estaing

President of the French Republic

Speech made to the Assembly

Friday, 28 January 1977

Mr President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Mr Chairmen, Mr Secretary General, Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen, the ceremony which unites us here today is an important one for France and for Europe, which is why I agreed willingly to be present and to speak.

To erect a building is in itself a sign of vitality and hope, but how much more so when that building belongs in common to nineteen European nations. I shall not speak about the new building for others have just done so and, if I may say so, it speaks for itself. I congratulate all those who have worked on it, from the architect to the masons, and who, now that their effort is over, are proud of what they have achieved.

I can say that France is happy to have contributed to this collective work; she is also happy to welcome here in a new setting all those – Ministers, members of parliament, civil servants and journalists – who devote themselves to the building of Europe. This is because France is conscious of her responsibilities towards them as the host country of the organisation and means, in conjunction with the municipality of Strasbourg, to continue her efforts to give everybody good conditions of work, pleasant accommodation and easy means of access, particularly by air. In regard to this last point, in particular, I am asking the Ministers responsible to investigate, together with the local authorities, what improvements might still be made.

I hope that in this building, equipped with all modern facilities but still overlooking the shady park of the Orangerie, everyone will find what he needs for the accomplishment of his task and at the same time an atmosphere conducive to thought and understanding.

For France, this inauguration is also an opportunity to pay a tribute to the oldest of the European organisations, that which first began to give shape and life to the old dream, the great dream of European union.

The “Council of Europe” – the idea and the name both figured in Winston Churchill’s famous appeal from Zurich in 1946 in which he urged Europe to rise from its ruins. In response, two years later, France took the initiative of proposing the setting up of a European parliamentary organisation whose birth was marked by the instrument setting up the Council of Europe on 5 May 1949.

The Council of Europe is the first international organisation and no doubt still the only one today over whose gates is written: “No state which does not recognise and guarantee human rights and fundamental freedoms shall enter here”.

It is the first international organisation to have set aside the machinery of international diplomacy to make room for peoples as well as for states. It is not by chance that in the building we are inaugurating today, as in the previous one, the hemicycle is in the centre. It is indeed from the permanent dialogue which it has instituted between the people’s elected representatives and the representatives of governments, between the Parliamentary Assembly and the Committee of Ministers, that the Council of Europe derives an essential part of its originality and dynamism.

This is why the Council of Europe is today the international organisation where concern for man, his rights, his living conditions and his daily preoccupations is the most to the forefront. Because the Council goes on with its work day after day modestly and quietly, its efficiency and significance are sometimes overlooked. Whether it be a matter of protecting individual freedoms, harmonising legislation in the sphere of public health or labour, exchanges in the field of culture or education, encouragement to local democracy, the citizens of all our countries are directly concerned.

Whatever the new lines along which the building of Europe has developed since 1949, the Council of Europe need not fear that its work will become redundant. Although part of our continent is engaged in the great task of uniting the nations it embraces, the European Community does not forget that there are also in the same continent a number of states which share with it a similar civilisation and whose political systems are governed by the same principles.

And so, it will always be essential for the union of Europe to be able to discuss things with Europe. It will be able to do so conveniently here, in Strasbourg, in this Council which was designed from the start as a forum for our continent.

This new building is also designed to house during its sessions the Assembly of the Community, shortly to be elected by universal suffrage. On this score it invites us to look back over the whole historic process of the building of Europe.

A review of the thirty years this process has now been going on teaches a number of lessons.

It shows, in the first place, that despite temporary setbacks, European union has never ceased to progress. Its progress has not been as rapid or as easy as some would have liked but it is more real and steady than pessimists would have us believe. Our customs barriers have fallen away. Our economies have been dovetailed into one another. Our Community has been enlarged. We have become accustomed to examining all problems together. Yes, these years will be entitled to go down in history as those which gave birth to the union of Europe.

It shows secondly that at no time have those who launched the idea of Europe had a definite vision of what they were going to find at the end of their efforts. Like climbers making their first ascension they did not measure in advance the exact height of the summit hidden in the clouds but went on climbing stubbornly, looking all the time for the right way and glimpsing the right view ahead.

Lastly it shows that the progress of Europe has not given any of the countries which make up the Community the feeling of having lost its identity or made over its sovereignty. As we have progressed we have not diminished ourselves, we have met one another.

Looking out from the threshold of this building, which is also in its way the threshold of Europe, what new prospects can we discern?

I today can see three:

– Europe needs institutions suited to the next stage of its development.

– Specific targets must be fixed for the coming years and at the same time there must exist the will to reach them.

– And then we must tell the peoples of Europe about the ambitious project we are proposing to them in the shape of the union of Europe, for the cause of Europe needs an ideological lever.

These are the three points that I shall touch on in turn, and, like you, Mr President and Mr Chairman, I shall be brief.

Since Europe has to achieve complete economic and monetary union and is also proceeding along the path to confederation, she needs institutions to serve that two-fold aim. This gives its full meaning to the setting up of the European Council and the election of the Assembly by universal suffrage.

The whole constituted by the life of the Economic Community and the functioning political co-operation indeed covers multiple and very different activities. In order to achieve unity and bring about a synthesis there must be a common centre. The European Council, a meeting place for the highest authorities of our states, constitutes at the summit of the edifice the body necessary to provide coordination and impetus as we advance towards union and confederation. It is not for it to replace the other levels of power nor should we expect it to take spectacular decisions, at each of its meetings, for that might lead to a series of false hopes and disappointments. But it should provide a motive force for the whole edifice, by taking decisions on vital questions, laying down guidelines and making Europe’s voice heard whenever necessary.

Similarly, it is important to take note of the effects of the development of Europe on the way in which the Parliament is elected. From the outset the authors of the Treaty of Rome were anxious to gain popular support, expressed democratically, for the long and difficult task of building Europe. In the early stages they relied on an assembly whose members were chosen by national parliaments from among their own members.

Now that the Community has its own resources and has developed a set of legal provisions, that composite arrangement no longer has any justification. It is desirable for the members of the assembly to be elected directly in order to perform their specific task, and it is a good thing that the voters should be given an opportunity to reveal their interest in European problems by choosing their representatives directly. It would be wrong to expect or fear any change in the existing institutional equilibrium, because the Assembly’s powers like those of any such body derive neither from its origin nor its membership, but from the provisions of treaties which we all undertook to apply and respect.

Institutions are not an end in themselves even if, on our continent, which has built up highly learned legal traditions, whether Latin or Anglo- Saxon in origin, much time is willingly spent in defining and discussing them. These institutions are the instruments of action.

That is why precise objectives must be established for Europe’s progress in the year ahead.

For some years now, our continent has been suffering from the effects of the longest and most far-reaching world crisis of the past fifty years. In various degrees each one of our states is suffering from it, but, doubtless because it is new and vulnerable, the machinery for Community solidarity is the first to be upset. We are bound to admit this in view of the partial collapse of the unfortunate monetary snake, the crumbling of the agricultural policy and the reappearance, here and there, of the protectionist temptations which hover over our economies like will-o’-the-wisps over the marshes.

Our first duty is to preserve what we have achieved in the Community. This applies to trade; we must resolutely refuse to take any protectionist measures which affect the free movement of goods. That is particularly true of the common agricultural policy: we must seek ways of restoring the unity of the European agricultural policy: we must seek ways of restoring the unity of the European agricultural market despite differences in currencies. In short, we should not be able to give voice to great ambitions if we were powerless to preserve what we have already set out to accomplish.

The second priority is to progress by adopting common policies in a certain number of specific and vital fields in the life of our continent, such as energy, fisheries, transport, the leading industries, environmental protection, the harmonisation of VAT and many other fields. The gradual introduction of these policies will strengthen the threads of the European tissue which is today sadly stretched and sometimes tom.

Lastly, we should give its rightful and vital place to the complete achievement of economic and monetary union. The difficulties of the present time which have not spared any of us and the problems due to the enlargement of the Community have forced us to interrupt our progress, but they must not cause us to abandon the project. Economic and monetary union is a vital stage along the path to European union. That is why I have proposed to our colleagues that the European Council should hold a special meeting at the end of the year in order to take stock of the progress we have made in restoring the balance in our economies and then to define arrangements for resuming our efforts to achieve economic and monetary union.

But how – and this is my final point – can we urge our peoples to accept this discipline and support these plans if we do not look beyond the immediate difficulties and show them that Europe can be given a soul and a spirit?

That is the third and perhaps the most important of the requirements we have to face up to today.

Originally the problem was different: to unite Europe meant guaranteeing peace and overcoming Franco-German antagonism which had tom up the soil of our continent and stained it with blood, and to make a war between France and Germany in the future quite out of the question. That was Robert Schuman’s major concern and the meaning of his declaration of 9 May 1950. The ominous shadow which Robert Schuman and Konrad Adenauer wanted to remove has vanished forever.

The proof of their success can be seen in the fact that we have even forgotten the anguish which haunted them. The enemies of yesterday have become the friends and partners of today.

Later, the authors of the Treaties of Rome were inspired by the idea that by tearing down the barriers dividing our continent, by opening up the frontiers to the wind of competition, it would be possible to give the people of Western Europe the keys to prosperity, economic and social progress and confidence. And indeed the European nations, ravaged and stricken by war, have taken their place once more in the vanguard of the most advanced countries, and they have recovered faith in their economic future.

Accordingly, each stage in the building of Europe has its own ambition. Europe has healed her wounds and in the main overcome her economic divisions. Now, whether she likes it or not, she must face up to the major world problems. Our predecessors exorcised the sombre past and provided guarantees for the present. It is up to us now to make proposals for the future.

To do that means, first of all, that Europe should be capable of representing in the modem world a type of society in which facilities of all kinds, which the modern era has multiplied, will be placed at the service of man instead of enslaving him, in which the freedom of the citizens will be compatible with their effective participation in public responsibilities and lastly in which life will be less harsh for mankind and recover its colour and original culture. That is what I call the common model for European society.

To propose what the future should be also means taking the necessary steps to ensure that Europe is not allowed to lag behind in the race for scientific, technological and economic progress and does not relapse into second-rate provincialism. The scientists, the laboratories and industries are developing the techniques which will shape the reality of tomorrow. Europe has the human and material potential to take part in this task. She must however provide the resources.

Lastly, in a troubled and dangerous world, dominated by the shadow of the major nuclear and military arsenals, to propose what the future should be like means making heard, in international discussions, in a world where vast areas are still subject to misery and famine, the voice of reason which is the voice of independence and dignity and the voice of the heart which is that of fellowship among peoples.

Europe’s vocation is not to be the brilliant second of anybody, however great, but to be herself illustrating and defending the democratic principles for which we stand.

Mr President, when I look at this Assembly Chamber I think of the countless discussions which will take place here; how many speeches, how many arguments these walls will hear.

Let us hope that the spirit of Europe may inspire them and may remain constantly present in this house built for Europe on French soil.