On June 23, the British people decided to leave the EU. I am sorry they did because I believe the UK belongs in Europe. But I respect their choice. I can think of nothing worse than suggesting their decision might be disregarded.
The approaching political talks will be tough and the associated technicalities complex. Article 50, the mechanism for departing the EU, provides a two-year timeframe to reach an agreement, and failure to do so will result in automatic exit. The question is whether the UK and its 27 partner nations will have enough time to reach a mutually satisfactory agreement enshrining most of the bond they already share, or be forced into a much harsher break-up. Nobody knows the answer yet.
What does seem certain to me, however, is that these talks need to reach coherent outcomes. Nobody can be in and out at the same time, or enjoy privileges without fulfilling responsibilities. This has absolutely nothing to do with retribution: it is simple logic. No European government could agree to grant the UK free access to the single market if Britain does not accept rules, duties and concessions, including the free movement of Europeans, in return.
Respecting the British people’s choice also implies acknowledging that their doubts about the European project cannot be explained away as insular or idiosyncratic. Other European nations could have voted the same way given the chance, simply because the rift between Europe and its citizens is wider than ever before.
And yet the only way forward for Europeans in our globalised world — where competition is becoming ever fiercer, the challenges ever more complex and the threats more numerous — is to stand together. Europe is still a profoundly modern idea but the European project as we know it has grown old. This is why I believe Europe needs an overhaul as well as reforms.
First of all, this implies finally admitting that there is more than one Europe. The Europe of the euro and the Europe of the 27-member union, for example, have different paths to follow.
The Europe of the euro needs to deepen its integration, under sound economic governance, once and for all. The foundation for this was built during the crisis in 2010-11, when the European Stability Mechanism was created and eurozone summits began. This Europe needs to take a few steps further, providing more permanent leadership for its eurozone summits, setting up a central secretariat to serve as Europe’s treasury, and turning the ESM into a fully fledged European monetary fund.
The other Europe, the 27-member union, should revert to its original duties — ensuring the domestic market operates smoothly and focusing on no more than 10 truly strategic issues, such as agricultural and industrial policy to stimulate growth; research policy, which needs to be bolder; competition policy, which needs to be less dogmatic; and trade policy founded on reciprocity. Everything else is best left in the hands of member states.
This enlarged Europe also needs to review the commission’s prerogatives, to prevent it from bypassing European and national lawmakers, and unilaterally stifling our entrepreneurs and our citizens with the technical constraints it inflicts on them.
Lastly, Europe needs a new immigration policy. It needs a new Schengen, shared immigration and asylum policies, and consistent employment laws regarding foreigners to end social dumping. Foreigners should not receive non-contributory benefits until they have completed five years’ residence. We need to protect Europe’s borders effectively. We need to join forces to send those who have entered illegally back to their country of origin. We need to rank co-operation aimed at stemming illegal immigration among our foreign policy priorities. Countries that refuse to co-operate should be denied EU aid. This must be combined with a European “Marshall plan” for Africa.
In the meantime, I believe we should put accessions on hold, even in the case of countries that have grounds for joining, such as the Balkan states. And, as I have said before, I categorically oppose Turkey’s accession.
Once Europe emerges from its overhaul, it will be up to British leaders to decide whether to ask their people about joining the union again. The choice will be the British people’s to make, and theirs alone. Europe must not reform because it hopes to bring the UK back to the fold: it must embrace reform because its future and its survival depend on it; because reform is as urgent as it is vital.
The writer, president of France from 2007 to 2012, is seeking the Republicans’ nomination for the 2017 election
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