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Hollande tries to bring together Europe’s South

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Hollande tries to bring together Europe’s South

Family photo, PES meeting at Celle Saint Cloud. [French Presidency]

At a meeting of socialist leaders yesterday (25 August), French President François Hollande pleaded against the rise of populism. He also announced his participation in another summit of the EU’s southern countries in Athens, on 9 September. EurActiv France reports.

The center-left heads of state and government met under a leaden heat in Celle Saint Cloud, on 23 August, in a small castle belonging to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The venue is symbolic for its choice: it’s where ministers like to meet their counterparts, as did Hubert Védrine with Joshka Fischer for example. But the venue is also the place where sensitive documents have been signed, such as the agreements at Celle Saint Cloud in 1965, which gave independence to Morocco. Away from the spotlight, it is also easier to secure than the capital.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, whose leftist Syriza party is officially not a member of the Party of European Socialists (PES), made the trip, as did the Slovakian Prime Minister, Robert Fico, whose country currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU Council. Challenged for his stance against refugees, the Slovak politician was nearly expelled from the PES. He was due to meet with Russian head of state Vladimir Putin later the same day.

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The priorities already highlighted at the Ventotene summit on Monday (22 August) were recalled by the French head of state, who is looking for impetus from other European countries in the wake of Brexit.

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Europe, a certain idea of living together

Hollande made an impassioned plea for Europe, against populism.

“Europe is a strength that allows us to control our destiny better than we could do alone,” he insisted, recalling that Europe’s founding fathers had wanted a project that goes beyond the nation state for solid reasons.

“Populists put at stake our idea of living in common,” the French President said, after having discussed the post-Brexit scenario with his counterparts. What makes the statement even more symbolic is that Marine Le Pen, the Leader of Front National, lives in La Celle Saint Cloud, close to the venue of the summit.

“We do not want to be an addition of countries, we want to share choices. We believe that with the European project, we control our destiny. But we need rules to live together implies that everyone respects the others, without provocation or stigmatization,” Hollande said, alluding to the raging debate in France on the burkini. However, he stopped short of taking positions between those who want a ban of the burkini, and those who think this amounts to a blow to civil rights.

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Security, defense, investment and guarantee youth priority issues

The French president emphasised security issues, saying that Europe must protect its citizens, and acquire the ability to take diplomatic action. He also referred to economic security, stressing that big companies should respect the French and European law on taxation. Finally the head of state spoke about the importance of investment. He is currently campaigning for doubling the size of the Juncker Plan, which would entail finding additional resources. For now, the Juncker Plan is funded in EU own resources. Doubling the size of the plan would entail putting at risk an already battered European budget.

Finally, on youth, the socialists intend to ask that the Youth Guarantee be extended and beefed up.

Avoiding a multi-polar union

The socialist summit is part of an effort to rebalance forces and identify priorities which may be different from those of France. Angela Merkel has also started a European roadshow, meeting a number of leaders, who advocate more rigor. On the other hand, the Visegrad Group has tried to reject a revision of the directive on posted workers, and unites around the refusal to accept the relocation of refugees.

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On 9 September, the French president will participate at a meeting of southern European member states in Athens, which is expected to advocate for growth and investment, against the rigor preached by northern Europe. With Brexit, it is clear that the South feels reinforced, even if the political situation in these countries prevents a true southern interest group from being created. With Greece, Italy and France heavily in debt, which means dependence on northern European member states, and Spain, which is unable to form a government for more than six months, the union of the EU’s South isn’t able to exercise its influence yet.