"SE PROMENER D'UN PAS AGILE AU TEMPLE DE LA VÉRITÉ LA ROUTE EN ÉTAIT DIFFICILE" VOLTAIRE
mars 22, 2023
Ambassador LLEWELLYN, Dear Edward,
Chancellor PATTEN, Dear Chris,
Dear Presidents, Carol and Andrew,
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is a great honour to be invited to address you in such beautiful surroundings this evening.
I have always been fascinated by the fact that Napoleon’s return from Elba was partly financed by the sale of this house by his “Italian” sister Pauline Borghese to the Duke of Wellington.
That is a pretty good starting point of any examination of the European identity. And it reflects the competitive and intimate relationship between France and Britain.
It is also a great pleasure to share this moment with so many friends and fellows. Thanks again to you, Edward and Anne, for your hospitality.
Following a speaker such as Chris is no easy task. For years, I have been religiously reading his speeches, patiently looking up some of their mysterious words and unfamiliar idiomatic expressions in my French-English dictionary, while reflecting how much I admired his thinking, style and eloquence.
Standing here is all the more intimidating as Chris is for me even more than what Edward said introducing him earlier: beyond his intellectual agility, breadth and depth, he is a model, with Lavender, of a loving parent, a faithful friend and someone who, in many ways, made me what I am today.
So I will not even try to compete with his wisdom. I will limit myself instead to sharing some personal ideas based on my own experience:
• The experience of a convinced European, from a generation which tends to forget how much it owes to its grand and great-grandparents;
• that of someone who has professionally supported the European venture from within, in Brussels, but also from a London-based global institution with a European heart, the EBRD;
• lastly, the experience of a Frenchman who has always been in love with Britain and was lucky enough to study in at least two institutions well represented here today. And who thinks our two countries have both a special responsibility and the power, even in the second decade of the 21st century, to promote peace and spread hope beyond our borders.
Here we are in the throes of Brexit, the crisis of the yellow jackets and increased hostility to “the ruling class” on both sides of the Channel. And here I am talking about European identity to a rarefied audience such as yourselves in the Ambassador’s residence. What better illustration of how disconnected from reality the hated elites have become!
But bear with me
Using the benefits of my experience, I want to focus on three questions in particular:
• What do the current identity crises we are living through reveal about our “Europeanness”?
• Can we reinvigorate our European identity by looking beyond the EU itself?
• Will there still be a place for Britain at the heart of EU ambitions?
* * *
What does the identity crisis we are living through reveal about our “Europeanness”?
Identity is a source of both cohesion and division, a force that can be both powerfully creative and violently destructive. It can provide sanctuary but also provoke dangerous passions.
However “fluid” or elusive it may seem to Europeans here in Europe itself, European identity is a palpable reality for anyone who lives and travels outside Europe. As inheritors of the ideas of the Renaissance and Enlightenment, we share a common sense of belonging based on dignity, liberty, equality, human rights, the rule of law and democracy, as articulated in the Bill of Rights and the Déclaration des Droits de l’Homme et du Citoyen.
The European project was initially conceived as an economic initiative promoting peace and prosperity. And yet it has as its aim the creation of a truly European identity. As Jean Monnet put it in his memoirs, the goal of the European project was never “to form a coalition with states but to bring people together”.
By its very nature, a European identity can only be based on diversity – and therefore tolerance; on values which transcend one group, one clan, one religion or one territory. No wonder that its best advocates have been those who lost everything because of narrow bigotry, the wandering artists and uprooted writers who shared their love for this quality which makes Europe a better place to live in. Read again Fred Ulhman, Milan Kundera or Joseph Kessel.
Today, looking at our two countries – but also at many others close to us in Central and Eastern Europe – it can sometimes feel difficult to salvage anything from what used to be our understanding of a positive European identity.
The development of illiberal democracies within the EU is obviously one of the most destabilising developments since the end of the Cold War, as in a way is Brexit. It is an ordeal for those of us whose families suffered from the evils of nationalism and antisemitism over the last century. It is an immense disappointment for all who believed – even briefly – that we had indeed reached the “end of History” after the fall of the Berlin Wall. It is also an unpleasant wakeup call for people working in institutions like mine which were established to promote transition, not only to open, market economies but also to more open, tolerant and democratic societies.
Who would have thought only a few years ago that countries which had made their success on integrating waves of immigrants would target them as the source of all their problems? Who would have imagined that countries which had suffered so much from the Soviet oppression would consider the rule of law, the independence of the media or the respect of minorities as old fashioned – if not irrelevant concepts? As clearly stated by our distinguished neighbour next door in his platform “For European Renewal” published in March: “never, since the Second World War, has Europe been as essential. Yet never has Europe been in so much danger.”
One way to defend ourselves from that danger is, to my mind, to do a better job in asserting our European identity and its values far more aggressively, thus denying the populists at home and other powers beyond the ability to do it themselves.
Time to defend our European identity & export peace and stability beyond our borders
The single market, the free movement of goods and people, social and economic security: these are central to our European identity. Sometimes we lose sight of this. But the citizens of countries outside the EU, and particularly the ones on the path to EU accession, most certainly have not.
Is this not an ideal opportunity to export peace and stability and our identity as well as strengthen that identity at home? And not spend our time quibbling about the relative merits of national and European sovereignty?
I have just returned from Sarajevo, where we held this year’s EBRD Annual Meeting. The city which fired the shot which started the First World War, the city at the heart of Europe’s bloodiest conflict since the Second World War. But also for a long time a model of peaceful coexistence by different communities. And a city our hosts Edward and Anne know very well for better or worse.
Today’s Bosnia-Herzegovina is, unfortunately, a rather dysfunctional state. And the absence of a common identity is one of the main reasons for that. Nevertheless, among the population the longing for a European identity, the desire to belong to Europe and share the values it symbolises, is strong.
We can make the most of these aspirations – in Bosnia and beyond – to reinvigorate our European identity across the continent.
At the same time European citizens have never been so dependent of developments outside Europe. External challenges – climate change, security and migration, job creation in our neighbourhood – are on top of the agenda in all European member states for good or bad reasons.
The time has therefore come to focus on translating the European identity beyond our borders and Britain has a key role to play in that.
Britain at the heart of European global ambitions
You may find this a little bit provocative at times when the B-word has poisoned so many things on the island and the perception people outside Britain have of the country. Isn’t Britain drifting peacefully away from the EU the ultimate stage of expression of the European identity, the freedom of applying one’s freedom even to one’s own detriment? I am not sure of the answer to this question. But what I think is that notwithstanding the choice made by Britain, it should remain part – I would even stay at the heart – of European global ambitions.
Despite the challenges, France and Britain – or should I say their Platonic ideals, at least as I see them – have a key role to play to help Europe move in the right direction. Why?
• because each of them are still global players;
• because at the deepest levels they do share the same values;
• because Europe’s security and development potential depend largely on them;
• and last because they each contribute a distinctive and complementary approach to the progress which has shaped Europe’s identity.
Distinctive and complementary as are British parliamentary sovereignty and commercial acumen alongside the Code Napoleon, France’s nation of farmers and the concept of terroir.
Thus the two countries remain intimately linked, making them both stronger, more relevant and more influential. More dirigiste economies turn into competitive open market democracies while preserving social cohesion and vice versa.
European member states will surely continue to have different external priorities. But given the immense development and geopolitical challenges ahead, they must ask themselves: can such challenges be met in the context of political, financial and strategic competition between individual states and when their global influence is pulling in different directions? Can the EU or individual member states afford to forego influence by acting “solo”? Can’t the EU find ways to steer its own actions and that of other global powers towards the highest standards and values? This higher, more arduous path is not only altruistic – it is self-interested and also realistic.
How could the EU not embrace Britain’s drive to promote common European approaches to global challenges? A global Britain and a global Europe are not mutually exclusive. They are two faces of the same ambition.
Take the EBRD, for example. Our Bank was the first ‘post-cold war’ institution in Europe, founded as a direct response to the collapse of communism to empower new generations of entrepreneurs through economic and political freedoms. Those remain at the heart of our projects today and are part of the EU values that we do promote through our investments and policy work in the EU neighborhood and beyond.
If considered in today’s global context, the intuitions of our founders were incredibly modern: agreeing in 1991 that non-European countries may be members of the Bank, whilst ensuring a European majority shareholding.
Our focus on the private sector and on entrepreneurship, together with good governance, owes a lot to Britain. It resonates particularly at a time of huge challenges and scarce public resources. At the EBRD the UK is and will continue to be one of our largest shareholders. It should continue to bring its distinct contribution to European influence beyond our borders and help continental Europeans look outwards, rather than inwards.
The EBRD can, in my opinion, become a post-Brexit institution par excellence, one which Europe can use to reinvigorate and rediscover its deepest identity.
An institution based in London, a world city where everyone should feel more European than ever.
* * *
I want to finish with a final thought on the importance of elites and public service in forging a positive approach to European identity.
Europe was a product of the mind. We are privileged, not because of our heritage or better economic opportunities, but because our education has opened our minds to the world in a way that is free from prejudice. That is the real treasure celebrated in “L’éducation européenne” by Romain Gary – another uprooted thinker rightly honoured this month through his “entry” in La Pléiade. This intellectual luxury must be preserved and handled with care if we want the next generations to be genuinely free to serve the general interest. We should all strive to bring European elites together with the rest of society and give everybody confidence in the European project. And we need to define the European identity ourselves and not allow populism to do it for us.
Whilst Britain already voted today, it is now two days before the European elections in France … and who knows how many days before yet another Brexit vote in the UK Parliament…
Beyond rediscovering the sense of purpose our people need to know who they are, where they are coming from to be able build a positive ambition about where they want to go. As you dissect with simplicity, elegance and charm in your last book Chris, we are all what we are because of our personal and family histories. But some have transformed what they are and what they think in a contribution to the public life of their country and Europe.
Chris, you are clearly one of them.
* These reflections are made in a personal capacity rather than as a Vice-President of the EBRD
Pierre Heilbronn- Vice President of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development-has overall responsibility for the formulation, communication, coordination and implementation of the Bank’s country and sector strategies, the Bank’s policy engagement, technical cooperation assignments, and related initiatives upholding and supporting the Bank’s transition mandate. The Vice President is responsible of the application of the political aspects of the Bank’s mandate, taking the lead on EBRD ( engagement with countries of operation, EU institutions and other key external organisations and stakeholders especially civil society groups. He has also overall accountability on the mobilisation and management of donor funds. The Vice President is a member of the Executive Committee and chairs the Strategy and Policy Committee.
Mr Heilbronn has 20 years of experience in policy-making in domestic, European and broader global context. Before joining the EBRD in November 2016, he was deputy chief of staff for France’s Minister of Economy and Finance. For three years, he supervised the devising and implementation of the economic strategy aimed at increasing the competitiveness of companies, restoring the credibility of public finances, improving the transparency of economic life and opening up new opportunities for businesses and households. He was also directly involved in the international and European agendas especially the implementation of the Juncker plan, the development policy agenda associated with the French presidency of COP21 and also in banking and financial markets issues.
Before that, he served as the European advisor of the French Prime Minister and for six years supervised the handling of most European dossiers managing the department in charge of European coordination under the Prime Minister’s authority. Notably, he coordinated the French Presidency of the European Union of 2008, led the French engagement with the G20, the European Council and the Eurogroup/ECOFIN. He extensively dealt with issues linked to the stabilisation of the euro area, the enlargement of the European Union, major multilateral and bilateral trade negotiations and played a decisive role in helping to define, develop and deliver assistance to Greece in response to the crisis.
Earlier in his career, Mr Heilbronn assisted in the definition and creation of the European External Action Service. Acting as head of Cabinet of the European Commissioner for External Relations and Management of Development Aid, he worked directly on the Neighbourhood policy and was responsible for the management of EU development aid at all stages of the programming cycle.
Pierre Heilbronn started his career in the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Department of European cooperation) and in the Ministry of Finance (Inspection générale des Finances and Directorate of Tax Legislation).
Mr Heilbronn graduated from the Institut d’Etudes politiques de Paris (Sciences Po) and the Ecole nationale d’administration (ENA). He holds a Master of Economics from Cambridge University and a Master of European studies from the College of Europe of Bruges. He also studied in Yale University and Georgetown University (Walsh School of Foreign Service).
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