François Hollande and Angela Merkel in historic joint plenary appearance

François Hollande and Angela Merkel call for more EU unity but ultimately fail to impress MEPs.

By Julie Levy-Abegnoli

08 Oct 2015

French President François Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel addressed MEPs in plenary today on the current situation in the EU, focusing their speeches mainly on the current refugee crisis.

Hollande spoke first, admitting that, "for years now Europe has been in a succession of crises. With each crisis, fear reappears. We need to live with fear, but we must not be dominated by it. There is a temptation to retreat into our own national shells in time of crisis. However, experience and history tell us that going it alone is not the way."

Addressing the refugee crisis, he insisted that, "discussions must conclude with clear rules. We must provide Turkey with assistance if they are helping us, whether refugees are in camps or within their population."


Turkey is generally the first point of entry into Europe for refugees trying to reach the EU.

Calling for further solidarity and unity among the member states, Hollande added, "The EU must reaffirm itself, otherwise we'll see an end to it."

"We need to strengthen the Schengen area. Returning to internal borders would be a tragic error. But we also need a more coherent asylum policy, meaning a common EU asylum regime. We have a choice between going backwards or going forwards; going backwards will lead us to powerlessness."

The French President was also proud that, "in Ukraine, Europe responded to the brutal flouting of international law and showed unity in putting in place a regime of sanctions. We are now prepared to demonstrate the same resolve, determination, responsibility and solidarity in the Syrian conflict."

Angela Merkel started her speech by saying, "we have learned from our history and our diversity that the way to take responsibility for freedom is, ultimately, tolerance."

On the refugee crisis, she told MEPs that, "these are people who should have the possibility to live in peace and without fear of bombs in their own countries. This is a job for Europe and the whole world."

"We have to try to stop the flow of migrants, and there's no way around ensuring the causes of fleeing can be stemmed. We cannot shut ourselves off from the world and what happens in it."

"Nobody voluntarily leaves the place they came from, but we also have to tell these people that they cannot stay here."

"Turkey has an important role to play. It is our immediate neighbour, and is the starting point for irregular migration. They have been achieving extraordinary things but they need our strong support."

Merkel warned, "we mustn't fall prey to the inclination to act nationally. We must act together. We need more Europe, and more of the cohesion and courage that Europe has shown in the past when it mattered. 

"We must uphold our values, otherwise we are committing self-betrayal. If we do this, we will emerge from the crisis stronger than when we entered it. We have a lot more to do to convince people of the value of Europe."

Parliament's group leaders were then able to respond to the two heads of state. For months now, MEPs have accused member states of stalling talks to find a solution to the refugee crisis.

Manfred Weber, chair of the European People's Party group, said, "party conflict is part and parcel of the democratic process, but there are political forces in our continent that are causing fear. These people have no idea how to solve the problems we face. However, this political reality is on the wane, as is scepticism in Europe."

Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats for Europe group chair Gianni Pittella warned against rising national divisions, saying, "if Europe is humiliated and downgraded to a collection of states for reasons of convenience, that opens a Pandora's box of egotism."

European Conservatives and Reformists group Vice-Chair Ryszard Antoni Legutko said, "part of the reason we face this crisis over Europe's future is that people are concerned that their viewpoint doesn't matter. Some are ignored, others are bullied, others vilified. This deafening federalist rhetoric is not rooted in reality."

Guy Verhofstadt, chair of Parliament's Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Liberals group, believed that, "the source of this crisis is a lack of common governance and unity. There is not one Union, but at least 10. The 28, Schengen, the euro, the patent, the opt-ins, the opt-outs, enhanced cooperation, derogations. It's chaos. Europe needs one heart."

Gabi Zimmer, head of Parliament group of the European United Left/Nordic Green Left, accused the two heads of state of representing, "old Europe. Old Europe has failed. The community method has gradually been abandoned in favour of a Union method, leading to further splits in the EU."

"What we've learned through the Greek crisis and migration, is that Europe is failing and we don't have solidarity between equals. The sword of austerity is hanging over our heads and is getting in the way of solidarity."

Next up was Greens/European Free Alliance co-chair Rebecca Harms, who pointed out that, "if we are talking about European values and human rights, it's questionable that what it boils down to is that we can't monitor our external borders more effectively."

"I also think it's important that Turkey does its fair share, but it's wrong to avoid talking about [Turkish President] Recep Erdoğan's escalation towards the Kurds and how that exacerbates the problems in the region."

The Turkish government and the Kurdistan Workers' Party have been engaged in conflict for decades, and there have been recent reports of mass arrests and killings of Kurdish representatives. Turkey is due to hold elections next month.

Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy group co-chair Nigel Farage said, "this isn't a Europe of peace, it's a Europe of division and disharmony. There is a bright star on the horizon, and it's called the British referendum. I hope and pray that Britain voting to leave the EU will be the beginning of the end of a project that, however noble its intentions were, has gone rotten."

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