R.K. Mishra Memorial Lecture by Jean-Marc Ayrault

H.E. Mr Jean-Marc Ayrault, French Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development delivered the 7th R.K. Mishra Memorial Lecture on the theme of “The European Union, an Indispensable Actor in an Uncertain World”.

New Delhi, 11 January 2017

H.E. Mr Jean-Marc Ayrault, French Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, is on a four-day visit to India, from 8th to 11th January 2017, to strengthen Indo-French bilateral relations.

During the Delhi leg of his trip, Mr Ayrault delivered the keynote address of the 7th R.K. Mishra Memorial Lecture, organized by the Observer Research Foundation. The lecture’s theme was “The European Union, an Indispensable Actor in an Uncertain World”.

The keynote address was followed by a Q&A session with the audience, moderated by Mr. Samir Saran, Deputy Director - Observer Research Foundation.

Text of R.K. Mishra Memorial Lecture by H.E. Mr Jean-Marc Ayrault

Free translation – check against delivery

Mr Director [dear Sunjoy Joshi]
Dear Madame Mishra,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Dear friends,

At the outset, allow me to thank you for your invitation. I am delighted to participate in this conference held in the memory of the founder of ORF, Mr Rishi Kumar Mishra. Mr Mishra was a source of inspiration for foreign policy matters for several successive prime ministers. He championed a generous and universalist vision of the world – which did not prevent him from being a great patriot.

Rishi Kumar Mishra desired to build bridges between traditional Indian philosophy and today’s world. He was a man who respected borders, but also liked being able to overcome them. I think this little summary is an apt introduction for our theme today: the European Union.


2016 was a year that severely tested the European Union. Distrust regarding its functioning is gaining ground. It would be over-simplistic to think that this distrust alone explains the outcome of the Brexit referendum, to which I’ll come back later. But it is impossible to deny that this result speaks volumes about the state of the European project and its perception by its citizens.

The European Union must also face the challenge of its security. Tensions at its door are multiplying. They have a direct impact on European countries. Several regions in our neighbourhood are prey to instability and war. I am obviously referring to Syria, Iraq as well as Libya, Ukraine and the Sahel in Africa. Millions of refugees are leaving their countries to escape from barbarity. The lack of prospects pushes millions of Africans towards perilous migration routes. Terrorist groups – the Daesh/ISIS being the foremost among them – are feeding off these tensions and directly threatening Europe by trying to sow division and hatred within our societies.

The internal functioning of the European Union is at stake. Tensions exist within each Member State. This is true in Poland, this is true in Hungary, this is true in Austria, in Germany, in the Netherlands or in Italy; it is equally true in France. Today, populists derive arguments from developments in the world, the terrorist threat, the fear of decline, to question the European project and challenge its founding values. They are misguided.

Europe has a duty to be clear and must adapt itself to respond concretely to the anxieties of Europeans. But this is not the sole reason. The 2008 financial crisis has left deep marks. The transformations at work in the world bring numerous opportunities, but create more risks for the most vulnerable. Inequalities are growing. The preference given to return on capital over remuneration for work has widened disparities. Combined with a digital revolution that generates low employment, this change weighs particularly on the middle and most deprived classes, who are left to the temptation of the extremes.

The ensuing tensions are visible everywhere, including the United States. American voters have chosen a figure who embodies a rupture; but why? For now, questions abound over the direction that the new administration wishes to give its diplomacy after 20th January. The European Union and France have a shared history with the United States, shared values. These common interests, I’m sure, will continue to govern our relations with this country in the long term. And we will find a common ground on the most crucial challenges of our times, notably the fight against terrorism, to which the United States, like the European Union, contributes at a global scale.

France and the United States are allies, and this will not change. France will swiftly develop close ties with the new administration. No stone will remain unturned to convince them that the interests of the United States are better protected when we together combat climate change under the framework of a collective approach. Or, when international trade develops on the basis of rules accepted by all, respecting reciprocity and equity. In the face of unilateral temptation or the idea that deals can suffice to resolve world affairs, France will make its voice heard. It could, for instance, so act as to make Europe embody, with much greater force, a vision of international trade that is beneficial to the greatest number.

In the face of global challenges, I firmly believe that the only possible response is a response supported by a collective political will. The founding of the European Union is one such example and one of the most enduring.


For sixty years, the European Union has been sufficiently strong to make us tide over the worst, from the fratricidal war that wounded our continent and plunged it into grief, the horrors that it engendered, to the point of even negating humanity. Robert Schumann or Jean Monnet, men born in the 19th century, left their mark on the succeeding century by rising above the differences between countries to put to the fore, protect and strengthen the values and goals we have in common. These values and goals have remained the same: democracy, respect for the rule of law, equality for all, and the ability to bring together the peoples of the Union thanks to concrete achievements that enabled the birth of a common solidarity.

And what a success! For Europe is a collective success. It gives each of our Member States a stronger voice and greater influence in the 21st century world.

Europe is the top economic and commercial power in the world. It promotes the interests of its Member States even as it acts for the common good, by contributing to advancing social and environmental norms, by fostering sustainable development, on which the future of our planet depends.

Europe is one of the greatest democratic spaces in the world, one of the greatest spaces for freedom, for the circulation of goods, capitals, services, but also and above all, human beings. It is the region in the world in which wealth is the best distributed, where equality of opportunity is the best guaranteed. Moreover, the Union and its Member States contribute to more than half of development aid given in the world.

European integration enabled the construction of a space of stability, peace and democracy. Europeans together uphold the universal values of human rights, freedoms, gender equality, the fight against the death penalty. They act towards the peaceful resolution of conflicts in the Middle East, Africa, and elsewhere. They so act that multilateralism wins over unilateral temptation and the dangers of gradually straying towards the clash of nationalisms.

The Union does a lot. It supports growth and encourages investment. It acts concretely and decisively for the security of its citizens and even beyond this. It formulates an ambitious defence and security strategy. It forms a space for research that is substantive, attractive and fosters innovation. Lastly, for free trade agreements, it is the EU that has the mandate to negotiate on behalf of all its members, which makes us stronger. Once a member leaves the EU, it must re-negotiate all its free trade agreements one by one and by its own devices.

We should continue to act so as to augment these results that the EU has already achieved. We adopted a road map in Bratislava last September and we must now carry out the commitments made.


For all that, within the European Union, 2016 was also marked by a schism, with the decision of the British to contribute no longer to this great project launched on the morrow of World War II. The unexpected result of David Cameron’s risky political tactic, the expression of an insular sense of identity, the assumed will to respond to migration challenges, which were, moreover, widely instrumentalised during the campaign: much has been said on the reasons behind this vote. The consequences of this “political coup” will take a long time to show, as reflected in the difficulties encountered by Theresa May’s government in implementing the will expressed by her people and averting endangering the cohesion of the United Kingdom itself.

The European treaties provide for a schedule of negotiations, a framework with a procedure that is transparent, democratic and respects each of the institutions of the European Union: the Commission, the Council – and therefore the Member States – the Parliament – and therefore European citizens. The European Union is ready to initiate negotiations with the United Kingdom as soon as the latter officially notifies its intention to leave the Union and activates Article 50 of the Treaty on the functioning of the European Union.

European leaders are united in this process and have fixed several guiding principles for the upcoming negotiation. The choice of the United Kingdom to leave the EU has, of course, given rise to speculation regarding the future of the European Union without the United Kingdom. My conviction is that Europe will be able to surmount all these fleeting difficulties and that the European Construction will continue to offer a future to our continent.


In 1957, we were 6. Today we are 28. We will be 27 tomorrow. We form a unique political whole that has, first of all, been able to preserve peace in Europe, then tide over deep crises thereafter and adapt its functioning.

Thus, on the morrow of the British referendum and many times since, EU Member States have reiterated their trust in the European Construction, their attachment to what makes up our identity and our values, which are not empty rhetoric but our reality and our plan.

We owe a duty of clarity to the questions raised by our peoples. The latter do not want “less of Europe”. They want a Europe that truly responds to their concerns. That protects our values, that ensures economic prosperity and social progress, that offers every one greater opportunities in free societies open to the world and geared to the future.

Ambitious European projects are underway to better ensure the security of its citizens, for combating terrorism and its financing as well as all forms of trafficking. The European Union is not only a key power for its neighbourhood but also a force of peace at the global level. In the coming years, it intends to bring decisive responses to global issues and continue to support a world order based on the primacy of law, the peaceful settlement of differences and multilateralism.

The strategic independence of the European Union, thanks to that of its Member States like France, is its greatest asset in this regard. With 16 crisis management operations, including 6 military operations in several regions of the world, sometimes in support to UN operations, the EU is an indispensable player. It is a reliable partner of India. This is so particularly in the Indian Ocean, where the Union is conducting Operation Atalante against piracy by drawing on the naval capabilities deployed by its Member States, foremost among which is France. This operation has considerably reduced this scourge and reinforced the security of strategic sea lanes for the international community in general and for India in particular. A fruitful collaboration towards this has been initiated with the Indian Navy. Other cooperation can be envisaged. Peacekeeping operations in Africa, for example, comes to mind, where India as well as Europe are particularly active. Afghanistan, where India and the EU play a vital role in reconstruction, development and stability, also comes to mind.

The European Union pursues its ambition to build an economy of knowledge, by using its considerable investment capacities, by choosing to invest in research and development. The EU’s investment capacities are a resource for financing programmes India has launched for its own modernisation and economic development. We can strengthen our cooperation in these areas. Here, I would like to acknowledge the initiative taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for an International Solar Alliance, which we were able to launch together in Paris on the margins of the COP21 and which will tomorrow contribute to developing solar energy everywhere in the world.

The Member States of the European Union have today embarked on a new path for renewing their project. In March this year, the European Construction will celebrate its 60th anniversary. This anniversary will mark a new start, an affirmation of our shared will to resist fatalism and defeatism. It will mark a decisive step in the relaunch of the European project. Europe is a community of Nation-States, with each Nation possessing its own history, its own traditions. They will remain so, but the EU’s originality lies in the fact that these Nation-States freely decided to pool together what made them stronger. In the uncertain world now ahead of us, this original and unique Union is more necessary than ever before.


Ladies and gentlemen,

The EU and India are united by shared values. They share a vision of international relations based on multilateralism and dialogue, rather than a power struggle.

The European Union has the will and the capacity to bring collective responses to the challenges of the world. This will is precious, like the involvement of great emerging countries in the international arena, at a time when the commitment level of the United States in the world has become uncertain, and inaction, indecision or self-withdrawal will expose us even more to threats.

The European Union is India’s foremost trade partner and one of the top investors in India. With a single market of 500 million persons, the EU offers Indian companies unmatched economic opportunities. I invite Indian companies to choose France so as to access this market. France, first-ranked destination of foreign industrial investments in Europe, possesses all the advantages to be – allow me to borrow an English expression - India’s gateway to Europe.

It is together that India and the European Union will find ways and means to respond effectively to common challenges that they must face. It is thus that they will find the way to an economic development that will usher in sustainable and inclusive growth. Such growth must be based on research, innovation, skill development. It must be achieved to the benefit of all, including the most vulnerable. It is together that we will meet the energy and climate change challenge.

Lastly, it is together that we will respond to the threat of international terrorism. India and Europe are both victims of terrorism, precisely because of what brings them together and what terrorists aim to weaken: democracy and freedom. We can only meet this challenge jointly, by cooperating more closely in the monitoring of terrorist groups, in the fight against radicalization or against terrorism financing networks, while respecting the fundamental values that we have in common, but are unfortunately not common to all.


Ladies and gentlemen,

History is written by women and men who decide that destiny is the result of a collective will. Bolstered by this ambition, we will continue to build a Europe of peace, democracy and sustainable and shared prosperity. It is also this political will that I would suggest we muster to forge the future of the India-European Union relationship and the Indo-French friendship.

Thank you.

About Jean-Marc Ayrault

Jean-Marc Ayrault was named as the Foreign Affairs and International Development Minister of France in February 2016.

Born on 25th January 1950 in Maulévrier, Maine-et-Loire Department, France, he holds a Bachelor’s degree in German and is a qualified teacher of German language and literature.

He manifested a deep interest in politics early when he joined the French Socialist Party at the age of 21. He successively held the office of mayor of Saint-Herblain in the Loire-Atlantique Department (1977 - 1989), then Nantes, where he was elected for three terms (1989 - 2012). He was also a Member of the Loire-Atlantique Department General Council (1976 - 1982). He served as the President of the Agglomération Nantaise district community (1992 - 2001) and the Nantes Métropole Urban Community (2001 - 2012).

Elected as Member of Parliament at the French National Assembly (Lower House) from the Loire-Atlantique Department (3rd constituency) since 1986, Jean-Marc Ayrault’s actions gained him increasing prominence. He was thus appointed as the President of the Socialist, Radical, Citizen and Miscellaneous Left group at the National Assembly in 1997, a post he held till 2012.

When President François Hollande assumed power in May 2012, Jean-Marc Ayrault was sworn in as the Prime Minister of France, an office he held till March 2014.

About the R.K. Mishra Memorial Lecture

The R.K. Mishra Memorial Lecture is an annual conference organized by the Observer Research Foundation since 2009. On this occasion a guest speaker delivers a keynote address on a foreign policy topic and then interacts with the audience. The public (approximately 250 people) is made up of Indian decision-makers, members of the diplomatic community, researchers and journalists.

In the past, the Conference has hosted distinguished guest such as the President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, the Foreign Minister of Iran, Javad Zarif, or the Ministry of Defense of Israel, Moshe Yaalon.

The Conference takes its name from the founder chairman of ORF, Rishi Kumar Mishra (1932-2009). A journalist and researcher, he was also a member of the Upper House (Rajya Sabha) from 1974 to 1980.

Last modified on 13/01/2017

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