Europe must fight against the forces of protectionism and isolationism, even as populists and terrorists seek to exploit the legitimate fears of ordinary people, said French President Francois Hollande in Singapore on Monday (27 March).
“The temptation to look inward is…dangerous,” said Hollande, who has been in office since 2012. “But the only solution for a fairer world is to abide by simple rules (such as) multilateralism, independence and respect.”
“We must explain what the closing of borders means. We’ve got to show that there are other solutions,” said the 63-year-old, who added that the “temptation” of an inward approach “could hit big countries, big democracies. It could (also) exist in entire continents.”
The solution to this is trade agreements such as the ones signed between the European Union (EU) and Singapore and between EU and ASEAN, said Hollande, who was speaking in French through an interpreter.
The French leader, who is on a two-day state visit to Singapore, was speaking at the 40th Singapore Lecture entitled “France and Singapore, Strategic Partners in a Fast-Changing World”, which was moderated by Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies Tharman Shanmugaratnam.
Hollande’s comments come ahead of the first round of the French presidential election on 23 April. Centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen of the far right are considered the frontrunners.
Opinion polls show that almost half of French voters have not made up their minds about the candidates. Le Pen, leader of the National Front, has advocated anti-immigrant policies and promised a referendum on France’s membership of the EU within six months of taking office.
In his opening remarks at the lecture, Tharman noted that Singapore and France share a common vision of a world that embraces “openness, multilateralism, globalisation and the rule of law”. He added, “We all share common challenges, but the solutions are not to be found from turning inward.”
Hollande expanded on this theme, stressing that there cannot be a strengthening of nations to the detriment of others. Instead, the rule of law must prevail, alongside what he called “regulated globalisation”.
In response to a question from the floor, Hollande acknowledged that the EU is facing challenges it did not anticipate a few years ago, in the wake of Brexit and the election of a US president with a protectionist streak and who does not see Europe as a favoured trading partner. Nevertheless, he expressed confidence that the EU could carry on without the United Kingdom.
Hollande, who is on a farewell tour of Asia, will visit Malaysia on Tuesday, and Indonesia on Wednesday.