STRASBOURG • Failure to act in Syria risks stoking a "total war" in the Middle East, French President Francois Hollande said in a landmark speech in the European Parliament, alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
"What happens in Syria concerns Europe. What happens there will determine the balance of the whole region for a long time," Mr Hollande told European lawmakers yesterday in Strasbourg.
"If we let the recent religious confrontations between Shi'ites and Sunnis get worse, then don't think that we won't be affected. It will be a total war, a war that will also affect our territories and we must act," he said
He urged Europe to come together, and said European nations can overcome the challenges they face only through greater unity.
"Only a strong Europe can protect our sovereignty," Mr Hollande said, adding that "restoring borders would be a tragic error".
NEED TO COME TOGETHER
Only a strong Europe can protect our sovereignty. Restoring borders would be a tragic error.
FRENCH PRESIDENT FRANCOIS HOLLANDE, on overcoming challenges European nations are likely to face
With the European Union "facing new dramas and being set new challenges", Mr Hollande said nothing would be "more pointless" than for nations to try to solve them on their own. He listed recent economic downturns, youth unemployment, refugees, and wars in the Middle East and Ukraine as events that raised fears in Europe, and led some to turn inward.
Chancellor Merkel, reportedly a frontrunner for the Nobel Peace Prize for her leadership in the refugee crisis, emphasised the need for new rules.
She said the EU's asylum rules were "obsolete" as they put the burden on EU states where the migrants first arrive to process claims for refugee status. "The Dublin process, in its current form, is obsolete," Dr Merkel said.
Mr Hollande, whose country has launched air strikes against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq (ISIS), also appeared to criticise Russia for its air attacks in support of President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
He reiterated that any solution for Syria had to be based on an alternative to President Assad.
"We have to construct in Syria, with all those who can contribute, a political future which gives the Syrian people an alternative to Bashar or Daesh," Mr Hollande said, using another name for ISIS.
Mr Hollande and Dr Merkel were giving the first joint speech to the European Parliament by the leaders of France and Germany since Mr Francois Mitterrand and Dr Helmut Kohl in 1989.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG, REUTERS