"Europe at 27 cannot be anymore the uniform Europe at 27," Francois Hollande said in an interview with six European newspapers published on Monday (6 March).
"For a long time, this idea of a differentiated Europe, with different speeds and distinct paces to progress, has provoked a lot of resistance. But today this idea is necessary. Otherwise Europe explodes," he said.
Hollande gave interviews to France's Le Monde, Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Italy's La Stampa, Spain's La Vanguardia, Poland's Gazeta Wyborcza and Britain's The Guardian. The interviews were held ahead of a meeting in Versailles on Monday between France, Germany, Italy and Spain, to prepare EU summits in Brussels next week and in Rome at the end of the month.
On 25 March, EU leaders will celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Rome treaty, which founded the European Communities. They will publish a declaration in which they will "map out the prospects for the next 10 years," Italian prime minister Paolo Gentiloni said last week.
The aim of the Versailles meeting, between the EU's four largest countries, is to agree on a common position and push for a multi-speed EU when the UK leaves the EU.
In the future, Hollande said in the interview, "there will be a common pact, an internal market with a single currency for some".
"On that base," he added, "it will be possible, for member states who would want it, to go further on defence, on tax harmonisation, on research, on culture, on youth. We have to imagine degrees of integration."
He said he would propose a budget for the eurozone, because "some countries will never join the eurozone … Let's not wait for them to deepen the economic and monetary union".
Trump's wake-up call
The French president's interview follows a joint statement by the French and German foreign affairs ministers last week, where they said that the two countries were "deeply attached to the success of this process".
Also last week, the countries of the Visegrad group - Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic - warned against "division within the EU" that could lead to "disintegration".
Hollande said that Monday's Versailles meeting was just an extension of the usual Franco-German consultations ahead of summits, not "a matter of impose the point of view of the four most populated eurozone countries".
He said that the EU should take advantage of the election of Donald Trump as US president.
"[Trump's] misreading of what the EU is obliges us to demonstrate its political cohesion, its economic weight and its strategic autonomy," he said.
He also said that Russia "tests our resistance and measures at every moment, the balance of power" but that if Europe "is strong and united, Russia will want to have a lasting and balanced relationship".
UK's 'bad choice'
The French president said that the UK should remain "associated" with EU defence policies after it has left the bloc. But he insisted that Britons could not retain the advantages of EU membership.
"That is not possible. The UK will become an outsider to the European Union," he said.
He noted that "the UK’s problem [was that] it had thought that in leaving Europe it would tie up a strategic partnership with the US. But it now happens that the US is closing itself off from the world."
"The UK has made a bad choice at a bad moment. I regret that," he said.
Looking at France's situation, Hollande pointed out that the April-May presidential election would also "determine the future of the European project".
But he assured that even if "the far-right has never been so high in the last thirty years … France will not give in".