STRASBOURG, France — In an emotional, highly personal farewell plea before the European Parliament, a frail French President Francois Mitterrand on Tuesday appealed to Europeans to overcome their nationalistic prejudices and move toward deeper unity.
"We must overcome our prejudices, our history," he warned. "If we don't, one imperative will overtake us--nationalism and war. For war isn't just something of the past (in Western Europe); it can also be something of the future."
Mitterrand's comments came at the end of an hourlong speech that outlined France's objectives during its six-month tenure as head of the European Union's Council of Ministers.
His words appeared to be aimed not so much at the conflict that continues to unfold in the former Yugoslav federation or at the Russian military assault in Chechnya, but more at strains that have emerged within the EU itself in recent years--strains that have led its member states increasingly to defend narrow national interests at the expense of the union as a whole.
There has also been a noticeable cooling in some countries, including France and Germany, of the earlier public enthusiasm for deeper European unity.
Suffering from cancer and the harsh effects of chemotherapy treatment to combat it, the 78-year-old president frequently leaned on the podium as he spoke and at one point referred to the speech as "one of my last public acts here."
Mitterrand's presidential term is scheduled to end this spring.
His formal speech completed, he noted a generational change now under way within the leadership of Western Europe and urged that the ideals of unity and cooperation be passed on with this change.
Mitterrand referred to his experience as a prisoner of war in Germany during World War II, his family's animosity toward the Germans and the fact that during its history, France had fought every European country but Denmark.
"We shouldn't pass on hate, but the good fortune that comes with reconciliation. This is what we have done here," he added, nodding to the lawmakers in front of him. "You are the guardians of our future, of our peace."