The Irish head of state delivered a talk in the Grand Amphitheatre of the Sorbonne University in the French capital on Monday afternoon, at the beginning of his three-day visit to France.
Higgins, who was elected to the largely ceremonial office in October 2011, after a long and varied political career, addressed the issue of “Defining Europe in the Year of the European Citizen,” after an introduction by former French culture minister Jack Lang, among others.
“Michael D”, as he is commonly known in Ireland, implored his audience to help bring about "a Europe of citizens."
“In this, the European year of citizens, let's support a European project that contributes to the authenticity of our life, our languages, for all our peoples and all our institutions,” said the Irish president.
Higgins, a 71-year-old former poet, academic and 25-year member of the Dáil (Irish parliament), was set to meet with French president François Hollande at 3pm on Monday, before attending a variety of cultural events over the following three days.
Former European Commission president Jacques Delors had been scheduled to take part in Monday’s event at the Sorbonne, but the 87-year-old, so-called 'Mr. Europe' was unable to attend.