Foreign Minister explains France’s vision for Europe

European Union – Brexit/Germany/migration/economic and fiscal policy/democratic conventions – Statements by M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, and Mme Nathalie Loiseau, Minister for European Affairs, in the debate on the future of the European Union in the National Assembly, in accordance with Article 50-1 of the constitution (excerpts)

Paris, 10 October 2017

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Europe’s future and globalization

M. LE DRIAN – Europe is the fundamental and natural framework in which our values and interests must be promoted in a time of globalization; it’s the heart of a major project for France.

The French President has made renewed European ambition a priority of his mandate for France. That’s what he expressed powerfully, first in Athens and then at the Sorbonne on 26 September, affirming the two strong beliefs that have guided his and the government’s action since the outset. The first is that, in a world gripped by crises and unprecedented upheavals, only Europe will allow us to exercise our sovereignty to the full and retain control of our destiny. The second is that the European project can succeed only if we bridge the gulf that has been constantly widening in the past few years between Europe’s people and institutions, with populism and warped nationalism threatening to submerge both our and our partners’ democracy.

Yes, Europe is the decisive factor in a global policy. In order for France to make its voice heard, we must have a clear objective. The President has set it, and you’ve heard his many proposals for Europe.

I want to emphasize that they’re organized according to two timeframes. Firstly, the date of 2019, when the first European elections will be held – we must prepare for them, and that gives us time to persuade our partners. Secondly, 2024 will be the date of the new Commission that emerges from those elections, and our goal must be to propose to it an ambitious mandate, driven by the desire to overhaul Europe. The whole government is rallying behind the President to achieve these goals.

But in order to prepare for these key events, we also need a clear awareness of the situation Europe is in today. On this – and now that mistrust has taken root in a sector of the European people – nothing would be worse than to deny reality.

Let’s face up to things: Europe today is perceived as too distant and technocratic. Incapable of making either its decisions or its instruments of democratic legitimacy intelligible, it arouses a sort of resigned indifference which we saw again [in] the low turnout for the latest European elections.

For all that, our fellow citizens are not unaware of Europe. The truth is that it’s become the centre of attention again, but too often in a negative way. With the crises that have hit the continent in recent years, it’s been sometimes blamed in the event of failure, sometimes ignored when it’s provided solutions. I don’t think we’ve said enough, in recent years, about what Europe makes possible and what concrete things it provides to our fellow citizens.

Brexit

Moreover, for the past 15 years, the continent has been prone to centrifugal forces. They reached their climax a little more than a year ago, with the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union. It’s the British people’s sovereign decision and we respect it, even though it’s bad news for Europe.

On 19 June, the negotiations got started under the leadership of Michel Barnier, from whom your committees will be hearing, I believe, on 16 November. He received a clear mandate for this from the 27 member states and the European Commission, on the basis of the guidelines unanimously decided on by the European Council in May and June.

I remind you of the essential principles on which the decision by the Twenty-Seven was based: mutual safeguards for citizens directly affected by Brexit; the UK’s compliance with its administrative, financial and judicial obligations, to which it subscribed as a member state; and recognition of the distinct identity of the Irish border. Added to this, on the internal market, is a reminder of the indivisible nature of the four freedoms of movement: capital, goods, services and people.

Ladies and gentlemen deputies, no negotiations – on either the conditions for withdrawal or the shape of the future agreement – will be conducted bilaterally. In this crisis, the European Union is showing unity and cohesion. However, there’s no question of adopting a punitive approach to the United Kingdom, which will remain an essential partner and ally for France after its departure, especially in the defence and security field by virtue of the Lancaster House agreements.

Nevertheless, we must not be at all naïve in the negotiations under way: each party defends its interests. It’s in our collective interest to end the uncertainty Brexit creates as soon as possible, and to do so in two phases: firstly negotiating the conditions for withdrawal, and secondly establishing a legal framework for our future relations. For the time being, following the first negotiation sessions, it has to be observed that there’s still some way to go when it comes to the various principles I’ve just recalled, which for us are the preconditions for the UK’s acceptable withdrawal.

Theresa May’s speech in Florence a few days ago did provide some signs of openness, and the fourth negotiation session enabled a little progress to be made, but it’s still insufficient. The fifth negotiation session is under way, but the next European Council will probably not be able to decide to begin talks on the second phase concerning the future relations the European Union will have with the UK.

Ladies and gentlemen deputies, yesterday the British vote, recent mistrust on the part of a significant number of our fellow citizens, and today the crisis that is shaking Catalonia: all this demands that we take action. We can no longer allow ourselves to go on creating Europe the way we did in the past. We must thoroughly review our political priorities, our institutional practices and the resources devoted to each goal. A burst of momentum and a real overhaul, to use the President’s expression, are now essential.

I want to tell the people who today criticize the European enterprise that they’re presenting our fellow citizens with an imaginary image of sovereignty: the sovereignty of withdrawal that they’re offering our fellow citizens is an illusion and can lead France only to isolation and even greater exposure to the world’s disorder.

French role in the world

A shared destiny unites us to the peoples of Europe. Saying this doesn’t mean confessing to fatalism, it means affirming not only a shared history but a strategic and proactive vision of France’s place in the world.

Today I’m responsible for handling our diplomacy, and I can tell you – although you can feel it yourselves – that never since the end of the Cold War have differences, tensions and the level of conflict been so high. And yet, in a world that is more interdependent than ever, competition is at its peak, cooperation between nations is failing, crises are spreading in Europe’s immediate neighbourhood, power strategies are being exercised ever more aggressively and the economic competition, trade tensions and inequalities created by globalization are sharply increasing.

In this context, the only valid response is both national and European: the two dimensions are currently inseparable. If France wants to guarantee its security, if it wants to defend its interests and assert its values – in short, if it wants to carry weight in the concert of nations and continue writing its own history – then its sovereignty requires efforts on its own part and also on the part of Europe, but a reformed Europe capable of asserting itself as a sovereign power.

To make its voice heard, the EU must factor in what I call a “balance of power culture” which it has too often lacked. This is the project which the President affirmed in Athens and at the Sorbonne and which he repeated recently to his counterparts in Tallinn.

This sovereign Europe itself rests on three conditions: the unity of Europe, the protection of its citizens and interests, and what I call the European Union’s ability to project itself, i.e. its ability to act as a global player, to carry real weight on international issues and promote its model and values.

The first condition for a sovereign Europe is to strengthen its unity, but this job of unification is doomed to failure unless it genuinely takes into account the aspirations of the people, who are the guardians of European sovereignty. The French people, the people of Europe, must be real players in this overhaul if we want genuine European democracy to exist.

That’s why France is proposing the organization of “democratic conventions” in every member state that would like to take part in this initiative. It’s about giving back a voice to citizens and debating in depth, at grassroots level, the EU’s priorities for the coming years. In the first half of 2018, every member state that so wishes will be able to organize – according to the methods that seem to it most appropriate – a debate and discussions whose conclusions will be shared in order to prepare for 2019 and overhaul Europe by responding as far as possible to the expectations of citizens, who this time will have been consulted in advance.

The Minister for European Affairs, Nathalie Loiseau, is actively working to give shape to this project as broadly as possible with political, trade union and societal stakeholders so that there can be a genuine, in-depth debate in our country.

Strengthening the European democratic area, setting it in motion for the sake of a project that can go beyond national political parties, is also the purpose of the President’s proposal to create a European constituency. Deputies there would be elected on the basis of transnational lists, according to a simple principle: to bring together candidates with the same political approaches but of different nationalities. This transnational constituency will be a special opportunity to provide a European response to Brexit.

The unity of Europe is of course a political reality and an economic reality – I’ll come back to this in a moment –, but the basis, the foundation on which all these projects must be built is our fellow citizens’ tangible link, their sense of coexistence, in a word their awareness of being European. Heightening this awareness – especially among our young people, through teaching, through university exchanges and in the field of apprenticeships – means guaranteeing the future of the European idea, that universality expressed in several languages, that civilization which each of our national cultures expresses in its own way, in a unique way. Here too, there’s an issue of equality: our young people have never been so mobile, so open to the world and above all to European countries. It’s also by ensuring equal access at European level that we’ll combine Europe’s unity with the requirement of democracy.

The goals the President has set out are ambitious. Those who want to go further, faster, must be able to do so without being prevented.

Cooperation projects will be open to everyone, the sole criterion being the level of shared ambition. The President also proposed to convene, in a “group for overhauling Europe”, all member states sharing this vision, in order to identify measures that will put this ambition into concrete form in the run-up to 2024. I must say that at the summit of heads of state and government in Tallinn, our proposals were given a positive reception by our partners, in conjunction with the proposals made by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker during his State of the [European] Union speech. On the basis of these initial discussions, Council President Donald Tusk was tasked with presenting a road map in the coming weeks to organize this collective overhaul.

In moving forward, Germany will be our major partner. As you know, the Federal Republic has entered a period of negotiation on the coalition contract, under the aegis of Angela Merkel. I also want to stress to the nation’s elected representatives what good relations have been forged between German ministers and the members of the government in recent years. This relationship of trust is important, and it’s on this political and relational basis that we’ll be able to promote the European political project. That’s especially important because the German elections – particularly with the far right’s high score – revealed that scepticism and even rejection of Europe are also a risk on the other side of the Rhine. The best response will be provided by Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron’s joint action to enable Europe to make progress on sovereignty and thus take up the major challenges we’re facing in a mutually-supportive way.

Together we’ve been the engine of Europe in the past; we’ll still be so tomorrow. The President has called for a new Elysée treaty to be drawn up which could be the crucible of the future European project.

Migration

Europe must also show unity in the face of the migration crisis. The tragedy demands solidarity from the European countries: solidarity when it comes to taking [migrants] in and the right of asylum, but solidarity too in helping the countries of origin and transit of the people who risk their lives to come to Europe.

It was to this end that the President brought together his German, Spanish, Chadian and Nigerien counterparts and the High Representative, Ms Mogherini, in Paris on 28 August. It’s also the thrust of the concrete measures the President set out in his Sorbonne speech: I’m thinking of the establishment of a genuine European asylum office to harmonize procedures and the creation of a European border police force. On this subject and others, the demand for European solidarity is based on balance, reciprocity between rights and obligations. Cohesion between states, the European project’s coherence and its legitimacy require this necessary balance.

Fiscal convergence and posting of workers

The unity of Europe also requires increased social and fiscal convergence. Jacques Delors tends to say that the European economic model must be based on three principles: competition that stimulates, cooperation that strengthens and solidarity that unites. It has to be acknowledged that the European Union has made more progress on the first aspect than on the other two. But it’s crucial to maintain equilibrium so that the member states converge economically and socially, and do so from the bottom up. That’s what our fellow citizens are asking of us – I’m thinking in particular of posted workers. I know Parliament is focusing and working on this issue. The current directive isn’t satisfactory for anyone: not for French workers, who are facing unfair competition through tax dumping, not for foreign workers, whose living and working conditions often provide insufficient protection, and not for their countries of origin, which suffer from shortages of qualified manpower.

All the ministers concerned are playing an active role, with a clear method: talking to everyone and listening to our partners, particularly the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, in order to reach agreement with as many of them as possible.

May I add that social convergence also requires a minimum base of European social rights to be identified. It’s essential to achieve this goal, and the President will be taking part in a summit in Sweden on 17 November to make headway on this major issue.

Cohesion Fund

Achieving convergence between levels of development is also the goal of the Cohesion Fund, which benefits the member states furthest removed from the average level of development in Europe. It’s a powerful and necessary tool for minimizing disparities between the regions, which benefits its collective growth. The same goal of minimizing disparities within the EU is behind the allocation of structural funds. As you know, over the period 2014-2020, France is benefiting from €27 billion under the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund, the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund. Local, departmental and regional elected representatives know how important this European support is for our policy of economic, social and regional cohesion.

EMU

In the economic sphere, the condition for European unity is of course the single market. The goal today is to make progress on Economic and Monetary Union by continuing to establish the capital markets union, in order to stimulate growth through investment and innovation. Likewise, discussions are ongoing on the completion of banking union, with the creation of a European deposit guarantee system.

Euro Area reform

More generally, we must make Europe a genuine economic and monetary power. That’s why the government is very ambitious for the Euro Area. We’d like to strengthen it so that it can, first of all, better safeguard its members against financial crises when necessary. The President’s proposal to create a Euro Area budget is a pragmatic target that contributes to this ambition.

Strengthening the Euro Area also requires us to come up with appropriate governance, with a common minister and parliamentary control at European level, to which he’ll be held accountable. But even more than governance, we’ll need to define the Euro Area’s broad economic and political priorities, to enable it to stand out as a global economic power capable of defending member states’ interests.

This demand for protection is the second factor that today defines our ambition for a sovereign Europe. Concern for protection is an inherent part of the European project, including in its oldest and most flagship policies. Indeed, what was the Europeans’ concern when they created the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)? Protecting farmers’ incomes, food security and protecting consumers. Protecting the environment and rural development have been added to these historical goals. As part of a modernized CAP, we must ensure that these key demands will be even better met, so that our agriculture guarantees producers decent living standards and so that consumers have access to high-quality agricultural products at fair prices.

Let’s not buy the caricature of a European Union which is guided only by market forces and forgets to protect its most vulnerable citizens. The Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived is providing France with €500 million over the period 2014-2020 to provide food aid to the most disadvantaged people. For voluntary organizations working in the sector, this accounts for a quarter of their costs and a quarter of their efforts.

Trade

But with globalization currently being shaken by competition between major economic blocs and by isolationist tendencies, a Europe that protects also means a Europe that stops being naïve when it comes to trade. We’re making progress on this issue, and here I want to welcome the European Council’s decision to create a new method for calculating market distortions resulting from state intervention in third countries. On the fight against unfair trade competition, we’ll make sure the Commission makes full use of this new anti-dumping instrument, especially with a view to defending European industry.

More broadly, we must overhaul European trade policy. Trade negotiations can no longer be conducted behind closed doors; they must be transparent. They can no longer relate only to tariffs and tonnage, but [must] fully guarantee compliance with health and environmental standards, and contribute to the fight against climate change.

Yes, I say to this assembly, future agreements will have to be more complete than CETA is. Let’s be clear: the agreement is still a good one in our eyes, because it authorizes an opening-up of markets and because it provides for a genuine legal mechanism for resolving investment disputes. But an additional instrument must be added to it, in the climate sphere in particular. That’s the path chosen by the government. Moreover, as your Foreign Affairs Committee has asked, Madam Chair of the Committee, Parliament will be informed at every preparatory stage of CETA’s ratification.

Once negotiated, every aspect of these agreements must be fully complied with. That’s why the President has proposed that a “trade prosecutor” be quickly put in place at European level, tasked with ensuring our interests are protected against litigious commercial practices in international trade.

Because a power must identify its strategic interests, Europe’s sovereignty also requires its major economic interests to be safeguarded. As you know, following his State of the Union speech, President Jean-Claude Juncker presented a proposal to establish a framework for overseeing foreign investments in strategic EU sectors. Today, some member states, like France, already have successful provision; other national mechanisms are less successful; some countries have none. European coordination is essential on these issues in the framework of the single market.

Defence

Sovereign Europe also extends to the defence and security field. As I’ve pointed out, international crises are affecting our interests in areas increasingly close to Europe – Syria, Libya, the Sahel and Ukraine are nearby or on our doorstep –, with direct effects on every European country. They’re creating a terrorist threat, breaking down the borders of Schengen and shaking the European security structure. The situation requires us to able to identify, collectively, fundamental common security interests.

France, given its capabilities and commitment, must take the initiative, first and foremost in the way it identifies its own national interests in relation to the sovereignty of the European area. In Germany, we also have a partner aware of the various threats posed to Europe, both to the east and on its southern flank – as we’ve seen in recent years in Africa. We can and must make progress with it on these issues.

Defining a common European strategic doctrine is the essential precondition for implementing Europe’s strategic autonomy. Indeed, on the basis of a shared idea of these common interests, we can identify the capabilities, budget and common strategic culture that will give shape to this fundamental aspect of European sovereignty.

In practical terms, regarding Defence Europe, two major steps forward have been taken recently, starting with the plan for Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO). On the basis of a contribution drawn up by France, Spain, Italy and Germany and supported by Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Finland and the Czech Republic, a specific list of criteria to be met in order to take part in PESCO has been created and approved, accompanied by a verification mechanism enabling us to guarantee that these ambitious criteria are fulfilled by member states wishing to participate.

The PESCO countries pledge to make a special effort in terms of developing their defence capabilities but also making combat units available for joint missions. It’s now up to those member states that want to take part in PESCO to say so, and to show they respect the criteria we’ve set collectively, and this should enable it to be launched by the end of the year.

Another major step forward in this area [is] the Commission’s proposal to create a European programme for developing the defence industry, which must finance national investments in research, the development of prototypes and the acquisition of equipment and technology. Negotiations are under way on this programme , which we now call the European Defence Fund and which is a major step forward. Our goal is for them to be completed in the first half of 2018. The challenge then will be to give it sufficient funding to ensure its mission in the Multiannual Financial Framework envisaged to this end – this could amount to €500 million a year from 2020 onwards. It’s a considerable development, which we’ll have to continue beyond that date with great determination.

Europe as a global power

Ladies and gentlemen deputies, at the Sorbonne the President set out the key foundations to be laid for a sovereign Europe: in addition to security, he mentioned controlling its migration flows, stabilizing its neighbourhood, confirming an effective and fair ecological transition, affirming itself as an innovative and particularly digital power, and its economic and monetary strength. On all these formative policies, the President made operational proposals, which you’ve heard. He proposed both a concrete vision and concrete projects. In each of these fields, the goal is to build a Europe capable of acting as a global power.

That brings me to the third dimension of sovereign Europe: its ability to project. I’m thinking in particular of the action we must take at European level when it comes to regulating globalization and the inequalities it creates. The feeling of being left on the sidelines is shared by a growing proportion of European citizens, and the hope of social progress which has driven our societies is in bad shape. This perception – which fluctuates between disenchantment, very often, and despair at times, but also anger – profoundly affects our democratic life. It challenges political leaders to offer a path of optimism, progress and openness, rather than isolation, withdrawal and closure.

What our citizens are calling for isn’t an unrealistic plan to abandon globalization, it’s globalization organized according to just and fair rules. Europe is a leading player, on the same level as China and the United States. So it has arguments to put forward in the international bodies, for acting to promote this regulation our peoples demand.

Likewise, it must take action for economic and human development, especially in Africa. From this point of view, the Alliance for the Sahel, launched with Germany and the European Union, stands out as an example. This effort will be continued with the President’s proposal to resume work on implementing a financial transaction tax, the product of which would be allocated solely to development.

On the fight against global warming and to protect the environment, Europe must also be exemplary, to persuade people at global level. That’s the purpose of Emmanuel Macron’s proposal to work on a fair carbon price and on establishing a tax at Europe’s external borders to make up for the differential in environmental ambition for those companies most exposed to international competition. Moreover, as you’ve noticed, the modus operandi for ensuring consensus among countries on the Paris Agreement, despite the American decision to pull out, proves that France’s voice is heard, when it’s well coordinated with its European partners. (…)./.

Published on 13/10/2017

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