Minister outlines key French proposals for EU reform
European Union – Euro Area/Germany/Turkey/posted workers – Interview given by Mme Nathalie Loiseau, Minister for European Affairs, to the daily newspaper L’Opinion (excerpts)
Paris, 2 October 2017
Q. – Emmanuel Macron has put forward many proposals, particularly for reforming the Economic and Monetary Union. What makes this a priority?
THE MINISTER – The President’s proposals clearly go beyond the EMU. He has laid the foundations of European sovereignty. This sovereignty implies a need to move forward in many areas such as defence, security, the digital sector and the ecological transition. And since we share these common goods, we’ll have to have a budget commensurate with our ambitions. Currency belongs to these common goods, and it’s vital not to stick with the status quo just because growth is returning in all the Euro Area countries. We’ve also got to learn from what happened during the sovereign debt crisis, as regards governance and democratic control. The measures were taken in a hurry, behind closed doors. To avoid this happening again it’s imperative for the Euro Area to be consolidated.
Q. – How?
THE MINISTER – The Banking Union must be finalized and the Capital Markets Union developed. A Euro Area budget must also be established which will make it possible both to stabilize states in the event of further asymmetric shocks and to fund common investment so we can catch up. The liberals of the FDP, one of the three parties likely to enter the German coalition, have made the absence of collective responsibility for past mistakes and the fact that Germany won’t pay for French public spending their red lines. That’s fine, because that isn’t at all what we want! Our plan, on the contrary, is geared to the future. (…)
Q. – The Head of State is pressing the case for a Euro Area finance minister. But here too, positions diverge…
THE MINISTER – There’s increasing consensus on the need to have someone at a political level who carries forward the Euro Area’s economic and budgetary vision. What’s being debated is the positioning of this finance minister. I’m not sure he has to be the Eurogroup’s president and a European commissioner at the same time. But this positioning isn’t a priority issue for European citizens.
Q. – Is this European ambition an incentive to comply with the stability pact?
THE MINISTER – We comply with those rules, first of all, for ourselves, because France needs to reform itself and give its children a future other than one where they’re paying off their parents’ debts. But clearly, to have ideas which are picked out in Europe, you’ve got to be credible, and to be credible you’ve got to honour your commitments. We haven’t done this for years, and it has indisputably made us weaker in discussions. By honouring our commitments we’re more credible when it comes to putting forward new proposals. Today our partners are following with great interest the reforms being conducted in France. They’re impressed by the government’s determination and inclined to believe we’re just as determined to reform the European Union.
Q. – Germany’s far right has entered the Bundestag. What can we learn from this?
THE MINISTER – There isn’t a German exception. Why be surprised? Why should Germany be somehow immunized against rising populism, which is found all over the continent and, moreover, the world? It’s essential to bear in mind that the risk is everywhere. It’s obviously worrying, and politicians have a much greater responsibility to provide clear, effective solutions in line with people’s expectations. This is the only way we’ll weaken the populists, not by trying to copy them and act like Marine Le Pen in place of her.
Q. – Rising extremism also raises the question of sovereignty…
THE MINISTER – In a world open to international competition, we can go on deluding ourselves (…), thinking that by putting up barriers and shutting ourselves away we’ll be protected from storms. Or, on the contrary, we can realize that the European continent has the critical size to carry weight in the world today. This was the thrust of the President’s speech about the pillars of European sovereignty.
Q. – Emmanuel Macron stressed the need for differentiation. Why not opt for a 27-member Europe?
THE MINISTER – We can pretend not to see a multi-speed Europe, but it already exists! What we’re advocating is for there to be member states in the vanguard which push projects faster, further and harder. What’s important is that they remain open to the others, without exception and with no preconceptions. As regards the very many proposals we’ve made and others may make, countries will put themselves forward and be able to forge ahead straightaway. Others won’t want this: that’s their right, provided they don’t block the others. But there are also a number of challenges on which the unity of the 28 today and the 27 tomorrow is crucial, such as trade negotiations, climate change and the fight against terrorism. Nor should there be a multi-speed Europe when we talk about values and the rule of law. Democracy is at the heart of the European project.
Q. – France is fighting to get an ambitious revision of the Posting of Workers Directive. Is an agreement possible at the Employment Council on 23 October?
THE MINISTER – We’re actively working on this. We’ve made progress on many issues and everyone acknowledges that the 1996 directive is outdated. As far as we’re concerned, we don’t wish to end the posting of workers scheme, we don’t want to establish a form of social protectionism in Europe. But we believe there’s unfair competition today in some sectors and that we’re sorely lacking ambition for the host countries’ workers and the posted workers.
Q. – Angela Merkel has suggested stopping the negotiations on Turkey’s accession to the European Union. Do you share her point of view?
THE MINISTER – The fact is, the negotiations are at a standstill because the Turkish authorities aren’t allowing us to make progress on them. Nevertheless, should we create a rift with Turkey? There’s a significant proportion of the Turkish population for whom the prospect of a future in Europe matters a great deal. It’s also wholly desirable for us to be able to talk to Turkey, which is a big country, an important one, and with which we have very strong common interests and challenges./.