"We need the United States," says French President
European Union – Attractiveness/United States/climate/fight against terrorism/migration – Interview given by M. Emmanuel Macron, President of the Republic, to Ouest France (excerpts)
Paris, 13 July 2017
Q. – What’s your idea of Europe?
THE PRESIDENT – Europe is already multi-speed. The status quo would be to accept an increasingly bureaucratic Europe which no longer explains to citizens where it wants to take them, and which functions like a machine more than it unites. My obsession is to go back to the roots: Europe was founded on a promise of peace, progress and prosperity.
Today we need a project that can renew this promise: a Europe that inspires people more, [with] a process of democratic conventions that I want to launch this winter, [a Europe] that is built on cultural and educational issues, a Europe that protects people in the face of globalization and prepares a new model of society and growth. At some point, treaty changes will be required, because this Europe is incomplete; it’s not about whether these changes will be necessary, but when and how.
Q. – You’re in favour of a Euro Area president. Who would have the right to scrutinize our national budgetary decisions?
THE PRESIDENT – I want the Euro Area to be more coherent, with greater convergence. It doesn’t work well because it’s fuelled divergence. Those who were already indebted have found themselves more indebted. Those who were competitive have found themselves more competitive.
There are winners: Germany is one of them, because it’s been able to carry out reforms, and I commend the efforts it’s made. But Germany also benefits from the dysfunction of the Euro Area. That situation isn’t healthy because it isn’t sustainable.
Q. – In other words, the distortions of competition…
THE PRESIDENT –It’s not about pooling past debts, it’s about marrying convergence and solidarity within the European Union and the Euro Area in order to establish more powerful solidarity mechanisms for the future. That’s the key to a sustainable union.
In France, if there were no transfer between Ile-de-France [Paris region] and the rural departments, national unity wouldn’t last long. To that end, you need a budget, a government that decides about allocating that budget, and democratic oversight, which doesn’t exist today. (…)
Q. – What does Europe contribute?
THE PRESIDENT – We’re the only geographical area today which has the capacity for power, upholds democratic values and freedom, is simultaneously a link to equality and social equilibrium, and protects the planet’s shared assets, the climate and education for all.
Q. – Can Europe still count on the United States?
THE PRESIDENT – We need the United States of America. The United States has signalled a disagreement regarding the climate. I regret that; I’m fighting it very hard. I’ll do everything to persuade American cities, federal states and entrepreneurs to follow us. The Americans will actually be in the Paris Agreement whether the federal state [the US] likes it or not, thanks to this very strong local mobilization.
We have disagreements on trade. The temptation of protectionism is being reborn in the United States. I’d like us to champion free and fair trade. Protectionism is a mistake; it’s the twin brother of nationalism, and this leads to war. We have a disagreement, but we can find common ground in order to combat unacceptable practices like dumping.
Q. – Some other common ground: defence and security.
THE PRESIDENT – We do indeed have one crucial point on which we see eye to eye: the fight against terrorism and the protection of our vital interests. Whether it be in the Middle East or Africa, our cooperation with the United States is exemplary. It’s our main partner in terms of intelligence, military cooperation and the joint fight against terrorism. It’s also a long-standing partner.
That’s why I invited Donald Trump for 14 July, to commemorate American troops’ entry into the war alongside us 100 years ago, pay tribute to them and celebrate a relationship that is indispensable when it comes to security.
Q. – Must we follow the Americans in increasing defence spending?
THE PRESIDENT – We need to protect ourselves. I’ve made a commitment to invest 2% of our GDP on defence by 2025. At a time when we’re making necessary savings, we’ll maintain an ambitious budget for our defence. France bears much of the burden of European protection, be it through its participation in the coalition or in the Sahel.
It’s too often forgotten in European debates that France protects Europe in many places. The European Defence Fund will enable us to make progress on common projects: industrial projects and purchases, for example drones.
Q. – What do you expect of Germany?
THE PRESIDENT – Germany doesn’t have the same capacity for operational intervention, but it can absolutely support the European effort. It’s not for me to say whether Germany must do more. But I think we’re in a world of growing insecurity. To believe we can live under someone else’s umbrella is naïve, and the Chancellor says so clearly. We Europeans must shoulder all our responsibilities.
Q. – What must Europe do?
THE PRESIDENT – We must develop what’s called “structured cooperation” on defence – i.e. a set of stronger commitments on expenditure, capabilities and external missions. The last European Council was an opportunity to make rapid progress.
We’re going to identify the conditions for entering into this stringent cooperation, which we’re going to open up to European partners like Spain, Italy, the Netherlands and everyone who wants to take part in the initiative. And we must work just as hard when it comes to development. I said this in Gao a few weeks ago and about 10 days ago in Bamako for the G5 Sahel meeting. Investing in security isn’t enough unless we develop those regions at the same time.
Q. – Is that the aim of the Alliance for the Sahel?
THE PRESIDENT – This Thursday, with the [German] Chancellor, I’m going to launch the Alliance for the Sahel. It’s about grouping together our shared development initiatives and opening them up to all our European partners. We were too fragmented in our interventions; we were speaking too much to states. We’re going to finance projects on the ground together. The Alliance for the Sahel is the pillar of development, which builds on our common defence pillar.
Q. – Is the Borloo electrification project for Africa a move towards this?
THE PRESIDENT – It’s an extra project. Projects to supply electricity and equipment provide structure to the development initiatives. But we’ve also got to invest in health, education and support for democratic transitions.
Q. – How can the demographic challenge be addressed?
THE PRESIDENT – Population is a real issue in the Sahel, it’s one of the challenges in that area and it would be a mistake to deny this. The Sahel is up against a situation of war. There’s a downward slide there with jihadist and fundamentalist movements exploiting extreme poverty. We must support the governments in their efforts to bring about women’s rights and to ban forced marriages. Those countries must be supported, with a genuine education and family planning policy.
Q. – The battle against terrorism is also being played out in Raqqa, where there are many French jihadists…
THE PRESIDENT – The battle is under way in all theatres of operations to completely eradicate Islamist terrorism. Whoever the jihadists are, whatever their country of origin, we will eradicate them. Terrorists have killed our children and spread terror in our countries. They want our civilization to collapse and must be combated.
Q. – Italy is overwhelmed, in the midst of a migration crisis. What can Europe do?
THE PRESIDENT – We need truthful language, humanity and effective action. What’s happening on the Italian coast is a refugee issue only in a minor way. It’s a problem of large-scale, especially economic, migration. Germany experienced an influx of refugees in 2015. On the banks of the Mediterranean today there’s a failed state, Libya.
In a few weeks we’re going to take the lead on a series of practical diplomatic initiatives to try and rebuild Libya’s stability. We need a Libyan state in control of its borders, otherwise we won’t resolve the crisis.
Q. – What’s going to happen to those massing in Italy?
THE PRESIDENT – Most of those arriving at the Italian coast are economic migrants, not refugees. Europe and France are duty-bound to take in political refugees. I’ll never accept language aimed at rejecting [them]. Political refugees are freedom fighters. Political refugees will be welcomed in France; they will be dealt with humanely and integrated.
Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean opening every door. We can’t take in all the women and men who come from countries which aren’t at war or in a situation posing a major political risk. This would help fuel even more trafficking.
Q. – What initiatives are you going to take?
THE PRESIDENT – We’ve got to know who is a refugee and who is an economic migrant. We’ll take in refugees and I want France to live up to what is expected of it. Dignity and humanity will be priorities for me. The plan announced by France yesterday aims to devolve the administrative processing of asylum applications for women and men who arrive and are destitute.
I don’t want people in the streets any more. I want emergency accommodation procedures that are worthy of our country. Secondly, we need very quick administrative processing times. And migrants who have no right to asylum must be escorted back to their countries of origin.
We’re going to drastically shorten waiting times. For those applying for asylum, processing times for OFPRA (French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons) will be cut to two months. The total time, including appeals procedures, will be limited to six months. The government will present a bill in September to this end. This is how we will be effective and humane./.