COVID-19: EU needs even more coordination, says Minister
COVID-19 – Situation of French people abroad – Interview given by M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to BFMTV
Paris, 18 March 2020
EU border closures
Q. – The French President has announced the closure of the European Union’s external borders, and France is in lockdown. Can you confirm to us today that Europe’s borders are indeed closed?
THE MINISTER – Yes, the borders of the Schengen Area and the borders of the whole European Union have been closed since the decision that was taken at the European Council yesterday, on the initiative of the French President, incidentally. So today, no non-European citizens are authorized to enter the space defined as such.
Q. – That’s an unprecedented situation…
THE MINISTER – It’s never happened, but it’s a basic principle: we must, as far as possible, avoid all travel, because it’s travel that ensures the virus is spread. And so implementing the closure of the Schengen Area’s and Europe’s borders ultimately means the same thing as the lockdown decided on by the President for France, namely maximum limits on travel. So people are no longer entering the European area.
French travellers abroad
Q. – Are we managing to repatriate those French people who are requesting it?
THE MINISTER – You can no longer enter unless you’re European. French people who are on holiday or travelling abroad are clearly able to return. But obviously it poses a huge number of difficulties because a lot of French people were travelling, especially in certain countries. They’re expressing impatience, I understand them, they’re sometimes anxious, I understand them, but they should know that we’re aware of every situation and we’re trying, in every situation, to find ways to enable them to return in the best possible way, as quickly as possible. But I know patience is necessary.
Let me take one example: Morocco. Since Friday evening there have been 90 flights to Morocco, many of them special flights. Twenty thousand French people were stuck in Morocco on Friday evening, today there are only 6,000 or 7,000, and the process is continuing.
I say to our compatriots: admittedly it’s difficult. It’s difficult for everyone. It’s difficult for you, it’s difficult for the French people who are in metropolitan France, so you must – if I may say so – await your turn calmly, quietly, with self-control, so that the journey can take place in the best possible way.
This goes for Morocco, where it’s probably most dramatic and difficult today, but also Tunisia, which 4,000 French people are currently visiting who want to come back. About 30 flights are going to be put on enabling them to return.
This also applies in Algeria and other countries in the world, but we’re monitoring every case, in liaison with the authorities concerned in every situation, and also in liaison with the airlines, especially Air France, which I must say is making a big effort in this time. We’re trying to find solutions so that they can come back home, because the issue is for everyone to stay at home.
Q. – Will all these French people currently stranded be able to return by the end of the week?
THE MINISTER – We’re doing everything to ensure that’s the case.
Q. – Because some are complaining that they can’t get through to the consulate or embassy, the lines are jammed… France isn’t doing enough about it, they say. What do you say to those French people?
THE MINISTER – I’ve found that our staff, our ambassadors and our consuls are doing everything they can. It so happens that the switchboard in Morocco crashed at one point because the lines weren’t strong enough. People must also understand that. This is an exceptional situation and all our compatriots who are currently stranded abroad must factor it in and be aware that we’re making every effort to ensure this difficult situation for them can be put right.
Q. – So be patient?
THE MINISTER – Be patient, we’re seeking the maximum effectiveness. Self-control and a modicum of calm if you can, in the knowledge that, I know, it’s very stressful sometimes.
French people living abroad
Q. – There’s also the case of French people living abroad, the French abroad: there are nearly three million of them. What advice are you giving them, because a lot of them would like to return to France?
THE MINISTER – We think that, for their own safety and to combat the virus, they must stay at home. And if their “home” is abroad, they must stay at their “home” abroad during this difficult period, unless their health condition poses a problem, in which case they must directly contact the embassy or consulate to consider their return. But the basic principle is that when you’re at home, you stay at home. Whether you’re in France, in Europe or elsewhere in the world, you stay at home. When you’re travelling, you come back home. We’re trying to ensure that every means is made available for that to be the case.
Q. – At any rate, it’s a test for Europe. You could say today that Europe is in quarantine. Is there or isn’t there adequate coordination, because so far it’s been pretty much a case of everyone for themselves?
THE MINISTER – There has been coordination; a European Council was held yesterday. The French President made proposals. This resulted in a joint decision to close the borders. It also resulted in a joint decision to make a particularly significant effort as regards research. It also resulted in a joint decision to have a very substantial financial package to help businesses at this time. It also resulted in the fact that we closed the border but also respected cross-border movement. We also respected the flow of goods, because we mustn’t allow everything to stop. And all this is a rather good sign. The fact remains nonetheless that even greater coordination is necessary, and also that Europe is somewhat fulfilling its destiny. Faced with a crisis we’ve never experienced, Europe must assimilate everything that occupying the same space means. At any rate, either there will be awareness in Europe, at this difficult time, or it will abandon its destiny.
I’d also like to draw attention to an important point about solidarity, because a month ago, when the crisis began in Wuhan, we showed China, we demonstrated our own kind of solidarity to the Chinese authorities by delivering protective equipment. The Chinese, who are gradually starting to overcome these difficulties, have repaid us that solidarity and today a Chinese plane landed carrying protective equipment. There’ll be one again tomorrow. I think we need to stress that this is essentially masks, gloves and significant protective tools. It shows that solidarity can also be expressed here: when you carry out an act of solidarity at a given moment, it can be reciprocated. That’s a fine example.
Q. – So there are two planes. One which landed today, a second one tomorrow?
THE MINISTER – [One landed] this morning, and there’s a second one landing tomorrow.
Q. – How many masks are there, what equipment is there?
THE MINISTER – Masks, gloves. There’s roughly a million masks. It’s a gesture we should value.
Q. – Could France export medical equipment again to other countries – such as Italy, for example?
THE MINISTER – For the time being, we’ve got to develop cooperation between the various countries. Everyone is talking to one another – health ministers, foreign ministers as well – to ensure that the Europeans realize they’re all, I could say, in the same boat when it comes to this issue. So we’ve got to constantly be in coordination with one another.
Q. – Does this unprecedented health crisis mark the end of an era and perhaps the end of globalization as we know it? Among other things, we’ve seen that we’ve been too dependent on other countries for medicines, in particular. Is it really the end of an era?
THE MINISTER – I think people realize there are issues which you can’t delegate to globalization. You can’t delegate your food independence. You can’t delegate your independence to protect. You can’t delegate your independence when it comes to health. You can’t delegate the essential services which are, incidentally, partially [outside] and must fall outside the competitive field. These major issues are raised because of actions, because of the reality of the situation. Quite obviously, we’ll have to ask ourselves as soon as possible, once the crisis is over, what consequences we draw from this in terms of the necessary regulation, and in terms of what is meant by French sovereignty and European sovereignty.
Q. – Thank you.
THE MINISTER – Thank you./.