EU market access means converging standards - Minister

European Union – Statement to the press by Mme Amélie de Montchalin, Minister of State for European Affairs, attached to the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, on her arrival at the General Affairs Council (excerpt)¹

Brussels, 28 January 2020


Q. – So is Brexit is an opportunity, in a way, to totally rethink how we create a budget within the European Union?

THE MINISTER – As you know, I’ve dealt with budgetary issues in France. A budget is a political tool. For me, what’s key first of all is that because there’s Brexit, because a new decade is beginning, because European citizens told us things during the elections, we have missions and we have new goals. The climate goal has never been so strong for the European Union. The goal of power and sovereignty has never been so strong. The need to be effective on migration issues, for example, has never been so strong. So I don’t know whether it’s Brexit that creates one incentive or another, but the Europe of 2020, the Europe of 2021 to 2027 is different. Moreover, during the European elections, citizens said some important things: they were galvanized, they also brought about, as we saw, an overhaul of the European political landscape in the European Parliament. So we must have a coherent budget in that political framework. I’ve always said a budget isn’t a line of figures, it isn’t a complicated Excel chart. It is, first and foremost, a political message of coherence. How do we dedicate resources to the ambitions we’ve set ourselves? And when we’re unanimous about a strategic agenda, it seems natural and necessary for us to be unanimous, too, about the resources we’re giving ourselves to achieve the goals we’ve set.

Q. – On the language issue, could you tell us whether you’ll go on maintaining that English should continue to be the main working language in the institutions?

THE MINISTER – As you know, on these issues France has had a clear policy for a very long time. It seems to us extremely important to respect cultural and linguistic diversity in Europe. I can tell you that I speak French at every General Affairs Council meeting. Not because I can’t speak English, but because I think it’s important for everyone to be able to speak their language.

Q. – This is the last meeting where the UK will be represented here. What does France, what does the European Union lose?

THE MINISTER – I think we’re living a very important moment, a moment where the sovereign choice of the British people is being implemented. I really think we should value the fact that it’s a sovereign UK choice. The EU, in this respect, has been trying for the last three years to find the best way to have an ordered exit of the UK, and this is what we managed to achieve. I think it’s an important and constructive outcome we managed to reach. Today, I think we lose an EU partner, we lose a member and I also feel the UK will lose a lot of support in a lot of negotiations that the UK has announced to be willing to be launching in the coming weeks, with trade discussions with the US and some others where the UK will be alone now. I think we are losing the fact that we are able here to work as partners in the same room. For the future, what we need to achieve is to stay and to remain loyal and balanced partners and neighbours. As I often say, I grew up in Calais; the distance between Calais and Dover will not increase over the night on Friday. We will remain very close geographically. We should give us the way and the means to achieve a loyal and balanced relationship. The more access to our internal market the UK wants, the more we have to converge on norms, on rules to keep this easy way to discuss, to understand each other, and to protect on both sides our citizens, our companies who demand us to have clear rules and a relationship which is loyal. For me, what is key now, is to build a future relationship of trust, of loyalty, of balance, where rules are known, where controls exist and where trust can be regained as we’ve been working, meeting in the last 40 years here in these buildings every month, meeting with our UK ministers, with whom I think we achieved good work.

Q. – And if there’s no level playing field, the famous level playing field, can there be trust?

THE MINISTER – OK, I’m going to speak to you in French in order to be very clear and very comprehensible. For us, unless there are clear guarantees for citizens and businesses, unless there’s that famous level playing field, i.e. conditions for fair competition, the European Union can’t totally open up to trade, and therefore our degree of trade openness will depend on our degree of convergence. So I can tell you very clearly today that if Boris Johnson wants a deal in 11 months with zero quotas and zero tariffs, we must create guarantees to have zero dumping and therefore a level playing field. The negotiations are ultimately quite simple if you set the terms of the debate properly. Now, you can also make it very complicated, if you say incoherent things. In 11 months you can’t devise a whole new trading system that would require you to recreate a specific framework of standards in every field. It’s not realistic. So we’re going to try and do realistic things, I think.

Q. – On the conference, do you support the European Parliament’s stance on the structure, the governance that has been envisaged?

THE MINISTER – It must be an inter-institutional agreement: governance issues are always shared issues. I also think the success of this conference is that the Council, the Commission and the Parliament work together from the outset. Proposals have been made; the Commission has also made some. The discussion we’re going to have today is about creating trust between the three institutions so that the Parliament, of course, can play its role representing European citizens, so that citizens can have their say; in that respect, France has conducted and is currently conducting an innovative and interesting experiment with our Citizens’ Climate Convention, and we’d like to see how we can adapt it in the European context. And of course there must also be shared leadership, so the Parliament has made proposals; there are some interesting things. We must make it transparent; the less complicated the better. So those are the discussions we’re going to have today. (…)./.

¹ Mme de Montchalin spoke in French and English.

European Union – Brexit – Excerpts from the interview given by Mme Amélie de Montchalin, Minister of State for European Affairs, attached to the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to France Culture

Bougligny, 27 January 2020


Q. – Your issue of the moment is, of course, Brexit, which becomes reality on Friday, although a year-long transition period is beginning. You now need to negotiate, at European level, a trade agreement with the UK. But the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, seems to be using blackmail. According to The Times, he talked about the threat of customs taxes to exert pressure on the Europeans, as part of this discussion which is getting under way; there’s talk among other things of 30% on certain French cheeses. How do you talk to such a partner?

THE MINISTER – I’m going to be very clear. The right approach isn’t being taken on all these issues. We’ve got to recreate a fair and balanced trade framework, economic framework with the British. As you know, I’m in the heart of the Seine-et-Marne department with farmers at the moment. For them, Brexit is a worrying issue. And that’s why we’re going to be very clear, and Michel Barnier is very clear as the negotiator for the European Union. We can’t agree to the British putting on our doorstep, on our plates products arriving in Europe from the UK in the months and years to come which don’t comply with our standards. Why? We’re imposing a major ecological transition revolution on ourselves, a Green Deal in Europe. Obviously what comes to us from the United Kingdom will have to comply with the commitments we make here! For example, we’re saying that we want to halve the use of pesticides and [other] phytosanitary products. Are the British going to do the same? You see, we’ve lived with the same rules for 40 years. We’ve exported to the UK, we’ve imported from the UK, but it was balanced, it was fair. So I personally won’t be engaging in blackmail…

Q. – So you’re saying beware of social and fiscal dumping?

THE MINISTER – Of course! And we won’t sign an agreement if it’s a bad agreement. We’ll sign an agreement only if it’s balanced and fair. I’m perfectly aware that the UK is telling us we’ve got 11 months, and not a day, not an hour more to reach agreement. But, you know, I don’t have a problem with it lasting two years if that’s the time needed to get guarantees for our fishermen, our farmers, our business leaders who are operating under European standards, and that’s how they’ve lived. Moreover, it’s somewhat in their interest to keep the same ones because in order to trade, it’s always simpler, you know, to do things reciprocally. So Brexit, to be clear, what’s happening at the end of the week, is a political exit. It means there’ll no longer be any British MEPs in the European Parliament, there’ll no longer be any British commissioner in the European Commission, there’ll no longer be any ministers in the ministers’ meetings. But for our businesses, it means that the rules, for at least a year, will apply at either end of the Channel Tunnel – in the UK and Europe. But, above all, it means we’re very clear on one point: the timeframe exists, but we won’t sacrifice a single business or citizen just because we’re told we’ve got to get a move on.

Q. – And you won’t give in to Boris Johnson’s blackmail?

THE MINISTER – No, I think this is a period chosen by the British; they chose to leave the European Union politically. So we’re going to build with them a future relationship which will be different. But we want to do so as good neighbours, with good neighbourliness. And life in Europe must also go on. We don’t want to be held hostage to the discussion. There are some very important things being negotiated today, tomorrow, 20 February, with a summit on the European budget. These are essential issues: our food sovereignty, on the CAP for example, which is going to be determined, everything we want to do as regards research… So regarding the European budget, we must also have the time and independence of mind to tell ourselves that yes, there’s Brexit, and there’s also Europe which continues alongside it./.

Published on 03/02/2020

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