EU to help businesses recover from pandemic - Minister
COVID-19 – European recovery – Interview given by Mme Amélie de Montchalin, Minister of State for European Affairs, attached to the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to the daily newspaper Le Parisien/Aujourd’hui en France
Paris, 23 April 2020
Q. – On Thursday the 27 heads of State and government are holding a European summit by video conference, the fourth of its kind since the start of the coronavirus crisis. The challenges: ending the lockdown, and economic recovery. Amélie de Montchalin, Minister of State for European Affairs, has announced the creation of a special support fund.
From Denmark to Spain, from Germany to Italy, one gets the impression of a disorganized ending of the lockdown. Shouldn’t we harmonize?
THE MINISTER – Total harmonization wouldn’t make sense, because as the virus hasn’t spread in the same way, the situation isn’t the same everywhere. In order to prevent a second wave, our goal is to coordinate strategies for ending the lockdown, and not put one another in danger: some measures taken by one country without warning could have harmful effects across the border. I spend most of my days with my counterparts from the seven countries that surround us [Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium and the United Kingdom] to prepare things properly.
Q. – What should be done?
THE MINISTER – If you restart economic activity and businesses, on the one hand, you have to look, for example, at how cross-border workers can travel, how to organize the transport that crosses the border. Those are very practical issues. You have to ensure a form of equality on either side, so workers have the same rights on both sides of the border.
Q. – Will one country set the pace for ending the lockdown?
THE MINISTER – If we stick to the example of border regions, you have to take the living areas into account first of all. Take inspiration from the reality of daily life and then, in a second phase, move on to broader mobility. There will be intermediate phases in which life won’t really be either in lockdown or totally unrestricted.
Q. – Could we Europeans pool resources – for example, share screening tests?
THE MINISTER – The ability to have, Europe-wide, the tools necessary for ending the lockdown is a strategy we’re thinking about. But it would be premature to talk about it until the national plan for ending the lockdown is unveiled.
Q. – Is the post-crisis period, with the economic recovery, the key issue of today’s European summit?
THE MINISTER – The aim is to make our action as 27 useful. How to emerge together, and still standing, from the current health crisis and looming economic crisis. Otherwise, Europe’s credibility will suffer a harsh blow. The tool is a mutually-supportive stimulus and reconstruction fund. We need a shared stimulus capability, because our economies are extremely interdependent. We’re all our neighbours’ suppliers and customers. No country, however rich, can recover alone. The key to today’s summit is to look outside and ahead.
Q. – Meaning?
THE MINISTER – The United States, China and other countries won’t wait for Europe to organize itself before launching their own recovery plans. If there are markets to conquer, they’ll do so. Looking ahead means there would be no point in settling scores and grudges. We must lay the foundations for supporting our citizens, our businesses, our innovation and our competitiveness.
Q. – What are you going to do specifically?
THE MINISTER – A European plan to support the continent’s small, medium-sized and large businesses so that they can continue producing, selling and exporting. And having employees on European soil to guarantee our strategic autonomy. It’s very clear we must collectively invest in the health and medical sector in Europe, to get over this very strong dependence in terms of medicines and medical equipment. We’ll have to relocate production networks and achieve genuine European strategic sovereignty.
Q. – What sums will the fund have at its disposal?
THE MINISTER – It must have several hundred billion euros; that will depend on the goal we set it and the needs of the industrial sectors, the resources they’ll need to remain in Europe. Otherwise, other powers will come and sell us what we can no longer produce.
Q. – How much will this be? €500 billion? €1,000 billion?
THE MINISTER – It’s too soon to say, but it would be in the order of €1,000 billion.
Q. – After the crisis, will things have to change in the organization of Europe?
THE MINISTER – Some things have worked well. The pooling of financial resources for the health emergency, for research into a vaccine and treatment, flights to repatriate Europeans scattered across the globe, the transfer of patients between countries. At the beginning of March the European Commission released €140 million for the vaccine so that all private and public laboratories working on it could exchange, share and scale up their efforts. We shouldn’t have 27 carrying out research independently.
Q. – But the EU took a long time to get the measure of the crisis...
THE MINISTER – Europe fell short regarding its ability to anticipate, warn about and react to the crisis. The President had to fight hard to mobilize the 27 heads of State and government in an initial meeting at the beginning of March. At the start, because of the way the coronavirus was spreading, some European leaders saw no point in talking about it. We’ve got to be more coordinated and more responsive.
Q. – How?
THE MINISTER – We’ve got many institutions monitoring things. We’ve got to move from monitoring to warning, and give the European Commission the task of coordinating. We’ve got to be better at autonomously protecting citizens. This is also the case when it comes to agrifood. We must, in all circumstances, be able to feed European citizens. It’s a matter of sovereignty. Donald Trump is launching a major plan to support agriculture; we need the same thing.
Q. – Is there a war of influence with China?
THE MINISTER – Europe didn’t wait for this pandemic before describing China as a systemic rival. But we must beware of waging a geopolitical battle when the health battle is still under way. As Jean-Yves Le Drian said, if we don’t have a sudden burst of political momentum, the world after [the crisis] may be worse than the one before. It’s a moment of truth.
Q. – Jacques Delors has talked about mortal danger for Europe...
THE MINISTER – My reply is that Europe can be justified in the eyes of its citizens only if it is useful./.