EU recovery plan a "massive victory" for French people - Minister

Foreign policy – Recovery plan/Brexit/Belarus – Interview given by M. Clément Beaune, Minister of State for European Affairs, attached to the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to the daily newspaper Ouest-France

Paris, 3 September 2020

EU/French recovery plan

Q. – The Government is presenting its recovery plan today. How does it tie in with the European plan?

THE MINISTER – The European recovery plan is a massive victory for France and the French people. The French plan being presented today, Thursday, amounts to €100 billion for capital expenditure, €40 billion of which is financed by the European plan negotiated in the summer.

Each country, very specifically, as the autumn period gets under way, is going to present its national plan and pass it to its European partners. There will then be a collective discussion to coordinate priorities and investment. So it’s a plan which is tailored to each country’s needs, but coordinated between European countries.

Q. – What are the priorities at European level?

THE MINISTER – The environment, digital technology, energy efficiency for housing, among other things. They’re found in all the national plans. And there’ll be collective validation – that’s important.

Q. – When will the validation happen?

THE MINISTER – This autumn; we’ve got to move as quickly as possible, I’ll see to this, in order to be operational at the start of 2021. The discussion between the European ministers is going to move quickly. An essential point, which we fought for, is that there’s no right of veto.

Q. – So no country will be able to oppose the French plan, for example?

THE MINISTER – No, because there’ll be majority voting. That’s normal. Money is being borrowed collectively, the discussion about how it’s used must be collective too.

Q. – Who will do the checking?

THE MINISTER – The European Commission will carry out the assessments. The European Council of Ministers will deliver an opinion, but there will be no power to block States. We’ve got to move quickly. The funds must arrive quickly on the ground so that the bulk is spent over 2021 and 2022.

Q. – Will there be a sort of final oral exam in Brussels?

THE MINISTER – No, I take issue with seeing it as an entrance exam. I’m opposed to the idea of a Europe being the teacher handing out good or bad marks. This is why we were against the right of veto. We don’t want to replicate the Troika mechanism employed during the Greece crisis.

Q. – But there’ll nevertheless be majority voting on every plan?

THE MINISTER – Yes, every plan.

COVID-19/EU coordination

Q. – After the chaos of individual country lockdowns in the winter [earlier this year], how harmonized are control measures from one country to the next?

THE MINISTER – Our aim is to avoid going back to the “everyone for themselves” mentality of the spring. So we’re doing two practical things. Firstly, I’m in constant contact with ministers from the neighbouring countries to limit disruption between our countries. We’ve got 350,000 cross-border workers in France: they’ve got to cross the border to earn their living, that’s the absolute priority. And then we’re striving to get criteria harmonized at European level.

Q. – But it’s still piecemeal. London has imposed the quarantine, Berlin is advising against coming to Paris, Rome is concerned about French numbers…

THE MINISTER – The British case is an unusual one. The UK – perhaps with Brexit in mind – is unfortunately taking a political, not exclusively health-based approach to managing the crisis. We would like the quarantine measures to be lifted as swiftly as possible.

Brexit

Q. – Is a no-deal Brexit possible once again?

THE MINISTER – We’ve got to prepare for every scenario. September will see us speeding up preparations for every sector.

Q. – What’s the deadline for an agreement?

THE MINISTER – Michel Barnier has talked about the end of October for feasibly reaching an exit with a deal.

Q. – Would the European recovery plan of 21 July have been possible with the British in the EU?

THE MINISTER – Quite honestly, I don’t think so. I think they’d have blocked an agreement of this nature because it testifies to a very strong European ambition.

Belarus

Q. – Concerning Belarus, to what extent and how can the democratic movement be supported?

THE MINISTER – I think we’ve got to be very firm in supporting the democratic movement. We’ve been in contact with the opposition, I’ve spoken personally to Svetlana Tikhanovskaya. Europe must stand with these democratic movements. But as the Belarusian opposition leaders themselves say, change mustn’t come from the outside. It isn’t about shifting responsibility, but it’s in the domestic arena that freedoms and rights progress. We can act in support, and through sanctions – targeted ones, because the aim isn’t to make the Belarusian people suffer. I hope we can put these sanctions in place against those responsible for the regime’s repression in the next few days.

Q. – What sanctions?

THE MINISTER – They affect mainly their property, assets and freedom of movement. Hitting them in their pockets is the most effective way. The second important thing is to have a continuous dialogue with the Russian President. The solution mustn’t be imposed by a power like Russia either. In fact I think the best way of supporting a democratic movement in Belarus is not to make it a geopolitical issue./.

Published on 07/09/2020

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