Europe Minister discusses EU reforms and Brexit
European Union – 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 BFMTV
Paris, 3 May 2019
Q. – Are you managing to galvanize people? You’ve taken over from Nathalie Loiseau at the Ministry for Europe [and Foreign Affairs] and so she’s heading the En Marche list for the European election campaign. The parties have been polling neck and neck for a few days. Several polling companies show that if the election were held today, Rassemblement National [National Rally, formerly National Front] would probably win it, taking first place ahead of the En Marche list. Does that worry you?
THE MINISTER – What’s certain is that we’re starting on the basis of a worrying situation, namely that for years the main delegation to the European Parliament was the National Front; it was 24 MEPs who did nothing for Europe, they opposed everything…
Q. – But clearly you’re not really going to succeed in changing…
THE MINISTER – (…) For the past 18 months, the President – thanks to his active efforts, thanks to unifying work by the countries, the Commission and all the players – has got very practical things passed: we’ve passed things on posted workers, we’ve passed the European Labour Authority to have oversight, we’ve passed things on copyright, we’ve passed things on borders with Frontex, which is going to be able to have 10,000 coastguards, so we’ve done a lot of things. France must now regain influence so as to go further and ensure that a number of proposals – which also sometimes command consensus in Europe – can be fully completed. (…)
European Parliament seat in Strasbourg
The work I’ve been doing for the past month is going to Strasbourg to explain that we need the seat in Strasbourg. Not because it’s pretty, not because some people tell you it’s too costly. We need it because historically there’s a point, because politically there’s a point in having a decentralized Europe. Not everything is in Brussels, we no longer believe in a federal Europe, we don’t want everything to be concentrated like in Washington in the United States and everyone to say to themselves: Europe…
Q. – It’s funny, because one wonders if this defence of Strasbourg isn’t the opposite of what you advocate, i.e. almost a kind of patriotism or nationalism! (…) Isn’t this way of defending our country the opposite of the Europe you’re proposing?
THE MINISTER – It’s a good idea that the European Fisheries Control Agency is in Vigo. You have authorities in every country; I was in The Hague, you have Eurojust and Europol; why do we have that vision? Because we say to ourselves: Europe must be close to the people, we don’t want to be a federal Europe shut away behind walls in Brussels which governs 500 million inhabitants from the city of Brussels. We have this vision of decentralization and Europe being close to the people. Strasbourg is one of those places, and if you look you’ll see that when Europe positions itself it’s often because there’s a historical meaning. And I don’t think we should forget that: we mustn’t forget our history, but we must be proactive, we must be on the offensive, we must want to do things. (…) So what I want to do in this campaign is first of all make people want Europe. Europe is a motivating project…
Enthusiasm for Europe
Q. – For the moment you can’t say it’s working, and there’s also – even beyond the issue of Nathalie Loiseau’s lower poll ratings – the fact that there’s no enthusiasm for this European campaign, there’s no desire to go and vote. Incredible!
THE MINISTER – I can tell you that the young people taking part in Erasmus want Europe, as do the apprentices we’re also going to enable to do those same Erasmus exchanges. As you know, students from the best universities want Europe. When we create a European solidarity corps where we send young people on humanitarian and social projects, we’re going to enable them to go on heritage projects; we’re creating a Europe that is the one my generation wants to build, so that my children can live on a continent that is peaceful, a continent where people know each other and above all a continent that reflects our climate choices, our economic choices and our social choices. When we propose a Europe-wide minimum wage, it’s not in order to reduce the minimum wage in France, it’s to say we’d like everyone in Europe who works to get out of poverty. It’s a principle…
Q. – Yes, but all the same, you do agree that the issue will be about the level of the minimum wage!
THE MINISTER – What’s been proposed is that each country sets the minimum wage at 50% of the median wage at least. What does that mean? It means that when you’re paid the minimum wage, you’re almost out of poverty or, at any rate, you’re not earning a token wage but are above the poverty line. These are very concrete things so that, when we say we’re European, we have shared values which we don’t just talk about but are visible in real life.
Q. – Even so, Emmanuel Macron is fairly alone in Europe.
THE MINISTER – I don’t believe he is.
Q. – It isn’t a question of believing or not believing; when you see, for example on Brexit, when he asked for the British to stop being given more and more time, he couldn’t get people to follow him.
THE MINISTER – Let me tell you something: when Germany says no and says no on its own, people say it’s strong; when France lays down principles and sometimes says no, people say it’s isolated – that’s not right. You know, on the subject of Brexit everyone was very clear about the objective: the British must resolve the matter themselves, it isn’t for Europe to resolve it. Then, tactically, some were saying “you’ve got to give them time”, some were saying “you’ve got to give them less time.” But basically we all agree, this isn’t Europe’s issue, it isn’t for the Europeans to decide whether we want the British or not – that’s not the issue. [The issue is] how we tell the British: you’ve held a democratic vote, you’ve got a Parliament, you’ve got a Prime Minister, find your solution and we Europeans will be clear. But we’ve got one condition, namely that this question has taken up too much of our time and diverted us from what we’re here for. European citizens have the right to ask us to focus on them and not Brexit for another 24, 36, 40 months...
Q. – So there comes a point when the British have to manage on their own.
THE MINISTER – So there comes a point when we pass the ball back to them: you brought about the issue, you need to resolve it. That’s where we are. We’re not nasty or kind, that’s not the question; it’s your issue and we Europeans have got to make progress and set out what our priorities are for the next five years. We’ve got to set out what we’re proposing to the European Parliament when it sits again on 2 July. So our objective was shared with Germany. But you know, I was in the Netherlands – we’ve got a huge amount of common ground with the Netherlands, which is a country the French don’t know. I was with my Estonian counterpart (...), we create coalitions with the Irish and the Portuguese. And what I want to do is create practical, pragmatic alliances... (…)./.