Europe Minister focuses on Brexit, Germany and Turkey
European Union – Brexit/Germany/Turkey – Interview given by Mme Nathalie Loiseau, Minister for European Affairs, to LCP (excerpts)
Paris, 29 January 2018
Q. – The 27 are today preparing to adopt their position on the transition phase that will follow Brexit. What is France’s position, and what’s in store for Britain?
THE MINISTER – France’s position has already become the position of the 27: we’ve spoken about it, we’ve given Michel Barnier a mandate to talk to the United Kingdom. The reality of Brexit is that the UK is leaving the European Union on 29 March 2019; a period is needed that enables it to move from the status of member state to that of third state. A little more time is needed to allow us to finish negotiating the agreement on future relations; leaving the EU is very complicated. The UK is clearly very closely linked with Europe, and we each need time – not too much, because predictability is needed for economic players and citizens – to find out exactly what the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the EU will look like.
Q. – A transition period ending in 2020 is being talked about. Is that the date?
THE MINISTER – It’s realistic to think we’ll go on until the end of 2020. We’re giving ourselves roughly 18 months; we’re dealing with everything we have to deal with. Ideally we shouldn’t make the transition last too long, because you have European citizens in the UK, British citizens in Europe, businesses and decisions to take. If, for example, the UK leaves the Customs Union in the future, it means customs checks have to be restored, so there are customs officers to recruit and infrastructure to change, and we must find out quickly: there’s no point remaining in a kind of grey area which is no good for anyone. It was the UK that wanted to leave the European Union; it’s not a decision we wanted, but it’s a decision we respect. We must now move towards that full departure.
Q. – Now, a draft resolution was signed last week, this time with Germany, to improve the Elysée Treaty; very few deputies from La République En Marche were present in the chamber. It was even noted that you yourself arrived a little late. Is France taking enough care of its German ally?
THE MINISTER – Well, I was indeed a minute late, partly because the ushers didn’t let me back in! I’d come from the Versailles summit. Even so, there were a good number of deputies in the hall. We then had dinner with the President of the Bundestag, Wolfgang Schäuble. Yes, I would have preferred a full chamber, but deputies are sovereign. It’s not for the government to give deputies instructions. We have an extraordinarily strong Franco-German partnership on a huge number of European and bilateral issues; I also note that this partnership hasn’t suffered as a result of the German election campaign or from the really quite long, quite unusual time Germany is taking to find itself a new government.
Q. – Is this agreement with the SPD a relief?
THE MINISTER – The good news, at any rate, is that we seem to be heading towards a long-term government; we still have to be a little cautious in saying that, because the discussions are ongoing.
Q. – Must SPD activists vote on the agreement?
THE MINISTER – SPD activists will vote when the agreement is finalized, i.e. some time around the end of March. We need a stable and strong German partner.
Q. – Is the Franco-German tandem necessary in order to implement Emmanuel Macron’s European project?
THE MINISTER – It’s essential, although it’s not sufficient. What we observe is that when the Franco-German tandem has broken down or is flagging, nothing happens in Europe. By contrast, when it’s working well – which is the case now – it opens up, it’s not exclusive.
Q. – Even though Angela Merkel is weakened by the difficulty creating the coalition?
THE MINISTER – Yes, we took Defence Europe forward at the end of last year; we took significant measures to enable us to carry out projects together on European defence research, development, operational capability and equipment. That was a considerable step. We’ve reformed the posting of workers system. We’re doing those things at the moment, even though there’s no new, stable German government. In order to work, for example, on the future of the Euro Area, we need a German government to be in place, and so the sooner the better.
Q. – We don’t need only that: we also need a majority in Europe. Can we find that majority for this project, particularly for the Euro Area, in the knowledge that there are, after all, significant differences, with populism on the rise in many countries, be it Austria or the Netherlands, or Beppe Grillo in Italy?
THE MINISTER – On each issue, in Europe, each member state counts; that’s what happened when we worked on the posting of workers. We talked to everyone, both the eastern countries and the founding countries, both the large and small countries, and in the end we had what’s called a qualified majority to reform Europe ambitiously. Why? Because we explained what we expected, listened to our partners’ constraints and found an ambitious solution.
That’s the approach we take on every issue. What we also advocate is that when in some areas a few countries are ready to move faster, further than others, we must let them do so without forcing those which aren’t ready or don’t have the political will to follow, but without the slowest or most reluctant blocking the EU’s progress.
Q. – Emmanuel Macron is calling for a multi-speed Europe, but in concrete terms, how will it materialize?
THE MINISTER – It’s already happening with Schengen, for example; not all European Union members are in Schengen. It’s the case with the Euro Area. Every time we have a fairly ambitious plan, we’ve got to propose it to the 27. Those willing will come forward, and those who are not will join in later when they want or can!
Q. – Even so, that means you have a Europe which is going to be a bit fragmented, with leader countries that will carry out these reforms and the others that won’t follow.
THE MINISTER – Not at all, because look at Schengen or the Euro Area today; you’ve got countries which aspire to, which are considering joining in, whereas this wasn’t the case a few years ago. It’s quite simply the idea of a vanguard. You set off when you’re ready, then it has a knock-on effect, it creates a desire. Today, Europe is a continent which creates a desire; what’s more, there are countries applying for European Union membership. We mustn’t let ourselves be blinded by Brexit, by one member state – and not just any one – which has decided to leave, even though the decision is complicated to implement. Europe has considerable drawing power.
Q. – Do you think Turkey is set to become part of Europe?
THE MINISTER – As things stand today, given the domestic policy decisions Turkey has taken, there’s no possibility of moving forward in the negotiation on Turkey’s membership because there’s a question about shared values. The way Turkey’s institutions function bears no resemblance to the European Union’s values.
Q. – There are the European elections coming up as well; they’ll be taking place in just over a year; a national list is going to be adopted in France. For your part, are you working on creating transnational lists, and which European friends could we ally ourselves with?
THE MINISTER – We are indeed supporting the plan, along with the national list which voters will go and vote for in 2019, for there to be a European constituency taking advantage of the seats left vacant by the British, who are leaving, and for that constituency to elect through transnational lists. The nationality of the candidates who make it up matters less than the plan, the programme, and so the European parties need to have a European vision. For too long, until now, the European elections consisted of 28 elections which were held the same week but talked about different issues. That’s what we’ve got to succeed in changing because Europe actually has a strong impact on our daily lives, and when the European elections happen voters must know what plans the parties running have for Europe. So who will La République En Marche ally itself with for 2019? It’s too early to say (…)./.