Europe Minister focuses on Brexit, migration and Russia

European Union – European Council/Brexit/migration/Russia – Speech by M. Harlem Désir, Minister of State for European Affairs, in the Senate

Paris, 19 October 2016


Brexit, the post-Bratislava agenda, responses to the migration crisis, trade policy and relations with Russia are on the packed menu of this Friday’s European Council. It will be Theresa May’s first one, and she’ll be setting out the Brexit timetable: she’s announced to her party that Article 50 will be triggered before the end of March, and that shows her determination. We’ve already set out principles, outlined by the French President the day after the referendum and repeated by the 27.

During pre-negotiations before Article 50 is triggered, we established an unequivocal link between the four freedoms of movement: of goods, capital, services and people.

The United Kingdom’s access to the European internal market will depend on European citizens’ freedom of movement to the UK.

Access to both the internal market and certain common policies will be linked to compliance with a number of obligations and to a financial contribution.

Everyone is preparing for these negotiations, which aren’t about meting out punishment but defending the European Union’s interests and cohesion: you can’t have the advantages of being inside without the obligations.

This European Council will also debate the future of the EU, beyond Brexit, and look at the implementation of the Bratislava road map, following the first steps forward in recent weeks on responses to the migration crisis and on the continuation of the Juncker Plan.


Despite the reduction in the numbers of migrants arriving via the eastern Mediterranean because of the twofold effect of the closure of the Balkans route and the agreement with Turkey, the central Mediterranean is still seeing an increase in arrivals from Libya, tragic shipwrecks and deadly human trafficking: Italy is in difficulty because of this. It’s taken in 160,000 migrants; the Greek reception centres are full to bursting.

We need a mutually-supportive response. The deployment of border guards and coastguards represents significant progress in protecting the Schengen Area’s external borders.

Frontex didn’t have a mandate to carry out its missions effectively: it took us less than a year, but we’ll have to go further to revise the Schengen Borders Code and create a European travel authorization system, as well as obtain information on travellers without visas before they arrive in Europe. We’d like to complete this, with the support of the European institutions and in particular the European Parliament, by the end of the year.

The fight against people-smugglers and trafficking has been stepped up, and those people who have been shipwrecked are being rescued, but we must also act on the causes: that’s the purpose of the migration pacts; we must concentrate them on the priority countries by mobilizing all Europe’s policies towards a Juncker plan for cooperation, mobilizing €3.5 billion in Africa and Europe’s neighbouring countries.

Support for development is an essential lever for combating migration. The agreement with Turkey has enabled us to reduce the flow of migrants, but some 60,000 migrants are still stranded in Greece, 14,500 of them on the islands: we must help relocate them in Europe.

France, which has taken in 1,756 Syrians, Iraqis and Eritreans, is at the forefront in Europe. The liberalization of visas with Turkey depends on full compliance with 72 criteria, including the revision of a law on terrorism.


The European Council will debate trade policy, a major lever of the EU – the world’s top trading power, even after Brexit. France is in favour of opening up on the basis of reciprocity and compliance with our social, environmental and cultural standards. That’s the point of a robust policy that doesn’t work against our workers, our farmers.

For example, recognition of our geographical indications in the treaty being negotiated with Canada, CETA, explains why France supports it, like all the European countries except Belgium. Discussions are under way with Belgium on this. On TTIP with the United States, clear negotiation conditions don’t exist; we must take a step back.

The European Council must also tackle unfair trading policies; we’ll make sure of that.


This European Council will deal with other important issues, in particular our strategic relationship with Russia in the wake of the Normandy-format summit being held at this very moment in Berlin, in the tragic context of the Aleppo bombing and following Russia’s veto of a resolution proposed by France in favour of a truce. Europe must be firm and united so that negotiations on Syria’s future can be conducted after a lasting truce.

There are a lot of challenges; we must be one of the driving forces in Europe’s revitalization. It’s our responsibility but it’s also in our interest, because France needs a strong Europe whose voice carries in the international arena./.

Published on 06/11/2017

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