France consulting young people on Europe - Minister
Interview given by M. Clément Beaune, Minister of State for European Affairs, attached to the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to Le Journal du Dimanche
Paris, 8 May 2021
EU and young people
Q. – To inaugurate the Conference on the Future of Europe, you’re launching a consultation with 50,000 young French people. Why?
THE MINISTER – The idea is to restore meaning, impetus and hope to young people after a year when they, more than others, felt the impact of confinement and constraints. Under the slogan “Listening to young people”, we’ll be going to look for participants on social media in particular, to ask them this simple question: “What are your priorities for Europe?” We must ask ourselves what we’ve done well or badly, and what we can do differently. There will doubtless be criticisms of how the health crisis has been handled, of the recovery, but these discussions are essential in order to sketch out a post-crisis scenario.
Q. – In France, 30% of people aged 25-35 vote for National Rally. How can you persuade them that the European Union and this initiative have any validity?
THE MINISTER – A number of young people take refuge in an extremist, populist vote because they feel that opening-up is reserved for others or is to their detriment, particularly because of social dumping. Fifty years ago, Europe stood for a form of peace and reconciliation that was remote but positive. For my generation, who are now about 40 years old, it’s the embodiment of democracy and freedom. Young people today are wondering if Europe’s system will survive amid globalization, in the face of the Chinese and Americans. I’m not resigned to anything. But we must demonstrate that this Europe isn’t reserved for an elite. We must think about a form of “European capital”, with school twinnings, a mobility programme, an Interrail pass. Everyone must be able to enjoy an experience of opening-up and travel, be aware that the Erasmus programme is accessible to everyone, apprentices or students, and not solely the children of the middle classes as the stereotype suggests, and that civic service also exists across Europe, as we saw again on the ground this week with Sarah El Haïry, Minister of State for Youth and Engagement.
Q. – What guarantees can you give the young contributors that their proposals will be taken into account?
THE MINISTER – If there’s large-scale participation, there will be a political, media and civic obligation to embark on a process of reforms – especially for France, with the French European Union presidency in the first half of 2022. I’m not one of those who think Europe is doomed to be sluggish and spineless because it was built to create compromises. On posted workers, copyright in the cultural sector, and the removal of online terrorist content, there have been concrete results. In future, it’ll be about regulating and taxing the big digital companies, and a carbon tax on our borders. Some people ask themselves: “Wouldn’t we do better all alone?” Sometimes things are more complicated together, but it gives us more strength, as is the case with the climate, the recovery and the purchasing of vaccine doses.
Q. – And yet young Europeans get the feeling their access to the vaccine isn’t as fast as in other countries like the United States, even though it’s a precondition for regaining certain freedoms…
THE MINISTER – Giving priority to elderly and at-risk people isn’t done to the detriment of young people, but to protect the most vulnerable from the virus. Even so, it’s the reason why our health pass in France will never be a vaccine passport, because that wouldn’t be fair: in June, when there’s a widespread reopening, not all young people will have been vaccinated. Access to cafés and restaurants won’t depend on such a pass either – unlike what will be done in some European countries –, in order not to create a two-speed society, to the detriment of young people. The pass will essentially relate to major gatherings. Travel around Europe will also be possible thanks to vaccines or tests, as part of the [Digital] Green Certificate currently being created.
Q. – Will European States be able to add extra conditions for entering their territory to this certificate?
THE MINISTER – Legally, yes, the EU can’t ban States from adopting additional measures like quarantine. But everyone will want to host tourists and allow their population to travel. This Green Certificate, with QR codes, is the common tool for making that possible.
Q. – This week the European Commission proposed enabling vaccinated tourists from non-EU countries to enter the EU. Are you in favour of that?
THE MINISTER – With caution, gradually and in a European framework. All the EU countries are currently opening up their daily activities at roughly the same pace. The second phase will be about summer holidays. The priority is to travel first of all in your own country, then in Europe, our living area. Will we then open up to a few international tourists as well? Two criteria are needed for that: the health situation in the country concerned and the ability to check whether there’s been a vaccination or test. I’m cautious, because a lot of questions arise that will have to be resolved between now and the beginning of the summer. How can we check that the person has really had two vaccine doses, and that the vaccine has been certified by the European Medicines Agency? There will be another, symbolic criterion: reciprocity. It will be hard to explain that Americans are welcome in Europe if the reverse isn’t true.
Q. – The Porto Social Summit confirmed a number of targets on unemployment, particularly among people under 29, and on the fight against poverty. Are they reasonable?
THE MINISTER – We must concentrate on specific targets like young people’s mobility, including for apprentices, but also continue the fight against social dumping started with the reform on posted workers, while completing in the coming months the fight against fraud and shell companies. We must continue our reforms on minimum wages in Europe, and equal pay for men and women. We’re also working to provide a legislative framework for workers on platforms like Uber and Deliveroo, with a minimum wage, access to social security and a right to training. When we emerge from this pandemic I don’t want us to have a generation for whom Europe embodies austerity, a lack of solidarity, and unemployment, like what happened during the Greek crisis for those who are now 30 years old.
France/EU recovery plan
Q. – French people don’t understand why they still haven’t seen the money from the European recovery plan arrive, a year after the 27 gave the green light…
THE MINISTER – There’s a rational explanation: the European democratic timeframe. But that doesn’t mean it’s satisfactory. In the space of two months we reached an agreement, which is unprecedented; there were then negotiations with the European Parliament and ratification by the parliaments of the 27 countries, which should be completed in June. To have a Europe as speedy as Joe Biden’s United States, you need a federal system where you entrust the central level – in this case Brussels – with the power to act swiftly and release money. I don’t like the word federal, and I don’t think it should be the reality in Europe. Our nations have a deep-rooted existence that isn’t that of an American federated State. However, there are certain areas like health, and certain crisis periods, where the European Commission must have the ability to act, under the European Parliament’s supervision, as is the case with the purchasing of first- and now second-generation vaccines.
Q. – Over what period will France receive the €40 billion promised?
THE MINISTER – The European Commission will pay the first credits at the beginning or end of the summer, via pre-financing. But certain funds from Europe’s ordinary budget have already been used, for example for vaccine purchases or given to the regions, with €5 billion in total directly paid to French regions under the recovery [plan].
Q. – What levers does Europe have to overcome the crisis with the United Kingdom on fisheries?
THE MINISTER – We mustn’t kid ourselves: we in the European Union will be constantly tested by the British on our responsiveness and our firmness. For them the vital issue is to show – even to overplay – the fact that Brexit is a release. They want to go back on part of the agreement in the areas where they made very many concessions, like fisheries. We won’t let them do that. By showing our firmness but being open to dialogue, we’ll manage to ensure that the conditions added by the Jersey authorities for gaining access to their waters are lifted. Meanwhile, about 40 access permits to British waters for French fishermen are still not forthcoming. There too, I’m confident they’ll be granted. Otherwise we won’t hesitate to take retaliatory measures in other sectors, like access to financial services, where the British are requesting [EU financial services]./.