French EU presidency must further speed up Europe in 2022 - Minister

Foreign policy – European recovery plan/asylum – Excerpts from the interview given by M. Clément Beaune, Minister of State for European Affairs, attached to the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to Europe 1/CNEWS


Paris, 16 May 2021

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Q. – France is going to hold the European Union presidency from 1 January 2022, for six months. What type of issues does Emmanuel Macron want to take the opportunity to champion during those six months?

THE MINISTER – First of all, a Europe that upholds and strengthens its social model. More investment, because we’re also not making the mistakes we made about 10 years ago following the [financial] crisis. After the Greek crisis we tried to reduce our deficits very quickly, we were obsessed by the idea of lowering debt, and we didn’t invest. And we therefore lagged behind the Americans and Chinese, for 10 years. Let’s not make the same mistake. And there’s also a European social model. There was a social summit in Porto a few days ago. We’ll also be championing a number of very specific social issues during our presidency. A minimum wage throughout Europe, for example.

Q. – But not necessarily the same for every country?

THE MINISTER – No, because we have a minimum wage in France that is higher than the European average. It’s certainly not about lowering it. But there are European countries which don’t have one or which have a wage of €300-400 a month. You can’t live off that. So a decent minimum wage right across Europe is one element of the European social model, and it prevents social dumping.

Q. – But there will be several different ones. For example, if you take Bulgaria, it may be complicated to have the same minimum wage as in France.

THE MINISTER – There will be several different ones. But the common principle is first of all to have a minimum wage everywhere and for there to be a minimum in terms of purchasing power. Also, for example, the posting of workers, which caused so much trouble – people remember it during the previous presidential campaign. It’s talked about less today, because it’s already been reformed. And we’ll go further in order to prevent fraud against posted workers.

Q. – Sorry, but when you see the bureaucracy and sluggishness we’ve just talked about in the European Union, it’s hard to believe Emmanuel Macron will be able to push that through in such a short time. Even if you’re already working on the presidency, it seems hard to envisage, doesn’t it?

THE MINISTER – We don’t have a magic wand, but we have political will. We’re not going to do all this in six months.

Q. – Is the will going to be enough?

THE MINISTER – No, because we’ve accompanied the will with a commitment and a struggle for the past four years. We were told the posted workers [reform] was impossible. We carried out an initial reform of the posting of workers. We’ll go further. It was explained to us that it was impossible to take the slightest step forward on Defence Europe. We’ve done a number of things. We now have European special forces engaged in the Sahel. Of course we must go further. But we were told that it was impossible, that we’d never achieve it; we’ve done it.

Q. – It’s symbolic.

THE MINISTER – It’s not symbolic, it saves lives. People criticize European solidarity on vaccines, but I defend it, because what would happen today if European countries had no access to vaccines at all? We’d have “mini-Brazils” or “mini-Indias” all over Europe – variants – and that would be very bad for the French health situation. We were right to do it together. It all seemed impossible. Yes, the common debt and the European recovery are too slow, but we’ve carried them out and we’ll have the money. It’s already partly there. So it’s not only about the French presidency and six months of work, it’s about four years in which we shook up – and I mean shook up – and transformed the European approach with a view to less naivety and to concrete gestures – defence, social, recovery – against China and the United States. (…) And we’ll extend all that. This presidency must speed up Europe.

Q. – There’s a word you don’t utter, namely immigration. But since the Rambouillet attack it’s returned to the forefront of the political debate. Why? Mustn’t stronger action be taken? For example, Valérie Pécresse is proposing that there should be asylum points, that asylum reception should be done at the borders; is that an interesting way forward?

THE MINISTER – Yes, that’s timely, because it’s exactly what we’re proposing. Work will also be done under the French presidency on Schengen reform. The President mentioned [it] a few weeks ago in Le Perthus, after the terrible attack in Nice.

Q. – It’s already been announced umpteen times.

THE MINISTER – No, I’ll be very clear about things: today we have no monitoring [of the Schengen Area]. Schengen Member States, which don’t come exactly under the European Union, never meet together, never decide together on border protection measures. We’ll do it under the French presidency. We must reform the Schengen rules, for example to ensure that a country which isn’t serious about border controls – currently it’s assessed but we don’t act accordingly – can be sanctioned or penalized by no longer being in the free trade area.

Q. – Are there specific countries?

THE MINISTER – We’ve seen, for example – sometimes it’s a material, technical failure – that there have been difficulties in Greece, that even countries which boast about combating immigration in eastern Europe, I’m thinking of Hungary…

Q. – Meaning they should be sanctioned?

THE MINISTER – It depends what’s meant by sanctioned, but yes, you can’t be in the area of free movement and not meet your border-control obligations. I think Europe has to check this, exactly as is done with the budget. You check your deficit, so why don’t you check the controls you carry out at the borders? This is one of the avenues the President opened up in Le Perthus and we want to make headway on it under France’s presidency. Regarding Valérie Pécresse’s proposal, it’s on Europe’s table, i.e. technically what’s called “asylum at the border.” Your asylum file is checked when you arrive on European territory, for example in Greece. And with our European agency Frontex we’re helping Greece speed up these procedures at its border. We’ve got to go further. And do you know why the European asylum reforms came to a standstill? Because there are countries, particularly the countries in the east – Hungary and Poland –, which don’t want European solidarity. We’re saying that there has to be both. Check asylum at the border in a responsible way, then when there are people who are entitled to come to Europe because they’re refugees and need to be protected because there’s war in their country, we’ve got to take them in, all over Europe.

Q. – Meaning quotas should be imposed? Is that what you’re saying?

THE MINISTER – No, I think quotas are the wrong debate to be having because that will never work. On the other hand, a country which doesn’t contribute to European solidarity must contribute in another way, for example financially. Today it’s France, Italy, Germany which are making all the efforts. I’m in favour of a Europe which is fair and not naïve, and there’s no reason why we should make an effort of solidarity which is necessary but disproportionate compared to some countries. Incidentally, it’s often the friends of those who fight us on immigration, of Mme Le Pen, who don’t make efforts.

Q. – Do you think France takes in too many?

THE MINISTER – In proportion to the other European countries, yes, of course. Before the crisis, we were the number one country for asylum applications in Europe. We must play our part, but other European countries must as well. (…)./.

Published on 21/05/2021

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