Brexit deal "wasn’t imposed" on UK, says Minister
European Union – Climate/Brexit – Interview given by Mme Amélie de Montchalin, Minister of State for European Affairs, attached to the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to France 2 (excerpts)
Paris, 26 July 2019
Q. – So European politics has been extremely intense this week, but we’re going to begin by talking about the heatwave, which hasn’t just been affecting France: several records have been broken all over Europe. One question: what is Europe doing about the climate and global warming? It doesn’t feel like much.
THE MINISTER – Actually Europe is already trying to move beyond the notion that this can be dealt with by national emergency plans, and get to the bottom, to the root of these wholly unusual climate patterns – climate change. So in March France proposed that we set a very ambitious target so that in September, at the major global climate meeting at the United Nations, Europe arrives united and puts across a strong message, and above all, proposals. We, four countries, did this in March, there were eight of us in May and we’ve ended up with 24 countries. So 24 countries out of 28 are today saying that if we aren’t carbon neutral by 2050, the phenomena we’ve experienced this week will be repeated. As regards the solutions, we’re trying to set money aside for investment right now.
Q. – Tangible things.
THE MINISTER – Very tangible things as regards mobility, housing, agriculture too, in order to have a genuine transition. When there are times like what has happened, you pool resources. Didier Guillaume negotiated on the CAP, so we could get aid for farmers, and also money, because clearly a lot of crops are going to be lost, and Canadair planes too, because often, with droughts come major fires. And so we’re pooling resources.
What matters is for us to have in our European budget, which is going to be negotiated in the next few weeks, the wherewithal for the transition to take place. And clearly there are countries which need to invest on a huge scale – including France. We want to put 1,000 billion [euros] into this ecological, environmental climate transition. This also concerns biodiversity, pollution. It’s a huge effort, and what we’re doing here is, basically, we’re the guarantors of the Paris Agreement. It was signed in Paris, we need to keep the agreement strong and therefore implement it in Europe in full.
Q. – (…) This week in London, Boris Johnson made his entry into 10 Downing Street, officially Britain’s new prime minister, a sensational entry; we’re less than 100 days away from the date scheduled for Brexit. He’s promising – I quote – “a better deal” for the British, deeming the current terms “unacceptable”. Is France prepared to renegotiate the deal?
THE MINISTER – I think we need to reset the terms of the debate a bit. Firstly, I prefer to comment on deeds rather than words – especially what’s said during a campaign or what’s said on entering government…
Q. – He’s Prime Minister now.
THE MINISTER – So I prefer to work with him; I’ll be having discussions with my counterpart, Jean-Yves Le Drian with his, Bruno Le Maire – we’re working with the government which is being formed. The President will have a meeting with Boris Johnson in France in the next few weeks.
Q. – It’s being said this may be at Brégançon [an official residence of the President]?
THE MINISTER – At the moment I don’t know where or when, but at any rate we’re looking forward to working with him.
Q. – Does this mean he isn’t a bogeyman, as some are saying?
THE MINISTER – Look, above all we need – you know he’s a partner who will remain so after Brexit, [the UK] is a country which will remain very close to us. We’ve always had very strong links when it comes to defence and the economy, and social and cultural ties, so the future relationship will be strong.
Q. – But do you agree on renegotiating the deal that was negotiated with Theresa May, yes or no?
THE MINISTER – We have to be very clear on this. We’ve always said that if the United Kingdom wants to leave the European Union, and if it wants to do so in an orderly fashion, the best thing we have is the deal. Why is the deal being talked about?
Q. – So no question of renegotiating the deal that is on the table?
THE MINISTER – Look, it wasn’t imposed on the British: it was two years of work between Michel Barnier’s teams in Brussels and the British teams to tell each other, point by point, pragmatically, realistically, concretely, how we can establish that there’s a before and an after. It’s not us who want there to be a before and an after.
Q. – It was rejected three times by the British Parliament.
THE MINISTER – Yes, and so what we’re trying to say is that – in this agreement we’re just trying to say: this is how we separate. But for me the key thing, what I’d like to do in the coming weeks, is for us to get through this stage and negotiate coolly, calmly, under calm conditions, how we work afterwards, how we work tomorrow.
Q. – So you’re ready to negotiate the future relationship, but we’re not going back on the divorce agreement.
THE MINISTER – That’s what we all say, because we think this divorce agreement, if you call it that, was prepared over two years, it wasn’t imposed as an obligation on the British.
Q. – Boris Johnson is saying: we’ll leave at all costs on 31 October, even if it’s what’s called a “no deal”, even if it’s without an agreement.
THE MINISTER – I know he’s saying that. The European Council actually set that deadline. What I myself see is that the European project has been a project of trust, a project of responsibility, of understanding that others apply the same standards as me, the same rules as me, and therefore I trust them. It means I trust them to ensure goods and people can move back and forth across borders.
Q. – You’d clearly rather there was an agreement.
THE MINISTER – Yes.
Q. – As for this withdrawal by 31 October, could the 31 October date be postponed or not?
THE MINISTER – We’ve always said there must be very, very good reasons to postpone the date.
Q. – So you’re not ruling it out.
THE MINISTER – In diplomacy, if you have absolute red lines, that often creates tensions. We set 31 October, we have the agreement on the table; what there is to renegotiate and still to negotiate is the future relationship, and we must be responsible. That means we must be clear and predictable – that’s what I’m saying to you. And we should also manage to create a working relationship, not get involved in game-playing, posturing and provocation. That’s what we’re trying to do.
But I want to say, and French people really must understand, that if there’s no deal it basically means we’ll have no relations of trust. The Swiss and the Norwegians are not in the European Union, but we trust them because we’ve created a trading relationship with them, a cultural relationship, a calm economic relationship. What we’re seeking is to calm things down.
Q. – You want to keep that pact of trust for what comes later.
THE MINISTER – Exactly. (…)./.