Risk of no-deal Brexit appears more likely again, says Minister

Brexit – Interview given by Mme Amélie de Montchalin, Minister of State for European Affairs, attached to the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to the newspaper Le Parisien

Paris, 7 September 2019

Brexit

Q. – Brexit is worrying French economic players. What do you say to them?

THE MINISTER – Our job is to be prepared for every political decision. Today we’re remobilizing to say that the risk of no deal is again becoming likely. The State is ready; major companies (medicines, automotive chain, health and veterinary sectors etc.) are ready. But others, SMEs with potentially 10% of their business with the UK – the number of which can be estimated at roughly 100,000 – are less so.

Q. – What can be done?

THE MINISTER – There’s a website – www.brexit.gouv.fr – which focuses, ministry by ministry, on all their questions – standards, labelling, additional checks etc. – so that everyone is informed about the things which are going to be asked. If the UK is no longer in the EU on 1 November, it will be treated as a third country like every other country in the world. For example, companies will have to register with customs to get clearance for their products for exporting them and importing from the UK. If they don’t, it will slow down and complicate things.

Q. – Is there also uncertainty for individuals?

THE MINISTER – Yes, there’s a human factor. There are 300,000 French people living in the UK and 150,000 Britons in France. The former must apply online for a kind of residence permit – settled status – which makes it possible to stay. I advise anyone wishing to move to the UK to wait a few weeks to see what formalities will need to be completed. Britons in France will have to apply at prefectures for a permanent residence permit.

Q. – Are more negative impacts feared, concerning the validity of driving licences in Britain for example?

THE MINISTER – We’re waiting for the British to give people concrete answers about this. At this stage we have only indications of what will happen in the event of a no-deal Brexit: nothing changes for tourists, residents under the age of 70 or those arriving in the UK in the previous three years. Everyone else needs to obtain a British licence. On the French side, we’ve taken steps to make life easier for Britons residing in France.

EU funding/young people

Q. – You want to involve people in European politics. How?

THE MINISTER – I’m a grassroots politician: deputies spend their time yo-yoing between their area and national law to ensure effective legislation. At the Quai d’Orsay [French Foreign Ministry], you can develop a sort of habit, and the Minister of State for European Affairs’ schedule consists in going round capitals, going to Brussels, Strasbourg etc.

Q. – Is there a risk of apathy?

THE MINISTER – It can create a gulf between my work and French people’s daily lives. In fact I’m going to free up some of my time to go out to areas, see how the budget I’m negotiating in Europe is put into practice and check that EU funding – for social issues, building renovation, the environment, immigration – is getting through. French people pay taxes for Europe; they believe France should get something back from this as well.

Q. – We often don’t know if it does…

THE MINISTER – That’s true. One example: 30% of the budget of local missions in our country comes from the EU. When a young person under the age of 26, in a precarious situation, goes on training programmes financed through the Garantie Jeunes scheme and therefore accesses support to help him find a job, it’s thanks to the EU inclusion policy. I’d like him to know this.

Q. – In short, you’d like them to advertise the fact?

THE MINISTER – My goal isn’t to go on a PR exercise but to show that Europe does things for people it asks every five years to vote. President Emmanuel Macron is asking us, all the ministers, to take action in this way. To be more approachable and talk to French people so they clearly understand that everything we do is done with them. It’s the hallmark of En Marche.

Q. – Should results be shown?

THE MINISTER – France holds the EU presidency in the first half of 2022. We’ll have six months to take the European project forward. I’m going to listen to French people’s expectations; issues may arise and I’ll address them at European level. It will also be presidential election time; we’ll have to show we’ve got results.

Posting of workers

Q. – One issue causing concern is posted workers. Have you got a goal?

THE MINISTER – We’ve already ensured that throughout Europe from July 2020 a posted worker will have to be paid the same salary as one from the host country. The next matter at the European Parliament concerns lorry drivers. In my department of Essonne, on the N20 road I see a continuous little convoy of lorries from Bulgaria, Latvia, Poland etc. Drivers sleeping in parking areas, away from home for long periods, are engaging in cabotage in France. The European Council and European Parliament need to pass measures to combat this dumping, which makes roads less safe and encourages unfair competition with our national hauliers.

Q. – There’s also still the problem concerning the unfair payment of social security contributions…

THE MINISTER – This is a proposal we’d like to promote. But we’ve got a plan regarding unemployment benefit in particular: that it’s the country you’ve worked in which pays unemployment benefit, not the country of residence. In France this affects, for example, employees working in Luxembourg: it doesn’t make sense that an economy which hasn’t benefited from your work pays your unemployment benefit. We’re giving ourselves six months to change that. There are 400,000 French people working every day in another border country.

ECB/Christine Lagarde

Q. – The Strasbourg parliament has held a hearing with the European Central Bank President nominee Christine Lagarde. What are you expecting from the Bank?

THE MINISTER – We expect it to continue a monetary policy supporting our prosperity, ensure stability and be a 21st-century central bank – i.e. it contributes to the ecological transition. Above all, there must be credibility. The advantage of Christine Lagarde is that at the IMF she gained global level experience.

Q. – Will the institution be more political under her?

THE MINISTER – It will perhaps be more down-to-earth. The Central Bank isn’t a bank for bankers, but is there to protect European citizens so that there’s no inflation, no banking crisis and that they don’t lose their savings.

European Commission/Sylvie Goulard

Q. – Are you confident that the [European] Parliament will appoint Sylvie Goulard European commissioner, despite the ongoing judicial investigation?

THE MINISTER – She has been cleared by the European Parliament, which provided new information, removing a substantial part, if not all of the questions surrounding the issue of parliamentary assistants. In France, justice must take its course.

Q. – Which post would you like to see her hold?

THE MINISTER – The Internal Market portfolio. It’s the foundation of Europe and what drives it forward, what prevents the whole law of the jungle and unfair competition between us./.

European Union – Brexit – Excerpts from the interview given by Mme Amélie de Montchalin, Minister of State for European Affairs, attached to the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to Radio Classique

Paris, 5 September 2019

Q. – (…) Are you going to have a meeting with Boris Johnson?

THE MINISTER – Well, I don’t generally go and meet prime ministers on my own; on the other hand, I have very regular meetings with my British counterpart, who was in Paris on Wednesday, and we speak to each other, we telephone each other, we’re always in contact. Diplomatic relations haven’t been broken off, and moreover I don’t think they’ll ever be.

Q. – Except that things are changing every day.

THE MINISTER – Well, things are changing every day…

Q. – We were looking at a hard Brexit, and now MPs have told Boris Johnson he’s got to negotiate an extension and even abandon the idea of an election.

THE MINISTER – So basically there are many developments, things are moving a great deal. We’re seeing a very intense political struggle between the government and Parliament. If we summarize what’s nevertheless happened over the past few days, basically we’ve gone back to a starting point which we’re familiar with; we know that the British Parliament doesn’t want to leave the European Union without a deal. We’ve known this for months; it’s also why they repeated it several times going back to when Theresa May was Prime Minister, because, like us, the 27, they want things to happen in an orderly way. That’s why for two and a half years we worked to see how we could…

Q. – That was Barnier’s work, but all that has been ripped up…

THE MINISTER – …protect citizens, and how in particular we could enable the economy to continue functioning, even if we were to have new relations. So the Parliament is very clear about this. What we’re seeing at the same time is that this same British Parliament is also telling us it doesn’t want an election to be held, and that we’re therefore in a situation which is somewhat at a standstill, and that we know what they don’t want, but we’re still finding it difficult to understand what they do want. So our position, vis-à-vis my counterparts and vis-à-vis the British in general, is to say to them: make us some concrete proposals – that’s what we’ve been waiting for now for weeks and weeks – so that we can see if there are minor amendments to the agreement we negotiated which allow us to move forward, and well, there’s no reason why we wouldn’t listen to you. If there are major things to be done, should they basically be done in the framework of this divorce agreement, or in the framework of the future relationship which we’ll have to look at with the British? What I want to say to French people today is that we can comment on British politics, it’s gripping, it’s changing all the time. [But] it isn’t our job. Our job – at least, we who bear the responsibilities – is to be ready for every eventuality, because a no-deal exit on 31 October remains a very strong possibility, and so this is why Agnès Pannier, Olivier Dussopt and I are going to be meeting ambassadors from every European Union country next week, and the Prime Minister is convening all the ministers on Monday. We’re preparing, because behind this issue there are…

Q. – But there are major economic questions for French businesses, for those exporting to Britain and which don’t even know what customs duties are going to be applied.

THE MINISTER – There are businesses, there are 300,000 French people living in London and 150,000 British people living in France. So behind these issues, which may look like part of a major, very complicated diplomatic effort, there are some very concrete things and our job is to be both very calm, because we aren’t there to clash with the UK; the cliffs of Dover will forever remain where they are. I grew up in Calais and can tell you that the tunnel is still, and will always be, 50 km long. The British will remain neighbours with whom we’ll have a huge amount of exchanges. So we’ve got to remain calm, because we’ve got to build the future relationship, and then we’ve got to be prepared so that these diplomatic elements, the British people’s sovereign choice doesn’t impact, doesn’t jeopardize either our trade, our businesses, French families in the UK or British families in France.

Q. – But you acknowledge that this morning it’s extremely complicated because you’ve got the British people, who want Brexit, parliamentarians who don’t, Johnson who wants an election and parliamentarians who don’t want an election.

THE MINISTER – No, there’s one thing on which we think we can agree, which is that Parliament agrees on having Brexit, but they want an agreement. And so we’re saying to them: help us…

Q. – Before the 31st?

THE MINISTER – Yes, help us put together the agreement!

Q. – Before the 31st?

THE MINISTER – We’ve been working on it for two and a half years.

Q. – Before the 31st?

THE MINISTER – Meaning?

Q. – Well, do you think this agreement is negotiable before the 31st?

THE MINISTER – But we’ve had one on the table for two and a half years.

Q. – I’m well aware of that, but they haven’t wanted it up to now. So…

THE MINISTER – There’s one thing the President has also said very clearly: a complicated problem won’t be resolved by spreading it over longer periods of time or delaying it by three months without changing anything.

Q. – So we can achieve it before the 31st?

THE MINISTER – But that’s what we’re doing daily, that’s what we’re trying to work on. Yet when I hear the British say: give us three more months and we’ll resolve the problem, we can clearly see that six more months haven’t resolved the problem, nor will a further three months. There must be a choice, there must be a form of national unity; they must be able to tell us what they want. Today we clearly understand what they don’t want. Like them, we don’t wish the UK to leave with no deal – we all agree on that, it’s the only thing... (…)./.

Published on 11/09/2019

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