Minister calls for common EU assessments of health risks

European Union – Interview given by M. Clément Beaune, Minister of State for European Affairs, attached to the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to France Inter (excerpts)

Paris, 29 July 2020

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EU/COVID-19

THE MINISTER – One of the reasons why there are sometimes different, sometimes contradictory measures is that there’s no common European approach for assessing the health situation, for saying that such an area is at risk or not at risk.

Q. – Should there be?

THE MINISTER – There should be, of course. It’s a form of Health Europe, which doesn’t exist and has to be built. There’s a paradox in Europe, so to speak, namely that we have methods thousands of pages long for calculating the deficit to the eighth decimal point and we don’t have the same methods for assessing the health risks. That must change. It’s one of the aspects of the Franco-German initiative of 18 May that may have been seen less, and I believe every country now recognizes that unfortunately it will be for the coming months, but we must have these common European approaches to ensure there are no European countries assessing the risks differently from the others.

Measures must subsequently be targeted, sometimes within a single country: in France we don’t apply exactly the same rules in Mayenne today as in the rest of the country, because we’re not going to restrict movement and freedoms where there’s no need to do so. (…)

Q. – Restrictions aren’t increasing only in Europe, they’re increasing all over the world. Morocco, for example, is imposing lockdown measures in all its cities. What is France advising its nationals to do? Come home? Is it advising people who had planned [to visit Morocco] not to go there? Are there any guidelines?

THE MINISTER – No, there again we’re regularly updating the travel advice. For the time being, Morocco isn’t one of the countries with which there are overall guidelines to shut down or not to go there.

Let me specify one thing, if I can take 15 seconds to explain it – I think it’s very important for holidays in particular: there are several categories.

In the Schengen Area, as you’ve recalled, it’s our living space, our central space, there’s freedom of movement except when there are targeted measures – Catalonia is one of them, where there’s advice not to travel. But the principle is freedom of movement.

Beyond the Schengen Area, the principle is that there’s currently no freedom of movement: you must have a justified, essential reason for making a journey. There are, nevertheless, some low-risk countries – Morocco is currently one of them – with which there’s no total restriction, no compulsory testing etc.

And there’s the opposite: some countries outside Schengen in which the health situation is especially worrying and the virus is circulating very quickly. These are the 16 countries the Prime Minister, Health Minister and Interior Minister mentioned at the end of last week: for example, the United States, for example the United Arab Emirates. (…)

EU recovery plan/education and research

Let me take the opportunity to lay to rest another idea you briefly mentioned which is wrong, very wrong: there are no cuts to the education or research budgets. There was a proposal by the European Commission – I won’t go into too much technical detail but it’s important – which was even more ambitious than what we finally obtained. We would have loved to have this level of ambition, and the European Parliament supported it, but we didn’t exactly get that.

But in relation to the current budget, in relation to what we currently spend – that’s what matters –, we’re going to increase Erasmus by 75%, we’re going to increase the research budget by 50% and we’re even going to slightly increase the agriculture budget; we’ve fought for two years to do that, when at the outset it was decreasing.

European taxation

There are currently people who profit from Europe and don’t pay. And it’s certainly not about increasing French people’s taxes, either for businesses or members of the public. I think that would send the wrong message for Europe. By contrast, for digital businesses that benefit from a European market of nearly 500 million consumers, for foreign – American, Chinese, Russian – businesses that don’t meet our environmental standards, our environmental rules, to export to Europe without paying… (…) That can bring in more than €10 billion a year. It’s half the French contribution, so these aren’t anecdotal or negligible sums. And what we secured in the European agreement was that next year there should be a legislative text – so it’s very concrete – that will be discussed in the European Parliament itself, to introduce these new resources quickly.

But I very much emphasize there’s no plastics tax, there’s no new tax on French people or on businesses.

Q. – To get the green light from some countries, the European Union had to make concessions: no restrictions on the rule of law, for example. The result: Poland’s conservative, nationalist government intends to pull out of the Istanbul Convention, a convention signed in 2017 which aims at better protecting women from violence in the EU. Does that go a long way towards ending the rule of law?

THE MINISTER – Regarding the Istanbul Convention, the intention – I hope it won’t happen – which some Polish ministers have mentioned of pulling out of the convention is obviously very serious. You were talking a few minutes ago about Gisèle Halimi, about her battle for women’s rights. We have a debt, a duty not to let this happen. And I also think that MEPs – French ones, moreover –, the French Government has voiced its opinion on this. What’s more, Poland has started saying, through other ministers, that it’s in two minds about taking the step. I hope it won’t.

Q. – But if it does, are there conditions for us to go back on things, or is it too late? In the end, the agreement has been signed.

THE MINISTER – Firstly, there are a few European countries, unfortunately, which aren’t yet part of the Istanbul Convention. It will be a setback if Poland pulls out; I hope it won’t. There will be consequences if it does. (...)./.

Published on 31/07/2020

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