Minister is "optimistic" about success of Franco-German initiative

COVID-19 – Excerpts from the interview given by M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to France Inter

Paris, 26 May 2020

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Q. – You talk about sovereignty; some believe that this pandemic marks the end of globalization and we’re now entering the era of sovereignties, of re-established borders, the era of regions, indeed nations. Do you think the world after [the crisis] will be that of the great return of nations?

THE MINISTER – I hope the world after [the crisis] will signify the great return of Europe, because in the [US-China] confrontation we’re talking about and which Pierre Haski was incidentally talking about earlier, Europe’s role must be asserted to prevent it from being simply a witness and stepping out of history. Restoring Europe’s role means ensuring that it asserts its sovereignty and regains its strategic and industrial autonomy – I’m particularly thinking of autonomy as regards health, which has been an especially sensitive issue during this crisis, but also food; that’s the challenge, and I think, when all’s said and done, after Europe getting off to a rather complicated start in terms of its involvement in the crisis, the major challenges have now been clearly identified and there have been repeated assertions over the past few days. I’m thinking, in particular, of the Franco-German initiative, which made the headlines and highlighted several points.

Firstly, the need for health autonomy – we haven’t talked enough about this point in President Macron and Mrs Merkel’s declaration –, the need for European sovereignty in the field of health, in the areas of prevention, production, research, action to ensure joint strategic stocks and the fact there’s also a shared desire to exchange practices. None of this existed before, because health didn’t fall within Europe’s area of responsibility. This is starting to happen and it’s a good thing.

Q. – Since you’re talking about this plan, the Franco-German initiative, a quick question about the protest by the so-called frugal countries – some might say the stingy club –, namely Austria and the Netherlands in particular. Do you think they can block this Franco-German initiative?

THE MINISTER – Firstly, it’s important, essential for there to be Franco-German agreement to determine the conditions for the recovery. Everyone agrees the recovery must happen, it can happen through national initiatives, but it must start through European initiatives; therefore, the President of the Commission, Ms von der Leyen, is due to announce tomorrow the essential elements of the plan she’s proposing.

If France and Germany didn’t share a desire to be at the heart of this new situation, nothing would happen. There may be reservations from a few States, but there’s also a great deal of support which has very quickly materialized. We’re now going to enter into the discussions and personally I’m absolutely convinced that the strength of the message conveyed by the Franco-German initiative will be likely to turn things around in some way.

Q. – Are you optimistic?

THE MINISTER – I’m optimistic because that’s in everyone’s interest, including that of the so-called frugal countries, because the bulk of their market – for all of them – is inside Europe, and so what would happen if, by some chance, countries or regions most disadvantaged by the crisis weren’t ready for the recovery? It would also be a drawback for them.

So in my opinion there are a few reasons to be hopeful, and I firmly believe in both the Chancellor and the President’s ability to convince people.

Q. – (…) Can you tell us this morning what the situation is with borders inside Europe? Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal – for the Portuguese diaspora in France – have announced they’ll reopen their borders by the summer. When is France going to reopen its borders, to European nationals to begin with and then to nationals from all over the world?

THE MINISTER – Listen, in this regard we have to be not only gradual with the necessary opening-up but also cautious. We really have to recognize that for France – although it’s more or less the same thing for the neighbouring countries – there are two phases to ending the lockdown. We ourselves are in the first phase. This first phase involves gradual measures and an assessment that will be made at the end of the week in order to move onto the second phase, which will begin on 2 June.

In this first phase, the external borders of the European Union, the European area, are closed until 15 June; in other words, French people or European nationals who want to return may do so, but they must accept a precautionary 14 days of quarantine to protect their loved ones and their environment; but they [the external borders] are closed.

Within Europe today, there are controls, restrictions on travel in the European area that are gradually easing to facilitate transit for certain categories: cross-border workers, health workers and other staff. These limitations are gradually disappearing, but we’ll have to assess the situation at the end of the week to see whether we can go beyond these openings, and above all do so after 2 June, in the second phase of ending the lockdown. There’s a deadline of 15 June when I think we’ll all be very clear about not only the result of ending the lockdown but also the possibility of opening up Europe’s internal borders further. (…)

Q. – We’re going to be able to move around Europe.

THE MINISTER – …the internal area…

Q. – I understand.

THE MINISTER – I’m not talking about the external borders, which are closed until 15 June, it’s likely that they’ll still be closed afterwards, and on that point we’ll need thorough protection measures, because the pandemic is spreading to other countries in an extremely significant way and we’ll also have to protect ourselves.

Q. – (…) Last week Britain decided to put all those entering its territory into quarantine, including French people. You threatened to take reciprocal measures. Are you going to do that?

THE MINISTER – We’re taking reciprocal measures. We took reciprocal measures with regard to Spain when it decided to close its borders more strictly within the European area, and we’re doing the same thing with regard to the UK. (…)./.

Published on 27/05/2020

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