Minister outlines European agenda promoted by France

European Union – European project/Brexit/Europe of security and defence/fight against terrorism/migration/trade policy – Preliminary statements by Mme Nathalie Loiseau, Minister for European Affairs, at her hearing before the National Assembly Foreign Affairs Committee (excerpts)

Paris, 25 July 2017

(…)

European Union

The French President, as you’ve said, has committed himself to a Europe which is proud of itself, dares to take on the driving role incumbent upon it in many areas, from the economy to the climate, and shows ambition. He campaigned, and the deputies who make up his majority campaigned, on the basis of a very strong European belief: that the major challenges we face require a continent-wide response. Contrary to what people usually think or say, the European Union is not the problem but, quite the reverse, the solution to the significant issues we’re facing. (…)

However, while the desire for Europe has prevailed, let’s not bury our heads in the sand. (…) To many people Europe seems distant, incomprehensible, cut off from reality and over-bureaucratic. (…) For too long, successive governments have grown accustomed to blaming European institutions for their difficulties and disappointments. This attitude is unworthy, because we’re active in Brussels, Luxembourg and Strasbourg. It’s unworthy because it consists in approving the direction Europe is taking only when it makes us think of a greater France. Yet the European Union is a culture: that of the compromise which strengthens us all, not a conflict which creates losers and winners. (…)

Security

A Europe that protects means, first of all, a Europe that ensures its peoples’ security. No member state today can consider itself safe from the terrorist threat. (…) But while the response to the threat is partly national, its European dimension deserves to be strengthened. (…) I’m thinking in particular of the European PNR (Passenger Name Record), which must be transposed in all the member states before May 2018 and will be fully effective only if all the member states fully enforce the controls planned. (…) We must also go the full mile on projects as important as the Smart Borders Package. (…) The challenge is to control our borders more effectively, in order to better control departures from and arrivals at problematic destinations and better monitor the possible return of jihadists to our soil. We must also go further by combating the use of the Internet by terrorist networks. (…) We’re expecting the Commission, in line with the guidelines of the European Council of 22 and 23 June, to quickly put legislative proposals on the Council’s table. (…)

Trade/labour

A Europe that protects is a Europe that allows regulated globalization. This applies in particular when it comes to trade, where the EU is the right level for action. (…) Let’s make no mistake, there are only three possible options: either we opt for an illusory and deadly protectionism that would seriously jeopardize our producers’ interests in every sector; or we open up our markets to all comers, without regulation, and that would be the law of the jungle; or we negotiate agreements that organize and regulate our trade, confident in the strength of our businesses but also without being naïve.

The European Union has embarked on this last path, and I believe the latest negotiations are a good illustration of the balance that can be achieved. Let’s take the trade agreement with Canada, CETA, as an example: I read and hear a lot of untruths about it. On the first day the agreement provisionally comes into force, the elimination of Canadian customs tariffs will be translated into savings of €400 million for our exporters. Moreover, for the first time Canada has agreed to protect designations of origin, and everyone is aware of their importance for our country.

The same is true of the agreement in principle recently reached between Japan and the European Union: thanks to this agreement, our businesses will be able to compete freely to secure procurement contracts, without being discriminated against in any way. (…)

Of course, because of the benefits we’re expecting from these agreements, we must demand that they be negotiated without any kind of naivety: opening up markets must be reciprocal, whether this involves the movement of goods or access to procurement contracts, and dumping must be combated. We must also redouble our vigilance when it comes to foreign investment in strategic sectors. (…)

This must be done with clarity. The European Union’s trade policy must become more transparent. (…) This involves publication of the Council’s negotiating mandates and regular, high-quality information. (…)

The Europe that protects is the Europe that combats social dumping effectively. (…) We’ve identified specific expectations relating to the remuneration of posted workers – in accordance with the principle of “equal salaries for equal jobs in the same country” –, to the fight against fraud, to time limits on periods of posting and to the link with regulation on road transport. (…) Our action is driven by a deeply European ambition: namely, an upward social convergence that will benefit everyone. (…)

Migration

A Europe that protects is also a Europe that shows more responsibility and solidarity in the face of the migration crisis it’s going through. (…) Several structural reforms are currently under discussion, particularly on the European asylum system. Negotiations on the revision of the Dublin Regulation, which determines the member state responsible for processing an asylum application, are continuing. (…) We must step up our dialogue with the migrants’ countries of origin and transit. (…)

It’s also essential for us to honour our commitments to the front-line European countries, Greece and Italy, particularly on the refugee relocation we pledged. (…) Our policy is based not only on a recognition of the right of asylum as an inviolable principle for people in need of protection, whom we must take in under the best conditions, but also on a determination to combat illegal economic migration more effectively. We must step up our efforts with the countries of origin and transit. (…) We’re working to increase Frontex’s resources in order to manage the external borders better. We must also combat people-smugglers more effectively. (…)

Defence

In the face of multiple threats, the EU must also assert itself more beyond its borders. France will therefore be playing its full role in helping build a Europe of security and defence. Our goal, as you know, is strategic autonomy for the EU. (…) The European Union must be able to strengthen itself in these fields, without this threatening NATO in any way. (…)

The latest European Council enabled significant progress. Firstly because it decided on the creation of a genuine European Defence Fund, which will make it possible to finance defence research and capability programmes. (…) But also when it comes to ascertaining better the European Union’s gaps in capability and be able to fill them, through the Coordinated Annual Review on Defence (CARD), which is set to become the special framework for drawing up new European capability cooperation projects, with support, if necessary, from the European Defence Fund. (…) We then laid down the principle of Permanent Structured Cooperation on defence, i.e. a stronger set of commitments in terms of expenditure, capabilities and external missions. (…) We’ll be ensuring in particular that additional mechanisms for sharing the cost of the European Union’s military operations are provided for. (…)

Finally, we’d like the revision of the regulation on the Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace to be adopted swiftly, in order to strengthen the security and defence capabilities of the European Union’s partners, particularly African states. (…)

Brexit

I come now to cross-cutting, defining negotiations which will have an impact on most of the European Union’s policies. I’ll obviously begin with the negotiations on the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union. (…) He [Michel Barnier] is negotiating on behalf of the whole European Union, reporting back to the Council, at technical level and to the ministers, indeed to the European Council, and has our complete confidence – I want to say that clearly here.

In this context, I’d like to stress the importance of Europeans’ unity when it comes to the two phases defined by the European Council on 29 April 2017 and accepted by the British: we’ve got to start by concentrating on the essential issues relating to the United Kingdom’s withdrawal, i.e. the rights of citizens on both sides, the issues of borders and the methods of calculating the financial settlement for the UK’s departure. It’s only in a second phase, when sufficient progress has been noted – if all goes well, in the autumn –, that other subjects will be broached and the negotiator will be able to start talking about future relations between the European Union and the UK. As I’ve said, this presupposes that sufficient progress has been made, particularly on the financial settlement relating to separation and on the very important issue of the fate of European citizens living in the UK. (…)./.

European Union – Ukraine/Russia/defence/security/migration/development aid/free trade agreements/Balkans/Brexit/fight against terrorism/posted workers/Turkey – Q&A session at the hearing of Mme Nathalie Loiseau, Minister for European Affairs, before the National Assembly Foreign Affairs Committee (excerpts)

Paris, 25 July 2017

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Russia/Ukraine

The French President has said several times – and demonstrated by hosting Vladimir Putin in Versailles – that dialogue with Russia is essential, given the role the latter plays in a number of regional crises and the importance of our historic ties with that country. However – and as the tone of your two questions shows –, Russia’s behaviour arouses concerns, particularly among several of our European partners: you mentioned the Baltic states, and one could add what are rather loosely called the Eastern countries. We’re also worried about the situation in Ukraine, where no progress has been observed, although the European Union’s sanctions against Russia were extended in June.

We’re continuing our efforts: as you mentioned, there was a Normandy-format conversation yesterday to continue the dialogue and try to put forward trust-building measures. The situation remains worrying and a resolution still isn’t within reach.

As for the Russian military manoeuvres in Belarus, they again fuel the concern expressed by a large number of countries in Eastern and Northern Europe – you mentioned the Baltic countries, but one could also cite Sweden. That’s the reason why NATO is deploying not only its anti-missile shield but also troops, particularly in Estonia, to signal its presence on our partners’ soil. However intense the dialogue we have with Russia in relation to different international crises, the issue of European security and borders can be subject to no bargaining at all, or even the slightest vagueness. We fully support the other European Union countries and their security concerns.

It’s also one of the reasons why Defence Europe is currently experiencing some progress. While the American President’s remarks may have aroused some distress as regards his commitment to the Atlantic Alliance – those remarks have since been corrected, but it seems to me the distress has remained –, the advantage of EU strategic autonomy has become much clearer to many of our European partners. We were convinced of it; others are much more convinced today than they were yesterday. (…)

EU/migration

The actions currently being taken to step up controls at the European Union’s external borders relate to the issue of transport and passengers, but they’re also aimed at harmonizing databases, and that’s extremely important for monitoring the departures and arrivals of those with no goodwill towards our democracy and rule of law.

As regards immigration, you expect concrete and effective measures. In the Mediterranean, the EU has deployed Operation Sophia, aimed at combating people-smugglers and arms trafficking. This force has already enabled more than 100 people-smugglers to be arrested. We must be able to increase its capabilities and the action we’re going to take south of Libya.

Libya/Sahel

Let’s look at the situation as it is. The difficulties have been considerably alleviated in the eastern Mediterranean. If we’d met two years ago, we would have been talking about the influx of more than a million refugees via the eastern Mediterranean and the Balkans, mostly bound for Germany. Today, the number of arrivals from those regions has fallen significantly; Europe has managed to defend its interests. Today, the gaping hole of Libya is the consequence of a military operation that had no political follow-up. We let the Libyan state crumble, so all kinds of trafficking are going on in the country – people trafficking, drug trafficking, arms trafficking – and Daesh [so-called ISIL] jihadists may soon establish themselves there. So it’s really there that our priority lies.

But helping stabilize Libya is exactly what the French President is doing this very afternoon. You wanted something concrete: there it is! It’s by working with the migrants’ countries of transit and origin, ensuring jobs are created there, that young people – who currently see no better destiny than risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean – will find a future there and we’ll be able to deal with the migration crisis, and not by building walls or pursuing pipe dreams. We’re committed to this, both nationally and at European level, but it will be difficult and lengthy. Once again, the political priority is to deal with the situation in Libya. (…)

At the Franco-German Council of Ministers, held in Paris on 13 July, the Alliance for the Sahel was launched, in which the European Union is taking part; Ms Federica Mogherini was there too. It’s actually essential for us to combine our resources and thoughts to tackle in the best possible way – through dialogue with these countries and those of the southern Mediterranean – the challenges which they and we face. So we must identify our geographical priorities and the areas in which we hope to come to their assistance. (…)

Defence Europe

Germany has shown itself to be very open on the issue of Defence Europe, be it at the European Council or at the Franco-German Council of Ministers. That’s why we want to make headway – in parallel and at the same pace – on two projects: to put it simplistically, one the Germans are very committed to, namely Permanent Structured Cooperation, which consists in bringing as many member states on board as possible, provided they’re ambitious and in a position to take part in high-level military operations; and the other which we’re especially committed to, namely the creation of a European Defence Fund. On this point, I’d like to pay tribute to someone we forget to speak well of sometimes: I mean Jean-Claude Juncker, who has made the European Commission accomplish a complete cultural revolution. If we’d been told, a year ago, that Community funds could be devoted to defence research, we would have taken it as a huge joke! Today, with the geopolitical context as it is, stakeholder commitment is enabling us to think of funding research efforts in this field, whether those efforts relate to what already exists or to the area of capabilities.

Moreover, we’re arguing for a reform of the Athena mechanism, which enables us to fund preparations for a number of external operations, but which seems to us too timid. On this issue too, our partners’ thinking is changing, and we must take our hats off to them.

Russia/Ukraine

Regarding the embargo against Russia, let me reassure you: no one – be it nationally, at European level or at United Nations level – is happy to envisage triggering sanctions against a country. By definition, sanctions target specific behaviour during a specific and serious crisis, and the Ukraine crisis is especially serious. They’re not a tool that is used lightly, because we know that a number of economic players don’t benefit from them.

Ultimately, it’s not an embargo but isolated sectoral measures. Beware of mixing things up! The Russians enjoy maintaining a certain confusion. But while a number of sectors – particularly the agricultural sector – are suffering from Russia’s attitude, this pre-dates the sanctions relating to Ukraine. Like you, we’d like them to be lifted, but sufficient progress must be made to that end. So we’ll be open and vigilant, for the reasons I mentioned earlier. Our continent’s security depends on it. (…)

EU/trade

As regards trade agreements, particularly with Japan, you asked for more transparency. (…) For all that, to say the process is undemocratic is not respectful of the European Parliament, which ratified CETA. We ensured the agreement would be considered as mixed, i.e. with one purely Community part and another relating to member states, which allows it to be ratified by national parliaments. Let me also remind you that its implementation at the end of September will be provisional, which leaves us completely free if we were to have any concerns. (…)

I was asked earlier if we could relaunch the negotiations on TTIP, at a time when the American government is withdrawing from the Paris Agreement. My answer will be simple and brief: no.

M. Berville asked me about the risk of American protectionist measures against Chinese steel, measures of which we would be the collateral victims. That risk exists; we’re talking to the Americans about it. If such measures were taken, which we obviously don’t want, we’d take some ourselves at European level; we’ve made this known.

He also asked me how to ensure we negotiate agreements by overcoming our differences – that’s the nature of the European Union’s work – in order to modernize our trade defence tools. That’s exactly what the European Council has just asked. It demanded not only a modernization of anti-dumping instruments but also a speeding-up of the procedures guaranteeing their effectiveness. We talked to Commissioner Cecilia Malmström about this the other day.

Brexit/impact

That brings me to the effects of Brexit on Defence Europe and development policy.

Negotiations on the future Multiannual Financial Framework will take place in a context in which we’ll be losing the United Kingdom’s contribution. As I was saying earlier, after Brexit the situation will be less favourable than before, not only for the British but also for the European Union. So we’ve begun the job of assessing Europe’s policies and priorities before establishing how they will be financed, be it in terms of money or how this will be allocated among our various priorities. I think this is preferable to beginning with a lower budget than before and trying to fit all our policies into it.

Defence Europe is something new that has been welcomed by several of you. But it will obviously have to be funded. The UK’s departure from the European Union mustn’t deter us from cooperating with such an important strategic defence partner. Defence Europe isn’t only the European Union’s defence policy.

ACP-EU partnership

As for the funding of our economic partnership with the ACP countries, once the Cotonou Agreement reaches its term in 2020 it will be discussed during the negotiations on the future Multiannual Financial Framework. We’ve always championed the relationship with the ACP countries and supported the Cotonou Agreement and its successive revisions.

Balkans

On the Balkans and the Berlin process, the President attended the Trieste summit, which was held a few days ago. It’s extremely important for the Western Balkan countries to be able to count on the prospect of a future in Europe, given the crises and conflicts they’ve been through, the progress they’ve already made and also how far they’ve still got to go. Some guidelines are clear and some goals shared, as regards the law, the fight against corruption and organized crime, and democratic governance. We’ve established very close and trustful dialogue with each of the countries individually and between the European Union and the Western Balkans. Some countries are progressing well and we’ll continue to give them our full attention. (…)

CETA

You too wondered rightly about the consequences of Brexit on CETA and other agreements under discussion. You raised the issue of beef imports, but the problem arises for other aspects of CETA and other agreements. Should we renegotiate the whole of CETA? In principle I’d appeal for caution on this. Let’s also emphasize that what amounted to new export opportunities to Canada for the Twenty-Eight become new export opportunities for the Twenty-Seven, particularly as regard milk products, which concern us in France more specifically. (…)

Posted workers/fiscal convergence

(…) We’re also making active efforts regarding posted workers precisely to combat these social disparities, which produce only losers: in the immediate term, the countries exporting labour – i.e. the eastern countries, putting it simply – may think they’re winners but in actual fact they’re missing every opportunity to move towards what is most beneficial, because they’re condemning themselves to a constantly underpaid workforce and a social protection regime which constantly lags behind countries wealthier than them in the European Union. We’ve got to stop thinking that competitiveness is based purely on what is least beneficial socially for the eastern European countries. Many other countries have demonstrated the opposite. As for fiscal convergence, it’s an absolutely paramount subject, complex because we’re starting off with extremely different tax systems. The Franco-German Council [of Ministers] of 13 July 2017 paved the way bilaterally – since we’re working to harmonize the corporation tax base – with a view to broader work at European level. This won’t be straightforward, considering that some countries have very different approaches from ours when it comes to tax, but, whether it be for farmers or more broadly, we absolutely have to move towards greater fiscal harmonization. (…)

You were asking me why we shouldn’t suspend the implementation of the posting of workers directive. My reply to you is that while we take in a huge number of posted workers in France, we ourselves send a huge number elsewhere in the European Union. We couldn’t resign ourselves to accepting the compromise that existed when the President took office. So we reopened the discussion and would like to move towards a solution more in line with our concerns.

Borders/people-smuggling

As regards the difference between Operations Triton and Sophia, Triton is a Frontex-led operation. (…) It aims to protect the European Union’s external borders. Sophia is an operation designed to fight people-smugglers. It also has a new task of preventing arms trafficking in the Mediterranean. That’s the difference between the two. On the other hand, both are carrying out rescue operations at sea, [treating those being rescued] in a dignified way. Thousands of lives have been saved in this way, not just by boats chartered by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) but by Triton and Sophia’s ships too. (…)

Turkey

I now turn to the question about our relations with Turkey. As you quite rightly observed, we talk a great deal to our Turkish interlocutors, who are playing an important role in the refugee crisis and, more generally, the Syria crisis. Turkey is an important partner for the European Union, but a difficult one: as we’ve said, we’re very worried about the human rights situation in that country. We’re also worried about the way Turkey regularly and unacceptably attacks our German partner. All this can be said in conversations. When you talk to each other trustfully, you do so frankly. This is what we do with Turkey, as with other partners. (…)

EU/democratic conventions

As regards democratic conventions, it’s indeed time we went to the trouble of listening to what European citizens have to say, not just the small circles of firm believers we’re all familiar with, but also those who have expectations or are dissatisfied vis-à-vis Europe. I don’t think those citizens are necessarily Eurosceptic or Europhobic. At times they expect more, better or something else from Europe. We’ve got to find a way to let them speak. We, French and Germans, will try and work over the autumn, with the timetable being put back slightly because of the German election, so that we can propose – if possible at the European Council at the end of December – an initiative, to those of our European partners who so wish, which allows them to poll the different strata of their civil societies.

Brexit/EU unity

As regards Brexit, you asked me about the British position and what you called the French position. Let me be very clear: the Twenty-Seven have adopted a position on the Brexit negotiation. It’s absolutely essential to adhere to it. It mustn’t be possible for each state to claim a particular a nuance, deeming one subject more important than the others: this is exactly what some people are expecting across the Channel. Maybe the British are having trouble coordinating with one other at the moment. Maybe the shock of Brexit wasn’t anticipated. But mark my words, I’m a diplomat: the British are excellent negotiators and shrewd tacticians. They’d like nothing better than to see us turn up disunited and disorganized, with our own specific demands. That said, I don’t believe the issue of fisheries falls into that category: it’s obviously very important to know what our future relations with the United Kingdom will be on this. I’m fully aware of the importance, for French fishermen, of access to territorial waters and the British Exclusive Economic Zone, just as I’m fully aware of the importance, for the British, of access to our markets. This subject will be discussed – Michel Barnier has this in mind. (…)./.

(1) the Vélodrome d’Hiver in Paris, to which thousands of Jews were taken after being rounded up by French police on 16 July 1942 for deportation.

European Union – European project/France/Germany/posted workers/migration/Europe of security and defence/Brexit/CETA – Hearing of Mme Nathalie Loiseau, Minister for European Affairs, before the National Assembly European Affairs Committee – Q&A session (excerpts)

Paris, 20 July 2017

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You asked me about the consequences of Brexit as regards fisheries. The stakes are obviously crucial. Fishermen from several French regions heavily depend – you didn’t use the word, but I do – on the Exclusive Economic Zone and British territorial waters. We’ll have to pay attention to this in the forthcoming comprehensive negotiations and aim for a balanced compromise – this is a realistic concern, because we’ve also got a lot of strengths in the negotiations. The United Kingdom, too, relies to a large extent on the European Union, where 70% of its seafood exports go, and 30% of its exports to the European Union go to France. So in this negotiation we’ve got expectations and strengths, but we aren’t at that point yet, as I said: we’re negotiating the conditions of the withdrawal. Above all, let’s not put the cart before the horse – to use an expression which doesn’t exactly conjure an image to do with fishing; I can’t think of a better one. (…)

The deputy asked me about the consequences of Brexit in a number of areas, beginning with the fate of European citizens living in the United Kingdom. The negotiator, Michel Barnier, analysed the first proposal the British made, which they presented as fair and generous. I don’t wish to paraphrase the position taken by the person who alone is qualified to speak about the subject he’s tasked with, so I’ll restrict myself to saying that we can’t be satisfied with a proposal which makes the many French – and, more broadly, European – citizens living across the Channel dependent on purely British legislation which is likely to change over time, with no guarantees. Moreover, the important question about the reciprocal nature of the respective statuses of British nationals living in the European Union and European nationals living in the UK hasn’t been resolved. (…)

It would be premature to commit ourselves to how the negotiations on the future agreement are going to be organized. The sequencing doesn’t prevent us from pondering this, both at national level – which we’re in the process of doing – and in consultation with our European partners – which we’ve got to do. Until we’ve begun the second phase of the process, it’s better for us to keep quiet. By emphasizing that the future agreement will require a large number of extremely complex issues to be settled, we could create the temptation to think that the question concerning the method for calculating the sum payable by the UK for its financial commitments is, when all’s said and done, of secondary importance and can therefore be put to one side, which wouldn’t be in our interest.

As regards the impact of the UK’s departure on Europe’s future, I’ll start by reiterating that we didn’t want Brexit. I remain convinced today that post-Brexit Europe will be less good – both for Europe and for the United Kingdom – than Europe with the British. That said, we now have to ponder the future with 27 members, and accept that there are sectors where we’ll probably move forward faster from now on. In the area of defence, the UK is an important strategic partner, as you said, and we’d like it to remain so: the Europeans, like the British, are committed to continued defence cooperation. However, the British have long played a decisive blocking role on the issue of the European Union’s strategic autonomy and, from that point of view, we must use their departure to the best advantage. (…)./.

Published on 10/08/2017

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