Minister outlines French priorities for Euro Area budget

European Union – Statement to the press by M. Bruno Le Maire, Minister of the Economy and Finance, on his arrival at the Eurogroup meeting¹

Brussels, 11 February 2019

Q. – What does the Italian government need to do to repair relationships with the French government?

THE MINISTER – We’re very committed to the friendship between the French people and the Italian people. Our two countries, Italy and France, are linked by history, culture and deep friendship, and that’s an additional reason not to accept statements or behaviours which are unacceptable between two countries which are friends. And I think the French President was right to react. But ultimately I’m not worried at all: the friendship between our two peoples will prevail.

Q. – Will you be talking to the Dutch Finance Minister about KLM and the situation with the CEO? Is that something that you would perhaps do today?

THE MINISTER – I would have a meeting today with Wopke Hoekstra about many issues, including the question of KLM. But I will keep the discussion between Wopke and myself.

Yes, we are supporting Mr Lane. We think that he is the right man at the right place, he is a very good candidate and I hope that all the member states will be in the same mood and will support Mr Lane, who will be, I think, really a great chief economist [at the] ECB.

Q. – What are your expectations concerning the discussions about the European budget?

THE MINISTER – On the Euro Area budget, you’ll allow me to respond to French people. We have some decisions which the heads of state have now taken during the European Councils. The decision is to implement a Euro Area budget.

So today we want to get to the heart of the matter. We want to start looking at the practicalities of implementing a Euro Area budget whose principle the heads of state have accepted.

What France is committed to is, first of all, governance of the 19 [member states]. The Euro Area is 19 member states; it’s legitimate for governance to belong to the 19 member states.

The second point we’re committed to is own resources. It’s important for the Euro Area budget, in order to be effective, to have its own resources.

And the third point I’m going to put forward today is a budget which enables us to invest for the future, which enables us to support convergence between the Euro Area economies, because everyone can see clearly that we can’t go on with a Euro Area in which there are so many divergences between member states in terms of economic outcomes and economic policies. And I believe strongly that this Euro Area budget, with an investment capacity, should enable us to strengthen the convergence between Euro Area member states.

So that’s what France’s goals are. The principle has been accepted by the heads of state; now we must move on to the practical work and implement this budget in practice, and the sooner the better.

Q. – Your government was disappointed about the decision on Siemens-Alstom. Do you think there should be a new bid and, this time, the Commission should look at it differently?

THE MINISTER – I think everyone’s aware that faced with the rise of China, faced with industrial giants that are emerging in every sector – the rail sector, the space sector, the energy sector, the artificial intelligence sector – we must combine European forces, not divide them.

That’s why I believe the European Commission’s decision on Siemens Alstom was not only an economic error but also a political mistake. And we must learn every lesson from it. When I hear, for example, that CRRC doesn’t have a presence in Europe, that’s false. CRRC already has a presence, particularly in Eastern Europe for high-speed trains.

So we must now learn every lesson from this. And the first lesson we’ve learnt is the need to reform European competition law. And it’s a matter of urgency. It will be one of the proposals I’ll make with my German colleague Peter Altmaier, the German Economy Minister, in a few weeks’ time, to propose new guidelines for European competition law to enable us to create European industrial champions.

We’ve had a competition policy for years, but we don’t have a strong industrial policy. It’s time the European Union created a strong industrial policy in order to have industrial champions that are up to the challenges of the 21st century.

And one point I’d like to stress, to finish: the world is moving fast – very, very fast – and it won’t wait for us. China won’t wait for us, Asia won’t wait for us. There are currently economic and geopolitical upheavals that are moving very fast in every domain, particularly artificial intelligence, transport and space; it’s urgent for Europe to get a grip on itself, combine its strengths and create the means to compete on an equal footing with our major competitors, otherwise Europe will be sidelined, and I believe strongly that Europe has assets to highlight in the 21st century. To that end it must come together.

Q. – You talked about the Euro Area budget; don’t you fear that the Italian government’s stances both economically and politically might be an obstacle in the forthcoming negotiations on the Euro Area budget?

THE MINISTER – No, I don’t think so, I think everyone’s aware that the Euro Area budget is a strategic challenge for the Euro Area’s future. The Euro Area isn’t complete; it’s a tremendous incomplete success. And when you have a tremendous success, you have to carry that success through, and carrying that success through means giving the Euro Area an autonomous budget, governing as 19 [member states] with a genuine investment budget and own resources that enable us to give the Euro Area more prosperity and more jobs.

Today we’re at a crossroads, and the strategic challenge – which, I think, goes beyond short-term squabbles – is to create this Euro Area budget, move forward in a very practical way and start establishing the first concrete elements of that Euro Area budget. The principle has been accepted; now we have to move on to the practical work./.

¹ M. Le Maire spoke in French and English.

Published on 26/02/2019

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