Minister sets out France’s position in EU budget talks
European Union – Interview given by Mme Amélie de Montchalin, Minister of State for European Affairs, attached to the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to the daily newspaper Le Figaro
Paris, 19 February 2020
Q. – Is an agreement between the 27 possible during this extraordinary summit?
THE MINISTER – Positions are still far apart and I don’t know whether we’ll reach one. But there are areas in which consensus is possible. Charles Michel was also able to maintain some flexibility and headroom which could be very useful during the negotiations. If there’s no agreement, this summit must allow us to lay down a number of irreversible principles.
Q. – What are France’s demands?
THE MINISTER – We’ll be paying very close attention to the Common Agricultural Policy. Our aim is to have at least the same budget in current euros over the period 2021-2027 as we’ve got in the present budget. We can’t ask farmers to innovate, change their production methods and invest everything while giving them less. As regards the cohesion policy, we’ll be especially mindful of the outermost regions (overseas territories) where the funds envisaged are inadequate. More broadly, we won’t agree to having a €7-billion European Defence Fund. On climate change we’d also like to increase the share of allocated expenditure to over 25%, compared to 20% today. We’ve also got to earmark more funds for biodiversity and the fight against pollution.
Q. – Should the rebates enjoyed by Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Denmark and Sweden be lump-sum payments and gradually reduced, as Charles Michel is proposing?
THE MINISTER – The rebates total €40 billion. It’s unthinkable for us to begin another seven years with them. France isn’t going to pay them indefinitely or indefinitely accept a system where we keep focusing solely on monetary payback, where everyone thinks they’ve got to get their rebate, as Margaret Thatcher said. Behind these rebates, there’s a vision of an à la carte Europe in which everyone takes their pick.
Q. – These countries are saying the burden would be too heavy, considering that the €75 billion of lost budget revenue linked to the British leaving also has to be absorbed. What’s your reply?
THE MINISTER – When the Commission explains that Europe must be geopolitical, everyone applauds. When you’ve got to provide money for this to happen, some are nowhere to be seen. The Europe which makes speeches without getting results at the end is the Europe which destroys itself. I call this insidious disintegration. The so-called frugal countries (the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and Austria) want to limit the total budget to 1% of European GNI. Just because the UK has left the EU, they propose being less ambitious and tell us the budget needs to be modernized by reducing what they call “old” policies. The CAP isn’t an old policy. It’s a sovereignty policy because no power worthy of the name can imagine importing its food. France doesn’t want a European project on the cheap. Europe can’t be less ambitious, less sovereign and less mutually supportive. France, a net contributor, is willing to join in this ambition and put in the resources. This is what the President will say in his speech during the summit.
Q. – Paris has never put forward any figure regarding the desired total budget...
THE MINISTER – Because the figure is meaningless if the rebates remain as they do today.
Q. – Doesn’t our country risk still looking like the one which doesn’t care about deficits and debt?
THE MINISTER – If our collective compass is 1% for the European budget, 3% for government deficit and 60% for debt, then the 21st century won’t be European; we’ll be left aside by history and Europe will be out of the picture. There’s no question of putting French people’s taxes up. That’s why we support the own-resources principle which would allow us to put an end to our budget quibbling and make those who avoid paying tax – importers of non-recyclable plastic and digital giants in particular – pay. We can also use other levers for finance, such as the EIB (European Investment Bank), as Charles Michel is proposing, and the mobilization of private savings. The budget debate mustn’t be confined to figures; we want a genuine strategy for investment in Europe./.