Minister will visit EU countries to aim for breakthrough on recovery deal

European Union – Recovery plan – Interview given by Mme Amélie de Montchalin, Minister of State for European Affairs, attached to the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to BFM Business (excerpts)

Paris, 11 June 2020

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Q. – We can see that this recovery plan is already a trial of strength, a free-for-all between the 27. There’s the Franco-German couple which wants this recovery plan at European level, the European Commission as well. And then you see the Austrians, the Netherlands, saying: no, we don’t agree. What’s going on?

THE MINISTER – I think we’ve got to start by coming back to why we want this plan. The plan is based on this priority: the urgent need to save jobs, boost the economy with an ambitious European budget, and then invest in the future. We want the jobs that we want to create to be sustainable and long-term. We want them to be linked to the ecological and digital transitions. And today, of course we’ve got our national plans, hence everything the Government is doing, hence all the investment we’re putting on the table.

But we need a European plan because we’re interdependent. Let me explain: today those listening to us, French businesses know perfectly well that they’ve got customers in Austria, Spain, Slovakia, Italy and all over Europe. They also have suppliers in each of those countries and so, clearly, our French recovery can’t work unless it’s linked to a European recovery. Things need to pick up again in the European market at the same time.

Q. – So how is this going to be earmarked?

THE MINISTER – You know, what’s very interesting is that Austrian businesses, Austrian unions, Dutch businesses and Dutch unions agree with this plan, because, like us in France, they see the same thing. They’re saying to themselves: we’re facing a crisis where our governments are indeed having to act urgently, are managing the urgency of the crisis. But as far as what happens afterwards is concerned, the actual industrial recovery, actual investment, we can succeed only as Europeans. So, we’ll get there.

Q. – Meaning what? Meaning the governments of the frugal countries, the Austrians and the Netherlands are saying... I mean, don’t the politicians understand what’s going on, the urgency of the situation? What’s going on?

THE MINISTER – For three years the President has been fighting for this approach geared to a strong Europe, useful to the French people. A Europe which protects them, a Europe which invests in the future and, precisely, creates the capacity to produce up against the United States and China – a power. We must have the means to do this.

Q. – You can clearly see we’re having trouble. In practical terms, you can clearly see we’re having trouble.

THE MINISTER – Hang on, the President convinced the Chancellor. We’ve got this Franco-German initiative, it’s unprecedented and makes us very strong. We’ve managed to convince the [European] Commission to join this movement. Today we’ve got a majority of member States which agree.

Q. – Aren’t the frugal countries a bloc?

THE MINISTER – They aren’t a bloc; the Swedes, Danes, Dutch and Austrians aren’t saying exactly the same thing, they’ve got demands. So I’m setting out on a mission; I’m off to Austria tomorrow and the Netherlands on Monday so we can prepare a discussion between heads of State and government, can be clear, honest and say: what are your demands? Of course there are different cultures, of course there are political discussions somewhat different from those at home. But what do you specifically need so we can reach agreement, so we can move forward? Because there’s no solution other than reaching agreement in July. If we don’t have the recovery plan for the recovery, then we’ll have a problem.

So for me it isn’t about being optimistic, it’s about persevering. Look at how far...

Q. – Will you have to carry on regardless? I mean, will you have to force their hand?

THE MINISTER – Look at how far we’ve come in three years. The President said he wanted to be an architect of Europe and build a strong Europe which is useful for French people.

Q. – OK, but we’ve seen that it’s been very complicated compared to his Sorbonne speech...

THE MINISTER – How did we get there?

Q. – We aren’t there yet!

THE MINISTER – How did we get there? Because being able to persuade the Germans wasn’t a given. How did we get there? We got there because the President is consistent. He’s absolutely committed to this battle, he spends most of his time on it, and we know that today we’ve got a very small distance to cover compared to everything we’ve already done.

Q. – Will you carry on regardless? Does there come a point when you’ve got to say, “if you don’t want it, you don’t want it, but we, the greater part of Europe, are going ahead with it”?

THE MINISTER – Decisions on budgetary issues, on issues of law, are taken unanimously. That’s why we need to understand what they need – we don’t want to erode the agreement, we don’t want to be less ambitious – but what they need precisely so they can join…? But above all, what I see is that their businesses, their employees, their unions see the same thing as we do. They see that they won’t emerge, Austria won’t have a recovery, if Italy’s doing badly.

Q. – So are you slightly playing off businesses against politicians?

THE MINISTER – The Dutch won’t have a recovery if the countries around them are doing badly. We’re all dependent on each other.

Q. – There’s one point there, for example, on financing that is going to be earmarked, which may go towards green planes – at any rate, that’s what Eric Trappier, Chairman of GIFAS [French Aerospace Industries Association] and boss of Dassault, and Philippe Petitcolin, boss of Safran, which builds engines, told us yesterday; they said: we need European money to do that. But then there are the Italians who say: we don’t want any supervision from Europe on what financing we’re going to have and where we put it. So straight away you see the slightly different cultures there...

THE MINISTER – There again: the process, the consistency. What goals are we pursuing? The European package rests on two pillars: one pillar is about the immediate recovery, the rebound. And so that’s about how we help the worst-hit regions and sectors. And there’s also an investment pillar: how we become independent and autonomous again, how we’re capable of producing again, how we’re capable of making this ecological transition a success. And on that point, you talk to me about green planes; that’s clearly one of the pillars of this ecological transition.

Q. – Yes. We need supervision at European Commission level. How will that happen?

THE MINISTER – The thing is, this isn’t guardianship; this troika business is a fantasy. As you know, we carry out reforms and plans for people, we carry them out for the French people.

So you talk to me about planes; I could talk to you about hospitals. With hospitals, we’re conducting our reform because we think it’s useful. And the recovery money is going to help fund this plan. It’s not a condition. So we’re not under a process of guardianship, we’re not in the process of losing our resources. We must do consistent and useful things, and above all in aerospace, as elsewhere, we want long-term jobs.

So we want to have European money to innovate together, so that we not only emerge from today’s crisis, whose consequences we’ve clearly seen, but above all we can have jobs in five years’ time, in 10 years’ time. And indeed, we’re going to think about the best way to allocate that money.

Aerospace is a fine example of a sector that has suppliers and customers all over Europe. And this also shows clearly that we don’t only need national money but that it’s essential for us to have this money in place. As the President said three years ago, sometimes you get the impression that France – this strength, this sovereignty – is all alone. That’s not the case. (…)./.

Published on 15/06/2020

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