President focuses on Brexit, EU’s future and Turkey

European Union – Press conference given by M. Emmanuel Macron, President of the Republic, following the European Council (excerpts)

Brussels, 18 October 2019

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We had a European Council dominated by two issues.

Brexit

The first was obviously Brexit.

Boris Johnson, Michel Barnier and Jean-Claude Juncker set out the agreement reached in the past few hours. As you know, at France’s request especially, we’d set a deadline of 31 October to finalize the discussions and reach an agreement, not only on the details of the withdrawal but also on the political declaration on the future relationship.

This agreement, after several weeks of additional discussions, has been reached. It’s a good agreement which respects the framework we set and our principles, which were, as far as we’re concerned, to preserve both the internal market and Ireland’s stability. The political declaration which defines the broad lines of our future relationship also guarantees a clear framework, a free trade agreement that will have to be negotiated in detail, and commitments to fair competition, which will be the precondition for access to our market.

This agreement should now be voted on in the British Parliament on Saturday, with subsequent readings that will take place on Monday and Tuesday, and at the European Parliament at the beginning of next week, and only after those parliamentary decisions will we be able to regard the agreement as definitive. In any case, I’d like us to stick to the deadline we set ourselves and I’d like the 31 October date to be respected.

I want to pay tribute to the work of our negotiator, Michel Barnier, and his team, and also to Jean-Claude Juncker’s involvement. For many months, with unity, firmness and goodwill towards an ally and friend, they defended the European Union’s interests. I think we succeeded in obtaining [this] and the approach taken, including in recent days, was extremely important – namely this constant unity.

EU’s strategic agenda

The second major series of issues we discussed at the Council was, in a way, our future as 27 members.

That’s why the President-elect of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, was present throughout this European Council.

It was the aim of our discussion this morning about the strategic agenda for the coming five years, on which we’re fully in agreement, as I had the opportunity to say, and whose most crucial areas reflect those we’ve been championing: climate ambition first of all, with carbon neutrality, defining a carbon tax on the borders, and a climate bank; defining an economic and social model necessarily involving support for unemployment insurance within the Euro Area, and a minimum wage for European countries; but also a more sovereign Europe with a defence, security, asylum and migration policy – in short, updated, more effective and addressing today’s challenges.

I won’t go back in detail over this agenda. It gave rise to a statement by the Council. Above all it was presented by the [Commission] President during her speech to the [European] Parliament and explained in considerable detail. And it has our full support. In connection with this political agenda, this was also the purpose of our discussion on the future European budget. On this point, it has to be noted that consensus wasn’t reached. That’s natural. It was the first discussion, and we went into the detail a little. But on this point, France stood up for, as it were, consistent ambition. Firstly, ambition which doesn’t pit the new policies – our goals on migration, defence, space and artificial intelligence, where we have to invest, meet the targets we set ourselves and prepare for the future – against policies that are sometimes called traditional, like agricultural policy and cohesion policy. It seems to me that we must, on the contrary, combine solidarity and responsibility and basically succeed, through this budget and the goals we set ourselves, in being consistent with the ambition we set ourselves, which the Parliament validated by electing Ursula von der Leyen – namely a geopolitical Commission.

What does a geopolitical Commission mean – after what we must recognize was a political Commission – for the next five years? It means we’re not a feeble political-economic space with little ambition or solidarity. On the contrary, for me there are two pillars. For several years now you’ve heard me championing, on the one hand, a sovereignty pillar and on the other hand a solidarity pillar. Defending our sovereignty means putting ourselves in a position to choose our future. And so to do that, we must invest in the Common Agricultural Policy, because it’s the key to our food sovereignty. Our fellow citizens want to choose their food. They want us to produce in Europe. They want to have sovereignty on this point. Investing in our migration policy, our digital policy, our environmental policy – these are policies of sovereignty. It’s about choosing our future, mapping out our future and deciding we’re not the vassals of either China or the United States of America. We must invest in that, just as those two great powers invest, by the way. And on the other hand, we’re an area where there are divergences, differences at economic and social level that we must help to bridge. That’s the goal of what we traditionally call convergence policies, i.e. genuine solidarity. And I like the term solidarity, because it’s not automatic convergence. It’s the idea of saying, “we’ll help some to catch up, but they must also be part of this convergence effort”. Those funds mustn’t be used to fund social dumping or fiscal dumping or the unravelling of the rule of law. And so that’s why I’m so committed to the idea of conditionality in this context.

I also stood up for two other things: [firstly] an end to rebates. The rebate was British. As soon as a member state which, in a way, made it a condition for its participation leaves, the rebate goes. We must put an end to this: it contributes to a lack of transparency and the destruction of the European budget. A budget that increases rebates is a budget where everyone looks at the share they get after they’ve contributed – in other words, everything but a budget. And secondly, the idea of having more own resources.

Indeed, we must be more ambitious. Everyone is also keen on retaining a few budgetary limits. And so we’ve supported the idea of moving towards new own resources: a carbon tax at the borders, a tax on non-recyclable plastic, other elements of taxation that we could put together, like the digital tax and others. On this point too, I believe we must show ambition. In any case, we can’t validate ambitious projects and an ambitious Commission unless we have a budget behind them which is equally ambitious and gives us the means to succeed. On this basis we wanted the future president of the European Council, Charles Michel, to continue the discussions and carry them through in order, again, to have a coherent multiannual budget, but one that can be decided as quickly as possible, in order not to waste time and opportunities, because the ability to decide quickly is important.

Turkey

At the dinner last night, we had several discussions, I’d say especially on two types of issue. First of all, on Turkey.

On Turkey, we had a discussion first of all about our own sovereignty. We reaffirmed our solidarity with Cyprus and respect for Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone, very clearly condemning Turkey’s repeated incursions and provocations. And obviously we also took a common position, condemning the offensive in north-east Syria and deciding to suspend our arms exports to Turkey. We’ll continue to coordinate very closely on this too, through our foreign ministers. But Prime Minister Johnson, Chancellor Merkel and I also decided to see President Erdoğan, probably in London. We did so in this three-Europeans framework, which is also a way of clarifying once again what NATO can and must be in the time we’re living in, because as I remind anyone who might have forgotten – which isn’t totally unjustified in this period –, Turkey is a NATO member, and this should also, normally, lead to certain forms of solidarity. And so we’ll have this shared initiative and, at the same time, continue coordinating on the contacts we’re going to have in the coming days with Presidents Erdoğan, Putin and Trump especially. (…)

Enlargement

We also had a long debate about enlargement last night, and I think on this important issue, too, we must keep a spirit of seriousness and moderation.

I believe, as I’ve said several times, in a strong Europe, a sovereign Europe. But I also believe in a Europe that is coherent and responsible. The Balkan countries, including North Macedonia and Albania, are conducting major reforms and have sometimes carried out profound transformations, very courageously. I want to pay tribute here to the courage of Zoran Zaev in particular, who has made constitutional changes and a name change that were extremely difficult to do and which were part of the demands. But very clearly, several countries were reluctant to open the negotiations today. France has very clearly been one of those countries, not saying efforts haven’t been made and there hasn’t been progress but saying, first of all, that not all the progress asked for has been made and we still have problems. There again – I may come back to this – [there are] inconsistencies, situations with some of those countries that haven’t been brought under control, on migration among other things and on respect for all the rules. But above all, I’d say on a deeper level that for me yesterday’s discussion was extremely instructive about the vision we may each have of Europe.

First of all, I don’t think the only relationship we should have with our neighbourhood is a relationship of expansion or enlargement. We’d be the only power in the world to believe neighbourhood policy is about offering membership. Collectively we’ve got into this mindset, which is strange. It’s strange, it doesn’t work very well with 28 and it won’t work very well with 27. I’m not sure it’ll work much better when we’ve enlarged.

I repeat: before any actual enlargement – in this case, it’s only about beginning negotiations, let’s be clear – before any actual enlargement let’s be capable of reforming ourselves. And to those who tell me, you’re merely going to open the door to incipient negotiations, it’ll take 10 years, 15 years, I say first of all that’s not a good approach, because we’re being told, “if you don’t open up today but next month you’re going to drive those who have made efforts to despair”. Do you think that in five years’ time we won’t be told we’re driving them to despair by not opening up straight away? This time, membership and no longer any negotiations. But above all, today I look at the pace of our progress in Europe. We experienced a crisis in 2008. Unfortunately, if I follow the decisions currently made in the European Union and the Euro Area, we’ll have finalized a genuine banking union in 2028. You see, when you have a potentially fatal crisis you take 20 years to reform. That’s how we work today. So unless there’s a moment of collective awakening we won’t be able to bring in other members, even in five or 10 years’ time. We’re not moving at the right pace. And so first of all, and above all, we must ask ourselves about this. And I won’t give in when it comes to this desire for ambition. And I think if we really validate the European Commission’s agenda, in particular, then we can ask ourselves – I’m talking more about future accessions – about this process.

Next, the second factor is that the nature of the enlargement process no longer seems appropriate to me. Firstly because it’s basically very bureaucratic. The political agreement comes at the very beginning and the very end; it no longer speaks to the people. I ask you to go and see the situation in those countries which have begun enlargement talks. After that the thread is quickly lost. And those who say, “if we don’t open negotiations, you’ll see China, Russia and Turkey having influence”, I ask them to go to those countries where negotiations have started. It’s not just big towers being made by French, German and Italian manufacturers. That influence is there, in the region. I think instead we’re not investing enough, in a coordinated way. It’s not an enlargement process, it’s a decision to invest in those countries economically, educationally, linguistically and culturally. It’s a strategic agenda we must have with partners, not necessarily future members. And also, above all, this enlargement agenda is no longer suitable. It’s not differentiable and differentiated enough. It’s not political enough, and in my opinion, at times in the process it must be clearly reversible. Otherwise it’s not credible.

And so before we open up to new member states, I’d like us to carry out the reform that several member states have been demanding for years. I say this because otherwise, the day we begin negotiations with the current procedure, we’ll be told, “it would be wrong to change the rules when we’ve started talking”. Those are a few of the points. I may come back to them during your questions, but I think that if we really want to be a power, to be consistent in our ambitions, and also to be respectful of those who want to turn to Europe, we must have a reformed EU, an overhauled enlargement process, genuine credibility and strategic thinking about what we are ourselves, our role and the region. (…)

EU leaders

This morning I had a working breakfast with President von der Leyen, Angela Merkel and representatives of the three major political families, to discuss the establishment of the new Commission, this strategic agenda and the European Parliament’s work.

This understanding at the Council, at the European Parliament, between the political families which managed to agree to create Europe’s new team and are going to form the working majority to implement the political programme I mentioned, is essential, in my view. That’s why I wanted us to meet in this format. In the same spirit, President von der Leyen will talk to the presidents of the political groups in the European Parliament at the beginning of next week. We need to really build, all together, a pact of responsibility, majority and ambition.

Finally, I wanted to finish by paying tribute to the work and European commitment of Jean-Claude Juncker first, to whom we paid long tribute at the end of the morning, and who has been a Commission president who has taken the Commission forward, made it more political, as I was saying; who – on issues concerning the defence of strategic interests and the defence, more broadly, of the agenda which I’ve come back to several times – has taken forward Europe; who, mainly for decades as his country’s finance minister and prime minister, has been entirely devoted to the European cause. This was his last Council and I want here to pay tribute to him, both for the work done in that capacity [as European Commission President] and for a whole career given over to the cause of our Europe.

President Donald Tusk is also reaching the end of his mandate, and we paid tribute to him too. I want to say here how important a role he has also played as this Council’s second president, after holding his country’s highest office. I don’t know what the future has in store for him or what he’d like to do, but I wanted to pay tribute precisely to his spirit of consensus, his desire to build – at often difficult moments – a consensus and agreement. And I hope that the votes I mentioned on Brexit will put the finishing touches to work which he has also contributed to in large part through his commitment.

I also want to pay tribute to the work of Federica Mogherini, who, in her post, has continued the work of Europe’s external policy over the past few years. (...)./.

Published on 06/11/2019

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