President hails talks with central European leaders
European Union – Slavkov format/posted workers/digital economy – Statements by M. Emmanuel Macron, President of the Republic, at his press conference with Mr Christian Kern, Chancellor of Austria, Mr Bohuslav Sobotka, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic and Mr Robert Fico, Prime Minister of Slovakia
Salzburg, 23 August 2017
Chancellor, cher Christian,
I really wanted – before all four of us attend a concert together – to thank you for your welcome to Salzburg today and thank you for inviting me to this meeting, which we both instigated in this slightly unprecedented format, where the countries of the so-called Slavkov format and France were thus able to talk. I must admit that, in my country, Slavkov still bears the name Austerlitz. I’m very pleased because I think the format we had today is extremely appropriate.
It’s appropriate because it’s breaking down boundaries that are obstructing Europe. The idea that there’s opposition between east and west. The idea that there’s opposition between the countries in the Euro Area and outside the Euro Area. And in this respect, the discussions between all four of us provided an opportunity to show real convergences, a real desire to move forward together, and I must tell you that I for one would like this format to be continued, so that the four of us can meet again – perhaps at the beginning of next year, in one of your countries, which I’ll gladly visit – to make progress on the various issues we discussed.
We have differences in our situations – I was mentioning them – in relation to the Euro Area or, historically, the social agenda, but I believe in a Europe of ambition and a Europe of goodwill. Europe has always moved forward in this way. We’re building genuine compromises on the major issues. When I was elected in May, I said how important it was, in my eyes, for us to reform the Posted Workers Directive, because it’s a directive which, as I was saying earlier, betrays the very idea of an integrated Europe and single market, insofar as its current usage consists, in a way, of optimizing the European Union’s social malfunctions and thus prompts workers to be moved around because they’re low-cost in the European Union, and not move around freely on the basis of their qualifications and wishes.
So if we want our own countries, our middle classes, to continue adhering to the European Union, it’s absolutely imperative for the countries which [have workers who] are currently low-cost to be able to carry out their transition, i.e. pay their employees better, improve in terms of qualifications and the quality of goods produced in their countries; it’s essential for us to reconnect with the very essence of the European project, which is a project of convergence, one of harmonization and not one where the winners are those who exploit social dumping or fiscal dumping.
So in this respect, I think I can say that all four of us today endorsed a genuine desire to reach a compromise in October and a genuine consensus on the principles of a revision of the Posted Workers Directive, and I want to thank our Czech and Slovak friends, for whom doing all this work wasn’t necessarily straightforward. I remember our discussion in the Visegrád Group framework in June, and I really want to thank you for putting this goodwill into practice.
The Austrian Chancellor has just recalled the main points. We agree on those points. It remains for us to fine-tune the parameters in the coming weeks, in order to reach an intelligent compromise in October at the level of labour ministers and be able to endorse a genuine agreement under the Estonian presidency, which will be convening us.
What’s the goal? To reduce the duration from what’s currently in force. To combat all abuses, and in particular letterbox companies, which bypass the spirit of the directive. It’s also to have a principle of fair remuneration: equal pay for equal work, taking into account all the efforts made in the countries of origin. And it’s to step up controls at European level. But what all four of us endorsed was to step up the partnership on these controls and therefore act together by developing reciprocal, bilateral actions in terms of stepping up controls to combat abusive posted work.
Personally I believe our discussions today mark a real step, real progress towards a compromise for October, and I’m delighted about it because it’s a very significant factor in making this Europe that protects – which our citizens need – more credible.
We then talked about progress on Permanent Structured Cooperation on defence and security issues, and I’m delighted that there too, not only our ministers but also our delegations can work in this format in the coming weeks and months to look at what it’s possible to do in terms of capability, command and consultation, so as to use the common European fund and this Structured Cooperation and make headway together.
The third issue is migration and control of our common borders, where, two years ago, my partners here had to experience the impact of migration even more harshly than France, and we must move forward faster on the capabilities Europe must equip itself with in order to protect its external borders and define clear rules on asylum and border protection, with clear resources. We’re aware of the sensitivities expressed on this, but our wish is also to be able – in the coming weeks and months, in this same format – to endorse common stances at the end of the year and above all succeed in making more concrete progress in the coming months at European level.
We then talked about our economic agendas. In a month’s time we’ve got an important meeting in Tallinn to define Europe’s digital agenda. The four countries we represent are countries whose histories and economic realities still make them industrial forces to be reckoned with and which want to make a success of industrial transformation, particularly in the digital sector. This involves transformations which depend on every one of us, but also much more proactive European fiscal, industrial and digital policies and a trade policy which defends our strategic interests in the game of nations and is consistent with these goals.
Finally, we talked about the next stages, because beyond this already packed short-term agenda – which I think is [one of] the priorities of a Europe which protects, which will bring us concrete results in the next few weeks – I’d like us by the end of the year collectively to launch a series of initiatives to promote the radical, wholesale reform of Europe, which will once more give Europe – at any rate, those countries which want to follow the path – direction, visibility and greater integration.
As regards France and Austria, which share the same currency, I must say that we genuinely see eye to eye when it comes to the reforms necessary within the Euro Area – on social, fiscal and environmental convergence – and the capacity to give ourselves a common budget and a Euro Area parliament, with the desire to actively include countries which aren’t in the Euro Area but are destined to join it, and with an open, transparent discussion, which we’ve started to have on each of these subjects.
Our discussions showed that there was shared determination on social and fiscal convergence (…) which for me is a very important element in this greater integration and will allow us also to share this proactiveness, this road map for greater European integration, with areas of convergence we need to define and work on in the coming weeks and months.
So I want to tell you how satisfied I am personally with today’s discussions, what with the very concrete progress on posted work, the progress [to be made] in the coming weeks and months on the elements of protection I mentioned, and an initial – in my view, very important – discussion on the European road map and a radical reform of Europe which needs to be prepared by the end of the year, to which I personally intend to make a huge commitment and fully involve my partners here in, because Europe needs a period of radical reform to recreate not just momentum but a desire for Europe, a determination to take Europe forward.
I’d like us to meet again in this format in the next few months and also extend it to ministerial level for each of the areas concerned by our discussions.
Thank you again, cher Christian, for this invitation here, to Austria./.