"Solidarity and responsibility" are needed to manage EU migration
European Union – Budget/rule of law/Brexit/migration policy – Statement by Mme Amélie de Montchalin, Minister of State for European Affairs, attached to the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, on her arrival at the General Affairs Council (excerpts)
Brussels, 16 September 2019
Today’s General Affairs Council is an important moment because we’re going to talk, among other things, about two major issues affecting the smooth running of the EU in the next few years.
The first is the European budget. As regards the budget, I’ve come here basically to make the voice of the French people heard on their priorities, which are also our priorities: the Common Agricultural Policy, of course, whose budget we want to be maintained, not because of anything to do with money but because it’s to do with sovereignty and the ecological transition, which needs to be supported. We’ve got to help farmers invest in this transition. We’re also going to be promoting the vision of a European policy which supports European modernization, i.e. innovation, job creation, integration of young people – so, very real concerns in the daily lives of French citizens, of course, but also European citizens in a broader sense. And we’re also championing the creation of own resources, new resources to fund the budget, which should be resources supporting the ecological transition, because the ecological transition is an expenditure issue but it’s also about how, when it comes to plastic, the carbon market, when it comes perhaps to a carbon inclusion mechanism at the borders, we’re able to ensure consistency in all that. So that’s the first point, the budget.
Rule of law
The second point today concerns the rule of law. As you know, we often talk about this concept. It isn’t a concept at all. The rule of law is what allows all European citizens to live in a world in which they aren’t subject to arbitrary power. When we talk about independent judges, media freedoms, the protection of minorities or academic freedom – these are points I’ll be discussing this afternoon with Hungary, which will be setting out to us the current situation in the country following the European Parliament report a year ago. On these points, we’re really getting into the practical issues affecting people’s daily lives so they can be confident of living in a democratic state in which they’re protected. The rule of law is basically what our treaty’s brilliant Article 2 is all about. We often talk about Article 50, as you know, regarding Brexit, but Article 2 is essential. It recalls what gives us our identity, what our values are – the protection of the weakest, protection of minorities, protection of press freedom and protection of men and women, and basically the equality prevailing between all European citizens. So it will be a very busy day for us, with a wealth of discussions.
Q. – Are you also going to talk about Brexit?
THE MINISTER – Brexit isn’t on the agenda today; we’re meeting in regular format. I don’t think there happen to be any British representatives at this meeting. It follows Boris Johnson’s announcements that British representatives wouldn’t attend meetings unless they think they’re particularly important. So they aren’t here today. Mr Juncker and Boris Johnson are having a meeting today. Discussions are still intense. I think it’s in all our interests to have an agreement. We, the 27, worked for two and a half years with the British negotiators to find a balanced agreement which safeguards the internal market, peace in Ireland and collective interests. And so we’re still working towards that.
Q. – Is it possible to find a solution to the Brexit backstop?
THE MINISTER – The solution is clear, there are two factors. Firstly, protecting peace in Ireland and thus fully complying with the proper implementation of the Good Friday Agreement; and then, secondly, protecting the single market. Anything entering the single market must comply with standards, comply with what we work on here in Brussels to protect consumers and protect business competition as well. So if people have proposals to put to us, as the UK is leading us to believe, well, we’re absolutely ready to listen to them. The backstop is an insurance policy. It’s the idea that if we don’t come up with anything better, we have a way of organizing ourselves in order to protect – I repeat – both peace in Ireland and the single market. (…)
Q. – Are you optimistic about the possibility of reaching an agreement at the interior ministers’ meeting on 23 September? If there’s an agreement on migrants who are going to be redistributed, because I know that France wanted to decide between economic migrants and those who have a greater chance of being recognized as refugees?
THE MINISTER – On this issue, firstly we’ve got to be very clear. We’re talking about an issue which brings us face to face with our responsibilities. We’re faced with men and women who, risking their lives, are taking the decision to cross what may not be an ocean but is a large stretch of the Mediterranean Sea. President Macron, along with Christophe Castaner and Laurent Nuñez, is working to ensure we have a balance between what we call solidarity and responsibility. Initial host countries, countries of first entry must allow the people arriving to disembark but they must also look at their situations, so that we know who these people are; and secondly, solidarity, because we can clearly see that if these people arriving all remain in the countries of first entry – this is what happened in Italy, it occasionally happens in Spain, sometimes Malta as well, which is exposed to this situation –, we force those countries to take on a challenge which is too big for them alone. So basically, there’s an expectation of efficiency. The question isn’t about whether we take a hard or soft line. That isn’t what has to be decided. The question is: how do we organize ourselves? How do we lay down principles? How in fact do we respect our commitment to humanity? I’ve just mentioned Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union, about protecting men and women. So the meeting taking place in Malta on Monday concerning disembarkation arrangements must enable us to hold an extremely precise dialogue not just with Italy, Malta, Spain and the countries of first entry, but also France, Germany and countries wishing to work with them so we can get organized.
Can I tell you today if there will be an agreement? No, that’s why there’s a meeting on Monday. Am I optimistic? I’m always realistic. We need to work in a much more organized way and therefore have some kind of efficiency. Not because we want to process people swiftly but because if we aren’t efficient, in the end the populists will win because they lay down principles – as we saw for a few months – which are totally rigid and omit what gives us our identity, namely our capacity to uphold human rights and take care of any individual in danger. You know, the right of asylum – and Ursula von der Leyen put this very well – is basically a part of us. We’ve been a continent which, for decades, has been able and proud to welcome those at risk in their own countries. So we’ve got to keep this alive, but do so in an organized way with solidarity and a sense of responsibility. The discussions in Malta next Monday are essential. You know, France is being a real driving force; Christophe Castaner, Jean-Yves Le Drian, Laurent Nuñez and I brought together in Paris on 22 July all the countries which wanted to be, so we invited all the European countries in the summer precisely so we could organize ourselves vis-à-vis these disembarkation issues.
Q. – One question on the budget. Germany is pushing for a smaller MFF post-Brexit of 1% of GNI. What is your response to that push?
THE MINISTER – Firstly, I won’t start with questions about amounts of money. A budget is an eminently political tool. It’s a tool where we invest in the future. It’s a tool where we share out our wealth and create genuine solidarity. The French position is to say: we’ve got to find a consensus. There are people who want to go further than what the Commission has proposed, i.e. more than 1.13% of GDP. We’re hearing the Germans saying today that they’re closer to 1%. What matters isn’t what figure goes after the decimal point. At some point we’ll have to agree. What matters to me is: how do we protect the acquis of the Common Agricultural Policy? Because it concerns what we eat, it basically plays a key part in our daily lives. It also plays a key part in the whole European area. The European area is an agricultural area. When you’re on the train or plane, you can clearly see thousands of kilometres of field after field. So this is even a territorial sovereignty issue.
Second issue: the ecological transition; this is at the heart of Ursula von der Leyen’s priorities. It’s at the heart of the Council’s strategic agenda priorities. We need to find this climate and ecological ambition. So we, France, are pushing for 40% of the budget to be consistent with the transition. We’re also pushing for new own resources consistent with the transition.
So this whole raft of measures is our starting point; it isn’t about the amount of money or what figure comes after the decimal point, it’s about what we want to do with it and how we’re in line politically with the goals we’ve set ourselves (…)
Q. – What’s the link between the budget and the rule of law? Have you reached an agreement?
THE MINISTER – The link between the rule of law and the budget is what we call conditionalities. We think it’s essential – moreover, this is what the European Court of Justice says – to ensure that European money invested in a country is invested in stable, transparent conditions, that we’re protected from corruption and that discussions about value tie in at some point with discussions about the budget, because we invest in public policies which must operate in a fully effective way. Talking about support for research, for example, when Horizon 2020 is implemented across the European continent, we absolutely must have academic freedom and researchers absolutely must be able to carry out their research. So from that angle we can clearly see there’s a link. There’s a natural link, so we really have to make progress. It’s an issue on which France fully supports, among others, the Finnish presidency, and which the President subscribes to. But there are also other conditionalities: tax coordination, social commitments, climate conditionality. We can clearly see that, since the budget is a political tool, those deploying European money, governments, fully meet the objectives we set together.
Q. – Does this also hold true when it comes to solidarity on migration issues?
THE MINISTER – On migration issues, we also stated that, particularly on the external aspects of migration policy, when it comes to countries being given support, there must be stronger support when there’s effective coordination, and we must also say that when coordination with those countries is less effective, well, the amount of money going to those countries is lower. It’s a form of conditionality. (…)./.