Minister sees "real desire for an effective Europe"
Chile – multilateralism/GAFA tax/Brexit/climate – Interview given by M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to the Chilean daily newspaper El Mercurio
Santiago, 25 July 2019
Q. – In a context where nationalist forces are gaining ground all over the world, and with a traditional partner like the United States calling into question multilateral structures and agreements, what does France propose in order to face up to forms of isolationism?
THE MINISTER – My observation is that the multilateral system is in crisis. On the one hand we have global problems that call for negotiated solutions: climate change, migration and rising tensions between major powers; and on the other, we have difficulties finding the framework and formats enabling us to provide a common response. And some people are indeed tempted by unilateralism.
For me, there can be no multilateral system without respect for states’ sovereignty, but international rules are not incompatible with action, because they allow solutions to be found that are respected by all involved. By defending multilateralism, we’re working to make it more effective. It was for this very purpose that in April, together with Germany, we launched the Alliance for Multilateralism, to combine the efforts of countries convinced that a renewed commitment to multilateralism is more necessary than ever.
I’m pleased that Chile has joined this initiative, because Chile’s presence in the G7 summit in Biarritz in August and hosting of COP25 in Santiago in December clearly show that our Chilean friends are committing, like us, to multilateralism.
Taxing digital giants
Q. – An issue that has recently caused tension in the relationship with the United States is your country’s decision to introduce a tax targeting the digital giants (the “GAFA tax”). Washington is threatening reprisals, probably in the area of customs duties. What is France’s response? Does it see any room for negotiation in order to avoid a worsening trade war?
THE MINISTER – The tax in question relates to all the digital giants, including French and European companies, and not just the “GAFA” [Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon]. We can’t agree to businesses in the sector being subject to an effective tax rate two times lower than for businesses in the traditional economy. It’s a matter of tax justice, and our fellow citizens are very sensitive to it. So we must create an effective tax system at international level to take up the challenges of the digital age. Moreover, other countries like the UK and Italy are adopting similar measures.
Regarding negotiations with the United States on the issue, they’re under way in the OECD framework. We’re convinced that this multilateral format is the appropriate framework for finding lasting solutions, because the problem is global in nature. The progress made recently by the OECD working group and at the last meeting of G7 finance ministers was genuine. These efforts must be continued in order to achieve consensus in 2020. In the meantime, we’ve decided to take action at French level. This national framework will of course be replaced by the international framework when the latter comes into force, in 2020 I hope.
Q. – The toughest blow for the EU is undoubtedly the UK’s decision to leave the EU. In the current scenario, is France ready to renegotiate the agreement with London, as the new British prime minister, Boris Johnson, has suggested?
THE MINISTER – Two and a half years ago, the British voted in favour of leaving the European Union. We may regret that decision, but we must also respect it by ensuring we implement it in the most orderly way possible. That’s what we tried to do, by negotiating and reaching a withdrawal agreement with London, which unfortunately the UK hasn’t yet been able to accept. This agreement is the best one possible, and discussions on it can’t be reopened.
Q. – Is Brexit a step backwards in the project of EU integration?
THE MINISTER – Brexit and the rise of populism in Europe are symptoms of a deep malaise originating in a sense of disconnect between institutions and the public. Advocating self-absorption isn’t the solution to these challenges, because it means taking away from us the tools we need most. The high turnout in the latest European elections, and the results of pro-European parties – including the Renaissance list backed by our majority – showed that there’s a real desire for an effective Europe that protects its citizens. That’s the project we’re going to set in motion with the new European institutions.
Q. – The Paris Agreement on the climate was a diplomatic victory for your country, particularly because it included China and the United States in the agreement. But the United States has abandoned the agreement. Where does progress need to be made at the next climate summit, which will be held in Chile at the end of this year?
THE MINISTER – I welcome Chile’s driving role in the fight against climate change. COP25 in Santiago in December will be a major meeting. And France will provide all the cooperation Chile wishes in order to make it a success. To prepare for the event – in which the French President will be taking part – is also one of the purposes of my visit to your country. This major meeting must provide us with an opportunity to finalize the Paris Agreement’s implementation rules, and we hope to reach a consensus preserving the agreement’s integrity. COP25 will also have to be about taking action, and we can be pleased with the very concrete priorities Chile has set in this context. Finally, it must prepare and galvanize all the countries and stakeholders to ensure we manage, collectively, to raise our national contributions to reducing climate change.
Q. – Just under a year ago, President Macron stressed the need to overhaul the global international system and acknowledge in particular, in a way, new balances in various regions such as Latin America. What is France doing in this regard? Is the invitation made to President Sebastián Piñera to the G7 summit in Biarritz part of this approach?
THE MINISTER – Of course. Emmanuel Macron wanted to profoundly update the G7’s formats and ambition, particularly by involving major partners of France. Chile is one of those goodwill partners which are concerned, like us, about respect for democratic values and basic freedoms and which we have steady relations with. I’m very pleased President Piñera can take part in this meeting, where we’ll be launching important initiatives on freedoms in the digital world, and on the oceans and biodiversity, which will be a priority of COP25./.