France ready to take in migrants from Greek island

European Union – Brexit/seat of the European Parliament/migrants/Turkey – Interview given by M. Clément Beaune, Minister of State for European Affairs, attached to the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to the daily newspaper Le Parisien/Aujourd’hui en France

Paris, 13 September 2020


Q. – Boris Johnson wants to change the agreement on Brexit. Is he pushing for a clash?

THE MINISTER – On the European side, we’ve always been calm, determined, and above all very firm and very united. We’ll remain that way. If the British continue undermining the contract, with the idea of dividing Europe, it won’t work.

Q. – What do you say to the MPs who are due to vote on Johnson’s bill?

THE MINISTER – That honouring commitments made is the basis of all relationships of cooperation. The United Kingdom is a great democracy; it’s inconceivable for the Government and Parliament to go back on a text they themselves negotiated and voted for, and fail to keep their word. It’s in our shared interest to make progress and swiftly conclude an agreement on the future relationship.

Q. – Some people in London are calling for Michel Barnier’s scalp: would his departure change things?

THE MINISTER – It’s not for the British to choose the European Union’s negotiator. Michel Barnier is the right person; he’s been negotiating highly effectively from the outset. We have full confidence in him; there will be no sidelining. That’s the position of all the EU members.

Q. – In the event of a no-deal, is the French economy ready?

THE MINISTER – It would be bad news, but we’re preparing. The Prime Minister will shortly be convening the Government to speed up and intensify the preparations, under every scenario. Including a no-deal. We’ll protect French people.

European Parliament seat

Q. – The European Parliament session planned in Strasbourg next week has been cancelled and will remain in Brussels. Isn’t COVID-19 a convenient excuse?

THE MINISTER – It’s a bad decision by the European Parliament; we’ve said so to its President, David Sassoli. The Parliament’s seat is in Strasbourg, it’s written into the treaties; above all it’s a symbol of history, of Franco-German and European reconciliation. There’s no question of abandoning that. I’ll be going to Strasbourg on Monday to signal our support. We’ll work to ensure the MEPs feel good there; the State and local authorities are investing hugely – more than €180 million over three years – to improve conditions for transport and hospitality. There are legitimate health concerns, but on that point we’ve set out a very strict health protocol enabling the session to be hosted under good conditions for MEPs, staff and Strasbourgers. The cancellation is especially hard to understand given that Brussels is also in a red zone! We’re insisting on the swift return of sessions to Strasbourg in October.

Migrant crisis

Q. – The fire at the largest refugee camp on Lesbos (Greece) has revived the migrant tragedy: what can France do?

THE MINISTER – There’s the emergency and humanity response. In the coming days we’re ready to take in about 100 of the migrants who experienced the Moria Camp tragedy, particularly unaccompanied minors.

Q. – An exceptional effort, or a shift in France’s policy?

THE MINISTER – Since 2018, whenever there have been painful humanitarian emergencies, like the Aquarius or other boats, we’ve taken part in efforts to distribute the refugees who have disembarked in Italy or Malta, taking in a few hundred people. We’re the only country to do so, together with Germany. Now we must find a long-term solution. Between now and the end of September the European Commission is going to propose a permanent framework of rules, balancing responsibility with solidarity. We must both speed up returns to the countries of origin when they’re justified and ensure solidarity among Europeans so that those who have the right to asylum are also taken in by countries other than those where they’ve arrived. The countries of eastern Europe must play their part.


Q. – Is Turkey the big challenge for Europe?

THE MINISTER – Mr Erdoğan must give up his strategy of threats and indeed aggression. There may be a discussion with Turkey about exclusive economic zones in the Mediterranean, hydrocarbons, migrants etc. But it can’t be a partner today under these circumstances. So we’re asking it to adopt a negotiating framework, not a threatening posture. When it sends vessels into Cypriot waters or planes to fly over Greek or Cypriot territories to provoke or arouse concern, when it carries out even more dangerous actions in Libya, we mustn’t allow it to do so. Otherwise the provocations will get worse. And Europe would be showing its citizens that it doesn’t protect them.

Q. – And what if things get out of control between the forces deployed in the Mediterranean?

THE MINISTER – It’s not about waging war. We must calibrate things, in a proportional way, calm but firm, while remaining open for dialogue. Mr Erdoğan knows that the time when Europeans looked on him with timidity or fear is over.

Q. – Germany seems more measured; is it a game of good cop/bad cop?

THE MINISTER – No, but we each have a different history, a different relationship with Turkey, and a different relationship to power too. But we’re getting movement on the policies; Germany has understood that the situation in the Mediterranean is serious and calls for a response./.

Published on 15/09/2020

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