"We need a strong transatlantic relationship" - Europe Minister
European affairs – United States of America/European Union/COVID-19 – 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 La Provence (excerpts)
Paris, 20 January 2021
JOE BIDEN AND TRANSATLANTIC RELATIONS
Q. – What can Joe Biden’s presidency contribute to relations between the United States and Europe?
THE MINISTER – There will be a more conciliatory atmosphere which will become very tangible in the first solid American commitments President Biden chooses to make straight away, in particular on the climate by returning to the Paris Agreement. (…) We need a strong transatlantic partnership. We need to concentrate it on the issues where we haven’t managed to cooperate in recent years and which are vital, like relations with China and the reform of international trade rules.
We’ll do so within a Franco-American relationship, but above all within a renewed Euro-American relationship, which Europe needs. We’re consistent when we say we want an autonomous, independent and sovereign Europe. It’s what the United States itself is asking us for, including when it comes to defence: taking on more responsibilities in international crises. We must also succeed in defining a common agenda, common interests which won’t be those of the past. We won’t go back to the Cold War relationship. But on the climate, defence and democracy, and on the relationship with China, we need a strong transatlantic partnership.
Q. – On trade relations with the United States, there’s been a lot of talk about taxes, including taxes on wine affecting the PACA [Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur] region. Can that change quickly?
THE MINISTER – We hope so. We’ve always been clear. We never sought this trade war. We never sought escalation. We defended our interests. When taxes were applied by the Americans, who began introducing this commercial tension under Donald Trump, we reacted. We’re suffering – I’m thinking of our wine growers first and foremost – the impact of that tension initiated by the Americans, who targeted the high-quality products whose export is of major importance to us. We took emergency French and European action through aid to support the sector.
It’s only a temporary remedy. What our wine growers and producers want is to make a living from their business. Franck Riester, Bruno Le Maire and I are really hoping that in the first few weeks there’ll be a more conciliatory atmosphere there too, and a de-escalation of those customs duties, which are absurd. We’re mutually penalizing each other, and for certain sectors, in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region in particular, it’s obviously painful. That’s a priority for us in this new transatlantic era. (…)
Q. – There are a lot of criticisms about the closure or non-closure of Europe’s internal borders. Some countries have started. What do you think about this?
THE MINISTER – We’ve closed Europe’s external borders. That’s important! I hear Mme Le Pen’s speeches in particular. Let me remind you that Europe’s external borders were closed on 17 March at our request. On Monday, France introduced compulsory tests on departure in the rare cases where it’s still possible to travel to Europe. And you also have a seven-day quarantine which everyone is asked to observe. We mustn’t lie to people: the number of journeys is very limited, they mainly concern our compatriots, and we’re not going to put a police officer in front of every person who arrives.
Q. – And what about the internal borders?
THE MINISTER – We’re working on it this week, probably in order to have compulsory testing measures. We took a few extra days to get European coordination. Germany and others are moving towards compulsory testing before departure. Measures are being taken in the coming days. In any case, cross-border workers will be able to continue doing their jobs.
Q. – Are you in favour of a European vaccine passport?
THE MINISTER – (…) We’re talking here about a certificate for moving around Europe. That’s a very premature debate. It will take place regarding travel in Europe. But we can’t give additional rights to certain people and be fully engaged in a vaccination campaign that is being progressively rolled out and extended throughout Europe. It hasn’t yet reached its general-public phase. When that’s the case and we know everything about the vaccine’s level of protection against infection, it’ll be different.
We mustn’t put the cart before the horse and give more rights to some people than others when it’s not the right time. Our priority is the vaccination campaign and access to the vaccine for the maximum number of people as quickly as possible.
Q. – How many vaccines should France be getting in the next few months?
THE MINISTER – On average, 15% of European orders are reserved for France. When you have around two billion doses, that’s more than 250 million doses for France. The European framework will enable us to protect the whole population. The issue now is to speed up the pace of production with the manufacturers.
Q. – Do comparisons with other European countries show a delay in the number of people vaccinated? Why?
THE MINISTER – If you look at the daily rate today, we’re ahead of most of our neighbours. Last week our daily average was ahead of Germany’s. The differences criticized at the outset have been greatly reduced. When you look at the trends in the other major European countries, we’re entirely comparable and often even faster now. We had that controversy linked to the fact that our campaign was cautious and began with the most vulnerable people. The goal isn’t to post the biggest possible figures. It’s to hold out in the long term. To target the most vulnerable and do so under safe conditions.
Q. – Are some people, like the doctor responsible for the central pharmacy of APHM [Marseille hospitals], worrying about possible disruption with the second dose?
THE MINISTER – Our strategy isn’t to rush in blindly. Whenever a person has their first appointment, they have their second appointment and the doses are secured./.