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European Union/United Kingdom/economy/foreign policy

Published on February 29, 2016
Interview given by M. Harlem Désir, Minister of State for European Affairs, to Sud Radio
Paris, February 21, 2016

Q. – Is this a victory for David Cameron?

THE MINISTER – No, I think it was a victory for Europe to succeed in reaching an agreement, the one David Cameron wanted but with conditions that had been set by the French President and a lot of member states. Given that David Cameron decided to organize a referendum on whether or not the United Kingdom would remain in the European Union, he not only had to show he’d obtained clarifications on the UK’s special situation being taken into account – it already doesn’t take part in a number of common policies: the UK isn’t in the euro, isn’t in Schengen and doesn’t apply the Charter of Fundamental Rights, for example…

Q. – That poses a problem…

THE MINISTER – It would pose a problem if there hadn’t been limits, and the limits are the ones the French President had set. Firstly, the UK can have no right of veto on the Euro Area, on its development or its future integration. Secondly, the rules of financial regulation apply to the whole of the EU, including the UK and the City, because we took measures to combat financial crises and there would be a distortion of competition if those rules applied only in the Euro Area and not outside the Euro Area. Thirdly, there’s no revision of the treaties, we’re not building some great institutional edifice that in no way addresses the urgent needs of the moment: the refugee crisis, the fight against terrorism, and growth and employment. Finally, fourthly, the opt-outs the UK was demanding on social security benefits for European workers living and working in the UK, many of whom come from the countries of eastern Europe, particularly Poland, are very tightly controlled and don’t call freedom of movement into question. That’s what François Hollande asked for, and that’s why the negotiations were lengthy, because the UK had to understand that we agreed to take a number of its concerns into account but that we didn’t want to weaken the European Union.

Q. – Then this raises many issues, and we’ll come back to it point by point. No right of veto by the UK over the Euro Area, but the ability to force a debate.

THE MINISTER – The chance for the UK, if there are questions about the decisions the Euro Area is preparing to take, to be informed of them: we’ve always accepted that, working transparently…

Q. – To be informed of them and to force a debate…

THE MINISTER – Not to force anything at all! To be able to talk about them! But there’s absolutely no way for the UK to force a deadlock, to prevent the Euro Area from moving forward. If the idea ever crossed anyone’s mind, it’s been clarified. Why is this important? Because Europe is differentiated. Ultimately, this was endorsed by the agreement negotiated in Brussels on Thursday and Friday. A differentiated Europe means recognizing that a number of countries don’t necessarily want to move towards more advanced integration and cooperation in many areas.

Q. – Does that mean there are currently two Europes?

THE MINISTER – It means, at any rate, that there’s one greater Europe which together handles a number of common policies, particularly an internal market but also important policies, whether it be for example in the area of the environment, energy or even freedoms. But there are also countries which want to go further and have already done so in the course of history. They happen to be basically the founding countries, the countries which had the idea of launching the European project. Others joined them. This was obviously the case of a number of countries in southern Europe when they were able to join Europe after getting rid of the dictatorships: Spain, Portugal, Greece. It was also the case of a number of the new member countries in northern Europe, for example the Baltic countries, which have also joined the euro. So there are countries that want to go further together, and we think we must go further. And we also want to respect one another…

Q. – And there are countries that don’t want to go so far…

THE MINISTER – There you are… we want to respect the choices of those who want to stay in the EU, and we think Europe must remain united as far as possible. That’s why we think it’s in Europe’s interest for the UK to stay in the European Union, and we think it’s in the UK’s interest to stay in the European Union.

We’re in a time when there are centrifugal forces, there are forces advocating break-up, there are nationalist tendencies, Eurosceptic tendencies. We’d rather the UK remained in the EU. So we had to give David Cameron elements to enable him to conduct his campaign to keep the UK [in]. But the most important thing I’d like to tell you is that whatever the result of the British referendum, France, along with its closest partners, will take the initiative of revitalizing Europe, and so this will involve a vanguard…

Q. – What does revitalizing Europe mean?

THE MINISTER – It means that, with countries that think the same way as us about the major challenges we face, we must go further in a number of areas; we’re preparing new steps forward. We think that this relates in particular to the need to have economic government of the Euro Area, to have more integration, more capacity to invest in the industries of the future, in areas like energy, digital technology, the environmental transition, that we must be able to create a genuine European security pact, to have a foreign policy, to strengthen our capabilities on defence policy, and that in order to uphold our social model, we must also have more tax harmonization and social convergence. On all these levels – with Germany, with our closest partners – we think that, whatever the result of the British referendum, we’ll have to prepare an initiative, an initiative to revitalize the European enterprise… (…)./.

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