Brussels, June 20, 2008
EUROPEAN COMMISSION/IRISH "NO"
[*Q. – We’ve recently been hearing a number of irritated comments, on the French side, about the European Commission, on the subject both of fisheries management and the fact that it’s possibly partly to blame for the Irish "no". I’d like to know whether, in your view, President Barroso is a good candidate to succeed himself.*]
THE PRESIDENT – You started off on the Commission and you end up on Barroso! Come on now, listen, it’s very easy to attack the Commission, to make the Commission a scapegoat. I’ve never been party to that, I’ve never done that and I’m certainly not going to do it today, regardless of what that may cost me in other quarters. If you put the whole blame for the Irish problem today and Dutch and French problems yesterday on the Commission, you’re making a totally erroneous analysis of the political situation in Europe.
Personally, I’ve always thought him an excellent president of the Commission. The debate in Ireland focused on abortion, euthanasia, on whether or not they had a Commissioner, on taxation, the WTO and agriculture, you can’t put all that down to Mr Barroso. No, choose someone else, Mandelson, for example.
No, come on now, frankly, you are specialists, you have followed the Irish debate, the WTO issue was clearly raised in the Irish debate, in the clearest way possible, that’s a fact. Moreover, I have to say on this point that it would be totally unimaginable to go on trying to negotiate an agreement in which we have obtained nothing on services and nothing on industry – everyone is absolutely in agreement here – and which would result in a 20% drop in agricultural production in a world where 800 million people die of hunger. A child starves to death every 30 seconds and we’d go and negotiate at the WTO a 20% cut in European agricultural production. Frankly, there’s [only] one person of that opinion, it’s Mr Mandelson, and it isn’t France’s position. I say this in the clearest way possible, on those bases, for us, it’s no. If you want to worsen the Irish crisis, then you have only to add another layer to it by continuing with a totally imbalanced agreement at the WTO. That’s really counter-productive.
[*Q. – On Ireland, is there a solution other than for the Irish to vote again? Are you contemplating another solution than that, or in the end is it the only one?*]
THE PRESIDENT – Listen, frankly, I can’t answer that question because answering it would mean taking a stand. An EU president, which I’ll be in a few days, has to try and get everyone to agree. The message I’d like to get across to you is this: "Europe is a union of 27 countries and I’ll do my utmost to get the family reunited and the 27 to follow". That’s what I think, it’s the message I’d like to get across, and it’s the message we’re fighting on. Will that be possible without a vote? You are sufficiently informed to understand that asking the question is answering it. But I personally don’t want to answer it, because seven days after a referendum with the turnout and score this one had, doing that would complicate the task rather than trying to resolve it and I want to try and resolve it.
[*Q. – I’m not very clear about the difference between after the 2005 "noes" and after the Irish "no" today. I mean that at the time we said we were to have a pause for reflection on the institutional issues and were going to make a Europe of concrete things. (…) What’s the difference, other than the French presidency which is going to start in 10 days? (…)*]
IRISH "NO"/ CONSEQUENCES
THE PRESIDENT – (…) What difference compared with 2005? Listen, in 2005 we tried, or more exactly I tried in 2006 and then in 2007, to take on board the consequences of what had happened in France and the Netherlands by framing a simplified Treaty which tried to keep things on which there had been a consensus, and try and find a solution. I believe there isn’t a single head of State or government who is today ready to have or intent on having a new institutional negotiation. It’s pretty clear. There won’t be another institutional convention or another treaty. So it’s either Lisbon – we’ll see what solution we can find for our Irish friends – or we go back to Nice. But Nice means no more enlargement, a Commission which has to be completely reviewed, European elections which would become extremely difficult to organize and a Parliament with less clout. Everyone can clearly see that the most reasonable solution is to try and assuage the Irish and Czech concerns, but nevertheless retain institutional stability. There’s nevertheless a major difference with 2005. In 2005, they started off with a great ambition, to make a Constitution leading to a federal Europe. This isn’t the case with the simplified treaty. We’re taking account of the rejection [of the Constitution] by a number of countries. The view was taken that we needed simply to draw up operating rules.
Now, we’ve got this problem and we have to try and overcome it. It will be for the French presidency to manage things as well as possible, especially as – as I said to my Czech friends – afterwards it’s the Czech presidency. Our Czech friends also have to think about this. They will have the presidency. The presidency has to lead everyone and get the most consensual position possible. This is why I’m absolutely determined to go to Ireland, to try and find the ways and means to assuage the Irish concerns, not to open an institutional debate. All the other countries are in favour of continuing the ratification process. This means there has to be a French presidency which isn’t paralyzed by these institutional questions.
Let me add that the news isn’t all bad, because there’s the ratification by Britain. I remember, when we got agreement in Brussels – Bernard Kouchner and Jean-Pierre Jouyet will remember – everyone said that the problem was going to be Britain. In the end Britain has ratified with a lot of courage and without a huge problem.
Let me add that the enlargement issue is very important. A number of countries which have some reservations about the Lisbon Treaty are keenest on enlargement. But without the Lisbon Treaty, there won’t be any enlargement.
[*Q. – What about Croatia in this?*]
THE PRESIDENT – I remind you that for the enlargement there has to be unanimity. I would find it very curious for the 27-member Europe to find it difficult to agree on institutions which function, but manage to get agreement on bringing in a 28th, 28th 30th or 31st country, which would certainly ensure it worked less well. As you know, I was among those who thought we’d have been well advised at the time to reform the institutions before going ahead with the enlargement. I was wholly in favour of the enlargement, but everyone can clearly see what not reforming the institutions before the enlargement has cost Europe. I really don’t see the point of making the same mistake again. Let me add that it’s a powerful motivation for ratifying the Lisbon Treaty. People can’t say they don’t want new institutions, but that they want the enlargement. No, Lisbon makes enlargement possible. No Lisbon, no enlargement. That’s a position which seems pretty reasonable to me. (…)./.