EU/Cooperation France/Germany – France/Central Europe – EU borders – EU bureaucracy – Euro crises
I’m obviously very pleased and very honoured to be speaking before the nation’s elected representatives, three weeks after President Sarkozy entrusted me with responsibility for European Affairs, under Michèle Alliot-Marie. (…)
I shall, of course, be presenting to you the main objectives of the forthcoming European Council of 16 and 17 December. But I want to begin by setting out the first orientations enabling us to take up the challenges confronting us as regards European policy. (…)
At this time when we’re emerging from crisis, we need a Europe which stands up for our fellow citizens and asserts itself in the international arena and in trade exchanges, to protect our jobs, too, and help our companies develop. So there will be genuine opportunities to grasp in the period beginning today.
This, moreover, presupposes France fully playing her role, as she did during her European Union presidency: by being both proactive and driven by a sense of the collective. It’s this state of mind I want us to get back into. To this end, we have to choose certain ways of proceeding.
We first have to consciously choose a way of working collectively, consisting in cooperating with the various European institutions. We need the Commission and we need to work with it in an atmosphere of respect and mutual trust, above all in view of the new proposals President Barroso and Michel Barnier recently put on the table.
From this standpoint, let’s not set intergovernmental action against the Community method. Those are old debates which are now closed.
Whatever the subjects discussed, the two routes aren’t mutually exclusive: you have to provide a framework for the choice of a method of cooperation between States in certain fields and that of the Community method in others.
A second point of method concerns the European Parliament – based in Strasbourg, as I’m keen to stress to our national representatives.
We’re obviously keen to defend the European Parliament being located there.
The Parliament has asserted itself in the framework of the Lisbon Treaty. Today it carries great weight in European debates. France needs to exert her full influence and bolster our place and our common work there. In addition to that, there are several choices in terms of cooperation with the different Member States.
Again, very recently, regarding the budget, the Irish crisis and the establishment of permanent mechanisms concerning the euro, the joint momentum of France and Germany has proven absolutely crucial.
Things move forward in Europe when France and Germany are able to agree and bring out – whatever our respective positions – a sense of the general Community interest.
I’ll therefore set out to strengthen our relationship with Germany, which has entered a phase of maturity, moving on from the sentimentalized period of grand declarations to one where each of our two countries defends its interests – which is natural – while being able to make the necessary commitments to facilitate joint projects. President Sarkozy and Angela Merkel proved it only recently, during the euro crisis. However, that relationship can’t be exclusive: our country must strive systematically to build coalitions and alliances enabling us to work with all the European Union countries, around this nucleus.
I therefore want us to invest more specifically in our relationship with central Europe. I know many deputies present here share this viewpoint. That relationship is a source of equilibrium for France; it’s important in the run-up to the Hungarian, then Polish presidencies; and it may allow us to move forward together on several decisive issues – I’m thinking in particular of the Common Agricultural Policy, on which Bruno Le Maire and I are working in unison.
So we’ll try, more specifically, to build lasting relationships with Hungary and Poland – that is, with the next two countries to take over the European Union presidency. I went to Budapest last week so that we could think together about a common agenda. In this perspective, three broad priorities emerge for the coming year.
The first – I’ve mentioned it – is to consolidate the image of a Europe which protects. Several elements are in the process of changing in Europe, including the incorporation of the principle of reciprocity into our trade policy and the consideration of European local services in the approach to the internal market as developed by Michel Barnier.
Several simple principles must also be stated. Europe is opening up 80% of its public works contracts to international competition, whereas that precentage falls to zero in the case of China or Brazil; must Europe, then, maintain a concept of free trade which is understandable but sometimes a little naïve? The priority is to defend our jobs and our industries and help European industrial champions emerge amid competition that has become unbridled.
The second priority is to ensure a peaceful handling of our borders and of the enlargement process. In the past, the latter often depended on purely political decisions linked to international negotiations and foreign relations, instead of being subject to assessment based on objective criteria.
From this standpoint, in 2011 we’ll be faced with a major question: can Romania and Bulgaria join the Schengen Area? It’s a key decision: as soon as they join it, their borders become our borders. To put it another way, in terms of handling migration, we’re faced with a critically important decision. What France says, quite simply, is that Romania and Bulgaria won’t come up against a closed door but that some simple criteria must be respected.
The first one is that we must be sure about our borders. Now, Romania doesn’t recognize a border with Moldova, and there’s movement between the two countries, whereas we recognize a border with Moldova. That raises a problem and for the moment it’s an obstacle to the entry of Romania and Bulgaria into the Schengen Area.
The second problem is that, if we entrust our borders to them, it’s legitimate that we should have every guarantee that they’re well guarded by customs officers capable of exercising all the vigilance we have a right to expect. Now, that’s not the case today. The situation is being monitored in Romania and Bulgaria, under the auspices of the European Commission, which is particularly interested in corruption problems. And for the time being, the work isn’t satisfactory.
So I say very clearly, on behalf of the French government: we won’t get caught up in a spiral which would weaken our borders and Europe’s ability to handle and control its migration. I hope we’ll have national representatives’ support on that point.
Moreover, we must make concrete progress for Europe on subjects all our compatriots can identify. On this point, I want to offer you the result of my thinking. As elected national representatives you know perfectly well that, with all the EU instruments, we’ve lurched into a top-heavy system where administrative processes can themselves be very cumbersome and very costly and can make registering for European projects difficult, both for local elected representatives and for our industries. It is, to some extent, the result of the crisis which followed the fall of the Santer Commission and led to the adoption of very strict and unwieldy monitoring procedures. Here are a few simple illustrations of that.
Obtaining European Social Funds has become very difficult and very costly, in terms of administrative engineering, for our NGOs or our local authorities. Isn’t there a case for simplifying the procedure?
The Globalization Adjustment Fund, which in theory should benefit the industrial fabric – something extremely useful in the present crisis – is very difficult to obtain, indeed well-nigh impossible for SMEs. We therefore propose to launch an inquiry, conducted jointly by the Commission and several Member States, which would consist of examining the EU instruments one after the other, to see how to simplify things and ease the administrative constraints.
This initiative can be accompanied by an examination of our standards, because it’s quite often the French regulatory authority which, being more Catholic than the Pope, adds to the European regulations. From this perspective, we must doubtless return to something simpler, allowing standards adapted to our needs while avoiding any excessive bureaucracy.
Let me move on to the next European Council. Several subjects will be discussed at this important and long-awaited Council. It comes at a time when some want to test Europe’s ability to act and more forward. It will give Europe an opportunity to show it can step up to the plate as we emerge from crisis, in particular with regard to the euro.
On economic policy, it’ll be a question of implementing the direction set at the meeting of 28 and 29 October. I’m thinking in particular of the establishment of a permanent crisis management mechanism, which is a strong signal.
Let’s go back a little. A year and a half ago, the euro didn’t have any crisis management mechanism: dealing with the Greek crisis required six months of negotiations. Today, not only has Europe been able to take decisions in a fortnight with regard to the Irish crisis, it’ll also benefit – particularly thanks to the work done by President Sarkozy and Angela Merkel – from a permanent crisis management mechanism, to be accompanied by an agreement on the shape of the future European stability mechanism.
The consultations carried out make it possible to allow for what is a decisive point, in particular for our compatriots: the role of the private sector. Nobody would understand it if, after 2013, when there are credit and debt problems, the private sector weren’t called upon to help restore one or other Member State’s debt solvency.
On economic governance, the European Council picked up the conclusions of the Van Rompuy Task Force. The examination of the Commission’s legislative proposals began at the Council. We’ll be very careful to ensure those conclusions are taken up in their entirety and not just a tiny shadow of them. From this perspective, I support Pierre Lequiller’s proposal on the European economic government.
Let me add a word about the adoption of the 2011 budget, which is very symbolic for me. When we arrived, a fortnight ago, the rumour was that Europe wouldn’t manage to create a budget for itself in 2011. Now, failure to adopt that budget would put France’s budget in very great difficulty. You have only to think that it would translate into a €2 billion increase in our financial burden.
Under those conditions, a huge job of coordination was undertaken with the European Parliament, all the Member States and the Commission to try to achieve compromise positions. I can tell you that today we’re not very far from reaching an agreement which will enable us, for 2011, to give Europe a budget that’s in battle order: it’ll assert real European ambitions while taking into account the efforts we must all share regarding finances and budgetary regulation. Nobody would understand it if, at a time when political leaders are making efforts in all the Member States, Europe didn’t also share those efforts. Reconciling European ambitions and good management of the funds allocated at the European level: that’s a step in the right direction.
We must also be conscious, both in France and at the Community level, that politically it’s the end of Christmas-list-style accounting. All leaders must learn lessons. A political approach which consists in thinking you can make costly promises at times of crisis is irresponsible. (…)./.