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European Union/European Council/economic policy/immigration/banking union

Published on November 18, 2013
Hearing of M. Thierry Repentin, Minister Delegate for European Affairs, before the National Assembly foreign affairs and European affairs committees (excerpts)

Paris, October 29, 2013

EUROPEAN COUNCIL

It’s a pleasure for me to come and brief you on the decisions and approach taken by the latest European Council. At last week’s government question time, which was reserved for questions on Europe, I set out to you our country’s goals – for mutually supportive, job-friendly growth in particular. We’re all expecting some first positive signs in that area.

Today I can tell you that, following this Council, new steps have been taken: the ground is being prepared for the essential strengthening of Economic and Monetary Union, investment is being promoted and a comprehensive strategy is being adopted in the digital sphere. (…)

Three goals were pursued during this Council: to be equal to the challenges which arise, with a concern for protection and solidarity; to invest fully in the digital and innovation fields; and to strengthen EMU by giving it a social dimension, in particular.

We first have to be equal to the challenges facing us, and united, with a concern for protection and solidarity.

NSA/EAVESDROPPING

The European Council is firstly a political governing body, prepared to tackle the urgent situations governments and citizens are experiencing. This is what the Franco-German tandem did regarding the NSA eavesdropping affair, inviting itself to the negotiating table, as it did for the issue of migration flows.

About that affair, and given how white hot the issue is today, it stood to reason that Germany and France initiated the debate. Every time Europe’s future is at stake, the Franco-German partnership is a driving force in what Europe does. This was the case with this and the other items on the agenda – as it was, incidentally, during previous Councils: let me remind you that it was on the basis of the Franco-German contribution of 30 May 2013 that the June European Council put youth employment at the heart of its priorities. France and Germany had also summoned their respective American ambassadors to explain themselves, and these initiatives were followed by other states, such as Spain.

This debate led to a statement issued by the heads of state and government, who were keen to point out that the partnership we maintain with our American allies was conditional on trust – which has been sorely dented –, including, I quote, “as concerns the work and cooperation of secret services”. (…) As for the United Kingdom, it didn’t deem it necessary to speak out on the issue, considering it fairly normal practice. But it’s one of the four countries which the NSA didn’t listen in on, which might explain why. Nevertheless, that position doesn’t discourage the efforts of other EU countries to protect their citizens’ freedoms. (…)

MIGRATION

The European Council also rose to the challenge vis-à-vis EU immigration policy, which was put on the agenda at the written request of France and Italy, following the tragic incidents which occurred off the coast of Malta and the island of Lampedusa.

We were heard on this as well, even though we’d have liked to go further. The European Council actually called for a strong response from Europe on the basis of the three principles proposed by France, “prevention, protection and solidarity”, which I spoke about here in your assembly prior to the European Council. (…)

Action needs to be taken in two stages. Firstly, to respond to the emergency, because we can’t allow the Mediterranean to become an open graveyard. Secondly, to tackle the underlying causes of this desperate migration, as much through development in the countries of origin as by combating the appalling human trafficking.

To this end, a Mediterranean task force held a first meeting in Brussels on 24 October to identify priority action and make proposals as to the most effective use of the existing resources. (…)

Member states having to take in the largest number of migrants will be supported among other things by specific financial assistance, which will be increased to help cover the cost of rescuing or receiving migrants for the first time. Support is also destined for non-EU countries to encourage lasting solutions to be sought there and it seems to be focusing renewed attention on development programmes and those to increase stability. France is in favour, under what’s called the Neighbourhood Policy, of earmarking European funds for the countries bordering the Mediterranean, given the significant immigration coming from that area. But there’s a debate among the 28 member states, with some thinking that priority should really be given to the Eastern Partnership, to countries such as Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova.

Prevention must take place in the countries of origin and transit, through action at the source of the migration and through the protection of refugees. This entails cooperation with the UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration. As for protection, it involves stepping up the fight against human trafficking to prevent new tragedies such as the Lampedusa one. The Frontex system must be strengthened and its budget will have to be topped up. We’ll also be improving judicial and police cooperation, which is essential for fighting trafficking and people-smugglers. (…)

EMU/SOCIAL DIMENSION

Finally, as regards the strengthening of EMU, the challenge was substantial: the measures taken enable us, through the completion of banking union, to strengthen the EU. During the crisis we saw how important it was for us to have a responsive Euro Area with swift decision-making capabilities.

In this context, we included – for the first time at a council of heads of state and government – a social dimension. This was done on the basis of a message from the Commission, at the request of the Council in June, following the 30 May document signed by François Hollande and Angela Merkel asking to work on this aspect ignored for the past decade. (…)

We stressed the importance of making progress on the posting of workers directive – even though it wasn’t on the agenda – and of the adoption by the end of the year of the important directive on public procurement contracts and concessions, which will give us tools to reject, on a strong legal basis, offers that are abnormally low or low-cost but don’t meet salary or environmental criteria. (…)

BANKING UNION

Respect for the banking union timetable recently updated by the European Council is really crucial. There were very difficult discussions; certain countries – not the smallest – would like to postpone the commitments made at several European Council meetings in 2012 and 2013. The single supervision mechanism, the first pillar of banking union to be established under the ECB, was designed to supervise the banking systems of volunteer Euro Area member states and prevent the bad habits of the past from recurring. The general idea is for prevention to be cheaper than cure and therefore for us to have very extensive supervision of all the major banks by a central body, the ECB, with the same criteria, in order to prevent new bankruptcies.

This mechanism will come into force this autumn thanks to the vote cast on 15 October at the Ecofin council, and its operational implementation through regulations is expected a year later, in November 2014. In the meantime, we’ll see how the ECB exerts the same controls over the European banking network, which is substantially different from one country to another.

Resolving banking crises is the second pillar of banking union. The Council called for the adoption by the end of 2013 of the directive on the subject: this complies totally with the commitments made and makes it possible to harmonize national bankruptcy systems for banks. But we must go further by establishing the single resolution system, because once the bankruptcy is confirmed, it must be possible to recapitalize. The Commission presented a text on this subject in July: France adopted it, the negotiations are expected to make swift progress and the European Council also called for an agreement on the subject by the end of 2013 in order to secure adoption before the current parliamentary term ends, i.e. next May – as France and Germany called for in the platform of 30 May 2013. (…)

Finally, in June the Eurogroup reached an agreement on direct recapitalization. If a bank goes bankrupt an organized, EU-wide system is needed: initially there will be a pooled fund of €60 billion that can be used on a bank in the event of a crash so that there’s no impact on other banks or the country concerned. (…)./.

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