Official speeches and statements - August 10, 2017
1. European Union - Ukraine - Russia - Defense - Security - Migration - Development aid - Free trade agreements - Balkans - Brexit - Fight against terrorism - Posted workers - Turkey - Q&A session at the hearing of Mrs. Nathalie Loiseau, Minister for European Affairs, before the National Assembly Foreign Affairs Committee - excerpts (Paris - July 25, 2017)
RUSSIA / UKRAINE
The French President has said several times—and demonstrated by hosting Vladimir Putin in Versailles—that dialogue with Russia is essential, given the role the latter plays in a number of regional crises and the importance of our historic ties with that country. However—and as the tone of your two questions shows—, Russia’s behavior arouses concerns, particularly among several of our European partners: you mentioned the Baltic states, and one could add what are rather loosely called the Eastern countries. We’re also worried about the situation in Ukraine, where no progress has been observed, although the European Union’s sanctions against Russia were extended in June.
We’re continuing our efforts: as you mentioned, there was a Normandy-format conversation yesterday to continue the dialogue and try to put forward trust-building measures. The situation remains worrying and a resolution still isn’t within reach.
As for the Russian military manoeuvres in Belarus, they again fuel the concern expressed by a large number of countries in Eastern and Northern Europe—you mentioned the Baltic countries, but one could also cite Sweden. That’s the reason why NATO is deploying not only its anti-missile shield but also troops, particularly in Estonia, to signal its presence on our partners’ soil. However intense the dialogue we have with Russia in relation to different international crises, the issue of European security and borders can be subject to no bargaining at all, or even the slightest vagueness. We fully support the other European Union countries and their security concerns.
It’s also one of the reasons why Defense Europe is currently experiencing some progress. While the American President’s remarks may have aroused some distress as regards his commitment to the Atlantic Alliance—those remarks have since been corrected, but it seems to me the distress has remained—, the advantage of EU strategic autonomy has become much clearer to many of our European partners. We were convinced of it; others are much more convinced today than they were yesterday. (...)
EU / MIGRATION
The actions currently being taken to step up controls at the European Union’s external borders relate to the issue of transport and passengers, but they’re also aimed at harmonizing databases, and that’s extremely important for monitoring the departures and arrivals of those with no goodwill towards our democracy and rule of law.
As regards immigration, you expect concrete and effective measures. In the Mediterranean, the EU has deployed Operation Sophia, aimed at combating people-smugglers and arms trafficking. This force has already enabled more than 100 people-smugglers to be arrested. We must be able to increase its capabilities and the action we’re going to take south of Libya.
LIBYA / SAHEL
Let’s look at the situation as it is. The difficulties have been considerably alleviated in the eastern Mediterranean. If we’d met two years ago, we would have been talking about the influx of more than a million refugees via the eastern Mediterranean and the Balkans, mostly bound for Germany. Today, the number of arrivals from those regions has fallen significantly; Europe has managed to defend its interests. Today, the gaping hole of Libya is the consequence of a military operation that had no political follow-up. We let the Libyan state crumble, so all kinds of trafficking are going on in the country—people trafficking, drug trafficking, arms trafficking—and Daesh [so-called ISIL] jihadists may soon establish themselves there. So it’s really there that our priority lies.
But helping stabilize Libya is exactly what the French President is doing this very afternoon. You wanted something concrete: there it is! It’s by working with the migrants’ countries of transit and origin, ensuring jobs are created there, that young people—who currently see no better destiny than risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean—will find a future there and we’ll be able to deal with the migration crisis, and not by building walls or pursuing pipe dreams. We’re committed to this, both nationally and at European level, but it will be difficult and lengthy. Once again, the political priority is to deal with the situation in Libya. (...)
At the Franco-German Council of Ministers, held in Paris on July 13, the Alliance for the Sahel was launched, in which the European Union is taking part; Ms Federica Mogherini was there too. It’s actually essential for us to combine our resources and thoughts to tackle in the best possible way—through dialogue with these countries and those of the southern Mediterranean—the challenges which they and we face. So we must identify our geographical priorities and the areas in which we hope to come to their assistance. (...)
Germany has shown itself to be very open on the issue of Defense Europe, be it at the European Council or at the Franco-German Council of Ministers. That’s why we want to make headway—in parallel and at the same pace—on two projects: to put it simplistically, one the Germans are very committed to, namely Permanent Structured Cooperation, which consists in bringing as many member states on board as possible, provided they’re ambitious and in a position to take part in high-level military operations; and the other which we’re especially committed to, namely the creation of a European Defense Fund. On this point, I’d like to pay tribute to someone we forget to speak well of sometimes: I mean Jean-Claude Juncker, who has made the European Commission accomplish a complete cultural revolution. If we’d been told, a year ago, that Community funds could be devoted to defense research, we would have taken it as a huge joke! Today, with the geopolitical context as it is, stakeholder commitment is enabling us to think of funding research efforts in this field, whether those efforts relate to what already exists or to the area of capabilities.
Moreover, we’re arguing for a reform of the Athena mechanism, which enables us to fund preparations for a number of external operations, but which seems to us too timid. On this issue too, our partners’ thinking is changing, and we must take our hats off to them.
RUSSIA / UKRAINE
Regarding the embargo against Russia, let me reassure you: no one—be it nationally, at European level or at United Nations level—is happy to envisage triggering sanctions against a country. By definition, sanctions target specific behavior during a specific and serious crisis, and the Ukraine crisis is especially serious. They’re not a tool that is used lightly, because we know that a number of economic players don’t benefit from them.
Ultimately, it’s not an embargo but isolated sectoral measures. Beware of mixing things up! The Russians enjoy maintaining a certain confusion. But while a number of sectors—particularly the agricultural sector—are suffering from Russia’s attitude, this pre-dates the sanctions relating to Ukraine. Like you, we’d like them to be lifted, but sufficient progress must be made to that end. So we’ll be open and vigilant, for the reasons I mentioned earlier. Our continent’s security depends on it. (...)
EU / TRADE
As regards trade agreements, particularly with Japan, you asked for more transparency. (...) For all that, to say the process is undemocratic is not respectful of the European Parliament, which ratified CETA. We ensured the agreement would be considered as mixed, i.e. with one purely Community part and another relating to member states, which allows it to be ratified by national parliaments. Let me also remind you that its implementation at the end of September will be provisional, which leaves us completely free if we were to have any concerns. (...)
I was asked earlier if we could relaunch the negotiations on TTIP, at a time when the American government is withdrawing from the Paris Agreement. My answer will be simple and brief: no.
M. Berville asked me about the risk of American protectionist measures against Chinese steel, measures of which we would be the collateral victims. That risk exists; we’re talking to the Americans about it. If such measures were taken, which we obviously don’t want, we’d take some ourselves at European level; we’ve made this known.
He also asked me how to ensure we negotiate agreements by overcoming our differences—that’s the nature of the European Union’s work—in order to modernize our trade defense tools. That’s exactly what the European Council has just asked. It demanded not only a modernization of anti-dumping instruments but also a speeding-up of the procedures guaranteeing their effectiveness. We talked to Commissioner Cecilia Malmström about this the other day.
BREXIT / IMPACT
That brings me to the effects of Brexit on Defense Europe and development policy.
Negotiations on the future Multiannual Financial Framework will take place in a context in which we’ll be losing the United Kingdom’s contribution. As I was saying earlier, after Brexit the situation will be less favorable than before, not only for the British but also for the European Union. So we’ve begun the job of assessing Europe’s policies and priorities before establishing how they will be financed, be it in terms of money or how this will be allocated among our various priorities. I think this is preferable to beginning with a lower budget than before and trying to fit all our policies into it.
Defense Europe is something new that has been welcomed by several of you. But it will obviously have to be funded. The UK’s departure from the European Union mustn’t deter us from cooperating with such an important strategic defense partner. Defense Europe isn’t only the European Union’s defense policy.
As for the funding of our economic partnership with the ACP countries, once the Cotonou Agreement reaches its term in 2020 it will be discussed during the negotiations on the future Multiannual Financial Framework. We’ve always championed the relationship with the ACP countries and supported the Cotonou Agreement and its successive revisions.
On the Balkans and the Berlin process, the President attended the Trieste summit, which was held a few days ago. It’s extremely important for the Western Balkan countries to be able to count on the prospect of a future in Europe, given the crises and conflicts they’ve been through, the progress they’ve already made and also how far they’ve still got to go. Some guidelines are clear and some goals shared, as regards the law, the fight against corruption and organized crime, and democratic governance. We’ve established very close and trustful dialogue with each of the countries individually and between the European Union and the Western Balkans. Some countries are progressing well and we’ll continue to give them our full attention. (...)
You too wondered rightly about the consequences of Brexit on CETA and other agreements under discussion. You raised the issue of beef imports, but the problem arises for other aspects of CETA and other agreements. Should we renegotiate the whole of CETA? In principle I’d appeal for caution on this. Let’s also emphasize that what amounted to new export opportunities to Canada for the Twenty-Eight become new export opportunities for the Twenty-Seven, particularly as regard milk products, which concern us in France more specifically. (...)
POSTED WORKERS / FISCAL CONVERGENCE
(...) We’re also making active efforts regarding posted workers precisely to combat these social disparities, which produce only losers: in the immediate term, the countries exporting labor—i.e. the eastern countries, putting it simply—may think they’re winners but in actual fact they’re missing every opportunity to move towards what is most beneficial, because they’re condemning themselves to a constantly underpaid workforce and a social protection regime which constantly lags behind countries wealthier than them in the European Union. We’ve got to stop thinking that competitiveness is based purely on what is least beneficial socially for the eastern European countries. Many other countries have demonstrated the opposite. As for fiscal convergence, it’s an absolutely paramount subject, complex because we’re starting off with extremely different tax systems. The Franco-German Council [of Ministers] of July 13, 2017 paved the way bilaterally—since we’re working to harmonize the corporation tax base—with a view to broader work at European level. This won’t be straightforward, considering that some countries have very different approaches from ours when it comes to tax, but, whether it be for farmers or more broadly, we absolutely have to move towards greater fiscal harmonization. (...)
You were asking me why we shouldn’t suspend the implementation of the posting of workers directive. My reply to you is that while we take in a huge number of posted workers in France, we ourselves send a huge number elsewhere in the European Union. We couldn’t resign ourselves to accepting the compromise that existed when the President took office. So we reopened the discussion and would like to move towards a solution more in line with our concerns.
BORDERS / PEOPLE-SMUGGLING
As regards the difference between Operations Triton and Sophia, Triton is a Frontex-led operation. (...) It aims to protect the European Union’s external borders. Sophia is an operation designed to fight people-smugglers. It also has a new task of preventing arms trafficking in the Mediterranean. That’s the difference between the two. On the other hand, both are carrying out rescue operations at sea, [treating those being rescued] in a dignified way. Thousands of lives have been saved in this way, not just by boats chartered by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) but by Triton and Sophia’s ships too. (...)
I now turn to the question about our relations with Turkey. As you quite rightly observed, we talk a great deal to our Turkish interlocutors, who are playing an important role in the refugee crisis and, more generally, the Syria crisis. Turkey is an important partner for the European Union, but a difficult one: as we’ve said, we’re very worried about the human rights situation in that country. We’re also worried about the way Turkey regularly and unacceptably attacks our German partner. All this can be said in conversations. When you talk to each other trustfully, you do so frankly. This is what we do with Turkey, as with other partners. (...)
EU / DEMOCRATIC CONVENTIONS
As regards democratic conventions, it’s indeed time we went to the trouble of listening to what European citizens have to say, not just the small circles of firm believers we’re all familiar with, but also those who have expectations or are dissatisfied vis-à-vis Europe. I don’t think those citizens are necessarily Eurosceptic or Europhobic. At times they expect more, better or something else from Europe. We’ve got to find a way to let them speak. We, French and Germans, will try and work over the autumn, with the timetable being put back slightly because of the German election, so that we can propose—if possible at the European Council at the end of December—an initiative, to those of our European partners who so wish, which allows them to poll the different strata of their civil societies.
BREXIT / EU UNITY
As regards Brexit, you asked me about the British position and what you called the French position. Let me be very clear: the Twenty-Seven have adopted a position on the Brexit negotiation. It’s absolutely essential to adhere to it. It mustn’t be possible for each state to claim a particular a nuance, deeming one subject more important than the others: this is exactly what some people are expecting across the Channel. Maybe the British are having trouble coordinating with one other at the moment. Maybe the shock of Brexit wasn’t anticipated. But mark my words, I’m a diplomat: the British are excellent negotiators and shrewd tacticians. They’d like nothing better than to see us turn up disunited and disorganized, with our own specific demands. That said, I don’t believe the issue of fisheries falls into that category: it’s obviously very important to know what our future relations with the United Kingdom will be on this. I’m fully aware of the importance, for French fishermen, of access to territorial waters and the British Exclusive Economic Zone, just as I’m fully aware of the importance, for the British, of access to our markets. This subject will be discussed—Michel Barnier has this in mind. (...)