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Official speeches and statements - February 15, 2019

Published on February 15, 2019

1. European Union - Statement to the press by Mr. Bruno Le Maire, Minister of the Economy and Finance, on his arrival at the Eurogroup meeting (Brussels - February 11, 2019)

Q - What does the Italian government need to do to repair relationships with the French government?

A - We’re very committed to the friendship between the French people and the Italian people. Our two countries, Italy and France, are linked by history, culture and deep friendship, and that’s an additional reason not to accept statements or behaviors which are unacceptable between two countries which are friends. And I think the French President was right to react. But ultimately I’m not worried at all: the friendship between our two peoples will prevail.

Q - Will you be talking to the Dutch Finance Minister about KLM and the situation with the CEO? Is that something that you would perhaps do today?

A - I would have a meeting today with Wopke Hoekstra about many issues, including the question of KLM. But I will keep the discussion between Wopke and myself.

Yes, we are supporting Mr Lane. We think that he is the right man at the right place, he is a very good candidate and I hope that all the member states will be in the same mood and will support Mr Lane, who will be, I think, really a great chief economist [at the] ECB.

Q - What are your expectations concerning the discussions about the European budget?

A - On the Euro Area budget, you’ll allow me to respond to French people. We have some decisions which the heads of state have now taken during the European Councils. The decision is to implement a Euro Area budget.

So today we want to get to the heart of the matter. We want to start looking at the practicalities of implementing a Euro Area budget whose principle the heads of state have accepted.

What France is committed to is, first of all, governance by the 19 [member states]. The Euro Area is 19 member states; it’s legitimate for governance to belong to the 19 member states.

The second point we’re committed to is own resources. It’s important for the Euro Area budget, in order to be effective, to have its own resources.

And the third point I’m going to put forward today is a budget which enables us to invest for the future, which enables us to support convergence between the Euro Area economies, because everyone can see clearly that we can’t go on with a Euro Area in which there are so many divergences between member states in terms of economic outcomes and economic policies. And I believe strongly that this Euro Area budget, with an investment capacity, should enable us to strengthen the convergence between Euro Area member states.

So that’s what France’s goals are. The principle has been accepted by the heads of state; now we must move on to the practical work and implement this budget in practice, and the sooner the better.

Q - Your government was disappointed about the decision on Siemens-Alstom. Do you think there should be a new bid and, this time, the Commission should look at it differently?

A - I think everyone’s aware that faced with the rise of China, faced with industrial giants that are emerging in every sector—the rail sector, the space sector, the energy sector, the artificial intelligence sector—we must combine European forces, not divide them.

That’s why I believe the European Commission’s decision on Siemens-Alstom was not only an economic error but also a political mistake. And we must learn every lesson from it. When I hear, for example, that CRRC doesn’t have a presence in Europe, that’s false. CRRC already has a presence, particularly in Eastern Europe for high-speed trains.

So we must now learn every lesson from this. And the first lesson we’ve learnt is the need to reform European competition law. And it’s a matter of urgency. It will be one of the proposals I’ll make with my German colleague Peter Altmaier, the German Economy Minister, in a few weeks’ time, to propose new guidelines for European competition law to enable us to create European industrial champions.

We’ve had a competition policy for years, but we don’t have a strong industrial policy. It’s time the European Union created a strong industrial policy in order to have industrial champions that are up to the challenges of the 21st century.

And one point I’d like to stress, to finish: the world is moving fast—very, very fast—and it won’t wait for us. China won’t wait for us, Asia won’t wait for us. There are currently economic and geopolitical upheavals that are moving very fast in every domain, particularly artificial intelligence, transport and space; it’s urgent for Europe to get a grip on itself, combine its strengths and create the means to compete on an equal footing with our major competitors, otherwise Europe will be sidelined, and I believe strongly that Europe has assets to highlight in the 21st century. To that end it must come together.

Q - You talked about the Euro Area budget; don’t you fear that the Italian government’s stances both economically and politically might be an obstacle in the forthcoming negotiations on the Euro Area budget?

A - No, I don’t think so, I think everyone’s aware that the Euro Area budget is a strategic challenge for the Euro Area’s future. The Euro Area isn’t complete; it’s a tremendous incomplete success. And when you have a tremendous success, you have to carry that success through, and carrying that success through means giving the Euro Area an autonomous budget, governing as 19 [member states] with a genuine investment budget and own resources that enable us to give the Euro Area more prosperity and more jobs.

Today we’re at a crossroads, and the strategic challenge—which, I think, goes beyond short-term squabbles—is to create this Euro Area budget, move forward in a very practical way and start establishing the first concrete elements of that Euro Area budget. The principle has been accepted; now we have to move on to the practical work.

Mr. Le Maire spoke in French and English.

2. Council of Ministers / Decree - Preparing for the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union as regards rail safety in the Channel Tunnel (Paris - February 13, 2019)

The Minister attached to the Ministre d’Etat, Minister for the Ecological and Inclusive Transition, responsible for Transport, presented a decree on preparing for the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union as regards rail safety in the Channel Tunnel.

The cross-Channel Fixed Link is a binational infrastructure whose construction and operation the French and British authorities entrusted, by a concession, to Eurotunnel (the concessionaire) in 1986. The Treaty of Canterbury, which is the founding act of this binational cooperation and the concession, established an Intergovernmental Commission (IGC) responsible for supervising, in the name and on behalf of the two governments, all matters concerning the construction and operation of the Fixed Link. Pursuant to European rail safety and interoperability legislation, the two states designated the IGC to fulfill the role of binational safety authority for the whole of the Fixed Link.

After the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union, with the IGC no longer designated by two member states but one member state (France) and a non-EU country (the United Kingdom), the IGC would no longer be able to exercise the functions devolved under European law to a national safety authority.

Consequently, for France, the draft decree entrusts the tasks of a national safety authority for the Fixed Link to the Etablissement public de Sécurité ferroviaire (EPSF - Public Institution of Rail Safety). It is worth remembering that the EPSF already carries out these tasks on the national rail network.

Given the specific nature of the cross-Channel Fixed Link and the safety challenges in this type of infrastructure, the French authorities will ensure that the EPSF’s action is closely coordinated with that of the authority the United Kingdom will designate for itself, so that rail safety regulation is consistent over the whole infrastructure. This is key to guaranteeing a continued high level of safety for rail traffic in the Fixed Link.

The decree’s provisions will be able to be modified after the United Kingdom’s withdrawal to take account of a European Union act or an agreement with the United Kingdom defining the IGC’s future role in the safety of the cross-Channel Fixed Link.

In addition to these national measures, the [European] Commission has just adopted a proposed emergency measure in the event of no deal which will ensure the validity of safety authorizations for certain parts of the rail infrastructure for a strictly limited period of three months, to allow long-term solutions in line with EU law to be put in place. This measure relates to the Channel Tunnel in particular and will be conditional on the United Kingdom maintaining safety standards identical to EU requirements.

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