Official speeches and statements - November 4, 2020
1. Austria - Fight against terrorism - Interview given by Mr. Clément Beaune, Minister of State for European Affairs, attached to the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to BFMTV (Paris - November 3, 2020)
Does Europe stand solidly behind Austria this morning?
THE MINISTER - Yes, totally. The French President was the first to express France’s solidarity. After the attacks we ourselves have again experienced from Islamist terrorism in recent days, we’re obviously extremely moved and concerned by this Austrian tragedy. But yesterday evening the whole of Europe, as you’ve said, reacted in the firmest, clearest possible way, condemning this horror. And now we also need European action - not just solidarity - at various levels.
What action? Let’s go ahead, then, because that’s what everyone’s saying: "we’re in a very strong position to react" is what people are saying; I’m not saying... I mean, in order to act... basically it doesn’t prevent the terrorists from acting. What essential tools are missing?
Well, first this realization isn’t enough, but it’s essential and it’s new, it’s new, this very strong solidarity...
Since 2015 it hasn’t been new.
Of course, but I think this time it’s been expressed very strongly. But you’re right, we need action. This applies to every field we’re involved in upstream, in other words the external operations we carry out, including far away, in the Sahel, in Africa, to combat Islamist terrorism. For a long time we French were very much alone in these operations; that’s less true today. We have several European countries, including countries in eastern and northern Europe, that are with us on the ground. We must step up this action further, but it’s clearly essential. It concerns everyone.
Essential but not sufficient.
On this issue, one gets the impression it’s the sovereignty of States that prevails every time.
Of course. As you know, for a long time the issue was regarded as peculiar to a few countries. All the people who have been telling us in recent days that it’s a problem of French laïcité(1) [secularism] can clearly see this has nothing to do with it. It’s European values that are under attack, so there’s a clear realization now. So we have to take pre-emptive action, not all alone, on these terrorist fronts...
Militarily, militarily, of course.
Militarily, even though the terrorists are sometimes locals?
THE MINISTER - I’m coming to that. It’s not enough, of course, it’s not enough, but we can clearly see there’s a continuity between external action and what we’re doing domestically. That also means intelligence, of course; our police forces are cooperating much better. Three years ago the President launched an initiative to coordinate intelligence services. It’s existed for a few months; it’s the Intelligence College in Europe.
It also means being more serious at our borders, to analyse and protect; we now have European border guards; we must develop this further. And it also means joint European judicial actions. This year we’ve created the European Public Prosecutor’s Office, but it doesn’t yet focus on terrorism; we’re proposing this should be the case in the coming months. And then there’s an issue - we’ll see if it’s the case today, but you mentioned it with regard to the spreading of content that sometimes incites to radicalization, to terrorism, online; we also need European action on this point. And I think in the next few weeks, if not days, we’ll have European legislation on this to ban content that drives people into radicalization.
Does the terrorist attack in Vienna drive us, or will it drive France, to increase or change anything in the counter-terrorist operation that was deployed last week following the attack at the basilica in Nice?
Listen, there will be a decision at the Defense Council on whether there should be any additional measures. But we haven’t had to wait for the Vienna attack to take measures, to step up our actions and our alert level; that’s what the Prime Minister has announced in the past few days. So I believe the Vienna attack unfortunately confirms the seriousness of the alert, and if there have to be any additional measures, of course we’ll take them. But above all, sadly, it confirms the necessity of our battle and the validity of our battle, which isn’t only a French battle.
(1) laïcité goes beyond the concept of secularism, embracing the strict neutrality of the State.
2. European Union - COVID-19 - Turkey - Interview given by Mr. Clément Beaune, Minister of State for European Affairs, attached to the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to Libération.fr (Brussels - November 2, 2020)
COVID-19 / EU ECONOMY
Hasn’t the coronavirus pandemic signaled the return of national concerns, to the detriment of the European project?
THE MINISTER - The pandemic has indeed seen a return of national and even local concerns, because, by their very nature, the measures taken result in people withdrawing and shutting themselves off to protect themselves. But the criticisms made of the European Union are unfair, because it had no powers to act; if people had said a year ago that Europe must deal with health, everyone would have shrugged. A health crisis calls for a sovereign response, because the operational tools for protection are still very broadly national or local. This was seen in the federal countries: in Germany, the Länder took regional protection measures and didn’t initially cooperate with one another.
Having said that, in the areas where it had the power Europe managed to react quickly and strongly, whereas in the past it could have been criticized for acting too little, too late: the action of the European Central Bank (ECB) was decisive, and the Commission immediately suspended not only the rules limiting State aid to businesses but also the Stability Pact, thus enabling strong national responses.
Likewise, the 750-billion euros European recovery plan adopted at the end of July was drawn up and adopted in less than two months, even though it marks a break with the past by creating common debt: it’s an unprecedented act of solidarity aimed at preparing for the future!
It’s now up to the Member States, above all, to improve things by giving the European Union the powers it lacks in the health field. For example, it’s strange that we don’t have the same rules for counting cases and deaths, and don’t apply the same health measures.
The response by States hasn’t been to give the EU more powers but to undo some of the rules governing the way it works: competition, the Stability Pact, monetary policy, Schengen etc.
The risk exists that we’ll see Europe as a corset that we’ve loosened, and that ultimately Europe’s benefit is when it bothers us less. I don’t think that’s the right perspective for understanding what’s happened: the European Union has merely shown that it’s not a prisoner of its dogmas, contrary to what people said.
Fortunately we haven’t stopped there, either: the ECB’s monetary response on the one hand, and the adoption of the recovery plan on the other, have been responses of shared solidarity. Likewise, with regard to health, what’s being done on the vaccine is the opposite of "everyone for himself". We’re ensuring it’s the EU that negotiates the contracts, so that 200 to 400 million doses are available with every laboratory, thus protecting all Europeans.
In addition, even when things haven’t been done at European level, there’s been a European crisis response model we can be proud of. Nowhere [else] in the world has combined solidarity and social protection, partly funded by the EU, and all amid open democratic debate. The Americans have had the debate without solidarity, while in Asia we’ve seen collective action without individual freedom.
States are allowing the EU less and less autonomy. For example, the recovery plan isn’t communal, because the Commission’s role will be confined to borrowing on the markets before signing checks for States, which will spend them as they wish. Likewise, the new planned budget reduction means eating into the funding of Community policies...
It can’t be said the recovery plan will lead to renationalization, because - on the contrary - we’re creating common debt. Even though it’s true expenditure will be handled by States, there are nevertheless elements of “Europeanness", because 30% of the sums paid will have to be devoted to the climate, which will make the EU the world’s biggest issuer of green bonds and will mean 20% of expenditure will have to benefit the digital sector. But it’s true we could have gone further on shared European projects. That’s why Germany and France have decided to focus their efforts on four major European projects that will be funded by our national recovery plans: hydrogen, artificial intelligence, electric batteries and the Internet of Things.
On the budget, France would indeed have liked it to be higher, to fund priority policies: defense, space, research, Erasmus and health. The European Parliament is politically right to battle for the ceilings to be increased. But it mustn’t lose sight of the fact that, in reality, the budgetary package amounts to more than euro1,800 billion, if you add together the 2021-2027 Multiannual Financial Framework (euro1,074 billion over the period) and the recovery plan - which means that over the next three years this will double payments to Member States! And already, in the proposed budget, priority policies like research and education are going to experience increases of between 40% and 75%. Few national budgets have this level of ambition.
With several Member States deciding on a second lockdown, the cost of the crisis risks being higher than predicted. Shouldn’t we now launch a second recovery plan or extend the current one, which is planned for only three years?
This debate will take place, but it’s too soon to begin it. We can’t now say to the countries which were already reluctant to adopt this recovery plan that we’ve got to launch a second one when the first isn’t in place yet. Let’s make sure it’s a success and we’ll be able to begin the discussion on a new instrument. In the meantime, we’re going to have to speed up the implementation of the recovery plan to respond to developments in the pandemic without delay, as the President called for at Thursday’s summit.
What continues to unite European countries aside from the economic and financial advantages they derive from the EU?
Clearly we need to devise a new European contract. We knew this before the crisis, but it’s now a pressing need: we can’t continue the same way as before, since the existing weaknesses and failures have become gaping holes. We still need common rules, but they need to be rethought. For example, if we want an open area of free movement we’ve got to be much more serious and much firmer when it comes to external border control, our asylum and immigration policy and the fight against terrorism.
Likewise, in the economic sphere the competition policy and the Stability Pact will have to be tailored to the new situation. New rules will also have to be adopted to strengthen our shared contract: budgetary solidarity is natural, but it becomes impossible to defend if we tolerate our partners engaging in social, fiscal or environmental dumping or violating the rule of law.
So do the treaties need to be reviewed from scratch?
We can change Schengen, the Stability Pact and competition rules or enforce the rule of law without changing the treaties. If we want to go down that route, it won’t provide the right pace for responding to the crisis, since we need to agree as 27 and go through national ratifications. Changing the treaties isn’t off-limits, but in the short term there need to be practical solutions.
COMMON FOREIGN POLICY / TURKEY
When will there be a discussion about a common foreign policy? Because Turkey is demonstrating that the EU remains a geopolitical dwarf incapable of responding to acts of aggression...
Firstly, in the EU there’s a problem with the relationship to power, the European project having been conceived in opposition to the very idea of power, as States had misused it both with one another - wars - and externally - colonization. So it’s an internal reconciliation project which makes it very difficult to imagine that the EU could be responsible for security and defense issues. But the international situation has altered the scenario. There’s no longer any State in Europe which thinks our power can simply be delegated to the United States, as has been the case until now. There are obviously slight differences between us, but we’ve come a very long way over the past three years, as much in terms of trade as in security and technology.
Secondly, there’s a specific Turkey issue: Europe has been under an illusion about that country. Through Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the Turkish President, we’ve seen Christian democracy transposed to the Muslim world. But that’s not how it is; today we’re seeing the AKP [the President’s party] with its aggressive policy in the Aegean Sea, Syria, Nagorno-Karabakh, Libya, the Balkans and even our societies, with President Erdoğan trying to position himself as a protector of Muslims. No one has any more illusions about what Erdoğan is, and we’re going to take a firmer line over the next few weeks. With Russia and China, it’s a test of sovereignty. Europe can no longer be Mr. Nice Guy, all Europeans know this now.
3. French nationals abroad - COVID-19 / secours occasionnel de solidarité - Reply by the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs to two written questions in the National Assembly (Paris - November 3, 2020)
The secours occasionnel de solidarité (SOS) scheme(1) was established at the beginning of May for our compatriots living abroad whom the coronavirus crisis has put in a particularly worrying situation of difficulty and left with no source of income or support from their families, friends or voluntary organizations. In this respect, such exceptional ad hoc support is still in keeping with the principle of social security payments under the Comité consulaire de protection et d’action sociale (CCPAS) system, which the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs has used for years.
Given the persistence of the crisis and in order to respond to growing demand prompted by the deteriorating economic situation reported by [consular] posts and elected representatives in many countries, it very soon became necessary, over the summer, to relax the criteria for awarding SOS payments in order to allow a greater number of French people in difficulty to access them. In July, following the passing by Parliament in the third additional budget act of a 50-million euros package allocated to social support for French nationals abroad, a first relaxing of the criteria for granting this ad hoc relief led to the doing away with the criterion whereby SOS payments had to be compatible with support from families, friends or voluntary organizations.
These criteria were relaxed for a second time at the beginning of September. Among other things, this does away with the requirement for payments to be made on an ad hoc basis or to be compatible with local public assistance. Up to four monthly SOS payments can now be made before the end of 2020 regardless of whether claimants have already benefited from the scheme. Likewise, it is now possible for SOS payments to be made even if our compatriots are or have been able to benefit from local support.
(1) Ad hoc relief for French people living abroad who have lost revenue because of the COVID-19 pandemic