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Visit to the United Kingdom

Publié le September 20, 2012
Press conference by M. Pierre Moscovici, Minister of the Economy and Finance
London, September 17, 2012

FRANCE/UK/EURO AREA CRISIS/OLYMPICS/ALPINE MURDERS

THE MINISTER – I’m pleased to be here today in the United Kingdom, a country with which we have a very strong bilateral relationship; President François Hollande has already met his counterpart David Cameron five times, including at the G8 and G20 summits at Camp David and Los Cabos. Our cooperation is incredibly well-developed in a whole series of areas: I’m thinking first of all about defence, where our relations are at a level of excellence that has increased even further since the Lancaster House agreements, which the government fully supports.

Our relations are also very close in the field of foreign policy. Ultimately, on all the world’s burning issues – be they Syria, Afghanistan or Iran – France and Britain work in harmony and extremely closely. We also have very strong cooperation in the energy field, and French industry has a very strong presence here, particularly in the nuclear field. We’re developing space cooperation. We also have excellent cooperation on justice, security, law enforcement, and the Ambassador reminded us in particular that France contributed greatly to the security of the Olympics.

So I’m here in this context, and I’ve had a meeting with George Osborne. Obviously, the fact that Britain doesn’t belong to the Euro Area – I daren’t say “not yet” because I don’t get the feeling it’ll be happening straight away! – means that we’re in slightly different situations, France as a country at the heart of the Euro Area, and Britain as a country outside it.

However, what I want to say is that George Osborne and I agreed on one principle, namely always to try and make each other’s lives easier: to ensure that, in the changes under way in the Euro Area, we take into account Britain’s difficulties, her distinct identity and her concerns.

And conversely, we asked our British friends to understand how important we think it is for the Euro Area to develop, retain its integrity and resolve its problems. When you’re in the same union, the European Union, with such interdependent economies, obviously the way the Euro Area overcomes or will tomorrow overcome these difficulties has an impact on the United Kingdom’s economy. Conversely, the UK can play a role through her influence, because many decisions must be taken unanimously among the 27 to facilitate a solution to the crisis in the Euro Area.

We conducted a broad overview, talking in particular about the situation in the Euro Area itself, the solutions to be provided to the Greek and Spanish situations, and the banking union. When I was in Nicosia, I appreciated the UK’s open, supportive, understanding position. I myself told George Osborne that we’d be sensitive to whatever concerns the UK might have.

We looked at our bilateral cooperation in the economic and industrial fields. We also examined a number of plans we have to uphold, together or separately, at EU level, particularly on banking and financial regulation.

Overall, it’s true that outside the multilateral frameworks this is our first bilateral meeting, but I’ve often seen George Osborne already. I’d say it was a positive, fruitful, friendly meeting at which we decided in future not to hide our disagreements, but always to try and systematically bring our views closer together.

To finish these introductory remarks, let me add that I want to congratulate Britain on the success of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. I’m here, and at the Elysée this morning President Hollande met all our athletes who won medals in the games, which obviously the whole planet watched, including me, and which were brilliantly organized here in London.

I also, of course, want to say how much sympathy and compassion we feel over the terrible tragedy in Chevaline – which plunged a British family into mourning and shocked the French and British public – and to say that in this field, too, exemplary cooperation is under way to ensure that those who committed this terrible, appalling crime can be identified and then punished. I wanted to start by saying this, but now I’m willing to answer your questions in more detail.

SPAIN/DEBT CRISIS

Q. – Given the cost of borrowing for Spain, do you think they still need a rescue plan?

THE MINISTER – That’s a question of sovereignty. I don’t think it’s for us to decide or give a ruling for the Spanish government. All I can say is that if and when the Spanish government requests a solution or intervention from the [European] Central Bank or the member states, and following the decision by the ECB and our discussions within the Eurogroup, all the tools will be available. We’ll respond to any possible request from the Spanish government. But we mustn’t give them any advice, we mustn’t take the decision for them, it’s a matter of national sovereignty. So we’re at their disposal, the tools exist, but it’s not for us to make the request for them.

EADS-BAE MERGER PLAN

Q. – (on the planned EADS-BAe merger).

THE MINISTER – Look, I’m obviously not going to tell you we heard about it in the press, but it was in the press. We’re examining the plan, we’re doing so with the Germans. We did so with the Germans a week ago, and we’re asking a number of questions about the strategic aspects of the merger, the industrial impact, possible areas of fruitful cooperation between the two companies, the governance of the entity, the future of our defence industry, and the consequences it would have for France, particularly for employment. We’ll examine things in the light of the answers to those questions. It’ll take time and we’ll do it with our German friends.

Q. – You said you heard about it in the press?

THE MINISTER – No, I said I’d be lying if I said I heard about it in the press. I didn’t hear about it in the press. But it is in the press.

Q. – All right, can you give us a few details? How did it happen? Because after all, it’s something...

THE MINISTER – Absolutely not.

Q. – That’s a great pity...

THE MINISTER – I have nothing more to say about it.

Q. – Okay, do you want separate entity to be created to protect France’s military position? You mentioned the Lancaster [House] agreements between France and Britain, which are very powerful; however, Britain is an ally of the United States, so do you want a distinct entity, particularly for ballistic missiles? How would you like this to happen?

THE MINISTER – Nothing more to say. All this requires thorough and discreet consideration. Discreet but in-depth.

EU/BANKING UNION

Q. – You talk about the European banking union. The European banking union will require some form of British support; in exchange for this British support, what concessions will the Euro Area have to make?

THE MINISTER – We’re going to talk to our British friends about it; I think they’d like the interests of the British banking system to be preserved, once there’s a single supervisor. On the other hand, we said in Nicosia – it’s what I said – that the countries not in the Euro Area can of course benefit, if they so wish, from this supervision mechanism. This is an issue which in fact concerns not only the Euro Area but the whole single market.

I’ve already noted in Nicosia, and again today, that there’s a convergence of views on many subjects. Britain, like us, would like there to be a single supervisor, namely the European Central Bank, even if there are national supervisors working on a daily basis. I’ve also noted that Britain, like us, would like all the banks to be involved – without what I see as this somewhat abstract division between systemic banks and other banks – and that Britain, like us, is in favour of a rapid timetable, if possible.

Let me remind you that at the European Council, we – the heads of state and government – decided that this banking supervision mechanism would be adopted by the end of 2012. My own response to this was positive. In Nicosia, George Osborne supported the Commission’s plan on all these points.

We must also take into account any difficulties the British might have. We agreed to work together on this, because as you say, indeed, Britain will be a stakeholder in the decision. And if such a major financial economy agrees that banking supervision is necessary, and that banking regulation is necessary and positive to prevent the appalling difficulties we’ve experienced in recent years, that’s a very good thing.

Q. – On banking supervision, in practical terms, do you think the structure can begin on 1 January 2013?

THE MINISTER – My view is this: I think we must reach an agreement within the EU before the end of 2012. Then the implementation should be as swift as possible. There’s a clear link between banking supervision and the possibility of having a direct recapitalization of banks in difficulty in Europe.

This is precisely what the conclusions of the European Council of 28 and 29 June provide for, and I don’t see why we wouldn’t respect them.

This is exactly the political aim, and the timetable must follow the political mandate. This is the mandate that we – finance ministers, foreign ministers, etc. – have received from our heads of government. So let’s move as quickly as possible. I think we’re starting from a solid foundation, namely the Commission’s proposal, so let’s get to work, let’s continue the work. This is an excellent document, an excellent proposal that we have. So we have a very solid basis for discussion.

Q. – Most people seem to think we’ve gained time through the recent actions and decisions at Euro Area level; would you call on countries like Spain, who may need help, to decide quickly and not waste the time we’ve managed to gain thanks to the decisions on the ESM and others?

THE MINISTER – I think I’ve already answered the question by saying it’s a matter of sovereignty and it’s for Spain to decide for herself. I won’t exert any pressure to that effect. It’s for that country to decide, it knows what it has to do and it knows the tools. But of course those discussions are going on, of course they exist.

Q. – I wanted to clarify one point: you said Britain agrees with you that all banks should be included in this mechanism and it should move quickly.

THE MINISTER – Look, I’m not George Osborne’s spokesman, but I remember what he said in Nicosia when he welcomed the Commission’s proposal, which is the following: that we agree on the text by the end of 2012, that all banks should be covered, and that there’ll be a single supervisor. But check with him.

But regarding the framework of the proposal, there’s broad agreement between France and Britain. So on the basis of the Commission’s proposal and its content, we both believe these two proposals could and should be the basis of an agreement.

Of course Britain has her own concerns. I’ve listened to them and decided to work accordingly. Our two ministries are going to exchange views in order to facilitate convergence, because it’s necessary to have Britain’s agreement, which would be a very strong argument for this.

EURO AREA/GROWTH/RECOVERY

Q. – The euro has grown stronger recently. To what extent do you think this will be a risk to possible recovery in the Euro Area? Should the ECB do more to weaken the euro and thus encourage growth?

THE MINISTER – Look, first of all we have a principle, namely that the European Central Bank is independent.

Secondly, we don’t intervene in the exchange rate, so I have nothing to say on the matter, with one exception: I’m convinced that whatever strengthens the euro (I don’t mean only the value of the currency) is good for the Euro Area. What we need is to try and obtain a general, structured, comprehensive solution to our difficulties. Take growth: we know Europe is in recession; it’s the case in Britain, it’s the case in many Euro Area countries. France is in a period of stagnation. If we want to return to the path of growth, what we need isn’t an adjustment of the currency, it’s the end of uncertainty, it’s managing to regain stability, managing to see the Euro Area as a safe place where people can invest and create jobs. I was in Greece last week; the Prime Minister and other ministers told me there was "drachmophobia". Fear of a return to the drachma. The situation isn’t the same throughout Europe, but until there are thorough, structured and comprehensive solutions to the problem, this uncertainty will persist. This represents a risk to innovation, etc., and this is why it’s important to stabilize the Euro Area and lay the groundwork for a structured and comprehensive agreement.

Q. – Last question. I work for Reuters. You spoke about making the Euro Area "a more secure Europe". Have we got closer to this goal in the past six months?

THE MINISTER – I think that’s the case, yes. Perhaps you’ll tell me I’m biased, but I think the French presidential election contributed to it. Look where we were six months ago: Europe was stuck between instability and austerity. I think we’re slowly moving to a situation where we can achieve stability and growth. Steps forward have been taken in recent months. I’ll mention a number of them.

Firstly, a package of measures for growth, at the European Council in June.

Secondly, we decided to take a step towards the banking union, with this European supervision we’ve just been talking about.

Thirdly, we laid the groundwork for the ECB’s decisions.

Fourthly, Mr Draghi’s decision, which I welcome.

Now I’ve said that whatever decision Spain takes, the tools are there for an intervention. Not only for Spain, but for others too. So this is protection against speculation. This is probably what’s reassuring the markets now – as is the decision by the court in Karlsruhe on the ESM, which will become operational at the beginning of October. Finally, the elections in the Netherlands. Some feared that anti-European feeling and anti-European parties would win the day. The opposite happened. The pro-European parties won elections very comfortably.

So things are improving, but what must we do? We must implement what we pledged. And decisions that are good on paper, in principle, must now be translated into reality, and that’s why I say let’s not waste any time. Let’s get a move on quickly – not too quickly, because I’m aware of the pace of the EU.

Q. – Was the atmosphere between the finance ministers more relaxed at the summit in Nicosia? More than in the past?

THE MINISTER – Look, I wasn’t in the job six months ago. But yes, I found the atmosphere extremely pleasant. We certainly have differences, but we speak in positive terms, with a shared idea, namely to reach positive agreements. So there is light at the end of the tunnel./.