Official speeches and statements - September 11, 2019
1. Foreign policy - Brexit - European Union - Russia - Interview given by Mr. Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, Minister of State attached to the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to BFM Business - excerpts (Paris - September 10, 2019)
Q. - It feels like there’s real confusion in Britain, with Boris Johnson saying he doesn’t want another Brexit extension, and then MPs rejecting the call for another general election. We’re at complete deadlock, and some - especially in Brussels - are starting to say that a new Brexit extension will have to be accepted. We know France was very opposed - led by Emmanuel Macron, of course. What’s France’s position in the event of this?
THE MINISTER - Well, the London fog is indeed getting thicker, and given this, at any rate, we’re preparing for every scenario; above all, France is ready so that on 31 October we’ll be well prepared if Brexit happens. We’ve recruited 600 customs officers, 200 vets...
Q. - Have they been recruited, because we’ve been hearing this for a long time?
THE MINISTER - Oh they have, that’s it, they’re operational, and so it’s important because French companies do a lot of business with the UK, it’s our...
Q. - French companies aren’t very ready, despite...
THE MINISTER - Well, we’re continuing to support them; there was a meeting last week with Agnès Pannier-Runacher and Amélie de Montchalin, so we’re going to go on individually contacting, calling the 20,000 companies exporting to the UK because it’s indeed essential for them to have all the new procedures. So we’re ready, and we’re ready for every eventuality.
Q. - And about the extension, are you willing to agree to another one? Is France, the French government, willing?
THE MINISTER - But an extension can’t be a plan in itself. We’ve seen this, there’s already been an extension. Has it fundamentally changed things? No. Boris Johnson said he had ideas; we’re currently waiting to see them. So I think that for the moment - Jean-Yves Le Drian said this to your colleagues on Sunday as well - France isn’t entertaining the idea of a delay.
Q. - Yes, but at the same time we’re seeing the idea gaining ground in Brussels that we’ve got to get clear of the London fog, to use your phrase.
THE MINISTER - As you know, there was a vote, a vote by the people...
Q. - Could this be done without France?
THE MINISTER - No, it’s done unanimously, so it can’t be done without France. The British people voted; I think, in that context, where populists are on the rise throughout Europe, that not implementing what was voted on doesn’t do European democracies as a whole any favours.
Q. - Parliament is due to reconvene on 14 October, i.e. 15 days before the deadline. If things are completely deadlocked, the European Union will have to act, it has to do something!
THE MINISTER - The European Union has acted, it negotiated, an agreement was reached, this agreement commits the British government, it commits the UK - I mean, Boris Johnson was Foreign Secretary when the agreement was being negotiated, so you can’t just break away from all the rules you’ve subscribed to like that. So there comes a point when you’ve got to respect the ground rules. (...)
2. Brexit - Interview given by Ms. Amélie de Montchalin, Minister of State for European Affairs, attached to the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to the newspaper Le Parisien (Paris - September 7, 2019)
Q. - Brexit is worrying French economic players. What do you say to them?
THE MINISTER - Our job is to be prepared for every political decision. Today we’re remobilizing to say that the risk of no deal is again becoming likely. The State is ready; major companies (medicines, automotive chain, health and veterinary sectors etc.) are ready. But others, SMEs with potentially 10% of their business with the UK - the number of which can be estimated at roughly 100,000 - are less so.
Q. - What can be done?
THE MINISTER - There’s a website - brexit.gouv.fr - which focuses, ministry by ministry, on all their questions - standards, labelling, additional checks etc. - so that everyone is informed about the things which are going to be asked. If the UK is no longer in the EU on 1 November, it will be treated as a third country like every other country in the world. For example, companies will have to register with customs to get clearance for their products for exporting them and importing from the UK. If they don’t, it will slow down and complicate things.
Q. - Is there also uncertainty for individuals?
THE MINISTER - Yes, there’s a human factor. There are 300,000 French people living in the UK and 150,000 Britons in France. The former must apply online for a kind of residence permit - settled status - which makes it possible to stay. I advise anyone wishing to move to the UK to wait a few weeks to see what formalities will need to be completed. Britons in France will have to apply at prefectures for a permanent residence permit.
Q. - Are more negative impacts feared, concerning the validity of driving licences in Britain for example?
THE MINISTER - We’re waiting for the British to give people concrete answers about this. At this stage we have only indications of what will happen in the event of a no-deal Brexit: nothing changes for tourists, residents under the age of 70 or those arriving in the UK in the previous three years. Everyone else needs to obtain a British licence. On the French side, we’ve taken steps to make life easier for Britons residing in France.
EU FUNDING / YOUNG PEOPLE
Q. - You want to involve people in European politics. How?
THE MINISTER - I’m a grassroots politician: deputies spend their time yo-yoing between their area and national law to ensure effective legislation. At the Quai d’Orsay [French Foreign Ministry], you can develop a sort of habit, and the Minister of State for European Affairs’ schedule consists in going round capitals, going to Brussels, Strasbourg etc.
Q. - Is there a risk of apathy?
THE MINISTER - It can create a gulf between my work and French people’s daily lives. In fact I’m going to free up some of my time to go out to areas, see how the budget I’m negotiating in Europe is put into practice and check that EU funding - for social issues, building renovation, the environment, immigration - is getting through. French people pay taxes for Europe; they believe France should get something back from this as well.
Q. - We often don’t know if it does...
THE MINISTER - That’s true. One example: 30% of the budget of local missions in our country comes from the EU. When a young person under the age of 26, in a precarious situation, goes on training programmes financed through the Garantie Jeunes scheme and therefore accesses support to help him find a job, it’s thanks to the EU inclusion policy. I’d like him to know this.
Q. - In short, you’d like them to advertise the fact?
THE MINISTER - My goal isn’t to go on a PR exercise but to show that Europe does things for people it asks every five years to vote. President Emmanuel Macron is asking us, all the ministers, to take action in this way. To be more approachable and talk to French people so they clearly understand that everything we do is done with them. It’s the hallmark of En Marche.
Q. - Should results be shown?
THE MINISTER - France holds the EU presidency in the first half of 2022. We’ll have six months to take the European project forward. I’m going to listen to French people’s expectations; issues may arise and I’ll address them at European level. It will also be presidential election time; we’ll have to show we’ve got results.
POSTING OF WORKERS
Q. - One issue causing concern is posted workers. Have you got a goal?
THE MINISTER - We’ve already ensured that throughout Europe from July 2020 a posted worker will have to be paid the same salary as one from the host country. The next matter at the European Parliament concerns lorry drivers. In my department of Essonne, on the N20 road I see a continuous little convoy of lorries from Bulgaria, Latvia, Poland etc. Drivers sleeping in parking areas, away from home for long periods, are engaging in cabotage in France. The European Council and European Parliament need to pass measures to combat this dumping, which makes roads less safe and encourages unfair competition with our national hauliers.
Q. - There’s also still the problem concerning the unfair payment of social security contributions...
THE MINISTER - This is a proposal we’d like to promote. But we’ve got a plan regarding unemployment benefit in particular: that it’s the country you’ve worked in which pays unemployment benefit, not the country of residence. In France this affects, for example, employees working in Luxembourg: it doesn’t make sense that an economy which hasn’t benefited from your work pays your unemployment benefit. We’re giving ourselves six months to change that. There are 400,000 French people working every day in another border country.
ECB / CHRISTINE LAGARDE
Q. - The Strasbourg parliament has held a hearing with the European Central Bank President nominee Christine Lagarde. What are you expecting from the Bank?
THE MINISTER - We expect it to continue a monetary policy supporting our prosperity, ensure stability and be a 21st-century central bank - i.e. it contributes to the ecological transition. Above all, there must be credibility. The advantage of Christine Lagarde is that at the IMF she gained global level experience.
Q. - Will the institution be more political under her?
THE MINISTER - It will perhaps be more down-to-earth. The Central Bank isn’t a bank for bankers, but is there to protect European citizens so that there’s no inflation, no banking crisis and that they don’t lose their savings.
EUROPEAN COMMISSION / SYLVIE GOULARD
Q. - Are you confident that the [European] Parliament will appoint Sylvie Goulard European commissioner, despite the ongoing judicial investigation?
THE MINISTER - She has been cleared by the European Parliament, which provided new information, removing a substantial part, if not all of the questions surrounding the issue of parliamentary assistants. In France, justice must take its course.
Q. - Which post would you like to see her hold?
THE MINISTER - The Internal Market portfolio. It’s the foundation of Europe and what drives it forward, what prevents the whole law of the jungle and unfair competition between us.