Official speeches and statements - October 15, 2020
Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, is visiting Algeria today. He will be received by Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune and Prime Minister Abdelaziz Djerad; he will also meet with his counterpart, Sabri Boukadoum.
They will discuss regional issues, notably the situations in Libya and the Sahel.
The minister will reaffirm our attachment to ensuring that all states in the region, notably Algeria, are involved in the international efforts to resolve the crisis in Libya and can contribute to the positive momentum created in Montreux under UN auspices.
The minister will also underscore our determination to support the transition underway in Mali and our commitment to the implementation of the agreement reached in Algiers.
Lastly, the minister will discuss all aspects of our bilateral relations and our cooperation.
2. European Union - Brexit/Turkey/migration policy - Interview given by M. Clément Beaune, Minister of State for European Affairs, attached to the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to the newspaper Le Monde - excerpts (Paris - October 15, 2020)
Do you think an agreement on the future relationship between the UK and the EU is still possible?
The Minister - In the past few days, the British Government has said it wants to reach one. So do we. But an agreement must meet our conditions, whether they’re to do with fisheries or conditions as regards competition or governance. Otherwise there won’t be an agreement.
On fisheries, Europe’s negotiator Michel Barnier seems less inflexible than in the past...
You can’t separate the fisheries issue from the rest of the negotiations. The British want to reclaim their waters, and they think this gives them a means of exerting pressure. But they’re forgetting that when it comes to all the other issues they’re negotiating on, they’ve got much more to ask for than to offer. Fisheries mustn’t be the adjustment variable; a comprehensive agreement won’t be possible without a good agreement in that area - an agreement which offers fishermen a clear idea of the long-term future and guarantees them access to British waters. We won’t sacrifice their interests.
Concessions are clearly going to have to be made...
We can’t be accused of being "inflexible" when the British haven’t given us clear signs about their desire to move towards a comprehensive agreement.
David Frost, the negotiator on the British side, recently said he was ready to move on the issue of State aid and fair-competition conditions...
It’s a positive sign; we’re waiting for evidence. There can’t be dumping at our borders, that’s a condition for fair competition. If the British want access to the internal market, their businesses mustn’t receive more aid than ours and engage in dumping on us.
The Council will decide if an agreement is still possible. Either the heads of State and government consider this isn’t the case and we prepare for the consequences of a no-deal, or the British shift their position in the meantime and Michel Barnier will have a few days - a few weeks at most - to try and finalize an agreement. That doesn’t mean he’ll manage it, but there will be a way forward. (...)
TURKEY / EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN
Will the issue of Turkey, which is increasing the number of provocations, crop up again at this Council?
At the beginning of October, Ankara gave a few guarantees and expressed a desire for dialogue. The Europeans were cautiously optimistic about this, without ruling out possible sanctions. Signs over the past few days are very bad. If they’re confirmed, we’ll carry out our threats. Turkey must choose: dialogue and cooperation, or turning its back on the EU and accepting the consequences.
Isn’t the EU still hostage to the migration issue, which has been partly delegated to Ankara?
It has quite obviously had an impact on our relations since the emergency agreement was concluded in 2016. As Russia has been doing in the energy field, for example, Turkey is trying to create a situation of European dependency. The only credible response the European Union can provide is gradually to reduce its dependency. As long as you’re dependent, you’re at the mercy of sometimes brutal neighbors.
The Commission recently presented a Pact on Migration [and Asylum], a reform which the far right already wants to use for its own ends. Is this project moving in the right direction?
Marine Le Pen is a permanent, obscene lie! Nothing she talks about is in the proposal of the Commission, which wants to increase the protection of our external borders while planning new solidarity mechanisms. Mme Le Pen’s party and friends are in the European Parliament, they’ve got a text on their table and are saying that everything is happening "behind closed doors". If the European Parliament is these "closed doors", these elected representatives mustn’t ask French people to vote for them and finance their mandate.
People talk about "Europe as a power", but it feels like it still has a great deal of trouble asserting itself in the face of its rivals. What’s it missing?
"Europe as a power" isn’t the Europe of a magic wand, able to resolve every crisis in one go. But Europe has recently been able to adopt a firmer, clearer posture. The time when it was naïve is over. It is gradually making its presence felt and following a clear trajectory. It is a power under construction, with its weaknesses and incompleteness, and France is very much involved in this growing presence./.
Today, the Council adopted legislation to ensure the safe and efficient operation of the Channel Tunnel railway connection (Channel Fixed Link) between continental Europe and the United Kingdom after the end of the Brexit transition period. This legislation would allow the same legal regime to continue to apply to all rail issues within the geographic scope of the Channel Tunnel concession, including the section under UK jurisdiction, and it would also allow a single safety authority to be maintained to oversee the application of the rules.
All matters concerning the operation of the Channel Fixed Link are supervised by an intergovernmental commission established by the Treaty of Canterbury, signed by France and the UK in 1986.
The legislation adopted today consists of a regulation amending the EU railway safety and interoperability rules and a decision empowering France to negotiate, sign and conclude an amendment to the Canterbury Treaty so that the intergovernmental commission can be maintained as the competent safety authority for the application of EU law within the Channel Fixed Link.
The Council adopted the decision and the regulation by written procedure. The European Parliament voted on the legislation on 8 October 2020, and its position reflected what had previously been agreed between the institutions.
The legal acts are expected to be signed by both institutions in the margins of the Parliament’s plenary session next week and to be published in the EU Official Journal on 22 October.
4. Brexit - Interview given by M. Clément Beaune, Minister of State for European Affairs, attached to the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to France Culture - La conversation mondiale - excerpts (Paris - October 9, 2020)
Does this question shock or challenge you or does it seem absurd: will the UK remain European after Brexit?
The Minister - No, it’s a valid question, but I also think the UK is more European than it sometimes believes it is. Moreover, it’s finding this out - be it on geopolitical issues, economic issues, sometimes in the light of Brexit. The concept is in Britain’s current "Global Britain" policy. When you look at the major international issues - Iran, Russia etc. - and how the UK behaves, it behaves like a European democracy committed to multilateralism, which wants to work and is used to working with France in particular on those issues. And I’m convinced that this European destiny or European culture will live on.
What’s interesting, though, is that there may be a temporary difficulty here, in that the European Union is most certainly a club of rules, standards and decisions, but it’s also a social club. Political leaders, diplomats, business leaders, intellectuals and academics meet more easily within this family because you can move around easily, because we’ve got used to things. And our own little way of working together is going to be diminished a little. I hope we’ll find other ways of working and that the UK’s European culture will come to the fore again.
But there will probably be a short transition and adjustment phase in which we’ll look for a way of working with the UK, which is no longer in the European Union but basically remains European.
Are these issues linked to taxation, or fisheries - which seems to be the sticking point between the EU and Britain - what have posed problems for some time in the negotiations between the European Union and Britain?
Yes, there are some extremely difficult issues. Fisheries, which you mentioned and hasn’t been settled, is a difficult one. But there are some rather strange things when it comes to Brexit. As if - you talked about "Britishness" - asserting your identity corresponds to the way you negotiate a trade agreement or fishing quotas. If it’s an economic negotiation, as we’re conducting on fisheries or the trade agreement, we can have that discussion.
If it’s a question of identity, that’s something else. And it’s interesting to see that often the issues the Brexiters keep on about - for example the Conservative Party in its last general election campaign - are issues which actually have a very strong European identity, which very firmly anchor the UK to the European model: the NHS, which Boris Johnson has celebrated so much, British social security - in the campaign, moreover, because one of the arguments was to get back money for social security, for the NHS, in the last general election campaign. As you said, this is deeply part of Europe’s post-war identity but has its roots in a commitment to equality, solidarity and welfare and could be seen as a long-term historical trend.
Moreover, to take a very recent example which is still topical, the COVID crisis, how is the UK responding to the COVID crisis? I think it’s basically responding in a very European way. There’s what’s happening in the news daily, the measures each government is taking - that’s one thing. But what was Europe’s model for responding to the crisis? It was to try and protect our public debate, our democracy as much as possible. We’ve all managed it, the UK and the other European Union countries. And this involved having a model of solidarity. Nowhere in Europe was as much money spent to help businesses, jobs etc. - and that’s fine, it’s been our European model during the crisis. But this welfare or social protection model is at the heart of our response to the current health and economic crises, and from that point of view the British have shown themselves to be very European in their response.
Jonathan Sumption wrote: "the great tragedy of this story is that if we had remained members of the European Union, those in Britain pushing for the creation of a new European identity would have certainly been in the majority sooner or later, the young people of today would have become dominant in the electorate, their more European sentiment would have gained a central position in our political culture, which has never been the case up to now." What’s your view on this?
It’s a very interesting comment because it says a very great deal about the collective relationship and also about what we have in common with various countries vis-à-vis Europe. Because you ask a British person - I was surprised, the first time I heard this debate was when I had a discussion with a Brexiter before the referendum, and he said: "look, our problem is this idea of an ever closer union", which is indeed written in the treaty. I think a French person, even one who is quite committed on European issues, will never make that argument to you either positively or negatively, so it’s quite amusing.
French people often criticize - we had our own referendum, not on leaving [the EU] but it was about Europe, with the 2005 treaty on the constitution; they levelled criticism which was almost the opposite, saying: "what’s won out, in a way, is the British vision of Europe; we wanted a powerful Europe and we’ve got a market Europe, we wanted an enlarged Europe and we’ve got an economic Europe."
So everyone blames Europe a bit when it suits them to do so. The Labour Party, in the 1970s, didn’t want to join the European Union or the then European Community because they said it would dismantle their social system. And in the 1980s, I think if we want to be a bit objective about things, certainly Jacques Delors, François Mitterrand and Helmut Kohl were taking forward what you could call a political Europe, rightly so. Yet all the same, the great act of the 1980s was the single market - very much a British creation - promoted by a British commissioner and accepted - admittedly with the taste for political theatre she was known for - by a British prime minister whom it suited quite well.
Just a final point on this, because I think it’s very important: I believe that in the Brexit vote - there again, you can see a European characteristic - the Brexit vote, it seems to me, is in fact quite illiberal. They’re often people who have, incidentally, often been Labour supporters - working-class backgrounds, low-income, in difficulty - who criticized Europe for being the very thing the British often championed, namely too liberal, not protective enough, too open - rightly or wrongly - in terms of migration, in terms of social dumping, etc. It was no longer really the liberal criticism of Europe, of too many rules... And Mr Johnson too, who as a journalist in the 1980s and 1990s said, "the bendiness of cucumbers... all these rules the European Union imposes on us", mounted this hobby-horse himself in the 2016 campaign, saying, "what I want to protect is the social security system, protection, not closing-up but protection, and Europe doesn’t allow that, Europe is too open". That really is quite an interesting reversal of history.
What can we do, remaining in Europe, once these negotiations are over and we’re facing these Britons with this generation Lord Sumption describes as very European? What will we be able to do in terms of talking to that generation?
The truth is that we don’t really know, because - picking up on what [Lord Sumption] was saying, to be provocative and continue our friendly disagreement - I believe that by voting for Brexit, the British ultimately expressed a very European sentiment.
It’s true, you’re right - "take back control" meant: we want to be able to decide about our fish, our coast, our laws, our rules; that’s been repeated over and over again. But it’s a sentiment which must be heeded all over Europe. Ultimately the British were expressing anxiety, but in their own way.
It’s true, because the UK combined a traditional Euroscepticism with a recent disillusionment. So the combination of the two probably made up the toxic cocktail of Brexit.
But disillusionment with Europe exists everywhere, and so it must be addressed. Moreover, the aim is to try and address it - Brexit has been a kind of collective alarm bell - without resorting to what strikes me as the worst solution, namely to say, "I’m slamming the door of the club" rather than trying to change it.
I don’t know whether it’s a matter of age or generation. When they get older, will the people who voted to remain become convinced Brexiters? We’ll see; the future will tell us. But in any case, I don’t believe in a swift return, even if in five or 10 years’ time demographics or death have had their impact, as you say, because when you break off a relationship, as we see in our personal lives, you don’t rebuild it exactly identically.
So I don’t know exactly according to what model, but it’s my deeply-held conviction that the British will try and see whether they’re better off in negotiations with the Chinese, in an agreement with the Americans etc., and that they’ll realize what has ultimately been a kind of eternal historical truth in our relations: namely that they’re subtly European, or differently European but ultimately European.
One final word?
While we were talking, I was thinking of the film Goodbye Lenin. You sometimes get the impression with Brexiters that you’re waking up and have missed a major episode in history, namely that for 44 years the British have been in the European Union and that they want to resume a special relationship with the Americans, trade agreements with India and China, the Commonwealth etc., as if everything had been frozen in those years. It won’t happen, and that’s why they’ll come back to Europe.