Intervention de M. l’Ambassadeur à l’Université Koźmiński « The French vision of Europe »

Intervention de M. l’Ambassadeur à l’Université Koźmiński
« The French vision of Europe »

(19/03/2014)

Values such as freedom, justice and the rule of law are at the heart of the action of the EU and its member states. Right at the borders of the EU, the current events in Ukraine are challenging this vision. The way we react to that crisis in the days to come will be decisive for the EU, since they will show our resolve and ability to take action when it comes to defend these values. The efficiency of our common diplomacy, defense and security is at stake. In a sense, this is a defining moment for the EU.

No matter how burning this issue is and the complexity it adds to a picture, I would like to invite you to look at it with some hindsight and distance. And by doing so, one must recognize, that the formidable challenge of the Ukrainian crisis is not the only one. There are some more :

1.In the short run : there is a crisis of faith crippling the trust of our citizens in the EU. According to the last Eurobarometer survey, only 7% of French citizens think that the current economic situation is good, much worse than the EU average of 31% (PL 35%). Only 1 French citizen out of 3 still trusts the EU (EU average 31%, PL 45%).
2.In the long run : the globalization process and demographic tectonics could deplete the weight of the EU, in real terms, on the global stage. In 10 years from now, the EU will probably account for 6% of the world’s population, whereas the BRICS’ population will amount to 17% of it.

Since we are in Warsaw, I would like to address three main points :

- Governance issues : more specifically the key role played and to be played by the “Weimar Triangle” in shaping the EU’s action.
- The EU’s attitude towards the rest of the world : how the EU can remain a key international player, and the future of the neighborhood policy.
- The EU’s domestic policies : the way the EU should act and adapt in order to remain meaningful to its citizens.

I.In terms of governance, France is attached to preserving the balance between EU institutions and to the role of the Weimar Triangle in shaping European policies

  • 2014 European elections : a balancing act between institutions – EP / EC / Council

In 2014, article 17.7 of the Treaty on European Union, which gives the European Parliament more weight on the designation of the President of the Commission, will apply for the first time.

Taking into account the elections to the European Parliament and after having held the appropriate consultations, the European Council, acting by a qualified majority, shall propose to the European Parliament a candidate for President of the Commission. This candidate shall be elected by the European Parliament by a majority of its component members.

There are several ways to understand this new rule.

- Strict interpretation : the majority party’s leader automatically becomes president of the Commission. All political groups have designed their potential candidate.
- The French interpretation, shared by many other member states :the designation of the president of the Commission should remain the result of the European Council’s choice. The president of the Commission should not appear as the head of a political party, because the Commission is the keeper of the treaties and should defend the European common interest, not that of any specific party. Otherwise there is the risk of a bias. And what if populist parties won more seats in the European Parliament ?

  • The Weimar Triangle can shape the EU’s future

The Weimar Triangle is a useful framework to reach compromise or to take initiatives for tomorrow’s EU. It unites three big countries, Germany, Poland and France, which may have different mindsets, but share the common ambition of making Europe progress. Recently, the Weimar Triangle has gained visibility over the crisis in Ukraine – when the ministers of foreign affairs flew in an emergency to Kiev to negotiate the famous agreement which Ianukovitch.

Cooperation within the Weimar Triangle, which was re-launched 3 years ago, is relevant in several fields. Over the last 12 months, for instance, meetings took place between ministers of home affairs (July 2013), environment (July 2013, Feb 2014), industry (Feb 2014). Ministers of culture will meet in April 2014. MPs and speakers of Parliaments also meet quite often. And France will host the next summit meeting.

Security and defense is a good field for joint initiatives. Ministers of defense and foreign affairs also met in November 2012 and March 2013in a “Weimar plus” format (eg. Weimar + Visegrad meeting on CSDP in march 2013) ; and a proposal for an ambitious partnership with the European group Airbus has been put on the table, which could help the Polish industry join the “core” of the European defense industry.

In the cultural field, France, which has long had a specific agenda to ensure the dynamism of cultural industries, could be joined by Poland and Germany who recently put these subjects on their political agendas (coalition agreement in Germany, bill on the fixed prices of books in Poland). Joint positions could emerge on VAT on electronic books.

As far as industrial policy is concerned, our three countries share common goals. They favor a strong industrial component in the GDP, and are ready to take action to foster re-industrialization and innovation.

II.France wants the EU to be a strong player on the international stage

  • The EU should be an autonomous power, able to defend its interests

Security and Defense : The support the US has quickly lent to its Allies after the events in Ukraine shows it is back in the European game. However, there is still room for development of the EU’s CSDP, which is complementary to NATO in providing security. CSDP is developing operational tools (such as the EU battlegroups’) and cooperation in the field of capabilities and planning. The European force projection capability should be enhanced, in order to assure security in outside areas relevant to European interest.
Regarding Ukraine, we certainly think this crisis can be handled only by political and diplomatic means, not military ones. What matters here is to have a unified approach, and this is what has happened so far : insistence on the unity, sovereignty and integrity of the Ukrainian territory, full support to Mr. Arseni Iatsenuk’s new government, illegality of the Crimea referendum, and non- recognition of its outcome. Still we pin hopes on keeping diplomatic channels open with Russia : “de-escalation”, “contact group”...

Trade : the EU must be able todefend its own interests and reach balanced commercial relations. We are pursuing that goal in the current TTIP negociations, an in our efforts to preserve European norms concerning audiovisual industries, GMOs orsanitary norms.

  • The UE is acting to stabilize its neighborhood

In spite of the crisis, the UE remains attractive. For example, look at the progresses made on the dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo. In Ukraine, the protesters of the Maidan movement, or “EuroMaidan”, flew the European flag.

The Western Balkans have been offered a European perspective. At the Zagreb summit in 2000, it has been made clear that they are potential candidates for membership. However, the moment when a new country integrates the EU depends on the progresses made by this country as well as on the EU’s ability to absorb a new member.

The EU’s involvement in the Eastern Partnership is especially relevant today, as amply demonstrated by the Ukraine crisis. The stability, security and prosperity of its eastern partners increasingly matters to the EU, as it has expanded to the East. The EU is currently going through the process of shepherding a new generation of more comprehensive association agreements towards signature and ratification. Even though this special relationship is not construed as a gateway towards accession, it enables partner countries interested in moving towards the EU to do so and to increase political, economic and cultural links.

The EU has taken a stand over Ukraine, and it has offered the new government of Mr. Arseni Iatsenuk to sign the political part of the EU-Ukraine association agreement that was rejected by the former Ukrainian government after long negotiations last year.

III.In order to meet its citizens’ expectations, the EU must protect its citizens and boost growth

  • Fight the crisis with the right measures for a healthy recovery

- Learn the lessons of the crisis and create the instruments of a sustainable growth. Such instruments are contained in the budget 2014-2020, and also implemented by banks (EIB, EBRD…)
- Fix the flaws of the Economic and Monetary Union. The Banking Union is a priority in order to break the vicious circle between sovereign debt and private debt and prevent another financial crisis. The maximum must be done in that field before the end of the EU Parliament’s term.
- Reinforce the EU’s support to growth and competitiveness. The envelope dedicated to the structural funds in the MFF (Multi-annual Financial Framework) 2014-2020 is substantial. The recapitalization of the EIB which is a huge step in that direction even though hardly noticed (10 billion euros, leverage tool. In France, the annual volume of BEI loans will reach 7 billion euros instead of 4.2 billion euros)

  • Deepen the monetary and economic union

Maintain a balance between discipline and solidarity : the upcoming “contractual arrangements” should not be designed only as hindering and surveillance mechanisms. They should also aim at creating healthy and sound growth.

Give the Eurozone its own fiscal capacity : we think a European tax could be created, raised on procyclical fiscal bases (for instance taxes levied on profits made by companies) which would finance countercyclical expenses.

Articulate the Eurozone and the rest of the EU : a “pre-in” status to the Eurozone can be granted, provided countries clearly commit themselves to join the Eurozone.

The EU should dwell on broader social dimension, in order to strengthen the bond with its citizens : social indicators should be taken into account during theEuropean semester review process, convergence of tax and social systems should be fostered through, for instance, a youth guarantee scheme for the unemployed, or the generalization of minimum wages. Recent results can be outlined such as the compromise found in February on the posting of workers directive.

  • Implement future oriented policies, competitiveness

France strongly supports the project of a “European energy community”. As stated by President Hollande, energy could become a “new key dimension” of the EU’s action, along with free trade or the single currency. Joint industrial projects, infra-Europe connexions and complementarities between the different energy mixes of member states should be developed. Energy transition can boost our competitivity. A coordinated approach towards our foreign partners is necessary.
Digitization : as we live in a digital world, it is crucial that we make sure that the European citizens’ privacy is protected. We also think it is possible to regain ground on the American giants of the sector (European cloud, big data).

  • Is it a good idea to modify the treaties again ?

Some have brought up the idea of modifying the treaties in order to reinforce fiscal policies coordination through “contractual arrangements”. Such a reform would not be welcome : it would open the door to a broader review of the division of competences within the EU, as asked by the UK. It would be a debate for technocrats, not for common citizens who would not be interested. What citizens want is to discuss concrete outcomes.

Dernière modification : 20/03/2014

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