French Election: ‘End austerity and prepare for the future’ – TPE’s exclusive interview with Presidential candidate Benoît Hamon

Benoît Hamon hopes left-wing voters aren’t scared into voting tactically, for Emanuel Macron, and instead follow their convictions and cast what he calls a ‘vote for.’
Benoît Hamon
Parti Socialist Presidential candidate, Benoît Hamon

The, pro-EU Parti Socialiste (PS) candidate defeated former Prime Minister Manuel Valls – who represented the centrist arm of the PS – in the party’s primary in late January. Yet despite the 2 million people that voted for Hamon in the second round, many PS politicians have come out in support of the ‘En Marche!’ candidate Emmanuel Macron, including the current President François Hollande.

In our exclusive interview with Mr. Hamon, we asked him about his plans for Europe and the EU.

Socialist Party French Presidential Election Parti Socialiste

TPE Your program for Europe is entitled “to end austerity and prepare for the future, renew Europe”. To what extent is Europe accountable for economic austerity?

BH In tackling the crisis through too fast a deficit reduction; in failing to alleviate the burden of public debt in several EU countries; in imposing the3% rule under too stringent terms, Europe has de facto forced economic austerity onto its member states.

TPE You propose setting up a democratic and representative assembly composed of members of the European Parliament and national parliaments to publicly debate the Eurozone budget as well as fiscal and social harmonisation policies. What do you mean by “the Eurozone budget”? Do you mean another budget on top of the EU’s, like Emmanuel Macron proposed?Or would this “Eurozone budget” be a subset of the budget of the EU?

BH I want to set up a democratic and representative assembly composed of members of the European Parliament and the national parliaments for debating publicly the Eurozone budget as well as fiscal and social harmonisation policies.

The Eurozone Assembly will be mandated with the task of deciding in a sovereign manner on a separate budget funded by its ‘own resources’[additional resources to EU revenue derived from taxes, duties, and contributions from member states], namely a financial transaction tax and a shared corporate tax.

TPE What would be the prerogatives of this “democratic and representative assembly” over this “Eurozone budget”?

BH The nuts and bolts of the prerogatives are yet to be defined, but this assembly would decide its budget in a sovereign manner. The assembly would also be entitled to supervise the European Stability Mechanism, the Banking Union and all European financial, monetary and budgetary matters. It would decide on partial debt mutualisation in order to reduce borrowing costs.

TPE How do you plan to convince those countries opposed to debt mutualisation to consent to it?

BH All member states are aware of the difficult situation Europe is in today.

More than ever, we must be conscious of the responsibilities that we are facing. The Eurozone is now in great danger, and it must be urgently stabilised.

This could be the opportunity to call into question the unanimity rule and itsharmful effects.

TPE You write that you will launch an ambitious program towards ecological and economic transition, “with the implementation of an investment plan worth €1000 billion”. Mr Junker proposed in 2016, on behalf of the Commission, to double both the duration and the capacity of the European Fund for strategic investments, so as to increase the financing of the Investment Plan forEurope to €500 billion by 2020. Are you proposing to double this effort and, if so, how will you finance it?

BH Mr Junker’s new plan is for €500 billion, after a previous plan that was a success beyond all expectations. My plan is worth €1000 billion, and I wish to incorporate in it convergence criteria and rely at some point on ‘own resources’ like a carbon tax at the borders of EU.

TPE You propose to fight tax optimisation by setting up a tax on multinational companies. What form will it take, what would be its base, how much do you expect to gain from such a tax?

BH I will indeed fight tax optimisation by setting up a tax on multinational companies. The aim is to put an end to an intolerable situation whereby foreign companies based in France that make huge profits pay insignificant taxes (Google paid €5 million in corporation tax last year). This tax will be accompanied by an overhaul of the Union’s budget and taxes not only to prevent tax competition and injustice but also to regain fiscal space.

TPE You propose to set up a tax on financial transactions. What transactions would you tax and how much would that bring in? How do you intend to gain the approval of France’s partners?

BH I propose to set up ‘own resources’ [for the Eurozone] that don’t affect households. I will propose a tax on financial transactions to my European partners. Speculative finance drove the world’s economy downwards in 2008,and has been avoiding tax. From now on, it must contribute to worldwide solidarity.

Given the scale of the financialisation of the economy and the hundreds of billions of transactions occurring daily on European markets, a very low rate(0.05%) could produce hundreds of billions of euros in revenue in Europe.

Such resources are badly needed by States that find it hard to balance the budget and strive to save the European social model based on quality public services.

Such a measure will stimulate the real economy over speculative finance and contribute to curb speculation.

TPE You intend to ask for a revision of the EU directive on posted workers and work for the creation of a common set of social rights for Europe incorporating guaranteed minimum wage. How do you intend to convince France’s European partners to increase the level of social protection in their country? And which countries are most in need of such greater protection?

BH Regarding social policy, I want to put an end to the competition between peoples. I will ask for the revision of the EU directive on posted workers.

I will fight for the application of a simple principle: equal pay for equal work in the same place. Such a principle should go beyond the minimum wage and require compliance with the salary provisions of collective agreements. It is about forcing those companies posting workers in another member state to incur accommodation expenses according to dignified conditions for the workers who, too often, pay for the rent resulting from posting.

I will work on the creation of a set of social rights incorporating a guaranteed minimum wage so as to put an end to wage competition.

The guaranteed minimum wage will be the spearhead of the scheme.  Not only does this measure ensure minimum revenue, allowing people to live without dignity, but it also breaks the fratricidal logic that forces European workers to enter into competition between each other, which – far from mapping out a common future – just leads to impoverishment.

Furthermore, unemployment insurance could be a new axis for Eurozone budgetary convergence while at the same time ensuring solidarity and playing a counter-cyclical role.

TPE In a recent interview with TPE, Hubert Védrine – François Mitterrand’s former foreign affairs minister – suggested an overhaul of the division of jurisdictions between the EU and member states, and notably the transfer of social policy back to the states. Do you believe that France, in its unrelenting attempts to force its social model onto other member states, bears part of the responsibility for the Brexit vote and, more broadly speaking, for Europeans’ disaffection for the EU institutions?

BH Your analysis of Brexit is erroneous: the Leave campaign focused on the harmful effects of the social dumping resulting from posted workers and the rejection of the ‘Polish construction worker.’

Ms May’s first measures have been aimed at reviving public services in education and health care. Since the creation of the single market, the EU has implemented a policy of free competition, without social support.

The proposals I am presenting meet the real demands of European citizens.

Theresa May EU Europe Hamon
British Prime Minister Theresa May

TPE You intend to propose to our partners a European Energy program.Which resources would support your “European strategy for the environment,temperance, energy efficiency and independence, the control of energy prices, reindustrialisation and sovereignty?”

BH The original European Community was built on coal and steel. It is time for a breath of fresh air, that of a ‘European strategy for the environment,temperance, energy efficiency and independence, the control of energy prices, reindustrialisation and sovereignty.’

I propose a treaty on energy that could incorporate centralised European purchasing of petroleum products, electrical interconnection and investment aid for the countries most affected by the transition towards new sources of energy.

TPE You write that you will propose an initiative to increase European security through enhanced European defence cooperation. You also propose enhancing the European hub so that our partners increase their financial and logistical support to the French military’s external operations. Is the support ofFrance’s national partners for its external military operations what you mean by enhanced European cooperation?

BH I will propose an initiative to increase European security through enhanced European defence cooperation. This will entail an enhancement of the European hub so that our partners increase their financial and logistical support to France’s external military operations.

TPE What do you intend to add to the existing EU Military Staff? Which tasks? And what equipment?

BH European Military Staffs and binational forces will be reinforced. This means giving Europe a permanent operational headquarters, dedicated to operational planning and placed under the responsibility of the EuropeanMilitary Staff, an existing body I would further develop.

Long term, my wish is to strengthen the European Rapid Reaction Force,whose mandate would be extended to the defence of the EU.

In the absence of unanimous agreement, enhanced cooperation could be authorised by the treaties, and used to bring this project to fruition.

Soldiers Afghanistan Hamon
British soliders at a briefing in Afghanistan

TPE You write that to counter terrorism ‘our intelligence capabilities will progressively be pooled, and that multilateral task forces will be set up as a first step towards a European intelligence agency.’ What European country benefits today from recognised intelligence capabilities apart from GreatBritain, which uses American tools? Isn’t the UK leaving the EU a setback in military and intelligence cooperation?

BH Brexit doesn’t necessarily mean the UK is abandoning European security.To counter terrorism, our intelligence capabilities will be progressively pooled,and multilateral task forces will be set up as a first step towards a EuropeanIntelligence Agency. As the terrorist threat remains acute and long-lasting, it is an appropriate time to set up a “European Strategy and IntelligenceAcademy” that would allow a generation of European civilian officials and military officers to share culture in these matters.

TPE What do you think of the European associate citizenship proposal supported by Guy Verhofstadt and Charles Goerens in European Parliament?

BH It’s an interesting proposal that should be studied in the broader context of the relaunching of European democracy and citizenship.

TPE The European Union is facing an unprecedented migration crisis. AsPresident, what policy would France adopt within European institutions to cope with the influx of migrants?

BH Most of international migrations don’t follow a South-North axis but rather a South-South axis. I will act on both dimensions of the flow. In the regions with strong mobility, I will promote intra-regional migrations. In Europe, I will set up a humanitarian visa for the hosting of refugees, and experiment with new forms of circulation adapted to labour migration. I will support a revision of the Dublin Regulation based on the values of acceptance and solidarity between EU member states.

TPE What do you think of the idea of a European common language?

BH It is complicated to define a unique European language. The success of the Erasmus program shows that cultural exchanges and the learning of several European languages allow to fight against the fear of others,xenophobia, and to reinforce a sense of European citizenship.

French Election Hamon Fillon Le Pen Melenchon Macron
From left to right: Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Benoît Hamon, Emmanuel Macron, François Fillon and Marine Le Pen.

Once seen as of the five main candidates for the French Presidential Election, Benoît Hamon has fallen behind in recent weeks. The presence of the centrist Emmanuel Macron and the far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon has left the Parti Socialiste candidate with not much room to manoeuvre, and recent voter intention polls have him on 9%, Hamon’s lowest level of support since the campaign begun.