Macron and Europe – Interview with Macron’s top EU advisor

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Despite the media hype surrounding Marine Le Pen, Emmanuel Macron looks set to become the next French President.
French Presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron

French Presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron

39 year-old Emmanuel Macron, the former investment banker who served as François Hollande’s Minister of Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs until August 2016 when he resigned to launch his presidential campaign.

On May 7th, voters will decide whether to choose the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, who is anti-EU and anti-euro, or the unashamedly pro-EU centrist Emmanuel Macron.

To find out more about Emmanuel Macron’s vision of Europe, and how he thinks the EU should deal with its current crises, we spoke in-depth to his top European advisor, Clément Beaune.

TPE Emmanuel Macron’s programme states that the euro restored France’s ability to influence European monetary policy decisions. There is no critique of the euro whatsoever. Do you dispute that, by artificially releasing the pressure of interest and exchange rates, the euro provided France as well as the other less disciplined member states of the Eurozone with an easy option that eventually led to both excessive debt and a competitivity gap?

CB The euro is blamed for anything and everything these days. It has been criticised for allowing countries like Greece, Italy and France not to undertake much-needed reforms because of favourable interest rates, as well as for not allowing these countries to devalue their currency to restore their competitiveness with Germany. The truth is that the euro has restored some sovereignty to France, which, once highly dependent on the Deutsche Mark and the German Bundesbank, has been in a position to contribute to the European Central Bank’s monetary policy since the introduction of the euro.

Criticism of the euro has always been inconsistent. In the first ten years of its existence the French criticised the ECB for being too strict, while in the last ten years the Germans have labelled it too lenient on countries that back away from tough reforms.

When they criticised the ECB, the French overlooked the benefits of low interest rates and stable exchange rates. Just as the Germans forget to what extent the fixing of the exchange rates stimulated their exports to European partners.  It is quite clear that when Europe equips itself with a strong institution, capable of rapid decision-making, monetary policy can be adapted to the circumstances to benefit all the member states.

What Europe is still lacking is a mechanism of financial and budgetary solidarity that would complement this monetary policy.

France produces too few high-end products at too high a cost.

TPE The program states that France used to be in a position of subordination with regard to the Bundesbank. Isn’t France’s subordination to Germany even worse now than before the creation of the Euro with the widening of the differential in GDP?

CB There is no such subordination. What is true is that France and other countries’ industries have fallen behind Germany’s, a trend that incidentally started before the creation of the euro. The Eurozone is nowadays divided into countries benefiting from full employment, like Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands, countries that have undertaken reforms and started to see a return to growth, like Spain, and countries with lasting difficulties suffering high rates of unemployment and, even more worryingly, youth unemployment, like Italy and France.

These difficulties are first and foremost the result of the lack of internal and structural reform with respect to cost and non-cost competitiveness, in industry especially. France produces too few high-end products at too high a cost. Its industry faces a market positioning problem, not a currency problem.

What it lacks is moderation of labour cost inflation, and an increase in non-cost competitiveness relying on quality and innovation. What is greatly needed in France is an industrial sector policy together with massive support for productive investment, not a reconsideration of France’s belonging to the Eurozone.

Paris

TPE The platform gives a prominent role to states in the rebuilding of trust between the people and the European institutions. Is the intergovernmental method still the most appropriate way to advance the European project?

CB It is a fact that the intergovernmental method has prevailed in recent years in the aftermath of the financial and then migratory crises. Due to the inertia of the European institutions and their lack of trust in them, governments have chosen to deal with their common difficulties in meetings of Heads of State and Government.

This means that far from having been left to feed their supposed hunger for power, this period has seen European institutions being kept at a distance from decision making in Europe. This intergovernmental method can respond to pressing needs, but is not fit to relaunch the European project. European summits are always held in a hurry and lead too often to confrontation of national interests.

Rebooting of the European project requires strong European institutions with a clear mandate, as shown by the monetary policy in recent Eurozone crisis, or the competition policy in the case of the Apple decision [whereby the European Commission made a ruling against Ireland for having given illegal tax benefits to Apple worth up to 13 billion].

We therefore propose to reinforce the European institutions under the control of the member states and the European Parliament.

We also propose to relaunch the European debate by holding democratic conventions throughout Europe, as this debate has been unfairly abandoned to anti-European populist parties in the aftermath of the 2005 referendum.

We expect these conventions to reveal that among Europeans there is a demand for more Europe in the fields where there is a clear need for strong cooperation, like the handling of the migration crisis, the protection of European companies against dumping from China or elsewhere, or the fostering of European start-ups in the digital economy.

TPE To resolve the problem of migratory pressure, you propose to conclude agreements with the main countries of departure or transit. This policy has long been on national and European agendas. What are you proposing that’s new?

CB We propose to do more at a European level, where action regarding security and migration has not been sufficient. There is no going back to national policies regarding such global issues. We have no choice but to support Greece and Italy as the main entry points in Europe, and Germany and Sweden as the main host countries. Europe has a duty to host refugees, those whose lives have been threatened, in a civilised and orderly manner.

At the same time, it is in the interest of all member states to manage their borders in common, unless they are ready to lose the benefits of the Schengen area, whereby millions of people – there are 350,000 cross-border workers in France alone – freely cross internal European borders every day.

The EU is also better equipped to come to global agreements with departure and transit countries and to provide them with the adequate aid for development, which we propose should be linked to the achievement of objectives that would be reviewed yearly and jointly between Europe and the sender countries.

Europe has a duty to host refugees, those whose life has been threatened, in a civilised and orderly manner.

TPE You propose to strengthen the capacity of the European Border Control Agency. In the absence of any agreement with his or her home country, what would you do with a rejected asylum seeker or an irregular migrant intercepted by Border Control?

CB We must provide development and technical assistance to the departure and transit countries in exchange for their cooperation in dealing with the emigration requests locally, at source. In many cases, the largest donors to these countries are European nations. Europe is therefore in a good position to request emigration countries to accept the return of irregular migrants, as well as an efficient guarding of their borders.

It’s a give and take, as has been illustrated by the negotiation with Turkey, where better results might have been obtained had Europe played a greater role. Regarding rejected asylum seekers or irregular migrants, we say that with the support of appropriate agreements with the emigration countries and a reinforced European Border Control Agency, Europe would be in a position to apply the law and get every emigration country to repatriate its irregular migrants.

The European border in Ceuta, Morocco.

The European border in Ceuta, Morocco.

TPE En Marche proposes the creation of a European Fund for Defence. But what about the Organisation for Joint Armament Cooperation (OCCAR), whose current Member States are Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom, and whose primary purpose is the through-life management of cooperative defence equipment programmes? Likewise, what would you do with the European Defence Agency, which was established to improve the EU’s defence capabilities, promote EU armaments cooperation, strengthen EU defence, industrial and technological bases and promote research in the defence field?

CB The European Defence Fund is a European Commission proposal that Emmanuel Macron supports. There has been a setback in the cooperation regarding common defence provisions over the last ten years.

The Fund would be financed through the European budget and contributions from voluntary member states, and would focus on the development of proper European provisions, for instance a European drone, a device that has been provided almost exclusively by the Americans so far. Hampered by divisions amongst the 28, what European defence cooperation has lacked so far is not specialised bodies, but political will.

It has now become obvious to most of member states, starting with Germany, that new emerging threats mean defence is Europe’s top priority. Brexit might help the process, as the UK will no longer hinder institutional integration.

Conditions seem to be right for the progress of defence integration and joint provision programs, as well as for the EU to participate in warzones and help with emergency response units.

TPE You propose to set up a permanent European HQ in charge of defence operations’ planning and control. Yet, such an HQ exists already, the Military Staff of the European Union.

CB The Military Staff of the European Union is an embryo of what a proper permanent European HQ could become. If we want Europe to be in a position to carry out operations, jointly with NATO or independently, we need a real permanent HQ, and to grant the body adequate means and powers.

In addition to that, we also propose to create a European security council that would gather the military, intelligence officers and diplomats, who would provide threat analysis and propose priorities in the field of external policy, intelligence and military action.

TPE En Marche proposes the creation of a Eurozone budget devoted to investments for the future, emergency financial assistance and responses to economic crises. The benefits of such a budget would be contingent upon common tax and social rules being respected. Does this mean that countries from the Eurozone that didn’t respect such rules would lose some of the benefits or aid they get through existing Structural Funds [351 billion from 2014 to 2020], Horizon 2020 [70 billion over the same period] or the European Stability Mechanism [ESM, 500 billion loan capacity]?

CB The rules would apply exclusively to the Eurozone budget, which would be additional and complementary to whatever financing is already available today, and mustn’t be mistaken for the EU budget or the budgets of the Eurozone members.

Some emergency mechanisms have been created in the aftermath of the financial crisis. The ESM is one such mechanism; it must be stabilised and placed under the auspices of the EU. Looking ahead, the Eurozone budget would contribute to the financing of Eurozone countries that are lagging behind and foster convergence within the Eurozone.

It’s the same logic as that of the Structural Funds, though reinforced to benefit the Eurozone member states. What’s new about what Emmanuel Macron proposes for the Eurozone budget is the obligatory compliance of the beneficiary member states to social and tax convergence objectives

TPE Among your proposals is the creation of the position of an Economy and Finance Minister for the Eurozone who would manage the Eurozone budget under the Eurozone Parliament [composed of the European Parliament Members of the participating member states]. What would be this minister’s prerogatives?

The Eurozone budget would contribute to the financing of Eurozone countries that are lagging behind and foster convergence within the Eurozone.

CB Every year he would propose a Eurozone budget to member states and would be in charge of administering it. He would be accountable to both the participating Eurozone member states and the Eurozone Parliament. The role could be merged with that of the Commissioner for Economic and Financial affairs, who would acquire an extra lever through the management of the Eurozone budget.

European Parliament Strasbourg

European Parliament, Strasbourg

TPE The platform states that you would strengthen anti-dumping laws. What exactly do you propose?

CB Europe hasn’t been idle in this tough battle, and Emmanuel Macron as Minister for Industry defended the steel industry against massive dumping from China and India. However, it still takes nine months on average to adopt anti-dumping measures in Europe, while it takes only three months in the United States, and these retaliation measures aren’t enough of a deterrent.

We must continue to reform and provide Europe with quick and effective anti-dumping instruments. The creation of a role of European Commercial Prosecutor – in charge of assuring our trading partners abide by agreements regarding taxes, the environment, and social provisions – should help in this process.

TPE En Marche’s political platform relies heavily on European policies, notably for security and defence. Don’t you think that Europe should first agree on a common language? Can we have police or military forces acting efficiently without this?

CB I don’t believe in Esperanto. Europe is multilingual.

When you work for the European institutions, you have to speak one or more of the languages of the other state members. It is true that in France, some of our politicians or high-ranking civil servants struggle to express themselves in English, but unification is not the answer. Multilingualism is inherent to Europe, where in some countries you can have two or three official languages. I don’t think that a unique language should, nor could, replace all national languages. Imposing a language at a time when we must reconcile people with the European project would be counter-productive.

TPE Can we say that the platform of En Marche follows the logic of the policies adopted in the 1970s?

CB What Emmanuel Macron proposes is definitely grounded in the history of the European project. However, there hasn’t been continuity from the seventies until today. There was a marked decline in the European dynamic in the nineties, with the narrow adoption of the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, followed by the rejection of the European Constitution in 2005 and the financial crisis from 2008 onwards.

The migration crisis is only the latest challenge facing Europe. Emmanuel Macron proposes to revive the European ambition that has been lost for at least ten years. He wants to grab the initiative in order to reinforce the five dimensions of sovereignty: security, growth, trade, sustainable development and the digital economy.

TPE What do you think of the proposal of associate citizenship?

CB The proposal is an interesting one. What is at stake is the preservation of the rights of those British citizens living outside their country in Europe and, conversely, of those non British European citizens living in Britain. The issue will have to be dealt with rapidly in the frame of the Brexit negotiation.

Beyond this problem is the question of the rights and obligations attached to belonging to the EU.

Why not consider association as a way of providing the British with some of the necessary rights for them to carry on interacting with Europe? But it must be clear that those outside the EU cannot have the same rights as those inside.

The PanEuropean

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