Britain’s place is in the EU, says Europe Minister

European Union/United Kingdom – Interview given by M. Harlem Désir, Minister of State for European Affairs, to TV5Monde (excerpts)

Paris, 10 May 2015

Q. – Sixty-five years ago almost to the day, on so-called “Saint Schuman’s Day”, Minister Schuman, the then French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman, made that declaration and launched the idea of Europe, of a great spirit, a shared ambition, saying: “Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan.” Exactly 65 years on, aren’t we seeing the opposite – a Europe which no longer makes people dream and which, in a way, is unravelling?

THE MINISTER – Yes, he said it was by small steps that we’d succeed in building this community of destiny, this community of values. We’ve just celebrated both the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, on 8 May, and the 65th anniversary of Robert Schuman’s declaration. (…)

Last year there were the ceremonies commemorating the Landings in France, which made a big impact. It’s true that in June 1944 people thought we might start glimpsing the end of the Second World War. You must remember that during the 20th century Europe brought about two deflagrations resulting from clashes between nationalisms, which led to barbarity, the genocide of the Jews and the devastation of culture on the continent. But Europe also produced the Schuman Declaration and the European enterprise.

When you look at what’s happening around the European continent, what’s happening in the east, in Ukraine and Russia, what’s happening in the Middle East, in Iraq, in Syria, what’s happening in Libya, what’s happening in the Sahel, you can’t regard it as negligible to have managed to build this European unity based on democracy and peace. Moreover, whenever countries have emancipated themselves from dictatorship, they’ve turned towards the European Union. That’s true of the countries of southern Europe, like Greece, when it got rid of the colonels, Portugal after Salazar, Spain after Franco, and countries in the east after the fall of the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall. So it’s an extraordinary achievement.

It’s true that criticisms can be made of the European Union. We must constantly try to improve it. We ourselves have fought to reorder its priorities, particularly in economic terms, towards growth and employment and not austerity. Nevertheless, we must never forget what it’s enabled us to create on the continent.

Q. – You must have been disappointed to see Mr Cameron finally renewing his mandate having promised that referendum.

THE MINISTER – Voters express their wishes in each of the EU’s 28 countries in turn. Clearly, we respect the choice they make, and the French President called David Cameron to congratulate him on his election. He suggested that he come to Paris as soon as he’s formed his government, to talk in particular about cooperation, where we’re working closely in many fields. I’m thinking of cooperation on energy, science and defence. Britain is also probably the country where there are most young French students going to study.

It really is a country that’s very close to us. At the same time, there are European issues which your report mentioned, including the prospect of a referendum. So we have to talk about this. People must be heard when they express themselves. The aspirations expressed by British voters must be taken into account, and at the same time Europe mustn’t be unpicked.

Europe mustn’t be fragmented…

I think David Cameron himself must make use of his broad majority to persuade British people that it’s in Britain’s interest to remain in the EU, just as it’s in the EU’s interest for Britain to remain inside it. Britain’s place is in the European Union.

There may be improvements to the workings of the EU. People sometimes talk about simplification, for example, to prevent bureaucratic excesses, but there must be no questioning of the EU’s founding principles, like freedom of movement, or the common policies, like the Common Agricultural Policy. One single country can’t call into question the others’ desire to continue moving forward together to confront the challenges we face: those of security, peace, energy and the climate, and also those of globalization. (…)

As I’ve said, I think the United Kingdom’s place is in the European Union and the aspirations expressed by each country’s voters must be heard when they vote – that was the case with Greece, it’s the case today with the UK – and taken into consideration to improve the workings of the EU, or of European policies.

But again, this mustn’t be done to the detriment of European achievements, to the detriment of principles, like for example the freedom of movement of EU citizens. (…)

We’re ready to consider requests and we’ll see which ones David Cameron makes in the coming months, but without treaty changes, because I don’t think the foundation on which the EU functions must be called into question. (…)

Strengthening European unity is a priority, and so we’d like Britain to remain in the EU. (…)

We’re working very closely with Angela Merkel and Germany on strengthening the coordination of Euro Area governance. (…)

A report is going to be presented in the coming weeks by President Jean-Claude Juncker, European Central Bank President Mario Draghi, Eurogroup President Mr Dijssdelbloem and European Council President Donald Tusk. The aim is to learn lessons from the crisis and see how it’s possible, after creating banking union and the European Stability Mechanism – i.e. mechanisms to prevent banking crises spreading throughout the economy in future – to strengthen the coordination of our economic policies to benefit growth, investment and employment. (…)

Europe is diverse, but we must keep all the family members together, including Britain. (…)./.

Published on 20/05/2015

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