Interview with France’s Socialist European Affairs Minister Bernard Cazeneuve: Whither Europe?

France

Paris, September 24, 2012

by Axel Krause

 

At 49, Bernard Cazeneuve is a dapper, articulate, low-key, and experienced Socialist politician and former mayor of Cherbourg. He was  picked by Pres ;ident Francois Hollande to be his point person on Europe, but not only because of his European experience. But because he, like the majority of the French, as well as the Dutch, six years voted against the reform-bent EU Lisbon Treaty. That is why our hour-long interview with him last week, conducted in French, begins by asking him why. Indeed, the Socialist Party and its leftist allies then – and today with regard to ratification of the EU Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance by the National Assembly expected within a month – once again is  divided over what is an emerging, crucial test for Hollande’s majority. And a crucial challenge  for “l’ancien non-iste” as supportive Cazeneuve is known, for a treaty thirteen EU members have already ratified, effective January 1.

 

In 2005 you opposed ratification of the proposed Constitution for Europe, known as the Treaty of Lisbon. Why?

Because Europe was then on a conservative trajectory, which presented a threat to the preservation of the European social model, including public services. And because the draft treaty did not give Europe the necessary institutional means to respond to the crisis we are currently facing.

What have been your priorities for the European Union’s future?

Basically, an urgent reorientation toward social, economic, monetary areas, in order to promote growth and employment. And this was started by Francois Hollande. We were, and are, pro-European.

Shortly after the votes against the treaty by France and Holland, Jacques Delors (former president of the European Commission) declared that the EU had fallen into a “light coma.” Do you agree?

Europe did not fall into a light coma because of the “no” vote. While focusing its attention on institutions, Europe neglected the reforms required by the introduction of the euro. Today, Europe is moving forward, beyond the long-enduring crisis. Europe must present a project that is strong and understandable to our people.

Yes, but while the earlier (1992) crucial Treaty of Maastricht was approved by 51% of the French, several days ago, a nationwide survey revealed that if they voted today, 64% would reject it. 

Twenty years after Maastricht, the question is no longer relevant.

Yet this one by (conservative-leaning) Le Figaro newspaper also revealed that 76% of those polled consider the EU’s handling of the current economic crisis as ineffective.

Definitely, European governments should have acted more effectively and decisively in the early days of the crisis.The really important question today is whether one is for or against the euro. It materialzes everything that has been done in terms of unity, convergence and coherence since Maastricht. Another survey showed that over 70% favor maintaining the euro.

Do you agree with those involved at the time, such as diplomats, who claim Maastricht failed to appply EU policy in key, non-monetary areas, such as implementation of EU fiscal, regulatory, foreign and security policies stipulated in the treaty?

Irrespective of the discussions at that time, what I can tell you is that today you cannot have a common currency, without also having a common, convergent economic and monetary policy to defend the euro. And in return for EU solidarity, there must also be integrated governance.

How do you assess the current divisions regardng your EU policy goals, within your party and among outspoken Euroskeptics on your right and left, notably Jean-Luc Melenchon, co-president of the Left Front party?

Mr. Melenchon is not in the majority, and yes, there are two lefts; one that accepts the risks, and governs, trying to really change Europe’s direction, and a left that comments. Among Socialists I do not see the fracture as strong as depicted.

How do you explain that President Hollande, in his latest television interview regarding the slowing French economy and necessary reforms, never once mentioned Europe, nor the EU?

The program questions did not touch on this subject, What’s bizarre is that they (two top reporters of the TF1 network) did not ask any, considering he is hyper-mobilized regarding the European question, which remains at the heart of his agenda and preoccupations for succeeding.

Neverthless, among many French voters there is a sense that Hollande is not nearly as engaged regarding EU integration as was Mitterrand, among others.

That perception may stem from the fact that Francois Hollande has been president for only four months. It would be surprising if he could accomplish in that time what was done over fourteen years.  Secondly, one of the major subjects of the presidential campaign (in France) involved reorientation of  Europe toward growth; he has been on the front line, actively involved in EU banking union, interventions of the ECB (European Central Bank) multilateral negotiations, EU summits and the like.

The choice for the future of the EU, Delors once told me, comes down to – either a core group developing a powerful, EU, with political, even defense, and social dimensions or what he termed “Thatcher’s Europe” meaning an essentially free trade-economic Is that still the choice?

It is vital to take account of what Delors suggested, and specifically European social and industrial policies, regulation and reinforcement of political union, although I am aware that these issues are not well-liked in Britain. Such policies and measures should be promoted while respecting the integrity of the EU internal market.

Delors also has quipped, half-jokingly, that one doesn’t fall in love with an internal market.

That’s right, but one can fall in love with the thoughts of Jacques Delors. And when I refer to Europe, it is not only in geographical terms; the internal market is grounded in a commitment to developing a political project. Our wish is that the 27 (member states) accomplish  a  maximum that relates to the broad project of Jacques Delors, Francois Mitterrand and others. But the reality is that not all the 27 are going in that direction.

So how do you propose moving forward?

In that space of 27, acting on the basis of enhanced cooperation is preferable to doing nothing. Enhanced cooperation enables an avant-garde of willing (EU) states to move forward, doing what is useful for Europe.

Does this imply for those willing to move ahead a transfer of more national sovereignty to the EU?

First, I believe you should not limit the issues at stake simply to elitist debates over EU institutional dimensions. Second, the project should not be divorced, cut off,  from the people of Europe. What is needed is a democratic project in which people can believe and identify. One does not fall in love with institutions, but with values, with a political objective that incorporates industrial, social and planetary environmental concerns and  policies.

But over the years, German governments have argued that EU integration can only progress if there is a willingness by other EU countries to transfer powers to the EU to create a more federal Europe, led by a powerful executive, a project resisted by successive French governments, among others.

The questions we have to answer are not only about whether we are to share sovereignty. In any case, national parliaments are to be involved. There is a need to organize a system of shared responsibility between the European Parliament and national parliaments. We discussed this at a meeting of foreign ministers on the 17th of  September.

So, in looking at EU foreign policy, does this mean that the answer to our question is Britain’s Catherine Ashton, the EU’s top diplomat, whose service is widely perceived as lacking real power?

Mrs. Ashton is doing many important things, and we hope to continue advancing, building step-by-step, with pragmatism, a stronger European diplomacy, in the global arena.

How do you view the evolution of enhanced cooperation mentioned earlier, such as the bilateral French-British defense cooperation?

It is an example of those who so desire, doing what is in the interest of Europe. The (French-British) Lancaster House Treaty has put in place cooperation in the nuclear field and defense. Another example is France’s cooperation with Germany with regard to development of drones, that we are also proposing to Britain. These reflect the first steps toward an enhanced European security and defense policy, involving our partners in the Weimar group (France, Germany and Poland).

Beyond industrial cooperation, is Britain indispensable for the creation of a truly influential EU foreign policy?

Of course. Britain plays and important role and is a key partner.

How do you explain the overwhelming, enthusiastic support in France and other European countries for President Obama?

 It has a great deal to do with what he incarnates. A form of humility in his relations with the world, but particularly the incarnation of great combats America and its great leaders have waged for causes and values shared with Europe. And he is actively supporting our quest for economic growth.

 

Axel Krause is the Paris-based contributing editor of TransAtlantic magazine, and author of “Inside the New Europe,” also translated into French and Japanese.

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