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Source: France-Diplomatie – Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development

1. European affairs – European Union/Brexit/China – Interview given by Mr. Clément Beaune, Minister of State for European Affairs, attached to the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to L’Express (Paris – December 17, 2020)

EU RECOVERY

Europe, which has secured progress on several fronts in Brussels, is ending this year in quite good shape, isn’t it?

Since the start of the COVID crisis, the European Union has undergone many tests of its sovereignty, credibility and effectiveness. When you remember the criticisms heard in March about what it was or wasn’t doing, you get an idea of how far it’s come. France has also played an essential role: in economic terms in particular, very early on we began European coordination with all the heads of State and government. Since then we’ve overcome major taboos, by suspending fiscal and competition rules, which we didn’t manage to do 10 years ago during the euro crisis. Then, together with a few countries, we started the debate on the recovery plan at the end of March: Germany ended up following suit, saying it was ready to finance a common European debt – that’s a revolution! On July 21, a 750-billion euros plan was endorsed by the 27 which, after many twists and turns, was validated at the last summit. If you add the new commitments on climate, the sanctions against Turkey decided on last week and, as from now, the new legislation that is going to regulate the major digital platforms, you have the various facets of an ambitious Europe that has stayed the course and demonstrated its firmness.

When will the money from the recovery plan be available?

We must move as quickly as possible! The stage of ratification by national parliaments remains, and the funds should reach States at the end of the spring. Out of the 750 billion euros, 390 billion euros represents direct subsidies, including 45 billion euros destined for France. In other words, nearly half our national recovery plan is supported by Europe: without that aid, our recovery plan would never have been on such a scale!

RULE-OF-LAW CONDITIONALITY MECHANISM

The mechanism that makes payment of European funds conditional on respect for the rule of law won’t be applied until after the general election in Hungary, in spring 2022. Hasn’t its leader, Viktor Orbán, got what he wanted?

Before triggering the mechanism, the Commission will wait for the Court of Justice of the European Union to issue its ruling, which on average takes just over a year. Given that the mechanism couldn’t actually be implemented before the end of 2021 or the beginning of 2022, it only sets us back a few weeks. Moreover, the Court can decide on a quick procedure. I’m also delighted Poland and Hungary are showing so much respect for the Court of Justice, when it’s sometimes been very tough with those two countries on rule-of-law issues.

BREXIT

Regarding Brexit, will France and the European Union be ready on January 1, if there’s no deal?

Several tens of millions of euros have been invested with local authorities and ports to make the necessary arrangements and recruit an additional 700 customs officers, more than 300 vets and nearly 300 border police officers. I recently checked our arrangements at the Gare du Nord, in Le Havre and in Calais, and I can say we’ll be ready. Deal or no deal, by becoming a third country for the EU on January 1, the UK will be subject to checks. In the event of a no-deal, there will also be customs duties, and we could lose access to British waters for our fishermen. That, in particular, is why a deal is better. But not under just any conditions.

What will Paris do if Royal Navy vessels confront French fishermen who venture into British waters?

I’m loath to think we could get into a military situation with an ally, a friend, a neighbor. If it’s a tactical maneuver, it’s regrettable. I see it as a sort of unfortunate display that we must react to calmly. We won’t fall for it. In my view it’s fiction, but we obviously won’t let our fishermen be bullied. Never any weakness: our best weapon is to remain united and firm until the last minute of the negotiations.

EU-CHINA TRADE

An agreement on investments between Europe and China was due to be signed before the end of the year, but the negotiations are making no headway. Why not?

It’ll only happen if Beijing opens its market to Europe sufficiently, as part of a more reciprocal relationship. The time when the Chinese played on divisions between Europeans is over. This unity and firmness in the negotiations perfectly demonstrate a European awakening. If you look at 2020, the EU has made significant leaps in many areas (health, economic recovery). And it’s proven that it’s useful for something! We must now get that idea firmly planted in people’s minds. In addition to this track record, Europe’s DNA has changed. Sanctions against Turkey, common debt, defense policy: we’ve overcome certain taboos. This change of mindset is an essential condition for asserting a European model amid globalization.


2. European Union – Council approves Brexit contingency plan on fisheries (Brussels – December 16, 2020)

To make it possible that EU and UK fishing vessels continue to have access to each other’s waters as of January 1, 2021, the Council adopted yesterday its position on an EU regulation for access possibilities until an EU-UK fisheries agreement is concluded or until the end of 2021, whichever comes first. This regulation creates a legal framework for EU and UK fishermen on how to grant them authorizations to continue fishing in UK and EU waters respectively after the end of the transition period (December 31, 2020). As a contingency measure, in the case of a no-deal, these authorizations could apply as of January 1, 2021 until December 31, 2021 (or earlier, when an EU-UK fisheries agreement is concluded). The regulation would contribute to the economic stability and livelihood of fishing communities and to the continuation of sustainable fishing until a permanent EU-UK agreement.

As a case of urgency, the process of adopting this regulation is fast-tracked; following the Council’s adoption of the mandate, the proposal will now be voted by the European Parliament later this week. The Council and the European Parliament are working closely to ensure that the regulation is adopted before the end of the year and enters into application on January 1, 2021.

Regarding fishing opportunities and quotas co-managed by the EU and the UK, these are envisaged on a preliminary and limited manner through a separate EU regulation, in consultation with the UK and until a final agreement is reached.

[source of English text: European Council website]

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