The 1992 Maastricht Treaty, which created the European Union and led to the creation of the euro, came as an answer to French concerns over the German reunification process, Jean-Pierre Jouyet, former French State Secretary for EU affairs, told EURACTIV France in an exclusive interview.
Jean-Pierre Jouyet is currently the president of the French Financial Markets authority and is mulled for a high office in the EU Council. He was speaking to Clémentine Forissier, chief editor of EURACTIV France.
How do you analyse the way the Franco-German relation has evolved since the Berlin Wall collapsed?
Beyond the enthusiasm the Wall collapse provoked, and what it meant for Europe, France had to learn how to live with reunified Germany. It was not that easy to accomplish but the importance given to the relation between France and Germany was not fundamentally questioned. I will go as far as saying that after the initial skepticism was over, the enforcement of the Maastricht Treaty consolidated the relation. The text resulted, in a way, from the Wall collapse and the understanding between François Mitterrand and Helmut Kohl.
There were some ups and downs then. The reasons were not necessarily the Wall collapse and reunification but both countries’ leaders’ temperament, and structural problems between France and Germany.
Two main evolutions must be noticed. First, reunified Germany and France did not have the same understanding of what the European Union was, nor what could be expected from it. Second, the reunification and the Wall collapse also led to European Union enlargement. The Wall collapse has been the core of EU-27.
What was the nature of the relation between France and Germany when you took office as Secretary of State for European Affairs?
The European Affairs Minister’s specific job is to deal with the Franco-German relation. It shows how special the relation is, even within the European Union.
I was first able to build a personal relationship with Günter Gloser, my German counterpart in European Affairs. The Franco-German relations also fall within his attribution. I really get on well with Günter Gloser. I often traveled to Germany. Although I can’t speak German, unfortunately, I was able to meet people from various sectors: Chancellery, Ministry of Foreign Affairs… I also met Members of Parliament and took part in a meeting for German secretaries of State, which is a kind of smaller meeting for ministers’ personal staff, to present the different aspects of the French European presidency to them.
On the French side, I explained that the French German relation was a particular one and was not limited to military peace. In many French politicians’ opinion, the mere fact that France and Germany live in peace is an achievement. This is obvious but I also tried to make people understand that Franco-German harmony is necessary if we really mean to have European dynamics, and if France wants to be influent in Europe. Reaching a compromise on the Mediterranean Union has been relevant to this observation.
Is the Franco-German relation important to strengthen Eastern Europe countries’ integration within the EU?
The Franco-German relation is key to make these countries part of a stabilized union, a progressing union. More concretely, France and Germany are the main contributors to the EU. Given that Central and Eastern European countries’ main objectives, when they joined the Union, were prosperity and economic balance, the two big contributors needed to get on well together. Besides, Central and Eastern European countries did not want to establish too exclusive a relation with Germany, after freeing themselves from the Soviet Union.
I must admit that President Sarkozy well perceived it. France had roughly treated Central and Eastern European countries during the Iraq war. These countries did not agree with France and Germany and felt closer to the British position. I won’t engage in soul-searching regarding President Chirac’s position on this war. On the other hand, the way we expressed ourselves towards these countries we have had strong historical traditions with, has caused some damage. Sarkozy established several strategic partnerships with all these countries, but it did not happen at the expense of the Franco-German relation. The Central and Eastern European countries have appreciated this.
Sarkozy and Merkel had both warned that should the Lisbon treaty not be ratified, EU enlargement would not be further implemented. As we are moving closer to ratification, can EU enlargement resume?
EU enlargement is ineluctable. We have no other option than enlarged EU. We cannot leave in Europe such a black hole as the Balkans. Europe is peace. The closest war zone has been the Balkans. To bring peace back to these countries, the perspective of European integration is needed. These countries have to cling on to the EU. Enlargement will continue and that is a good thing. I know most people in France don’t agree with me on this topic. When I was Minister, I fought against automatic referenda about enlargement, which was a tough task at the time, and I fought to get the enlargement accepted and anticipated. This is definitely one thing I am proud of.
You have been mentioned in the media as a potential deputy Secretary-General of the Council. What is your reaction?
It shows I am still considered a European servant. It makes me glad because Europe has marked out my whole career. I did not give up on European issues as president of l’Autorité des Marchés Financiers (AMF, the French Financial Markets authority). I regard them as priority because market regulation cannot omit the European level. I was appointed almost a year ago, on a non-renewable five-year term. When the time comes, I will scrutinize all the offers I might receive that deal with interesting politico-technical responsibilities in Brussels.