Interview: France to push ‘protective Europe’ agenda at EU helm

A ‘more protective Europe’ will be the French government’s central theme when they take over the rotating EU presidency in the second half of 2008. Gilles Briatta, EU adviser to the prime minister, outlined further details in an interview with EURACTIV France.

Energy and climate change will be France’s top policy priorities during its EU presidency, according to Gilles Briatta, head of the Secretariat-General for European Affairs, a top government advisory body. 

The Commission presented its third package of energy liberalisation directives in September this year and further proposals are due in January 2008, putting France in a good position to wrap up this politically sensitive dossier during the second term, Briatta says.

“These proposals […] will be examined during the 2008 spring summit with a view to obtaining an initial political orientation. The heart of the debate will therefore take place under the French presidency. The common interest is to go as far as possible under the French presidency, before the European Parliament elections and the changing of the Commission.”

On immigration policy, the French presidency’s second priority, it will organise a ministerial conference on immigration and co-development. But Briatta is adamant that there will be “no direct link” between the immigration part of the conference and the wider project to set up a Euro-Mediterranean union, a promise made by French President Nicolas Sarkozy during his electoral campaign. 

According to Briatta, ministers at national level will be more involved under the Mediterranean Union project than under the existing EuroMed Partnership – also known as the Barcelona process. “This is not as such a project of the French presidency,” Briatta insists. “The European Commission will be fully associated with the Mediterranean Union.”

“The idea is to have a cooperation body that is more political than EuroMed by involving heads of states and government directly. The Mediterranean Union project is certainly not destined to replace the EuroMed project but to regenerate it, to make it more dynamic.”

Moving on to the wider topic of globalisation, Briatta repeated earlier declarations by Sarkozy that Europe needs to defend its interests by adopting policies to protect its citizens (EURACTIV 24/05/07). The concept of ‘protecting Europe’ was introduced by Jean-Pierre Jouyet, secretary of state for EU affairs, at a conference organised by social NGO “sauvons l’europe” on 6 October (EURACTIV France 9/10/07). It aims to defend Europe’s social and economic model from the pressures of globalisation.

“The fact that the protection theme is increasingly important in Europe is self-evident,” Briatta says. “[There is] a necessity to apply reciprocity with the EU’s external partners; in energy investment but also in the whole of our commercial relations.”

However, he strongly rejects the idea that such proposals are protectionist. “It is not about protectionism but about ceasing to be naïve. The idea of reciprocity is not shocking at all, it allows [market] opening to be better achieved.”

Finally, a wider debate about the review of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy will be initiated under the French presidency, as announced by Sarkozy in September (EURACTIV 12/09/07).

“During the negotiations of the [EU’s financial] perspectives for 2007-2013, a mid-term review was foreseen for 2008-2009. The aim is to initiate this big and difficult debate during the French presidency,” says Briatta, who admits that “there is a risk of certain resistance” to the dossier.

To read the full interview on the EURACTIV France website, please click here.

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