France’s Economy and Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on Friday (15 September) that the priority should be eurozone integration before accepting new members, as European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker argued earlier this week.
“The most important challenge now is the reinforcement of the eurozone…to get more integration,” Le Maire told reporters on his way into the Eurogroup meeting today in Tallinn.
“The enlargement is possible…but to be a success, first we need more integration in the eurozone,” the French minister said.
The deepening of the economic and monetary union and the strengthening of the euro area came on top of the agenda following Emmanuel Macron’s victory in French Presidential elections held in May.
Le Maire said that one of his goals for the Eurogroup was to present France’s views on eurozone integration.
During his State of the Union address, Juncker stressed that “The euro is meant to be the single currency of the European Union as a whole.” He proposed a euro accession instrument.
But the Commission chief did not include the French President’s proposal for a eurozone budget or a Parliament for the euro area, despite the close contact between the two leaders over the last few months.
“At the beginning of the debate about the future of the eurozone it is normal you have different views,” Le Maire told reporters.
He said that Macron will give a “very important speech” on his vision for eurozone integration at the end of September.
The debate on the future of the eurozone came in parallel with the process to pick a new Eurogroup president.
The current chairman, the acting Dutch Minister of Finance Jeroen Dijsselbloem, will end his mandate in January.
Some rumours said that he could retire before that date, given that parties are close to forming a coalition government in The Netherlands.
But Dijsselbloem noted on Friday (15 September) that his intention is to remain until the end of his period.
Le Maire is one of the names mentioned to take over as Eurogroup chief.
On Friday he praised Dijsselbloem, calling him “a very good president”.
“I really think it is not the right time to discuss that question,” Le Maire added.
But his remarks, all in English (highly unusual for a senior French official), and mostly on eurozone integration, suggested that his eyes may be well beyond Bercy.
“There is a unique opportunity to go forward with the integration of the eurozone,” he stressed. Macron’s election and the elections in Germany on 24 September bring new majorities into “the two most important states within the eurozone”.
The positive economic momentum strengthens this window of opportunity to deepen the eurozone.
Le Maire also announced that he would defend the proposal made by France, Germany, Italy, and Spain to tax internet giants during the meeting of EU finance ministers today and tomorrow.
Besides, he said that he would explain the budget cuts and new measures adopted in France, including the labour market reform.
“The message is very simple: France is back, France will be stronger,” Le Maire concluded.