Sarkozy’s ‘letter to the French’ has little new for the EU

Nicolas Sarkozy April 2012.jpg

Nicolas Sarkozy’s “letter to the French”, unveiled yesterday (5 April), contained no major new ideas on European matters, limiting itself largely to repeating already-announced proposals on  Schengen and ‘reciprocity’ in trade.  EURACTIV France reports.

Apart from justifying cuts to public spending and a freeze in France’s contribution to the EU budget, Europe received little mention in Sarkozy's presentation of budgetary figures and programme yesterday (5 April).

The incumbent candidate stressed the importance for France to avoid the fate of the eurozone’s struggling peripheral economies.

“Not one Frenchman wants our country to be in the situation experienced by the Greeks or Spain,” he said, going on to attack the nine years of socialist rule as allegedly responsible for a 210% increase in Spanish unemployment.

Budget discipline

Before the crisis, Socialist-ruled Spain’s economic health was so good in Paris’s eyes that the newly-appointed Minister of Finance Christine Lagarde had praised the Spanish model. Sarkozy usually cites the global economic crisis to explain France’s current economic difficulties.

Sarkozy’s programme plans for an additional reduction of spending by €36 billion and an increase of revenue of €8 billion to reach a balanced budget by 2016, as expected because of France's European commitments.

A small deviation from the country’s promises could provoke a “crisis of confidence,” he warned, taking aim at Socialist candidate François Hollande who proposes reaching a balanced budget by 2017.

To reach his objective, Sarkozy is assuming 0.7% growth in 2012, 1.75% in 2013, and 2% for the four following years. The estimate for 2012 is more optimistic than those of the European Commission (0.4%), the International Monetary Fund (0.2%) and the Organisation Economic Cooperation and Development (0.3%).

Frozen French participation in EU budget

To save money, Sarkozy said that France would ask for a freeze in its contribution to the EU’s budget and so save €600 million per year.

This figure corresponds to the real savings France would have made through inflation if it had a fixed contribution to the budget.

Sarkozy did not explain how he would be able to do this and simultaneously maintain the Common Agriculture Policy’s (CAP) budget “to the last euro,” as he has previously pledged.

Leaky Europe

Other proposals in the letter to the French ave been previously presented during the candidate’s nationalistic speech in Villepinte.

The letter attacks the leaky “European strainer” allegedly responsible for uncontrolled immigration in France. It repeats Sarkozy’s intention to suspend France’s participation in the Schengen Area if the rules on the free movement of persons in Europe are not reformed within a year.

In Sarkozy’s eyes, Europe has failed to protect its citizens but also its companies by being one-sidedly open to the world. This is why he has argued for five years for ‘reciprocity’ in world trade with countries like China, India, but also the United States of America.

European Commissioner for the Internal Market Michel Barnier made a proposal for such measures last month.

“If the negotiations on reciprocity do not conclude within a year, France will reserve its public procurement markets only for European companies, until an agreement is found,” says the candidate’s programme.

This unilateral action could put French companies at risk as boycotted countries could take retaliatory measures against France.

The candidate also said during a press conference that the creation of a carbon tax at Europe’s borders is today a priority for France’s European policy, a project that has been in limbo for some time.

Quotas for SMEs

The programme also foresees “reserving a part of public tenders for Europeans SMEs, as does the United States with its own SMEs”.

A 2007 report, drafted by the former French Secretary of State for Planning Lionel Stoléru, had already said that the European Commission would not accept arguing for quotas for SMEs before the WTO.

The French are going to the polls to elect a president with a first round on 22 April and a run-off on 6 May.

After winning his party's primaries in October 2011, Socialist candidate François Hollande has done consistently well in opinion polls, almost always leading incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy.

Sarkozy has since begun recovering and has attempted to capture eurosceptic sentiment in France, notably with a nationalistic speech in Villepinte (11 March). In it, he threatened to withdraw from Schengen and unilaterally implement protectionist measures should the EU fail to adopt new legislation.

  • 22 April: First round of French Presdiential election
  • 6 May: Second round

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