‘No crisis with Brussels’, says French EU minister

Thierry Repentin EU affairs minister.jpg

INTERVIEW / Ahead of an EU summit in Brussels, Thierry Repentin has dismissed as bluster the recent spate of attacks by French ministers against the European Commission. EURACTIV France reports.

Repentin, France's EU affairs minister, sought to inject a sense of calm into tense relations between Paris and Brussels.

“To me, these discussions won’t have much impact. They are foam from the waves. I have recently seen several European commissioners, our relations are absolutely unchanged,” he told EURACTIV France in an interview.

The Commission and France have become embroiled in a war of words over recent weeks after Brussels issued France with prescriptive recommendations on economic reforms, a move that fell foul with French President François Hollande, who said the EU should not “dictate” reforms to member states.

The industry minister, Arnaud Montebourg, escalated the tension this week, accusing the EU executive of fuelling far-right groups by failing to defend the interests of ordinary people. Commission President José Manuel Barroso replied that France was making Brussels a scapegoat for its domestic political problems.

Repentin said France had agreed to work with the Commission over its proposed reforms but said there was still much space for negotiation.

“The recommendations drafted by the Commission towards the countries make up a general framework in which we accept to work,” he said. “The competitiveness contracts are still far away. We have the time for dialogue".

"We are not in crisis with Brussels.”

Summit push

But the minister remained loyal to Hollande, defending the president’s position that some of the recommendations were overly prescriptive. “Some got a point-by-point reading, in which the Commission dictated solutions to member states,” he said.

Repentin said France would work to ensure this week’s EU summit meeting included in its conclusions the proposals of Hollande for a deeper economic and monetary union.

“Progress has been made in the banking union. Banking supervision is complete and the direct recapitalisation of banks by the European Stability Mechanism is on its way. However, this question is not easy for the Germans,” he said. “It will then take a second step, that is to say to conclude before the end of the legislature [in 2014] the creation of resolution mechanism for bank failures.”

Repentin said France would also call for an EU-wide plan of action on youth unemployment, including ‘frontloading’ the EU’s €6-billion “Youth Guarantee” over the next two years rather than the next seven, the fund’s original time frame.

On 27 and 28 June European heads of state and governments will meet in Brussels to discuss coordination of EU countries' economic and fiscal policy, employment, including among the youth, and progress on the completion of the economic and monetary union, in particular the banking union.

>> Read the full interview with Thierry Repentin on euractiv.fr (in French)

The European Commission told France on 29 May to cut labour costs, reform its pension system and open up its protected markets in exchange for a two-year respite to bring its budget deficit under 3% of GDP.

French President François Hollande replied swiftly, saying “the Commission cannot dictate what we should do”.

  • 27-28 June: EU summit in Brussels

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