Barnier: ‘Many citizens are worried by a European project that has no limits’

Michel Barnier finger.jpg

EXCLUSIVE / The EU’s internal market commissioner Michel Barnier, a convinced European and known federalist, has come out in favour of limits being imposed on the European project, telling in an exclusive interview that he understood concerns expressed by the far-right and other eurosceptics. But he said Europe should also dare to venture into new areas such as defence and industrial policy.

Barnier has backed calls to limit the powers of the European Commission, agreeing with French President François Hollande that clear boundaries need to be defined.

“The country's budget, the content and quality of reforms remain the responsibility of the government of France and the Parliament,” Barnier said, stressing that French “sovereignty” on such areas should not be called into question.

The Commission and France became embroiled in a war of words in June after the EU executive issued Paris with prescriptive recommendations on economic reforms, a move that fell foul with the French President, who said the EU should not “dictate” reforms to member states.

Barnier backed those claims saying Europe should think of rolling back policies in areas where national or regional governments are more efficient – in line with the ‘subsidiarity principle’. His wish is for Europe to be able to do more in some areas and less in others.

“What less can we do here in Brussels? Subsidiarity is very important. Many citizens are concerned about a European project that has no limits or boundaries. Some should probably be established.”

“But we are not alone,” Barnier warned in the same breath, arguing that eurozone countries had special responsibilities with each other and were “bound by a settlement of co-ownership”.

“What more can we do? I will argue for a European industrial policy. It is important that European leaders again find the courage and boldness we had with the ECSC [European Coal and Steel Community]. I will argue for a European Defence Community, which will not be the same that we had imagined in 1954. These are issues on which Europeans together must do more and better.”

Discussions on deepening fiscal and economic integration among the 17 eurozone countries are expected to conclude this year at an EU summit on 19-20 December. Paris was initially reluctant to modify the EU treaties after facing difficulties to ratify a new fiscal discipline pact in 2012.

But François Hollande finally embraced the idea after winning concessions that the next phase of integration would also include steps to strengthen “the social dimension” of the economic and monetary union.

>> Read: Hollande: Treaty change ‘necessary’ to deepen eurozone

Many ideas have already been put forward, including giving the Commission powers to vet national budgets and set up an EU “treasury office” responsible for issuing common debt, or Eurobonds.

But Barnier deplored that such discussions were not brought to the attention of the general public and national lawmakers.  He suggested that France appoint a group of respected politicians to prepare a report on Europe and put it out for debate to the wider public.

“Germany usually has more precise ideas than ours about the future of Europe. In France, it is a difficult topic,” he said, conceding that the issue was “divisive” for both his centre-right UMP party, and the ruling socialist party.

“What I would dream of is a kind of national convention, a national public debate on the European vision of France. Good ideas can be everywhere – with Mr Mélenchon, the UMP, the Greens, the centrists…. We must also listen to other stances, such as those brought forward by the extreme right.”

“The public debate requires more democracy and listening to people. We cannot do Europe for the people without them.”

>> Read the full interview on (in French)

European leaders have opened a discussion about deepening economic integration as part of their longer term plans to solve the debt crisis in the euro area.

At a summit in December, EU leaders endorsed the idea of a "specific and time-bound roadmap" for deepening Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), which was initially planned to be agreed at their June 2013 meeting but was later postponed to December.

>> Read: December 2012 summit conclusions [pdf]

European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said that the roadmap would cover four issues:

  • The coordination of major economic reforms in the Member States, including through ex ante discussions.
  • The social dimension of the EMU.
  • The feasibility and modalities of mutually-agreed contracts for competitiveness and growth between governments and EU institutions.
  • Solidarity mechanisms that can enhance the efforts made by the member countries that enter into such contractual arrangements.
  • 22 Sept. 2013: General elections in Germany
  • 24-25 Oct. 2013: EU summit to agree social dimension of the single currency
  • 19-20 Dec. 2013: EU summit to decide way forward for deepening fiscal and economic integration in the euro area. The summit will also discuss plans to re-launch cooperation on defense policy.
  • 25 May 2014: European elections in France


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