French business leaders fear Brexit uncertainty

Gérard Mestrallet

Gérard Mestrallet [World Economic Forum/Flickr]

French business leaders are afraid that Brexit, and the current uncertainty surrounding the UK’s future, will undermine the EU’s fragile economic recovery. EURACTIV France reports.

“If we continue to go round in circles over the future of Europe we will end up being overtaken by the big emerging powers,” said Fabrice Bréguer, the CEO of aeroplane manufacturer Airbus.

The question of the future of the European Union dominated the opening of the 18th summer university organised by Medef, the French business lobby, in Jouy-en-Josas, just outside Paris on Tuesday (30 August).

French bosses rally around Juncker's 300 billion investment plan

Regular critics of the European Institutions, French business leaders are nevertheless interested in a 300 billion euro investment plan promised by the incoming Juncker Commission.

“I feel hurt since Brexit,” said Gérard Mestrallet, the president of Engie, an energy company, and Paris Europlace, the organisation in charge of promoting the Paris stock exchange. “During the campaign, we bought advertising space to tell the Brits: we love you, stay!” he added at the packed Rebuilding Europe conference.

British business leaders also regretted the referendum result. “Brexit is obviously not the result that businesses had hoped for,” said Paul Dreschler, the president of CBI, the UK’s leading business organisation.

Being firm with Britain

The broadly shared regret at the UK leaving the European family is accompanied, across the Channel, by calls for a firm hand in dealings with the country.

Since the referendum on 23 June, the question of the UK’s definitive exit from the EU has been up in the air, dependent on the activation of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty by London. Until this step is taken, the negotiations on the terms of the divorce cannot be negotiated. But British Prime Minister Theresa May has still not fixed a date, allowing the uncertainty to drag on.

“The construction of Europe was difficult, its deconstruction is also bound to be difficult,” said Mestrallet. “But now we have to be firm with Great Britain.”

French and German employers band together to push their cause

French and German employers’ associations have called on their governments to make commitments in favour of their companies’ competitiveness ahead of the Franco-German summit on 19 February.

The fear of seeing the current uncertainty over the UK’s future continue was quite apparent at the summer university. “Brexit has dealt a blow to the fantastic project that is the European construction, it is up to us not to destroy what is left,” said Mestrallet.

While remaining highly critical of certain aspects of the European project, like the abundance of standards and the question of enlargement, French businesses called for an effective relaunch of the EU.

The deeper integration of the eurozone and the reorganisation of economic governance, as well as the construction of a common energy supply and a capital markets union, were projects mentioned by the French bosses.

“Europe has many faults, but anyone in the room who has a better idea should stand up now!” said liberal MEP Sylvie Goulard.

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