EPP vice-chair: ‘We have to be firm with the UK – no rotating presidency’

Françoise Grosstête may stand for the European Parliament presidency in mid 2017. [European Parliament]

France should renegotiate the UK’s Calais border deal, and Britain should miss out on the revolving Council presidency in late 2017, Françoise Grossetête told EURACTIV. She is deeply opposed to the organisation of a Brexit-style referendum in France. EURACTIV France reports.

François Grossetête is a French Republican MEP and vice-chair of the European People’s Party (EPP) group in the European Parliament. She spoke to Aline Robert, the editor-in-chief of EURACTIV France.

What is your reaction to the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union?

At first I was shocked. But the British people have decided. It is up to us to draw our conclusions quickly: we must take note of the decision and move on. It is very impotant to have a positive message.

What will happen now?

This is an unprecedented situation. It is the first time that an EU member has left the bloc. The United Kingdom has always had one foot in and one foot out, so the situation is peculiar.

We have to move foreward, to provide answers to European citizens that are asking similar questions to the ones that led to this referendum. We need concrete solutions to make Europeans feel protected.

How will the Brexit negotiations be organised?

I want the negotiations to move quickly. Two years is too long, it might paralyse the EU. The exit must be organised, of course, mostly to fight the kind of rhetoric that turns Europe into a scapegoat.

I have had enough of this paradox. Everyone is perfectly happy to receive the benefits of Europe, but all you hear is criticism of the civil servants and the administration.

How should we answer these criticisms about how the EU works?

There are not many civil servants, they work hard and for the most part very effectively. The political system needs to be reformed: its workings need to become more politicised.

Jean-Claude Juncker had promised a more political Commission, but so far we cannot say that this is the case…

The administration has held onto a certain amount of power, but that is precisely because the Commissioners are not leading it in a clear and political way. The Parliament must bring this more political dimension to the EU.

But how is that possible when the Parliament has no power of legislative initiative?

The Lisbon Treaty considerably strengthened the Parliament’s powers. And we can put pressure on the Commission with written questions and own initiative reports. Eventually, the Commission has to respond and propose legislation. I think this vote will further highlight the fact that the institution’s political role must be strengthened. Because if the political side is not strong enough, the administration takes the power.

Should the British border be allowed to stay in France? I am referring notably to the arrangement in Calais?

The Touquet agreement is a bad agreement, it was badly negotiated. Of course the UK border has to go back across the Channel, and France must be firm on this subject.

Brexit threatens to undo UK's Calais border deal

The bilateral agreement on the policing of the UK border on French territory could be one of the first victims of Brexit. EURACTIV France reports.

The United Kingdom was due to take on the rotating Council presidency in the second half of 2017. Is this still tenable?

How can we even think of allowing the UK to take on the rotating presidency now? That would send out an absurd message. This list of rotating presidencies absolutely must be modified.

What will happen to the Brits in the high civil service positions and the leaders of the European agencies?

That is a question that also has to be asked. In theory, the process of leaving the EU takes two years. That could give the civil servants the time to try and obtain dual nationality. But we have to set an example on this subject, because there would be consequences. If Europe is too weak and allows the United Kingdom to step on its toes, this will encourage populism elsewhere.

Is there a risk of contagion from Brexit? A member of your own party, Bruno Le Maire, has already called for a referendum in France.

This is a monumental error on his part. I am very disappointed in Bruno Le Maire. He was very pro-European, but he has slipped up. He has adopted the positions of the populist parties. This is ludicrous.

France’s future lies in the European Union. We understand what this referendum is, we have just seen the violent and often ridiculous fighting that took place in the United Kingdom: it is obviously a pointless exercise.

What solution do you propose to reconcile the French Eurosceptics with the EU?

We have to put more of a human touch in European politics. And most importantly we have to explain what Europe is and what it does. This did not happen in the British campaign. To put a stop to populism, the only solution is to make people understand what Europe is good for, in agriculture for example.

What will the consequences be for the European Parliament, with the disappearance of the ECR group, which will inevitably follow the UK’s exit from the EU?

The loss of this group will obviously lead to a political deficit on the right. Their input was useful for our European projects. David Cameron is responsible for this situation.

But this could also lead to a closer alliance between the pro-European political groups. The S&D group will also be weakened with the loss of the Labour Party.

The European Parliament is supposed to have a new president in mid 2017. Will you stand for the position?

We have been invited by Manfred Weber, the president of the EPP group, to a meeting in Bavaria after the holidays, to discuss this subject. There will be a lot of strong candidates. If the question of fielding a female candidate comes up, I will stand, but certainly not against my colleague Alain Lamassoure, who is highly qualified for this position.

The departure of the United Kingdom strengthens the credibility of a French candidate for this role. On the other hand, the question of whether the right can hold the presidency of the Council, the Commission and the European Parliament at the same time is open for discussion.

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