Pre-election thoughts on France's European role

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Pre-election thoughts on France's European role

Pre-election thoughts on France's European role
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As the French presidential election approaches, EuroNews has been seeking more views. This time from Sylvie Goulard who heads The European Movement in France.

She is a former advisor to Romano Prodi when he was President of the European Commission and a tireless advocate of the benefits for France of the European Union, something which she says is missing from the current election campaign.

EuroNews: “You have just written this book ‘Europe for the ignorant’‘ – would you advise French politicians and particularly the candidates in the French presidential elections to read it? You said that from their remarks, it seems that they don’t have much thought for Europe.”

Sylvie Goulard: “I do not know if they should be thought of as ignorant. But what is certain, is that the European question is not being addressed as it deserves to be; not in the current presidential campaign, nor by French politicians generally, and not in the news either.”

EuroNews: “Isn’t that also somewhat related to the French No vote on the European constitution? Aren’t the candidates a bit afraid to be seen to be too pro-Europe?”

Sylvie Goulard: “Yes, but you can turn that question around. I believe that the No vote came about because of how the politicians are. Because it’s still the same people on the political scene as two years ago. At that time they didn’t have the courage to support the idea of Europe, in all of its richness and diversity, and with all of its problems. They didn’t have the courage two years ago, and they still don’t. It should also be said that we don’t really know what the French people wanted when they rejected the constitution in that referendum. The No vote came from an diverse mixture of different positions; from rejection of globalisation on one hand, to a right wing desire to preserve French sovereignty. So, there wasn’t just a single response to a particular concern. What is very revealing in this election campaign is the ignorance that is being displayed about the economic realities of the modern world. There are those who try to sooth the French people, to keep them happy, by telling them it is possible to maintain a high level of public spending, or that we can block competition, or that we will be able to convince the other members of the EU to change their social policies or accept the creation of national industrial champions, for which, whether you like it or not, there is no support in Europe today. As a result, the positions taken by some of the candidates are just not at all credible in the real world! About eight out of the 12 would not stand up to international scrutiny.
And among those that are slightly more credible, there are nevertheless some alarming signs and I’d say their thinking is inconsistent; for example going to Brussels and making a beautiful speech on Europe, and then, when back in France, beating up on the EU commission over its competition policy. It’s that kind of thing that is difficult to justify with the other EU members.

EuroNews: “Exactly what would you hope for from a future president with regard to Europe?”

Sylvie Goulard: “Firstly a great deal of courage. They’d need to explain to the French that, what they did in 2005 was shoot themselves in the foot. And that even those who voted No and who hoped by doing that to change Europe’s direction, in fact gained nothing with their No vote. The only thing that is certain, right now, is the status quo. In other words, the criticisms of those who find Europe too liberal, too much in favour of the market economy, too pro-free enterprise. All that does is boost the anti-Europe camp! The No vote helped all the ultra-liberals of Europe and all the euro-sceptics. The second thing which the future French president will have to do, it is to reconcile the French people with the free market economy. Because the most dramatic thing about the No vote in 2005, was that, in a way, it was a rejection of the Treaty of Rome. You can criticise the free enterprise system, which has its faults, but which also has good aspects, but the kind of economic caricature, the exaggeration, that forms the basis of the economic debate in France has to end. It effects France’s credibility, not only in Europe, but worldwide.”

EuroNews: “So, what are the indications for the future? In what way can we expect the different countries’ roles to change within Europe? Can France, indeed must France, maintain the influence which it’s had in the past?”

Sylvie Goulard: “I never separate the issue of France’s influence from we want for Europe. To talk about French influence as if the only purpose of that is to fight against this hideous monster that’s threatening us from Brussels, is absurd! France was there at the start of the European Union, therefore if it wants to have a positive influence on Europe’s future, and that it should continue in a direction which serves national interest and values, as long as they are compatible with the other member states’ positions, then yes. But trying to gain influence just for the sake of it makes no sense in Brussels. How then to improve relations with the other EU countries and institutions? I believe that the French have things to say, even in their criticism of globalisation or of capitalism and the way it works, there are valid points to be made. There are legitimate questions about the distribution of wealth, the way in which businesses are taxed as opposed to personal income tax, on the free circulation of people which allows some to avoid paying tax in Europe, etc. These are real issues for our society. But the French simply need to raise the problems in a more realistic way, if they want the rest of Europe to listen to them.”

EuroNews: “Is France in the bad state it is because of the damage it’s done to Europe?”

Sylvie Goulard: “No, I think things aren’t going well in France for a whole lot of reasons. I believe that there isn’t enough fresh blood in its political community. I am very struck by the length of time that politicians stay in office in France, compared with other countries. You don’t have any European country with a leader who was already in power in the 1970s, as is the case in France. The number of women and descendants of immigrants is ridiculously low in our parliamentary assemblies and the local legislatures. The country needs major renewal. It needs to realise that the world has changed, that the French language is not any more what it was, but that France continues to have things to say and to be listened to when it says them, in a less blunt way than with the No vote in 2005.