Alain Juppé, mayor of Bordeaux, former French Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs spoke at Kings as part of the Policy Institute at King’s ‘Europe in crisis‘ project on 21 May.
Essentially, M. Juppé sought to send three different messages to three different audiences. To all EU voters, he outlined the main policies of the centre-right European People’s Party in the context of the forthcoming European Parliament elections. To British citizens, he sought to highlight the continuing importance of the EU for the UK (laying particular emphasis on the fact that France still values UK membership). To French electors, he gave a taste of what his European and foreign policy orientations would be if the UMP – for whom he may well yet be a candidate in the 2017 presidential elections – was to return to power.
M. Juppé began by addressing the criticisms directed at the EU, noting that Brussels is often accused of being undemocratic, naïve, inefficient, and the source of widespread unemployment as a result of its policies of austerity. And yet, he pointed out, the current credit crisis originated not in Brussels but in the United States. Moreover, the EU has proven invaluable in providing member states with a stable currency and low interest rates. The impact of the financial crisis, in other words, would have been far greater had the Union not existed.
The best response to the problems confronting Europe, Juppé argued, is for the EU to move towards greater integration. In particular, EU action is required to enable the Union to be more competitive on the world stage in two areas in particular: economic policy and energy policy. In the former, Juppé called for common economic policy that would go beyond mere banking supervision, thus agreeing with Angela Merkel’s proposition. His specific proposal foresaw the creation of more regional champions such as Airbus. This has been a traditional French demand, dating from concern about the predatory behaviour of American firms in the 1960s. Yet he gave few details about how such schemes might be promoted, and how governments could be persuaded to support them.
Energy provided the second element of his economic vision. The former minister underlined the strategic necessity for the EU to be less dependent on foreign energy supplies. The EU’s inability to prevent the annexation of Crimea was, according to him, partly down to the Union’s reliance on Russian gas, partly to the inability of Britain, France and Germany’s to speak with one voice on the international stage, partly to considerations of “realpolitik”, such as France’s wish to go ahead with the sale of Mistral ships to Moscow. A possible solution would be for European countries to invest both in nuclear power and renewable energy.
The Q and A session following the speech focused on the Ukrainian crisis, France’s attitude towards on UK membership and the ‘democratic deficit’. On the first, Juppé insisted on the need to restore “a balance” of influence and power between the EU and Russia, for which energy independence is key.
When it came to the position of the UK, Juppe stressed that France remains attached to UK EU membership, arguing that Brexit would be “a catastrophe”. Moreover, he emphasised that there was no need for treaty change, as the current treaties permit an “à la carte” EU, allowing more integration for those who want and can, and opt-outs for others, thus making it unnecessary to either leave the EU, or change the treaties. He gave very little sense, however, of how a Europe in which Eurozone member states proceeded forward with further integration could also take account of non-euro member states such as the UK, whose governments have genuine concerns that tighter Eurozone integration might diminish their influence over key ‘EU-27’ policy areas such as the single market.
On the issue of the ‘democratic deficit’ , the former Prime Minister argued that the Lisbon treaty partly corrected this by giving more power to the Parliament. In light of the results of the elections to the European Parliament, which took place the day after his speech and which saw a significant rise in the popularity of Eurosceptic parties across Europe, however, there is certainly room to doubt whether Europe’s citizens perceive the EU parliament in such a positive light.
The Policy Institute at King’s will discuss the European elections’ results in its next event on 9 June.