France to engage in ‘strong political push’ to change EU budget deficit rules

Ambassador to Ireland discusses priorities for French presidency of Council of European Union

EU rules on budget deficits, dating back to the 1992 Maastricht Treaty, are no longer "fit for purpose" and France will seek to find a consensus on how they might be changed during its upcoming presidency of the Council of the European Union, the French ambassador to Ireland has said.

At a press briefing on Thursday, Vincent Guérend said a “strong political push” from France to find a way forward on the issue could be expected during the six-month presidency, which begins on January 1st.

He said there must be common rules on deficits but the treaty as it currently stands is “partly outdated” and constrains member states in addressing some major challenges. As examples, he cited borrowing for housing by Ireland or by Poland to pay for its transition away from its dependency on coal for power.

Mr Guérend said a number of events would be held in Ireland over the six-month presidency, including a discussion on European defence at UCD, one on European identity at NUI Galway, and another on freedom of expression at Bewleys Café in Dublin.

French president Emmanuel Macron, he said, was elected in 2017 on very pro-EU platform and would be seeking to pursue an ambitious programme during the country's presidency.

He said the international environment was “getting tougher”, with increased tensions between the US and China and “huge challenges” being created by Russia. The “only good news” is that the US administration is a lot more easy to deal with than it had been under the previous administration, Mr Guérend said.

Major objectives

Mr Macron, who will be seeking re-election as French president in April, has set out three major objectives for his six-month presidency of the council – recovery (from Covid-19 and other challenges); strength (with the EU doing more than previously to defend its values and interests); and developing a sense of belonging (so that citizens feel closer to Europe).

Mr Guérend said the issues currently being looked at by the EU include a “carbon border” whereby products such cement, steel or aluminium imported from outside the union would not be able to unfairly compete with producers who were obliged to implement EU carbon reduction policies.

While food imports, such as beef, would not be covered by such a carbon border, a similar principle would seek to ensure that trade agreements between the EU and third countries on food imports would include measures affecting climate change.

Anglo-French relations

Asked about France’s relations with the UK in the context of Brexit, Mr Guérend said the country sometimes adopts an “abrasive tone” with its British neighbour when it feels the UK is not respecting the agreements.

“We just ask for implementation of the agreements...We don’t ask for anything more, and we don’t want to be confrontational. We just want the British to implement the agreements.”

It is for the European Commission to discuss, negotiate, and then launch if necessary encroachment procedures with the British, he said.

“So don’t expect the French government to be particularly confrontational with the British. We have no interest whatsoever to do so.”

On fishing, he said France has done nothing more than ask for licences to be issued as they should be. On migration, Mr Guérend said France just wants international law to be respected.