Q. – Your issue of the moment is, of course, Brexit, which becomes reality on Friday, although a year-long transition period is beginning. You now need to negotiate, at European level, a trade agreement with the UK. But the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, seems to be using blackmail. According to The Times, he talked about the threat of customs taxes to exert pressure on the Europeans, as part of this discussion which is getting under way; there’s talk among other things of 30% on certain French cheeses. How do you talk to such a partner?
THE MINISTER – I’m going to be very clear. The right approach isn’t being taken on all these issues. We’ve got to recreate a fair and balanced trade framework, economic framework with the British. As you know, I’m in the heart of the Seine-et-Marne department with farmers at the moment. For them, Brexit is a worrying issue. And that’s why we’re going to be very clear, and Michel Barnier is very clear as the negotiator for the European Union. We can’t agree to the British putting on our doorstep, on our plates products arriving in Europe from the UK in the months and years to come which don’t comply with our standards. Why? We’re imposing a major ecological transition revolution on ourselves, a Green Deal in Europe. Obviously what comes to us from the United Kingdom will have to comply with the commitments we make here! For example, we’re saying that we want to halve the use of pesticides and [other] phytosanitary products. Are the British going to do the same? You see, we’ve lived with the same rules for 40 years. We’ve exported to the UK, we’ve imported from the UK, but it was balanced, it was fair. So I personally won’t be engaging in blackmail…
Q. – So you’re saying beware of social and fiscal dumping?
THE MINISTER – Of course! And we won’t sign an agreement if it’s a bad agreement. We’ll sign an agreement only if it’s balanced and fair. I’m perfectly aware that the UK is telling us we’ve got 11 months, and not a day, not an hour more to reach agreement. But, you know, I don’t have a problem with it lasting two years if that’s the time needed to get guarantees for our fishermen, our farmers, our business leaders who are operating under European standards, and that’s how they’ve lived. Moreover, it’s somewhat in their interest to keep the same ones because in order to trade, it’s always simpler, you know, to do things reciprocally. So Brexit, to be clear, what’s happening at the end of the week, is a political exit. It means there’ll no longer be any British MEPs in the European Parliament, there’ll no longer be any British commissioner in the European Commission, there’ll no longer be any ministers in the ministers’ meetings. But for our businesses, it means that the rules, for at least a year, will apply at either end of the Channel Tunnel – in the UK and Europe. But, above all, it means we’re very clear on one point: the timeframe exists, but we won’t sacrifice a single business or citizen just because we’re told we’ve got to get a move on.
Q. – And you won’t give in to Boris Johnson’s blackmail?
THE MINISTER – No, I think this is a period chosen by the British; they chose to leave the European Union politically. So we’re going to build with them a future relationship which will be different. But we want to do so as good neighbours, with good neighbourliness. And life in Europe must also go on. We don’t want to be held hostage to the discussion. There are some very important things being negotiated today, tomorrow, 20 February, with a summit on the European budget. These are essential issues: our food sovereignty, on the CAP for example, which is going to be determined, everything we want to do as regards research… So regarding the European budget, we must also have the time and independence of mind to tell ourselves that yes, there’s Brexit, and there’s also Europe which continues alongside it.
Translation courtesy of the French Embassy to the United Kingdom