“The EU has enormous strengths as a power, but it does not always know how to make use of them” | International

Clement Beaune, Secretary of State for the EU in France, arriving at the Elysee Palace in Paris on July 29, 2020.
Clement Beaune, Secretary of State for the EU in France, arriving at the Elysee Palace in Paris on July 29, 2020.BENOIT TESSIER / Reuters

Tectonic plates move in Europe, in the United States, in Asia. The pandemic has thrown the world into confusion. And France moves its pieces to make the European club become an “autonomous”, “protective” and “sovereign” power, to use the words of French President Emmanuel Macron.

“A Europe that gave the impression of not protecting would be a weakened Europe, in danger, to which the people would not adhere,” says Clément Beaune, French Secretary of State for the EU in France, in an interview with EL PAÍS in the Quai d’Orsay, headquarters of the ministry in Paris. “Europe already provides massive protection,” he says, “but it must be demonstrated and amplified, and it must be applied to all issues.”

Beaune (Paris, 1981), who will travel to Spain on Sunday and Monday, is the thinking head of Macron’s European politics, his Mr. Europe. A member of the president’s narrow circle, he was his adviser for the EU at the Elysee for three years, until he assumed his current position in July.

This is not an easy time for France. It has been semi-confined for almost a month. Islamist terrorism has struck again. The president’s liberal aura withers with initiatives such as the Global Security law, accused of limiting freedom of expression, and between episodes of police violence. And in Europe, their ambition does not always find the expected echo.

Defense policy is an example. France promotes “strategic autonomy” from the US Germany is not clear on this. Donald Trump “was in a way a shock and an awareness for Europeans,” according to Beaune. For the first time, it was clear that the EU could not always depend on the US The risk is that, with Joe Biden in the White House, the illusion will prevail that the transatlantic relationship will return to what it was and that, in Consequently, Europe does not need to develop its autonomy.

“In areas of sovereignty and power such as defense, security, foreign policy, climate, cutting-edge technology and space, Europe is still in its early stages. It has enormous assets, but it does not always know how to assert them as a power ”, he says. Mr. Europe. “The risk of weakening, or of non-affirmation, is permanent in Europe. Does the change of president in the US reinforce the risk? It depends on us. The very idea of ​​asking ourselves if our power depends on Washington’s political decisions is a sign of a certain weakness ”.

Beaune speaks of “sovereignty” and “power”, words “in a certain way adored in France, almost omnipresent”, but with other meanings in countries like Germany. But they are debates more terminological than substance, in his opinion. “Are there countries that believe that European defense spending should not be increased?” He asks. “No one questions this principle anymore. Are there countries that question the idea of ​​having common defense industrial projects? For the first time, there will be a European defense fund that will help these projects and no European country is opposed. Are there European countries – France is sometimes thought of – that believe that it is necessary to break NATO, to abandon NATO? None”.

Spain has taken sides. “I would say that I am with the German vision of international relations,” Pedro Sánchez said this week. It is not the only area where Madrid marks distances with Paris after, when arriving at Moncloa two years ago, Sánchez and Macron projected an almost total harmony.

“There is no cooling down either deep down or in personal relationships,” Beaune responds. And it lists the role of the Spanish-French alliance in the nomination of European positions in 2019 or the adoption of the recovery plan of 750,000 million euros. “There are some nuances,” he admits. And he mentions the transatlantic relationship, although he adds that Paris and Madrid cooperate hand in hand in the Europe of defense. “Regarding Turkey,” he continues, “perhaps there are tactical nuances, but there I also believe that the underlying diagnosis – the need to assert itself before Erdogan – is shared by Madrid and Paris.”

Beaune observes a convergence of the EU in the face of the pandemic: in the economic response – the recovery plan or national measures to support businesses and employment in the worst recession in decades – but also in the health one. “There is a European model in the management of covid,” he defends. “For many workers and people in difficulties it has been easier to live this crisis in Europe than in the US or, in some respects, in Asia in terms of freedom, solidarity and democratic debate.”

In the immediate term, the Twenty-seven face the blockade of Hungary and Poland to the common budget and the recovery fund, in protest against the vigilance of Brussels on the quality of the rule of law. Beaune advocates dialogue. But wield an alternative if the veto persists. “If it is necessary – and I do not consider it to be a good solution, it would be a European failure – you have to advance in a group of 25,” he says. “We must save the recovery and the rule of law.” It is not a battle between the east and the west, he warns. Because no one is immune to “illiberal trends: setbacks or drifts in fundamental rights and freedoms.” “It is a risk”, he concludes, “under which our societies live permanently”.