President Emmanuel Macron has said that he “loves” the UK and its people, but that it is difficult to have an “honest” relationship with a government which does not “do as it says it will” amid tensions surrounding migration, fishing and security.
Following a speech made yesterday (December 9) in which he introduced France as the new head of the Council of the European Union, President Macron was asked about the country’s relationship with the UK, and how it might be improved.
“The UK is a great nation, a neighbour and a friend. Our history, like our geography, does not change,” he responded.
“We have several hundred thousand French people who live there, who love the country. And there are several hundred thousand British people who also love France and who have built a life here.
“There are disagreements with the current government, which is another matter. I would like above all to send a message to the British people: we have this friendship because at its heart nothing can call it into question.
“Today, our relationship is difficult, but why is that?
“Because the current government, until now – and I hope that things will change, that we can resume an honest and trusting relationship – has simply not done as it says [it will].
“In recent weeks there has been progress and I want to acknowledge that. There is a true, sincere engagement and I hope that a new path is opening up, I really do.
“We need to work in good faith together on issues surrounding migrants. If we want to solve this humanitarian issue of migration between our two countries we need a renewal of engagement on Britain’s part.
“Why are these men and women there [on the northern French coast] in terrible conditions? Because they do not want asylum in France.
“We have offered it to them, we have created shelters for them. But these men and women want to reach Britain because there is no legal pathway directing asylum rights. Because there is still this opaque system that has been around since the 1980s, which means that the economic model depends on the illegal labour of foreigners.
“If the British do not address this situation properly we will always have these issues at our borders.”
President Macron went on to accuse the UK government of retracting promises over fishing licences, before making reference to the Aukus pact row.
This dispute was prompted when Australia pulled out of a €56billion submarine contract with France to sign a trilateral agreement with the UK and US.
“Can I ignore the fact that the British were, it seems, the fervent promoters of a contract which deliberately went against a French vision in the Indo-Pacific region to build an alternative – and exclusive – vision?” President Macron said.
“All these are not the obvious hallmarks of friendship, and that’s an ‘understatement’.
“I love Britain. I love its people. I want so much to have a government that wishes simply to work with us in good faith.”
Schengen, Gafam and a new two euro coin
During his speech, President Macron also outlined the key priorities of France’s presidency of the Council of the European Union, stressing the importance of “recovery, power and belonging.”
This is the first time in 13 years that France has headed up the Council of the European Union. The country’s presidency will begin on January 1 and last for six months.
In this time, France will aim to unite the EU’s 27 member states on issues including the post-Covid economic recovery, the European Green Deal and regulation surrounding Gafam (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft).
President Macron also stressed that “a sovereign Europe is a Europe that is capable of controlling its borders,” detailing plans for regular meetings on immigration and an “emergency mechanism” for times of crisis such as recent events at the border between Poland and Belarus.
“To avoid the right to asylum, which was invented on the European continent, from being corrupted, we must find a political arrangement capable of defending its values,” he said, adding that he intended to work with migrants’ “countries of origin and of transit” to fight against human trafficking.
The president also spoke about strengthening the ties between Europe and Africa, and setting Europe’s post-Covid recovery in motion with a leaders’ summit in March 2022.
The fight against climate change will also form a key part of France’s presidential programme, with plans to impose extra import duties on goods whose production is deemed to be too polluting.
President Macron also hopes to “advance negotiations on the establishment of a European instrument to fight against deforestation,” which would look to ban the importation of products such as beef or palm oil created through the destruction of forests.
A ‘Digital Markets Act’ would aim to tackle fraud and illegal online content, forcing the Gafam platforms to introduce further regulatory mechanisms.
France’s presidency will also see a new two euro coin enter into circulation, engraved with an oak and an olive tree to represent “strength and wisdom.”
The Council of the European Union is an EU institution which works over ten key areas of public life, from agriculture and fishing to foreign affairs. It is responsible for negotiating and adopting legislation proposed by the European Commission, as well as the EU budget.
The Council of the European Union is not the same as the Council of Europe, the latter being formed of 47 European countries – not all in the EU – and which began with the aim of upholding democracy and human rights in the wake of World War Two.
As president of the Council of the European Union, France will preside over meetings and be the EU’s representative on the world stage.