European Union - Brexit - Press conference by M. Jean-Marc Ayrault, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development (Paris, 29/03/2017)
Ladies and gentlemen,
I wanted to speak here, in the Quai d’Orsay’s Clock Room, on the day when the British Prime Minister officially sent her notification, by letter under Article 50 of the European treaty, that the United Kingdom wished to officially leave the European Union. Clearly it’s no surprise, because the event had been announced, but nevertheless it’s no ordinary event.
As I had the opportunity to say again on Saturday, Brexit has, in a way, destroyed a taboo: that of the irreversibility of the European enterprise. At the same time, this letter arrived a few days after the Rome Treaty’s 60th anniversary, which led to the adoption of a strong declaration by the 27 members of the European Union.
While this notification stage was expected, it has an advantage: it brings clarity. On the one hand, the will of the British people will be respected; on the other, it’s up to the 27 members of the European Union to implement their shared determination to strengthen the EU, and that’s the spirit of the Rome declaration that was adopted on Saturday.
I’m here in the Clock Room because I want to send a message, a strong belief. It’s in the interests of France and the Europeans to continue together what they’ve patiently built. And it began here, in this room, with the declaration by Robert Schuman, Foreign Minister, on 9 May 1950. It was five years after the war, in a difficult situation. And it was, first of all, a message of reconciliation and a hand outstretched to Germany. That hand was taken and it made possible that first stage of the European enterprise, namely the European Coal and Steel Community and then, a few years later, the Rome Treaty, which led us to what we are. That strength, that union - more then ever in the unstable context we’re experiencing - must be reaffirmed with conviction and force.
And so it’s in this spirit that we’re going to embark on this new stage in the history of the European enterprise.
In the negotiations beginning with the UK, what matters for France is the unity of the 27 in their determination to uphold the European interest in the forthcoming negotiations. This unity is based on some shared principles. We’ve identified them.
Firstly, the negotiation must be orderly, methodical and conducted by the Commission, with a negotiator who has been appointed, Michel Barnier, on the basis of the guidelines and mandate that are going to be provided by the European Council and the Council in a few weeks’ time.
And we must also remember a principle, namely the indivisibility of the four freedoms relating to the movement of goods, capital, services and people in the European Union, as part of the single market.
Finally, it’s a rejection of an «à-la-carte» Europe where it’s possible to take it or leave it depending on one’s preferences or interests. The European Union is a balance. It’s a balance between rights and responsibilities. The one doesn’t go without the other and, as I’ve had the opportunity to say several times, there will be no cherry-picking, there will be no «à-la-carte» Europe. And we must stick to this line of conduct.
So France is embarking on these negotiations in a clear and calm frame of mind.
They will indeed be difficult negotiations, but we must approach them constructively, with respect for the UK, and our approach is in no way to want to punish a country that voted the way it wanted. The UK voted and the UK decided to leave. Theresa May’s letter is clear. So we must ensure that the negotiations are conducted on the basis of clarity, which, for many issues - I’m thinking of security -, doesn’t mean cooperation with the UK is going to stop. It will continue and it’s necessary. But the UK knows full well that leaving the European Union has consequences that it will have to take on board. That’s what Theresa May recognizes herself in the letter she sent the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk.
So it’s through a spirit of responsibility that it will be possible to carry through these negotiations on separation, which, by virtue of Article 50, will have to be completed within two years. Moreover, within two years we’ll have another rendez-vous, namely the next elections to the European Parliament. So it’s desirable for these negotiations not to go on too long.
After the negotiations on separation, there will be other negotiations, namely on organizing he future relations between the 27-strong European Union and the United Kingdom.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is France’s point of view. Thank you./.