Vocal Europe: Let’s start with UEFA Euro 2016. What do you think about the final match where your country was defeated at home by Portugal?
Henri Malosse: I like sport as a friendly competition. We have a saying in France: Que le Meilleur gagne (Let the Best team win ). So congratulations to Portugal!
In my Home island, Corsica, we have a large Portuguese Community, so we were happy to celebrate with them the victory of their team on Sunday the 10th of July ! This is just about sport and a friendly competition among European friends!
VE: How do you asses the outcome of Brexit referendum? Did you expect such a result?
HM: I expected a 50/50 result, so I was not far from the final outcome but of course I had hoped that the UK would remain IN ! I was in the UK the week before BREXIT referandum and I noticed a big division across the regions: There appeared to be a division between the wealthy middle class and those who have suffered most from austerity and job losses, the negative effects of the crisis and globalization!
In addition to that we have to take in consideration the fact that in some UK specific regions like Scotland and Northern Ireland, people see the EU as a part of the solution, especially when it comes to the future of their territories.
But nevertheless, globally, there is a sense of disagreement towards Brussels, its technocratic behavior, lack of respect for people’s view, inefficiency, toughness and indifference towards citizen’s lives. So Brexit has become a wake-up call for the all European Union. In fact, it’s the 4th negative vote on European affairs during this last year together with Greece, Denmark, and the Netherlands.
VE: What happens now? It seems that Britain is now entering a difficulty negotiating period on the terms of its exit, which could drag on for years. What should we expect from such a period in terms of business ties between Britain and the EU?
HM: I don’t expect a complete BREXIT to happen so far. I think there are too many interests which speak in favor of a non-BREXIT solution. I think we will see a special statute for UK, one foot in, one foot out, which is in fact not far of the actual situation. But I think EU should first of all demonstrate that the UK and all European citizens have been listened to and promise change in the EU. Without such an commitment the EU could be further weakened.
In the meantime, it’s important to keep contact and ties between UK and the remaining 27 other Member States as strong as possible, mainly on human and business perspectives. But the most important would be, in my opinion, to draw the right consequences on the growing split between EU institutions and public opinion.
VE: What is your perception of French public opinion on Brexit? Does French society is concerned about the future of united Europe?
HM: French public opinion was surprised by the results. On one hand, they have hope that the EU will be much easier to handle now without such a difficult partner as UK. On the other hand, they understand that BREXIT is a sign of weakness of the EU and that there is a real risk of dismantling the whole European Project now.
VE: How will Brexit impact especially the SMEs all around France?
HM: In the short term, some negative aspects could be foreseen, such as increased difficulties to approach the UK market because of the devaluation of UK Sterling and a possible renegotiation of some trading terms between companies. In the long term, it will depend on the outcome of the BREXIT negotiations. If the UK remains part of the EU Single Market, we shouldn’t expect too many consequences but, of course, any disturbances in the EU will have negative impact on SMEs and business, possibly with wider repercussions than just in France, UK or Europe.
VE: Many now argue that the recent statements made by President Hollande regarding the Brexit are very standard and do not address the key concerns that are shared by millions across the continent. Do you think, is there a need to initiate an EU institutional reform agenda targeting the shortcomings that let Brexit happen?
HM: EU institutions, including the EU council, reacted to BREXIT very though as if this was just a UK issue and they did not see the growing gap between the decision makers and the EU citizens. As long as the politicians do not draw the consequences of these NO Votes and start to make real changes in the EU, the situation will not change and can only become worse for the EU. I think a new EU governance is necessary, meaning more transparency, greater accountability and increased capacity to listen to civil society. European citizens expect more support for jobs , entrepreneurship and growth from the EU instead of austerity measures.
They expect protection of their borders, more security and action against terrorism instead of discussions on open borders. Apart from that one needs to underline that TTIP and the EU’s very surprising love affair with China with all its cheap subsidized products are destroying manufacturing opportunities and hence job opportunities for Europeans.
VE: Many are in opinion that refugee crisis and EU’s commitment for further enlargement caused the chaos that EU is today going through. If this is the case, what is your opinion vis-a-vis EU’s enlargement portfolio? Is it realistic to imagine that Enlargement will remain a key policy are for the EU in the coming years?
HM: I have always been a supporter of Enlargement because I think that all European nations have a right to participate to the European vision. Why should we deny that? For example, the Albanians, as one of the oldest nation of Europe? I don’t’ think that the Enlargement process is the cause of the crisis. I believe it is the European Leaders and the European Commission who have become arrogant, failed to have vision, leadership and therefore failed to act in times of crisis with long term solutions. The European bureaucracy needs to take responsibility for its actions, and inaction, instead of blaming others.
VE: There are some rumors arguing that in post-Brexit era, Franco – German alliance will further dominate the EU. What is your take on that?
HM: I don’t believe at all that, in 2016, the French-German alliance will again play the role of being the engine of Europe. Why just 2 countries should have this right? I think that today EU needs fresh ideas and new ideas coming from all parts of our continent, and as well as from smaller countries! Such notion that certain countries ruling the EU belongs to the past and is anti-democratic! My concept is that today, the citizens across our continent should be the real engine of Europe!
They deserve to get new rights, with the reinforcement of legitimacy of the European Parliament, reinforcement of the Citizen’s Initiative procedure (ECI) , more transparency and accountability from Commission and EU Council. We should reinforce the role of the democratic institutions of the EU, mainly European Parliament, Ecosoc and the Committee of Regions. Today, the European Commission doesn’t fulfill anymore its task to represent the general interest of European citizens. It just represents the view of a technocratic elite. We should think off a reform agenda for the European Commission in future, which should be executed together with the Parliament and the Council.
VE: As you might follow, populist parties in other EU member states were the first to react to the news, with Geert Wilders of the Dutch anti-Islam and eurosceptic Party for Freedom calling for their own referendum, he said: “We want be in charge of our own country, our own money, our own borders, and our own immigration policy,” he said. “If I become prime minister, there will be a referendum in the Netherlands on leaving the European Union as well. Let the Dutch people decide.” Are you concerned that such exit(s) can take place in different EU member states in the coming mounts and years?
HM: Yes, I think that as long as the EU leaders don’t understand the necessity for a “Wind of Change” in the EU, we will face a growing dissatisfaction among the EU population. As EESC President (2013-2015), I used these words “Wind of Change” as the slogan of my mandate , meaning that the EU must listen its citizens and it must reform. Sadly my recommendation fell on deaf ears, and now we see the consequences that people no longer want to talk, they just want to leave! The question is how much longer will EU leaders remain deaf before they themselves destroy the European Project?