The major European issues for 2016
Given this difficult situation, there are a number of priorities that must be pursued in 2016, such as the simplification and consistency of the work the EU does and initiatives to support young people.
The following three priorities are particularly urgent:
1/ REGAIN CONTROL OF THE SCHENGEN AREA
The key issue is fighting terrorism. No country is safe from the threat. France has made a number of proposals. It is important that we act quickly to ensure that these solutions are fully operational as of this year, such as the European PNR, systematic controls at Schengen borders, and combating both arms trafficking and the funding of terrorism.
Regaining control of the Schengen Area also means containing the extraordinary flow of illegal immigrants. A number of solutions have been identified, including ‘hotspots’ in Greece and Italy for accommodating refugees and returning illegal immigrants to the border, protection for Europe’s external borders, with a European border control corps, and cooperation with third countries to support those that accommodate refugees and tackle the deep-rooted causes of migration.
It is vital that these measures are implemented this year. In the short term, however, there is an urgent need to deploy increased European and national resources to get these initial hotspots up and running in Greece and tighten border controls. The action plan with Turkey must also be fully implemented. Verification procedures (registration, taking fingerprints, document checks, etc.) must be meticulously observed.
There is also something of a state of emergency in Europe. This calls for exceptional measures, such as the reintroduction of national border controls, as provided for in the Schengen rules. These will need to be lifted again once the necessary guarantees regarding external border controls are in place.
All of these initiatives must form the basis of a European security pact that is crucial to the survival of Schengen and vital in the light of the migration challenge and the terrorist threat.
2/ IMPLEMENT EUROPEAN SCHEMES TO PROMOTE EMPLOYMENT
We have to build on the progress made in 2015, notably by developing a funding and investment union that would better fund the real economy, encourage convergence within the eurozone and increase its stability. It is also important that work on the long-term prospects of the eurozone continues.
The priority now, however, must be job creation. European funding is available and should be used to support forward-looking projects designed to achieve two major priorities for both Europe and France this year: the energy transition, capitalising on the achievements of the COP21, and digital modernisation, accompanied by scrupulous copyright protection checks, which are a vital for maintaining strong cultural and creative industries across Europe.
This funding must be mobilised: the Juncker Plan has already helped to implement a number of projects in France (16 in total) at a cost of nearly €2 billion, but much remains to be done; and the European funds dedicated to France, worth €26 billion, must be fully exploited.
This means raising awareness – by working with the presidents of France’s regional governments in particular – among anyone that might have a project eligible for this funding, and prioritising the rapid creation of jobs. It is also important to back any initiative that supports the overseas departments, which must remain a top priority for Europe.
3/ COMBAT FISCAL AND SOCIAL DUMPING
Here, too, progress has been made, notably with the agreement making tax breaks for businesses transparent.
We must now take the next step by enabling each State to effectively tax the profits made within its own jurisdiction. The Commission will put forward proposals in this respect. These should be adopted as a matter of urgency.
On the social front, unfair competition is undermining Europe’s internal market. Taking action will require strict monitoring of the practice of employee secondment, which is being perverted by fraud and abuse. The 2014 European agreement introduced additional safeguards. We must now tighten up the secondment rules themselves by modifying the 1996 Directive, applying the basic principle supported by President Juncker: ‘equal pay for equal work’.
The definition of a common set of social rights, outlined by the Commission, will also be important if we are to progress towards convergence, starting with the minimum wage, for example.
2016 will also bring with it a series of international challenges and Europe must play its part if it is to carry any weight. Military engagement by many Member States that have responded to our call following the Paris attacks – and that France once again salutes – is an encouraging sign. Europe must also defend its interests and values in trade negotiations. France will remain vigilant in order to ensure fair competition based on reciprocal exchange and respect for our standards.
The Government will do everything in its power to achieve these priorities in support of actions on the part of the President of the Republic. France will work with European institutions and all of its partners, starting with Germany.