Confined to Normandy but frequently called upon to return to Brussels for the parliamentary session, Nicolas Bay comes out of this coronavirus crisis with the conviction that Europe pays homage to the sovereignist theses of his party, the National Rally. The planned repatriation of the pharmaceutical industries so as not to depend on Asia is, he considers, the admission by Brussels that excessive free trade makes Europe vulnerable. In this interview, he announces the reasons why the parliamentary group Identity and Democracy will not vote for the recovery plan of 750 billion euros proposed by the Commission with the blessing of President Macron and Chancellor Merkel.
Le Point: The Commission proposes to help mainly Italy and Spain, but also the other European countries, including France, by direct subsidies to restart the European economy. Can the National Rally be against this European solidarity?
Nicolas Bay: What is done on a continental scale with impressive figures must be put into perspective when we relate these sums to the scale of each nation. Even if they are not negligible, most countries would be able to do at national level what is organized at European level with the advantage of having a real grip on the way in which this money would be used.
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Through this recovery plan, I see the will to move forward on a budgetary federalism to then install a political federalism. This European recovery plan masks a federalist agenda.
Will you ultimately vote in favor of the European recovery plan ?
No. We are obviously not opposed to recovery plans at European level. Our group’s votes in the European Parliament since March are proof of our pragmatism in this area. But there is in this plan an obvious instrumentalization of the crisis to advance in federalism whose rigidity is however the cause of part of the health and economic difficulties which struck Europe. It is a form of headlong rush, whereas we should take advantage of this opportunity to reshape the European project and move towards a Europe of freer nations, a more flexible model, with enhanced cooperation and strategic protections.
Without a European recovery plan, Germany, with its enormous budgetary capacity, would have the means to support its industry, even if it means crushing competition … This recovery plan also aims to avoid too great disparities within the Union.
This plan aims above all to save the euro, which everyone knows is a major competitive advantage for Germany on the international scene. To believe that there is pure altruism on the part of Berlin would be like imagining that the Marshall Plan of 1948 was a disinterested mark of American generosity.
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If we look at the distribution, the desire to reduce disparities is not so obvious. Italy would certainly receive 82 billion euros, but France, although very impacted, would receive 39 billion, while Germany, relatively spared, would receive 29 … Furthermore, each country has a national recovery plan independently of what is organized at European level.
The question is who will pay in the end and we can see that the nine net contributor countries, including France, will be on the front line to honor these very important debts that are contracted. As always for thirty years, we will pay more than we will receive. We will be told that this debt could be partly covered by taxes, but the proceeds of these taxes would remain paltry compared to the fundraising envisaged.
According to the Commission’s calculations, the four taxes envisaged – that on Gafam, on large groups, the internal carbon tax and that on borders – would raise between 26 and 35 billion euros per year. Which would, in principle, be enough to cover a loan over thirty years …
Can the 27 Member States reasonably commit to such a long and uncertain period? And, financially, we will probably still be far from the account! Bruno Le Maire’s Gafa tax was to bring in 500 million a year: it only raised 350 million, led Amazon to increase its delivery costs in France and is already abandoned following threats of commercial retaliation by the leaves from Washington.
In addition, let’s make a distinction between taxes. At the National Gathering, we have always opposed a European tax which would burden purchasing power and which would be added to an already confiscatory national tax system, as is the case in France but also in the Scandinavian countries.
On the other hand, we are not opposed to the principle of taxes, a fortiori if they are supported by economic competitors from European countries. Besides, we have always defended the establishment of economic protections at the borders of Europe. We are not at all reluctant to the idea of a tax on products that come from the other side of the world and that do not meet our standards, neither social, nor health, nor environmental. I am thinking in particular of products from China…
But, beyond the effects of the announcement, there remains a real question about the ability of the European institutions to impose these taxes. When we talk about the Gafam tax, I wonder about the possibility of Germany, having regard to its automobile industry, to resist the retaliatory measures that the Americans will immediately implement … The trade war is possible and winnable, but you still have to have the will to lead it.
If Europe embarks on the path of taxes on imported products, at that time, we must go to the end of logic and stop this headlong rush into unrestrained free trade. This poses a broader question: everyone today recognizes first our vulnerability towards China, then our deindustrialization which is a terrible fragility on the world scene. If we want to reindustrialize, we must also get out of this logic of free trade. If we want to rebuild industries in Europe, we will always have competition from countries that do not meet our standards and flood our market with products at lower cost. We must therefore get rid of the EU dogmas which have dominated trade negotiations for decades now and think again in national and European rather than global terms.
When Emmanuel Macron says he wants to learn from the health crisis, what do you mean?
Learning the lessons from the health crisis means first of all calling into question globalized free trade. That is to say to question Emmanuel Macron himself, as a political embodiment of this vision. When Macron says “we must reinvent myself, me first”, it is an admission of failure of the political synthesis that he represented between a part of the Republicans and the socialists who, pretending to build an open world, without borders and without roots, have dislocated our industrial fabric and placed us in a situation of vulnerability.
In fact, in the Franco-German agreement between Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel, there is the idea of making ourselves less vulnerable in certain strategic sectors, including medicine, medical protection. Do you see it as an ideological victory?
When Emmanuel Macron speaks of national and European sovereignty in industrial matters, it fully validates the political positions that the RN and its European allies have been defending for a very long time. But now we have to translate it into action. However, the opposite is done by the European institutions since, even during the health crisis, they continued negotiations on free trade agreements, in particular the updating of the trade agreement with Mexico. This logic of the large open market remains the dominant dogma, while it shattered on the real during the health crisis.
Does this mean that you do not trust Emmanuel Macron and Chancellor Merkel to give this new impetus to a sovereign Europe?
Their objective is first to push forward European federalism, which has aroused, apart from the strictly budgetary reluctance of the so-called frugal countries, a certain tension in the other Member States. Wanting to decide for two what will then be assumed at twenty-seven is exactly the opposite of the European solidarity they rely on all day.
But, above all, Macron and Merkel are pushing for a federalist project which has shown its limits in this health crisis. We were told that, in a context of major crisis, the effective level was the European Union. However, the European Union was absent and proved incapable of anticipation before the crisis and incapable of coordination during it.
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The Barnier plan to fight against risks, including the pandemic, was proposed in 2006. We don’t know why Europe didn’t adopt it, we don’t know who blocked it…
The EU is simply a victim of its blissful optimism, its faith in triumphant progress and in global management. The Covid-19 crisis is an obvious and dramatic example: even the recommendations issued since January by the ECDC, the European body responsible for the prevention of health crises, have not been taken into account, whereas ‘they were more precise than those of WHO. Departing from the precautionary principle, Brussels erred by overconfidence in a global institution which is notoriously subservient to China!
What ECDC recommendations are you thinking of?
For example, the first serious alert from the ECDC was issued on January 22, advising to test travelers returning from China as well as to build up test stocks and protective equipment for medical staff. Another example on borders: in principle, the President of the Republic did not want to control them. There too, we saw a very ideological reaction from Emmanuel Macron, contrary to our most essential interests. In fact, the countries that have fared best – I am thinking of Austria – are the ones that closed their borders first.
In fact, it all depends on the time: if you close the borders before the virus enters, you have a chance to curb the epidemic. If you close too late, there’s no point. Confinement therefore makes it unnecessary to close the borders since, by definition, you can no longer move around…
I remind you all the same that the government authorized the Lyon-Turin match on February 26, four days after the first death in Italy. The virus is circulating with people who are infected, closing the borders as soon as possible is probably not a quick fix but is one of the effective ways to limit the spread.
In France, we have direct borders with Belgium, Italy and Spain, three of the countries hardest hit by the virus. How coherent is it to ask the French not to travel to the neighboring department – and even within a radius of one kilometer around their home – and to leave the borders open with the countries that were most affected?
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I personally experienced this: in the middle of confinement, for the needs of the parliamentary session, I drove to Brussels by car and so I crossed the Franco-Belgian border in one direction as in the other without any control. Later, there was a systematic check in the direction from France to Belgium, but not in the other direction. And the French police, who were on long twelve-hour vacations, even admitted to me that, three times out of four, due to the lack of a replacement team, there were no more checks during the following twelve hours. It’s a bit like Bangladesh (laughs)!
During this crisis, French patients were hospitalized in Germany, Switzerland, etc. Does not this experience militate to organize, in the future, relief by living area rather than within the framework of national borders? It was quicker to hospitalize a person from Strasbourg to Germany than to transport him to Toulouse…
Of course ! And all of this is done through direct cooperation between the countries concerned. If you mix in the European institutions, you risk adding bureaucracy, costs and inefficiency. The bureaucratic excesses which, unfortunately, very often characterize the European institutions are the main enemies in a period of crisis where agility and the capacity to adapt are decisive.
Matteo Salvini, your ally, was very silent on the recovery plan. What is going on ? Has he lost his hand in Italy against a Giuseppe Conte acclaimed by public opinion?
Not at all. Besides, if Matteo Salvini had expressed strong criticisms of the Conte government, he would have been criticized for jeopardizing the national unity of the Italians against the virus. He demonstrated a sense of responsibility; he is a statesman who was Deputy Prime Minister of Italy and who today heads the most important political party in his country. Obviously, he will not hesitate to take stock afterwards, as we will also do in France, of the shortcomings, deficiencies, errors that have been committed by the government.
Giuseppe Conte is undoubtedly the short-term beneficiary of a context of cohesion of a people struck by misfortune. Its renewed popularity will probably run out of steam after the past crisis. Besides, he has no party, he was the man of a 5-star Movement that collapsed. Let him stand for election in the future at the head of his political party and challenge the coalition led by the Lega, with Fratelli d’Italia and Forza Italia, which remains very largely at the head of all opinion polls!
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Matteo Salvini is still pending legal proceedings for preventing a migrant boat from docking. The judicialization of political life does not only affect France …
The Italian press (the newspaper La Verità, Editor’s note) disclosed a conversation between magistrates who recognized that Salvini was right on the merits of the migration problem and in his political choices when he was minister, but that he still had to find a way to condemn him because he had prevented illegal immigrants to dock in an Italian port. This case demonstrates an extremely serious partisan instrumentalization of the judicial institution in Italy. It is a marked attack on the rule of law which the European institutions have not taken up at all. We constantly hear vociferations of the Commission, relayed by a few voices among the macronists, the Greens and the socialists, against Poland or Hungary. We did not hear them about this instrumentalization of justice for political ends in Italy!