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Michel Barnier: “No financial player will be beyond regulation”

With just a few days to go until the likely investiture of the second Barroso Commission,, in partnership with the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, met with French Commissioner designate for Internal Market and Services, Michel Barnier. Barnier went through the priorities of his new mandate, the strategic aspect of this portfolio and the need for intelligent regulation of the European economy.  He also mentioned the idea of a tax on financial transactions and the creation of a European force for civil protection.

To see the video recording and to read the whole text of the interview, click here and visit the site of "Toute l'Europe". / MAEE : Michel Barnier, you were previously European Commissioner for Regional Policy: What is your frame of mind as you start your new mandate?

One can only be passionate when offered a role and a mission within the European Commission because it is a very original institution which has for the last 50 years been independent, in charge of proposals, giving impetus to and implementing decisions made my heads of state, the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament.  

For quite a long time, I have wanted to return to the European Commission because I think the European project is the most amazing political project, while perhaps also being the most fragile.  If politics means that while laws need to be created and budgets managed and that from our convictions we can create collective progress...if that is what politics is, then the European project is the most amazing political project on a continental scale.

At this point in time, the project is fragile. We are at a moment of truth for the world has changed in the last 50 years. What lessons can be learnt from these changes? How can we protect ourselves? How can we make ourselves heard? How can we take part in a new world order? How can we achieve cooperation between nations? Cooperation is not the same as merging. We maintain our differences, our languages, our national identity but we are creating something more that gives strength to us all - and we are doing it together.  That is the European project. In today’s world, I think that Europe is not an option but a necessity for each of our nations.

I am returning to the Commission under the authority of José Manuel Barroso, a man for whom I have great respect. I also return with the trust of my country and the trust of the president of the French Republic. I am also returning with a lot of passion, enthusiasm, resolve and also a little idealism.

Does the Lisbon Treaty affect the way that the Commission works?

Yes, of course. It consolidates, reinforces and sanctions the codecision power of the European Parliament in many areas. It also gives new power to the national parliaments. Codecision puts the Parliament on an equal footing with the Council of Ministers in the majority of legislative situations which will change many things.  The Commission will have to pay more attention to the views, opinions and decisions of the European Parliament.

For this reason, I had wanted to be elected to the European Parliament and thus be a political Commissioner who has perhaps, in addition, this extra democratic legitimacy.

France was chosen for the Internal Markets portfolio after long negotiations.  Why is this a strategic post?

First of all, France did not get this post as it is not France that is in charge of the Internal Market - it is a French person. And what’s more, a French person who is going to take an oath. This is an important and demanding moment in front of the Court of Justice. To be a European commissioner means leaving aside your national interests for the benefit of general European interests.

That does not mean that national interests and general European interests do not overlap. The more that happens, the better. I will keep my nationality; I am proud to be French. However, I will take an oath to be an independent European Commissioner with a portfolio that is indeed strategic.

Let’s not forget that since the Treaty of Rome was signed in 1957, the common market has been at the heart of the European project. The common market has been the economic and social life that we share.  As I asked the Parliament during my hearing, what was the impetus behind our European project (apart from the European Coal and Steel Community in the 1950s, the momentum of Robert Schuman, Jean Monnet, Adenauer and other great statesmen)? It was the desire to be together in the aftermath of the Second World War, to make lasting peace together, to create collective progress together and it was also the need and interest in working together via the economy. This was why coal and steel resources were pooled in the ECSC. This led to the common market, then the single currency and communal policies such as in agriculture, the environment, regional policy and others.

What I would like therefore is for us to rediscover this desire and need to work together.  This is why the internal market is strategic - because it is the economic and social life of 500 million consumers and citizens and 5 million enterprises (90% of which are small enterprises).

What will your priorities be as Commissioner for the Internal Market?

I want to confirm, subject to being nominated (as the European Parliament has the final vote and at the time of this interview, the vote has not taken place), what I said to the European Parliament. I want citizens, consumers and small enterprises to take back the internal market. I want to be commissioner of a greater internal market, not a lesser one.

I want to revive, through this great portfolio, all the socio-economic dimensions of the market which are fundamental to the European project. Let’s learn the lessons of this crisis (which is not yet over) in terms of regulation, transparency and control so that it does not happen again.  Even if we cannot prevent other crises from happening, we can at least learn from this crisis which has been the most serious one since 1929. I am going to work on different axes.

What power will the Commissioner for the Internal Market have for "putting transparency, responsibility and morality back into the heart of the financial market", as you stated during your hearing in front of the MEPs?

The way forward has already been opened. The debate on regulation of speculative funds, for example, is taking place at the moment led by the proposals of the Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers.

The debate on financial supervision is key. This crisis is linked to a crisis of liquidity, to weaknesses, even failure, of the credit rating measures and the regulatory and supervisory systems all over the world. We are in the process of learning these lessons.

My roadmap is extremely simple. It takes up what was decided and recommended by the G20. The 20 most powerful countries in the world were in agreement with all heads of state of these great powers.  I am therefore going to apply this roadmap to Europe, even if Europe is already somewhat ahead and is setting an example. I stated my conviction in front of Parliament, including for the European financial industry which is very important, that we need the financial industry - in London, Paris, Frankfurt and other capitals - to serve the economy. But this is an opportunity, and it will be an advantage, for the financial industry to be able to rely on solid foundations, good regulation and fair controls.

I am not going to regulate or legislate for fun of it. I am going to create intelligent regulation and efficient supervision. I will apply the G20 plan and I have clearly stated my mission that no region, no market, no product and no financial player will be outside of this intelligent and necessary regulation and this efficient supervision.

Interviewed by and Estelle Poidevin (MAEE).

Originally published on 25/01.2010.

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