One of the newest and youngest members of the French government met the Anglo-American Press Association in late June to talk about some of the most important issues facing France and Europe.
Amélie de Montchalin was appointed Secretary of State for European Affairs only three months earlier, taking over from Nathalie Loiseau who had quit the government to lead President Emmanuel Macron’s party in the European election campaign.
The 34-year-old gave up a high-flying business career in banking and insurance to run for Macron’s centrist La République en Marche party in the country’s 2017 parliamentary elections.
De Montchalin received AAPA members in the gilded surroundings of the Foreign Ministry’s Quai d’Orsay headquarters to answer questions about Brexit, the outcome of the European elections, and the future leadership of the European Union´s institutions.
Speaking only days after Theresa May announced her resignation as British Prime Minister after repeatedly failing to get the withdrawal agreement she negotiated with the EU through parliament, de Montchalin said that the EU’s internal market, and the so-called four freedoms for the movement of goods, services, workers and capital, would remain red lines for France in ongoing Brexit talks.
If the United Kingdom wanted to leave the EU, everything needed for an orderly Brexit was already on the table, but the important thing now was the future relationship, where there were many possibilities, she said.
France and the EU were prepared for a no-deal Brexit, even though they didn’t want it, de Montchalin insisted.
The secretary of state was sceptical about the possibility of a second referendum in the UK overturning Brexit, saying that there was considerable division in British society between Leavers and Remainers and a second vote would not resolve that problem.
But she was unwilling to be drawn on reports in British media that Boris Johnson, then running for leadership of the country´s Conservative Party, had called the French side “turds” because of their position on Brexit issues. (Johnson later said he had “no recollection” of making the alleged remark.)
“I prefer not to comment on words that I do not understand myself, because it’s a linguistic register I did not learn in school,” was her diplomatic response.
-Pól O’Grádaigh