Euros - If you had to sum up François Hollande’s European project in one word, what would that word be ?
Stéphane Le Foll : One word ? Pro-active – and European. But that word can be broken down as we address a number of different issues. Firstly, that of economic governance and dealing with the problems affecting the Eurozone. Secondly, the budget, own resources and the tax on financial transactions – we have been working in that area for a long time with the idea that the tax should make it possible for the EU to source its own funding. And, finally, there is issue of the major growth targets that need to be put into perspective at European level. I feel we should also consider several issues relating to the institutions : there is a real problem between the community method and the bi-national (French and German) method, and we are currently following neither of those. There are no propositions from the European Commission and it is clear that we are no longer moving forwards as far as the partnership between France and Germany is concerned, partly due to Germany and partly due to Nicolas Sarkozy’s indecisiveness. For that reason we need to establish a new method which will allow each party to put its points across but following a much more European approach.
Euros : François Hollande has made some rather harsh comments regarding the partnership between Sarkozy and Angela Merkel, and has also criticised the EU’s institutions, saying “Where is the President of the European Commission ? Where is the economic governance ?” But what exactly is it that needs to change ?
Stéphane Le Foll : Ultimately what is really needed is a European executive. Aside from any decisions that can be made by the European Commission, we need an EU executive to make proposals. In emergency situations that executive would need to be capable of coming up with coherent plans for discussion, which could then be amended where necessary. At the present time no European plan exists. The Commission is not making any proposals and Mr Van Rompuy, whilst he is certainly a highly competent president for the European Council, has been unable to create any kind of political harmony. When it comes to the institutions, therefore, the joint role of the Commission and Council needs to be reassessed. We need to come up with a much more structured organisation where there is an executive making proposals. Following that, it should be up to the European Parliament and the EU Council of Ministers to tackle the issues raised. We are going to need to move forwards in that area, particularly in these times of crisis when what is required is a European executive able to respond to the situation. What is currently happening is that action is being taken too late, and often it is the wrong course of action that is taken, and we are thus allowing circumstances to worsen in the Eurozone – as we can see in the case of Greece, where a decision still has yet to be made on whether to offer assistance ! It really is unbelievable.
Euros : And so, how should the Eurozone be governed ? What is your view on the Eurogroup being reformed and possibly merging with Herman Van Rompuy’s European Council ?
Stéphane Le Foll : On the whole we are supportive of what would seem to be a genuine form of economic governance for Europe. What we do not agree with is Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel entering into discussions about this form of governance, only to come up with a solution of holding just two meetings a year. This is not right ! There needs to be a proper European Minister for Finance, someone from the Commission or the Council, or else the President of the Council himself should take responsibility for managing the Eurozone. We cannot remain in this state of limbo where nobody is taking any decisions.
Euros : Last spring François Hollande met with Herman Van Rompuy for dinner in Brussels. What would have been discussed at a more informal meeting such as this ?
Stéphane Le Foll : He met up with Mr Van Rompuy because he wanted to get an idea of the situation in hand. The meeting took place only a short time before the crisis worsened last summer. The aim was to make initial contact and in particular to obtain information on the European Council’s position regarding the major issues surrounding the crisis. The risk of the crisis worsening was indeed discussed but unfortunately, as we have seen, although that risk was anticipated nothing was done to minimise it.
Euros : There is also a series of problems within the European left – what guidance should European Socialists seek ? The S&D group within the European Parliament is at present torn between the Italian democrats and those who are so-called “true” socialists.
Stéphane Le Foll : The Socialist group in the European Parliament has integrated the Democrats successfully. There is solidarity within the Party of European Socialists, certainly. But even if you look at the group of Socialists and Democrats , we are one of the groups that shows the most consistency when voting. Secondly, we have always been in agreement as regards a tax on financial transactions and as regards own resources, since the beginning. Personally I have always taken part in this debate, because I have always considered it an important part of Socialist policy on a European level. Rather than talking all the time of “new politics”, doing a lot of theorising and never finding concrete solutions. On this subject, the Socialist Democrats have said together : we need a European budget to invest, if we need this budget then it needs to be financed through revenue, through Europe’s own resources. Solidarity has developed and it will be decisive for the future. The budgetary framework for 2013-2020 is soon going to be under discussion : it’s a crucial moment. The European Commission has already suggested a tax on financial transactions that could replace contributions from Member States from 2014.
Euros : But what is the aim of this solidarity ? When François Hollande became First Secretary of the Socialist Party in 1997, socialists held power in 13 European Union countries. This ultimately led to the Nice Treaty being agreed at the lowest possible level. Mr Hollande is in fact what some might call the ’trustee’ of this rather shaky European left...
Stéphane Le Foll : When François Hollande became First Secretary of the Socialist Party, Lionel Jospin was Prime Minister. His victory came soon after that of the Labour politician Tony Blair in the UK and was followed by that of Gerhard Schröder in Germany. All three, however, were elected on the basis of their own policies and these did not particularly converge.
Euros : Are these divides still in evidence today ?
Stéphane Le Foll : No, because in 1999 Socialist International staged a major debate on the “third way” advocated by Tony Blair – just like Gerhard Schröder, who took a practically identical position – and he was defeated on that party line. This debate raged amid the very heart of the European Socialist community and even within Socialist International. The page was turned on Blairism. Ed Miliband  follows a line with which we can find more in common, and thus European socialism is now facing a situation which may prove favourable in terms of working together on European objectives. I can still remember a time, in the late 1990s, when the only issue was whether or not you supported the third way.
Euros : There is, however, still a certain amount of disillusionment in the left. Denmark’s labour party, having won the legislative elections last September, is more realistic.
Stéphane Le Foll : But I think that, in the situation of crisis that we are currently facing, one cannot address the people without taking these realities into account. Of course it is true that social democracy is in need of restructuring, and in times of crisis that is not easy. We must clarify what the social-democratic plan actually is – solidarity and redistribution. Yet we are now less able to carry out redistribution and so we must be honest, be brave enough to say how we will manage, with fewer resources, to achieve solidarity. You could call that being realistic, but it’s what citizens expect ; they are perfectly capable of understanding how issues of debt and excess debt fit into that.