France ‘bending EU rules as Macron’s veto more powerful than any other’

Brexit: European Council can apply deal alone says expert

Earlier this month, French President Emmanuel Macron said that France was paying particularly close attention to the Brexit negotiations. Mr Macron said: “France will not accept a Brexit deal that does not respect our long term interests.” His position was reinforced by his aide Clement Beaune last week, who warned that Paris will veto a “bad” post-Brexit trade deal.

Mr Beaune said: “I want to tell our fishermen, our producers, the citizens who are listening that we will not accept a deal with bad terms.

“If a good agreement cannot be reached, we will oppose it.

“Each country has a veto right.”

According to senior political sources, because Mr Macron is facing domestic threats to his re-election, he would rather see the talks fail than agree to a deal that could tempt other EU states to leave the bloc.

Europe’s power to protect itself from major global rivals, pandemics, economic crises, migration and climate change will be a major electoral argument for Mr Macron as he gears up for his 2022 re-election bid, most likely against National Rally leader Marine Le Pen, who he defeated in 2017.

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A source said: “France’s stance is to show that Brexit cannot be a success.

“From that point of view, the prospect of no deal is not necessarily a problem.”

Mr Macron’s position is not unexpected or particularly controversial, though, as Paris has more than once tried and succeeded to influence EU rules in order to suit its own interests.

For example, in 2011, the European Commission was forced to abandon its plans to allow European winemakers to make cheap rosé wine by mixing red and white wines together, after France put its foot down.

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, who at the time was Agriculture Minister, hailed the decision as a victory for his own efforts to “convince the Commission to defend our culinary way of life”.

Moreover, in an exclusive interview with, Alan Winters, director of the Trade Policy Observatory at the University of Sussex, shed light on France’s long record of stubbornly refusing to compromise in trade talks.

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He said: “Many trade agreements over the last 30 years have had the splits we are seeing now.

“And they had to be settled through internal politics.

“It has almost always been France saying: ‘we don’t like this, we want to veto it’.

“They resolved them in different ways. For example, the swapping of senior jobs was involved.”

But in other cases, Professor Winters noted, the French were so stubborn, such as in 1994 with audio-visuals services, that Brussels had to cave in.

The trade expert added: “The EU never negotiates audio-visual services because the French don’t allow it and the EU has to exclude that.

“Basically, Paris wasn’t prepared to have Hollywood undermine French culture.”

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As Prof Winters explained, France has long been a champion of “cultural exception”, or “cultural diversity”, battling most recently for it to be upheld in the long-mooted, yet-to-be-agreed EU-US Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) trade deal, negotiations for which are reportedly on ice.

The country first introduced the concept of cultural exception during the 1993 negotiations around the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which was succeeded by the World Trade Organisation rules in 1995.

Under the principle, cultural goods and services are treated differently from other commercial products, giving countries free rein to support and protect their own cultural sector as they see fit, through subsidies, quotas or obligations.

Last year, Mr Macron confirmed France would ensure the European audiovisual sector was excluded from any all-encompassing UK-EU free trade agreement (FTA) post Brexit.

Mr Macron laid out France’s position in a letter responding to written concerns expressed by the lobby group, the French Coalition for Cultural Diversity.

Mr Macron wrote: “France has always stood by the exclusion of audiovisual services from free trade agreements. It’s a key issue, for the protection of cultural diversity, on which the Council [of Europe] is unanimous.

“Our country has made this a major point in every commercial negotiation and has secured the exclusion of audiovisual services from all the free trade deals concluded by the European Union.”

He said France would demand “an explicit mention” of the exclusion of audiovisual services in any directives adopted by the EU Commission within the framework of a future FTA between the EU and UK.

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