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SeaFrance/SNCF – Financial transaction tax – EU treaty reform

Published on January 10, 2012
Excerpts from the interview given by the Minister responsible for European Affairs, Jean Leonetti, to “LCI”

Paris, January 4, 2012
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SEAFRANCE/SNCF

Q. – The state is going to help SeaFrance, but in a slightly disguised way, and Brussels doesn’t usually like that very much. Why should it get through this time?

THE MINISTER – Because it’s not state aid.

Q. – Oh really?

THE MINISTER – The state isn’t seeking to disguise its help. Brussels – and it makes sense – bans unfair competition whereby states help companies.

Q. – It goes through SNCF.

THE MINISTER – We have a system in which SNCF is going to give out redundancy payments, which seems to me fairly normal in all companies. Those redundancy payments may serve to refloat the company. The state’s assistance didn’t work; private buyers were then tried; that didn’t work. Despite that, we’re not giving up: the government has decided employment is the priority, so we’ll continue above all to help those employees who want to keep their jobs and save their companies.

Q. – But ultimately, it’s still public money going to help the company, and in the normal course of events Brussels doesn’t necessarily agree with that. According to the feedback you’ve had, is Brussels saying, “This procedure suits us”?

THE MINISTER – We haven’t yet had any feedback from Brussels.

Q. – Aren’t you worried at all?

THE MINISTER – No, I’m not worried. When you get a payment for being made redundant, you do what you like with it. If SeaFrance’s employees want to save the company, the government will help them to do so.

Q. – But in this case the payment is going to be tripled or quadrupled thanks to the state: that’s the difference. You know P&O is going to lodge a complaint…

THE MINISTER – We’re already at the Luxembourg court because we didn’t believe SNCF’s help was state aid. So we’re going through a procedure, but the most urgent thing is to help the employees save their company from compulsory liquidation.

Q. – Even though you know very well that most of them are going to take their money – their overvalued payments so to speak – and not put the money into the company.

THE MINISTER – I’m not sure of that, because it was they who created the much-talked-about workers’ cooperative that may take over the company. So they’ve taken an initiative, they’ve taken on a responsibility. The government is standing alongside them to help them see their problem – and their project – through to the end. (…)

FINANCIAL TRANSACTION TAX

Q. – One tax being talked about a lot is the financial transaction tax. This must clearly be applied at European level. Are you currently talking to your European partners with a view to establishing it, and if so, when?

THE MINISTER – France and Germany already agree about the plan. I understand that the new Italian government, with which we’ve made contact, isn’t opposed to it. Finally, none of the countries that signed the agreement – all those except the United Kingdom – are opposed to the idea, apart from Sweden, who’s had a bad experience in this field. We’ll introduce it if we have enough economic and political leeway at European level. (…)

It was Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel who decided on the financial transaction tax, and it will be introduced before the end of the year. (…)

EU TREATY REFORM

Q. – So the tax will come into force before the end of the year. And when will the reform of the treaty on the European institutions come into force?

THE MINISTER – The new treaty is expected to be signed in March. There’s a timetable with a decision on 20 January, and the European summit of 30 January, during which the treaty will be endorsed. After it’s signed in March the treaty must be ratified, because we’re democracies, and in a democracy you ask parliament for its opinion in order to ratify a European treaty; all this [will be] before the end of 2012.

Q. – Yes, but it’s still quite slow. It’s clear the financial markets don’t follow the same rhythm; nor do the rating agencies.

THE MINISTER – Except that this treaty – cleverly – will be in place as soon as nine of the 27 states have decided to put it in place, which means ratification by nine states will make the treaty operational. So as you see, like the European Monetary Fund, it will be introduced before 2013, even though it had been planned for the end of 2013. We’re bringing forward all the deadlines, because the crisis demands it. (…)./.

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