The French Ambassador to Ireland, Stéphane Crouzat, visited the UCD French Society on Thursday evening to talk about Irish/French relations, Brexit, and the future of the European Union. Welcomed by President of the UCD French Society Sam Hynes, Mr.Crouzat began by speaking about Brexit and the opportunities for France and Ireland to become economically closer. Brexit poses a huge task for Ireland and the Ambassador stressed his acknowledgement of both that and his country’s willingness to work with Ireland at improving trade between the two nations. Crouzat voiced his intentions to improve cultural and economic relations between Ireland and France in the future by focussing on improving investment and tourism in both states. He mentioned the possible construction of an underwater electricity cable between Ireland and France that would allow the French to import electricity from Ireland, mutually benefitting both economies.
With Brexit looming and over 80% of Irish exports entering the EU market through the UK, Crouzat expressed his intentions to increase trade from France in order to protect Irish businesses and improve the French economy. He told the audience that he wishes to “preserve trade between Ireland and the rest of the EU”, and with Brexit closely appearing on the horizon, that doesn’t sound like a bad idea. The Ambassador stressed the importance of Ireland in the Brexit deal and voiced his recognition of the unique situation Ireland has been placed in by the British people. He said that France would not allow the Brexit talks to go forward without careful consideration of the Irish border with Northern Ireland, which may prove to be a point of friction throughout the Brexit talks. The EU-27 have, so far, been united with regards to Brexit and according to Crouzat, France intends to remain steady throughout the process.
Ambassador Crouzat also spoke about the future of the European Union. Quoting many concepts and principles from a speech made by French President Emmanuel Macron, the Ambassador spoke highly of the EU and on his vision for European reform. He mentioned the need to bridge the gap between the European institutions and its citizens. Speaking on Macron’s voiced vision of a new European attitude to migration and security, Crouzat said that “the EU must be welcoming to others while being secure within its borders”. He also talked about French investment in countries in Africa, going on to explain that “these countries must succeed, otherwise migration could get a lot worse”.
An important topic to France is sustainable development, and how the process of climate change must be tackled strongly within the EU. When asked about the US pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord, Crouzat replied: “Donald Trump is not the whole of the United States”, implying that we may still have faith in the US on tackling climate change, though the Ambassador stressed France’s intentions for the EU to lead the drive against climate change.
One topic which got quite a laugh out of the audience, was the disagreement of corporate tax rates in Ireland in comparison to other EU states. With Ireland at a smooth 12.5%, it is easy to see why the French are annoyed with their high 33.33%. Though Macron intends to lower the French corporate tax rate to 25% by 2022, Crouzat spoke about his view to have a “tax harmonisation” around the EU, giving a fairer system of taxation equally around Europe.
In a more cultural sense, the ambassador spoke about Macron’s wish to have young Europeans all spend at least 6 months in another country and be able to speak at least 2 European languages. He also mentioned his vision for a creation of “European Universities” situated around the EU.
When questioned on the rise of populism in Europe, Crouzat said that “less than ever, we mustn’t be complacent”. Populism in Europe is on the rise and its people like Emmanuel Macron with his political party ‘La République En Marche!’ that are the leaders in a new vision for Europe that is welcoming to others, fair to the markets, and safe for its citizens. Ambassador Crouzat was thanked with the honour of receiving the famed UCD Scarf.
Conor Capplis – News Writer
Photo credit: Timonthée Craig