Valérie Hayer interview: Own resources champion

Valérie Hayer tells Andreas Rogal that the financing of the EU institutions with a new system of own resources is a huge political win
Valérie Hayer | Photo credit: Jean-Yves Limet

By Andreas Rogal

Andreas Rogal is a senior journalist at the Parliament Magazine

04 Jan 2022

Growing up in a small town in the north-western French department of La Mayenne, the current co-leader of the French delegation in the Renew Group came to politics at a young age - and from the bottom up. “I was studying law, and I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do afterwards, but I knew that I wanted to be useful to society and to my people”.

So, at 21 years of age, Hayer became a local councillor in Saint-Denis-d’Anjou, population 1500 souls. A few years later, she was elected to the departmental council of Mayenne, eventually rising to the position of vice-President and taking charge of the budget and European affairs portfolios.

Grassroots politics, combined with an interest in the European picture, and the departmental budget experience clearly laid the foundations of her already impressive impact at the European Parliament during her first term. “In truth, I discovered Europe thanks to my parents”, she says.

“My parents were farmers, and we didn’t go on holiday, but we had twin-town partnerships in the region. That’s how I travelled, meeting other Europeans as an exchange student, mostly in Germany”.

“The current crisis is, of course, a terrible one, but it did allow us to make progress on some issues which had looked completely stuck before”

The proverbial Franco-German engine driving the Union looks like revving up again following the formation of a new coalition government in Berlin consisting of Social Democrats, Liberals and Greens. Hayer’s German colleague in the Renew Group, FDP coalition negotiations delegation leader Nicola Beer, testifies to the hopes pinned on the revival of this partnership in this issue of The Parliament Magazine.

“This German coalition agreement seems very promising”, Hayer comments. “I have also noted some positive evolutions in the position of our German colleagues, not only on budget issues, but also on the notion of European strategic sovereignty. This is very important for France as it’s a priority of their upcoming Council presidency”.

But Hayer is also happy to acknowledge the achievements of Germany’s outgoing chancellor: “Angela Merkel has been an influential leader in Europe. She understood when it was appropriate to adapt her initial position. For example, regarding the recovery plan, we know that she had some reservations at the beginning, but then - not least after having talked to President Macron - she acknowledged that it was needed and worked hard to make it a reality”. 

A regret with Merkel from a French point of view, however, remains her late response to Macron’s speech at the Sorbonne in 2017, laying out his vision for a “sovereign, ecological and democratic Europe”. Hayer recalls that “at the time, we were waiting for an answer to this speech from Germany, but the recent elections and the inevitable negotiations that would follow made it difficult”.

Looking ahead she concludes that “the answer is coming in clearer now, and we have a chance to move forward together”.

With the French Presidential elections in April 2022 falling right in the middle of the country’s rotating Council Presidency, many observers are concerned about how effective France’s tenure can possibly be. But Hayer is convinced that the country’s time in the EU driving seat will be far from a lame duck.

“This Presidency has been in the making for a very long time. Emmanuel Macron has hardly made a secret of his European ambitions, so the French Presidency will be active, bold and ambitious. It represents the culmination of years of work, striving to make it a success with concrete results for all European citizens.”

“We deplore that the digital levy has been pushed back. It could have been proposed without impacting the content of the OECD proposal”

With the detailed Presidency priorities yet to be announced, Hayer told The Parliament Magazine that the three central areas of engagement are going to be ensuring that the European Green Deal is on track, advancing the social dimension, notably on a minimum wage, and completing the digital transformation framework – i.e., the Digital Markets and the Digital Services acts.

But she also believes that the Presidency will address the ongoing and deepening crisis over the Rule of Law caused by Poland and Hungary – aided by a new German government with a much firmer view on this topic than its predecessor.

“We are facing unprecedented attacks on our core values by two Member State governments who have betrayed the promises to uphold them, promises they solemnly made when they joined the European Union”, Hayer explains. However, the instruments to address this are in place, she insists, and the application of at least one of them has shown early results.

As well as the conditionality mechanism of the Multiannual Financial Framework, which has not yet been applied by the Commission (despite its entering into force in January - a reluctance legally challenged by Parliament in November) there are two more. “On the recovery plan, we are exerting constant political pressure on the Commission to block funds for Hungary and Poland unless we receive firm guarantees on the fight against corruption in Hungary, and the abolition of the judicial disciplinary system in Poland”.

But for Hayer, the third instrument proves the point of effectiveness most eloquently. EU funds covering regional cohesion and development are subject to a condition against discriminatory use. “It is thanks to this that funds were blocked for the so-called anti-LGBTI zones in Poland. Faced with this financial pressure, and given their dependence on EU funding, these regions have now withdrawn their discriminatory resolutions.”

This, she claims, “represents a real victory for Parliament and particularly the Renew Group, which had been actively pushing for this”.

For her, the lesson to be learned from this victory is clear: “The only thing the autocrats in Poland and Hungary understand is money, the financial windfall from the Union. And this Parliament, much more so than its predecessors, does not give in, and does not hesitate to use these instruments”.

Hayer’s biggest achievement so far has been to lead Parliament’s role in securing - together with her co-rapporteur José Manuel Fernandes (PT, EPP) - the financing of EU institutions with a new system of own resources. The necessity to repay the recovery fund had swung all institutions behind a reform after many years of Parliament and Commission pleading in vain. “It is a huge political win, even if it sounds technical”, explains Hayer. “The current crisis is, of course, a terrible one, but it did allow us to make progress on some issues which had looked completely stuck before”.

“The French Presidency will be active, bold and ambitious. It represents the culmination of years of work, striving to make it a success with concrete results for all European citizens”

Now linked to the green and the digital transformation efforts, the EU institutions will be financed - and will finance the recovery plan - mainly by a combination of three pillars: income from the Emission Trading System (ETS), the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM), and, initially, a digital levy, now subsumed under the OECD proposal of a global minimum corporate tax. All of these, of course, still need to be worked out in detail, which is particularly lacking with regard to the OECD part.

It is a source of satisfaction but also of disappointment to the co-rapporteur. For once, the decision not to adopt the idea of a digital tax in favour of the OECD proposal does not sit entirely easily with her and her colleagues. “We understand the political logic of it but, at the moment, it is really only a proposal. Therefore, we deplore that the digital levy has been pushed back. It could have been proposed without impacting the content of the OECD proposal”, she believes.

Also, according to the roadmap agreed upon early in the year, the Commission was supposed to present concrete proposals by June. It then postponed them until October, only to postpone them once again. “We negotiated very hard last year in order to set an agenda for the own resources package, so the delay is a major source of dissatisfaction for Parliament.”

The Commission proposal is now expected for 22 December, just in time to put it under Parliament’s big third-floor Christmas tree.