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Interview

Brezzo on how he got to be National Council President, and what he intends to do now

thomas-brezzo
© Radio Monaco

Nathalie Michet of Radio Monaco, spoke to Thomas Brezzo, elected President of Monaco’s National Council on 3 April at the age of 44. Brigitte Boccone-Pagès’ successor intends to make the institution more efficient in order to give the current term ‘a second wind.’

The interview began with a question concerning the manner in which Thomas Brezzo acceded to the presidency of the National Council on April 3 this year. As a reminder, the assembly’s elected officials chose to elect M. Brezzo as President and not to reappoint Brigitte Boccone-Pagès, who claims to have been undermined since the beginning of her term as president. 

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“She got herself into the situation”

Mr Brezzo feels she brought it upon herself, citing the institution’s ineffective mode of governance. “A decision had to be made,” he said. “Consultation between the elected representatives took place over several months. On the contrary, rather than undermining her, the elected representatives were keen to help her overcome the problems we were encountering. But all the discussions we had, went unheeded.” 

Asked if he could understand that some Monegasque voters may have been disturbed by Brigitte Boccone-Pagès, who headed the list for last year’s elections, being pushed out of the presidency barely a year later, he replied, “Yes I can, because, perhaps seen from the outside, we have a record that I would describe as positive… because the elected representatives have worked on the issues assigned to them. However, there was a real issue with the governance within the institution, particularly the management of the permanent staff.”

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Since his election, Mr Brezzo has claimed to be an ardent defender of equality between men and women, particularly in terms of representation in senior government positions. He stated that deposing Mme Boccone-Pagès “was not about gender, but rather a question of competence”. As for the decision not to have a female national councillor as vice-president, Mr Brezzo explained that he “wanted to continue the work that had been done up until now. That’s why I suggested to Jean Le Grandat that he should carry on in his position as Vice-President.”

Same priorities, new methods of governance

Mr Brezzo promises a move towards a more open, seamless and transparent way of working. He was asked how he planned to go about it, in concrete terms.

“We have already started internally with a reorganisation, an overhaul of the Office of the President, with changes due to take place in the next few days. I’m in the process of reviewing the procedures that have been in place for the last year or so, to get everything back on track and have a smoother, much more efficient way of working, to try and speed things up as much as possible.”

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He was asked if the priorities set out during the current majority’s first year in office, on housing, mobility and public finances, were intact. “Absolutely, with a focus on public finances, and in particular the search for new revenues and the reduction of certain expenditure items,” he replied. 

Budget veto?

During her tenure, Brigitte Boccone-Pagès had raised of the possibility of an ultimatum, in other words if the government’s responses on mobility, for example, did not satisfy the Council’s elected representatives, they might not vote for the budget. 

Mr Brezzo stated that the Committee on Finance and the Economy saw mobility as a particular priority. There was the question of the Fontvieille shopping centre with the Council waiting to see the Government’s new project to develop the shopping centre, which he sees as increasingly necessary as it will also contribute to the Principality’s revenue. He also mentioned the three-year public infrastructure plan, which is not compliant with budgetary legislation. 

On a possible veto, he replied, “I would urge my colleagues not to vote for the budget if all these points are not in line with our expectations, particularly as regards the three-year infrastructure investment plan, which is a question of compliance with the law.”

“We’re like an old couple”

Mr Brezzo was asked if the calm, after a few storms over the past year the National Council and the Prince’s government, was set to last or if he might need to flex his muscles. He apparently told the Minister of State “ we’re like an old couple. We live together, we often disagree, but in the end, we have no choice but to get along.” To Radio Monaco he added, “our institutional traditions mean we have an obligation to find a consensus in order to make decisions. So it’s in our interest to do this in a calm manner, with mutual understanding and a positive disposition, but with the necessary firmness on issues of interest to the entire Monegasque community.” 

The attractiveness of the Principality is also a priority, as Monaco awaits the outcome of the FATF’s evaluation to determine whether or not it will be put on the grey list. As Chairman of the Legislation Committee, Mr Brezzo oversaw the work of elected officials on four major pieces of legislation to strengthen Monaco’s legal arsenal against money laundering and terrorist funding. Today, this legislative work is complete. “So is it just wait and see now?” he was asked.

“No, I don’t think so,” he replied. “Since the Moneyval preliminary report, in October 2022, we have now voted a total of 9 bills. These bills are not intended to update legislation in accordance with European directives, since this was already the case and that was noted in the Moneyval report. The important thing was to be able to provide the government with legislation that would make the implementation of the anti-money laundering system more effective, because we will be judged on two aspects. The legislative aspect was compliant, but there have been some adjustments in the meantime, in particular the creation of the Monegasque financial security agency. The second aspect is just as important: effective implementation.”

While he hopes Monaco will avoid being put on the grey list, he believes it wouldn’t make a fundamental difference. “There will be a loss of attractiveness for, in particular, business in the Principality of Monaco. We can expect some difficulties private individuals too, but we will continue working so that, if we were to be placed on the grey list, we could get off it as quickly as possible. And if we’re not put on the grey list, the work will continue in the months and years to come so that we don’t end up in the same situation when a new assessment cycle comes round in four or five years.”

As to whether the national councillors are confident about the FATF’s decision, Mr Brezzo replied “Not really. The reality is we voted measures, but afterwards there’s the implementation timescales, the time it takes to promulgate regulatory laws. We voted the creation of the Asset Management and Crime Seizure Agency in November 2022. The agency has still not been set up.” He therefore believes the Principality could well be penalised for a lack of effective implementation. Meanwhile, the Council is not only bracing itself psychologically for the hammer to fall, but acting in concrete terms to prepare for it, particularly with the recruitment of legal experts, in anticipation of an increased volume of legislation to ensure the Principality is taken off the grey list as soon as possible.

“If the Government withdraws all the Assembly’s important bills, I’m not sure what kind of record we’ll be able to present in a year’s time.” 

Thomas Brezzo, National Council President

Also looking ahead, he was asked what annual review he hoped to present when the National Council executive is renewed again in a year’s time. “A positive one, of course, with a number of important bills having been voted.” He rued the fact that “several important bills” had been withdrawn by the government, particularly on company law and budgetary legislation reforms, with ongoing discussions about withdrawing one on personal data. “These stemmed from legislative proposals by the National Council,” he stressed. “So, if all the Assembly’s important bills are withdrawn, I’m not sure what kind of record we’ll be able to present in a year’s time.” 

He sees new real estate operations as key to getting the Principality’s finances back on track, as they generate VAT and revenue. “If we want to be able to ‘feed’ the budget, we have to bring in resources, funds.” Questioned about the feeling of ‘permanent disruption’ these projects cause, he answered: “It’s up to us to find solutions to keep that to a minimum. However, with a territory of two square kilometres, unfortunately, we cannot avoid it either. A balance needs to be found, whether in terms of mobility, work, traffic and so on, which are essential for quality of life in the Principality of Monaco.”

Pro choice? Pro debate at least

The interview concluded on societal reforms that the President of the National Council might particularly like to push through in the Principality. “Yes, on abortion. I cannot understand how we can be hypocritical enough to accept that abortions are carried out a few hundred metres away while it is banned in the Principality of Monaco. So the question has to be asked. And that is the National Council’ is for’s role. If societal questions are not raised in the Assembly, where will they be? Why not table a bill, and then it will be up to the government to decide whether or not to pass it into law.”