New Year’s greetings to the Diplomatic corps
Speech of Mr President of the Republic
Élysée Palace – Friday 17 January 2014
Members of Parliament,
Your Excellency the Apostolic Nuncio,
I thank you for the words of peace and wisdom you have just expressed and your good wishes offered to myself and, through me, to the French people. I shall have an opportunity in the next few days to meet with Pope Francis and there also I shall testify to France’s desire to work with His Holiness.
Today we are expressing wishes for the New Year, a time when we look to the best and try to forget the worst. But the worst does exist and we must make use of the resources offered by diplomacy and law to banish or to combat it. And when that is not enough, we must act in the name of the international community.
Our world is uncertain, unstable and unpredictable at the present time. But when has it been anything else in recent years? It was certainly organised according to a system: by the Cold War for many years, and later by what has been called a “unipolar world”. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, ingenious as ever with his formulations, has spoken of a zero-polar world!
But what does that mean? It means that we are faced with responsibilities – all countries, but more especially those whose status and history, as well as their economy or their population, confer upon them a role in shaping global destiny.
France is not a Nation that provides a commentary on the state of the planet. Its place and its status as a permanent member of the Security Council mean that it must shoulder its responsibilities on every major issue.
But France can do so only according to principles it has laid down and which I wish to recall here before you. Those principles underlying our foreign policy are applied by Minister Laurent Fabius and the ministers delegate, for which I wish to thank them here.
The first principle is peace; that is the posture constantly adopted by France. On every occasion it is the solution we seek through dialogue, through negotiation. And when it is no longer possible to achieve it, as I have recalled, we then take action, always within the framework of an international mandate, that of the United Nations.
That is what we have done in Mali – as you recalled, Your Excellency, the Apostolic Nuncio – at the request of a country that is our friend and, contrary to what has been said, France was at no time alone. Firstly, because France was there with our Malian friends; secondly because France was accompanied, or more precisely, France supported African forces that were also mobilised; and lastly because from the outset France received support from the countries of Europe and the United States. It was a year ago that the decision was taken.
And the outcome is there to see and must demonstrate to the international community that we can take action and succeed. The jihadi extremists have been defeated in the space of a year. They have not all disappeared but they have been driven, pushed back. Mali’s territorial integrity has been restored and free, transparent elections organised. The State of Mali is being rebuilt with its new President, Mr Keïta.
And at the same time, the international community is providing a high level of aid. I wish to thank all the donors here today: €3 billion has been collected in this way; €800 million has already been made available to the people of Mali.
The dialogue should now continue to ensure that reconciliation can at last be a factor for peace. France, and I have given a commitment on this also, will withdraw and has already withdrawn. Only 1,000 troops will remain by next spring in Mali, under a defence agreement soon to be signed.
Just when we thought the task was finished fears arose of a major catastrophe in the Central African Republic. Already incidents of brutality, violence, of which women were often the first victims, were leading to the conclusion that there was a possible risk of genocide. Inevitably, I had the events in Rwanda in mind.
What would have been said of France, when it had troops already deployed in the region, if it had done nothing? What would have been said of the United Nations? And here also I wish to pay tribute to the Security Council, which ensured the legality of this action. What would have been said if the countries of Africa had not shown solidarity? We would have been counting the dead not in their dozens, not in their hundreds, but in their thousands, because the terrible threat, the terrible, insidious poison of inter-faith conflict had reared its head.
The month or more that we have been in the Central African Republic – 1,600 French soldiers and 4,000 African soldiers – has brought about, not a halt to all conflict, all fighting, but something approaching calm. And thanks to Operation Sangaris, humanitarian aid has also begun to arrive, which I welcome. The whole country has also seen an improvement, still all too fragile, in the security situation. Deaths are still occurring in the Central African Republic. And among the dead are two French soldiers.
On 20 January Europe’s Ministers of Foreign Affairs – I wish to pay tribute to all our partners – will set an operation in train. It is not for me here today to describe it but I know that it will provide support on both the security and humanitarian fronts.
The United Nations – allow me to pay tribute to its role here – will be providing assistance and preparing a peacekeeping operation that will ultimately be indispensable to ensure stability and security and tomorrow – yes, tomorrow! – the holding of free and transparent elections in the Central African Republic. The people of the Central African Republic are also in the process of taking their own destiny in their hands since new transitional authorities will soon be chosen. This will be a major step towards reconciliation, and especially towards the holding of elections.
While France shows solidarity with Africa, and will always do so, France is not its policeman and has no intention of returning to that role.
That was the purpose of the Élysée Summit held in this very room – on 6 December. We all remember that date since it was, alas, the day on which Nelson Mandela passed away. Tributes were paid to him in this very room by all the African countries prior to the ceremonies held in his own country, South Africa.
What struck me that day, over and above the emotion by which we were all gripped, was the determination shared by all Africans, irrespective of their national languages, and therefore not simply the French speakers, and irrespective of their past history or the size of their country, to ensure their security themselves.
We therefore decided at that Summit that we would support an African rapid reaction force and that it was a responsibility not of France – although we will play our part – but undoubtedly of Europe and the world to make support possible for that rapid reaction force and to allow it to intervene before it was too late.
Africa is often in our discussions due to the tragedies that that great continent can, alas, suffer and live through. But Africa is a continent destined for a dynamic future. A continent where growth is particularly vigorous, a continent where there is much investment, a continent that is developing. And France wishes also to play its part in this and to ensure that we can all work together, Europeans and Africans and all those who also desire to be actors in that development, and for that security is a prerequisite.
Looking beyond Africa, France also intends to play its part in crisis resolution. Firstly, in the Middle East. We are encouraging a resumption of the dialogue between the Israelis and Palestinians. That was the purpose of my visit last November to both Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Peace is always exacting, and especially so in that part of the world. We all know that it requires and will always require concessions, and that it cannot be based on the position of one or other of the parties. But there is here an opportunity, a chance to be grasped.
I have confidence in those who are currently involved in those negotiations. We are aware of the parameters – as they are also – that is to say two states – the State of Israel and the State of Palestine, both with Jerusalem as the capital and coexisting in complete security.
What can France do? Encourage, support, talk with all parties. That is possible for us. But France is also ready to organise, at the most appropriate time, a conference of donors for Palestine.
Our greatest concern in the region is of course Syria. I refuse to accept that the choice that might be placed before the world will be either the perpetuation of a dictatorial regime, that of Bashar El Assad, or Islamist extremism. I think that there is in Syria a majority of the population of all faiths, all communities with just one desire: reconciliation and democracy. That is why France is supporting will all its might the negotiations presently under way for the preparation of Geneva Conference II.
But it must have a clear goal, and that is to permit a political transition. And all countries that share that goal, political transition, are welcome. But at the same time, the democratic opposition, the opposition that wants to play its part in the transition, will attend only if it is that agenda that is chosen and no other. I know that this is an issue of which Russia, a major actor, is aware.
The Syrian conflict has many consequences for the region: for Jordan, where tens of thousands of refugees are making life even more complicated; for Lebanon, where at least a third of the population is now of Syrian origin. We must help those countries. My thoughts go out even more to Lebanon, of which we remember that it went through, and not so long ago, an appalling civil war. Given this, we must do everything in our power to preserve the unity and integrity of Lebanon, a country where communities of different faiths coexist in a democratic system whose continuation it is imperative to guarantee.
I also know that the Gulf States are making the necessary effort to facilitate those settlements. But there are not only conflicts that continue. Others have prospects for settlement. I am thinking here of the events in Tunisia, where three years ago the Arab Spring was born. Today, a new constitution is on the way to being adopted and further democratic elections will take place this year. Which goes to prove that the process can succeed, that it may be chaotic, and may sometimes be interrupted, as has happened – but that it can also come to a positive conclusion.
That example may inspire other countries, and I have in mind Egypt, which has experienced violent events, but where the goals must be the same: the search for a democratic way forward in which the rights of every individual can be respected. There are transitional authorities. They must demonstrate this and the popular ballots that will be held in the near future will, I hope, provide an opportunity to do so.
Iran. Our concern was great. It remains so but there is now an interim agreement reached after ten years of impasse. France – and especially Laurent Fabius – laid down requirements in all of the discussions. Requirements that have become those of the entire international community. There is no question of allowing Iran equip itself with nuclear weapons. But in the meantime, we should note the progress that has been achieved: the enrichment process has been halted.
I wish to send a message calling for responsibility to all Iran’s leaders so that they can implement fully, in both letter and spirit, the interim agreement, in order for it to go on to open the way to a final resolution of this issue. France, in any event, will continue to be ready and engaged, as well as vigilant.
The second principle underlying our foreign policy is to contribute to the building of a new international order.
Where trade is concerned, the crisis – which has affected the developed world but with consequences for the entire planet – has in the past prevented all progress on trade negotiations. It is my belief that the recovery in the global economy that is now evident will be all the stronger if trade is facilitated.
The proof of this is that after five years of successive failures the WTO has reached an agreement in Bali. It was approved by 160 members of the Organisation. This is a victory because protectionism was the threat facing us. The agreement will benefit all countries: developed countries as well as the emerging economies and the poorest countries.
Similarly, an economic partnership agreement has been signed between Europe and Canada after years of negotiation. Others are on the way between Europe and Japan, and between Europe and the United States. France is not opposed to this but has always demanded – in the mandates defined by the European Commission – that the principles of agricultural policy and cultural exception should be included as such in order to be preserved. We shall be extremely attentive to that aspect throughout.
The opening up of markets, the removal of non-tariff barriers, the development of trade…, all of this can, as I have said, stimulate the global economy. But there must also be rules, especially where currencies are concerned, because what would be the point of making efforts to be more competitive – and such efforts are necessary – if at the same time currency movements completely destroy the sacrifices, the investments? We must therefore revisit, and constantly revisit, reform of the international monetary system and ensure that shifts in parities reflect the real economy.
In the same way, we must arrive at an international system that combats social dumping – which does not mean that there are not countries with different levels of development, that must inevitably be part of the competition. But we cannot accept the existence of fiscal dumping, including between highly developed countries. On this we can welcome the progress accomplished at the G20 in Saint Petersburg: automatic exchange of information, removal of banking secrecy, combating fiscal optimisation, it is all there! Principles have been laid down, commitments have been given and the fight will go on.
France is working towards a new international order, which also means a fairer world. France is the fourth largest donor where development aid is concerned. We will be setting up a national council for development and international solidarity to define our policy focuses and, in complete transparency, the roadmap for the French Development Agency, a body with which many of you here will be familiar. That roadmap has been revised for greater coherence with the combat against extreme poverty, as well as with the imperative of environmental protection.
France has accepted a responsibility for 2014 that will come to fruition in 2015: the organisation of the Climate Conference. As I often say, we volunteered to be its host and we were up against limited competition because of memories of Copenhagen. That failure was a resounding one, not for the organisers but for the international community.
The outlook for 2015 appears difficult. But as you have reminded us, Your Excellency the Apostolic Nuncio, this is an important issue. The preservation of the planet should bring us all together because whatever our views, whatever our beliefs, we have inherited a whole world and we must ensure that our children can live in an environment that is protected.
We need therefore get to work. We have already done so. I can tell you what it is that gives me confidence. Firstly, the determination of President Obama. Indeed, in the speech he gave following his re-election he expressed himself strongly on this question. I shall have an opportunity to discuss this with him in February during my state visit.
I also have confidence in the attitude of great countries such as China. I shall be welcoming President Xi Jinping in the very near future on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between our countries. I know that in China, in India, I know that in all the great emerging countries there is the same awareness. Africa, which may indeed be among the first victims of global warming, is also mobilised.
And then there is Europe. That is the easiest part – Europeans always reach agreement, but it can take time! We have therefore taken precautions. We shall begin, as early as the European Council meeting in March, by adopting a united, firm position. As for the United Nations Secretary General, he has involved himself personally and will be holding a Summit of Heads of State and Government in September in New York.
To complete the list of all the factors that give us confidence: we are working in close conjunction with Latin America, and Peru in particular, because the next Climate Conference, the one before our own, will be held there in December 2014.
So there you have it; the timetable is clear, the roadmap more or less, and there is considerable goodwill. We must succeed!
On the great global issues, some countries have more responsibilities than others. As I have said. Due to their geography, the importance of their economy, the size of their population. We know which countries they are; they are our major partners. China, which I have visited. And I have already mentioned that I shall be welcoming its President on the occasion of the 50th anniversary. We shall be working not only on the issue of the climate but on that of the international world order. Russia, which is chairing the G8 this year, as well as Japan, India and Brazil. All these are countries that, looking beyond any elections that may be held in 2014, will continue to be our partners.
It is my belief, because we are France, that none of those countries, and indeed no country on the planet will abandon its interests. We can all, if we resolve to do so, help shape the destiny of the world. But Europe has a special responsibility. Not because its nations are old … I shall not revisit that debate – not all old countries are in Europe! What matters is that we always need prospects for the future, an accepted destiny, confidence in ourselves. That is the responsibility of Europe.
Europe… While I was speaking to you last year, I was watching your faces. Sometimes I found compassion there. Ah, Europe, poor old Europe! What was to become of the euro zone, might it not break apart? And the recession that was demoralising us, the speculation that could sink nations … What a great deal has happened in the last year – I attribute no merit to myself for that because it has been a collective effort. France, Germany, the great nations have shown solidarity towards those that found themselves in the greatest difficulty, of which a great deal has been asked in terms of sacrifice, austerity.
And what is the outcome? Today, the euro zone has been stabilised. The level of the euro is particularly high. I say no more on that. We now have solidarity mechanisms that have been put in place: a tax on financial transactions has been introduced by willing countries and, above all, we have reached agreement on the banking union, the most ambitious project since the single currency. Henceforth if a bank is failing, we shall have been watching it because a mechanism is in place to do so and if, despite the controls, it were to come to an unfortunate end, the call would not be on the European taxpayer but on the financial system itself. We have in this way protected savers and taxpayers. Once again we have, alongside Germany, found the inevitable compromise because that is always how Europe finds a way to move forward.
We have also had other reasons for satisfaction in the adoption of a European budget. That is never a straightforward matter anywhere and that is even more the case for Europe, with 28 members, and countries that want to pay less and get more. That is very complicated! Nevertheless, such is the alchemy of Europe. We have ensured that youth employment is regarded as a crucial priority. But we must also say to Europe that it cannot be simply a market, a currency, instruments, mechanisms… It must have ambitions. But what ambitions?
First, defence. We have begun work on this with the shared determination to develop new capacity, to ensure that our defence industries cooperate more, and to include countries such as Poland that want to play a full part in the enterprise.
A second ambition, energy. I have mentioned the climate but I could also have said that where competiveness is concerned there is a great deal that we need to do on energy: to implement a policy both to diversify our resources and to pool our networks; to put in place a genuinely effective European energy community.
The digital economy. We must also master the technology, protect our personal data, put this mass of information to good use. That is an attractive ambition for Europe.
A number of issues also remain. We are aware of them, and especially the protection of our borders, controlling immigration, because we have no wish to see again what recently happened, alas, in Lampedusa. What should we do? A holistic policy involving prevention in the countries of origin, border protection and solidarity.
And finally it is my wish that Europe should not necessarily have constantly to enlarge its borders but should rather talk to major countries, and Russia in particular, within the framework of a strategic relationship.
I should like to end with the last principle, one to which, you will excuse me for mentioning it, France is very attached: that of our own cultural and linguistic influence, something to be fostered without prejudice to others. We have never conceived our influence on cultural, linguistic or even economic matters as being against others, but on the contrary, as the development of a universal model.
If we defend for example the principle of cultural exception – I seem to understand that some find this irritating – it is because we believe that cultural exception protects creative works, from their creation to their distribution, of all origins, not simply our own.
In the same way, when we defend universal values – democracy, human rights – it is not because we wish to impose a system. It is because we believe that they are principles valid for the whole world.
When we set out to spread French cultural influence, it is always with a concern to welcome all the world’s cultures, here in France. When we defend the Francophonie, along with others because the French language does not belong to France alone, it is because we believe that such diversity enriches the world. Here I wish to pay tribute to the Alliances Françaises and our network of French establishments abroad. The Francophonie means 250 million speakers. But over time, that is in 20 years, in 30 years, there will be almost 700 million. That is of considerable importance not only for culture but also for the economy and for policy.
What I want is a France that is attractive because in order to spread cultural influence you need to attract. We are therefore ensuring that we can welcome, and this is already the case now, 50,000 researchers and 300,000 foreign students. We need to do more, and that will entail more favourable systems of grants and visas that must be easier to obtain. The Minister of Foreign Affairs and all those working alongside him are helping to achieve that.
And then there is our potential for tourism. France is the world’s leading destination. But we do not have the world’s biggest balance in income from tourism. We wish therefore to harmonise more or less the number of visitors and the foreign currency they may spend on our territory. We oblige nobody either to come or to spend money. What we want to do is to extend the best possible welcome because we are aware that those whose consumption is reaching new levels and who wish to travel are looking in the direction of France. We must ensure that their eyes are set firmly on us.
And there is competitiveness. I know one thing: no country in the world can exercise influence, no matter what its status, no matter what its geographical location, no matter how important its past history is, if it is not strong economically.
What I must do as Head of State is ensure that France is an economic power, a power that can take action, as I have said, for Europe and for itself. That is the aim of the pact of responsibility I have presented to all the economic and social actors with the aim of enabling that alliance, that combination of strengths for the future of our country.
There is also what we can do in the area of economic diplomacy, on foreign trade, to mobilise every resource, to support our exporting businesses. Since you are here today, Ambassadors, I repeat what I say on all my official visits: foreign investment is welcome in France. If you are aware of companies that are hesitating between a number of countries, which is quite logical, I am sure that you will say to them they should choose France. After all, if I may say so, you are our ambassadors!
And why choose France? Not just because life is good here. That is not enough to justify investing capital or creating jobs. But because we have good infrastructure, because we have good expertise, excellent industries, research centres, and because – what I have said to the French people is valid for the world as a whole – we must be more competitive. France must imperatively be promoted as a business location, and I shall do so, but help is welcome from all quarters.
So that, Ambassadors, is what I came to say to you in my New Year’s greetings.
What do we have to do in 2014? Continue to work for peace, endeavour tirelessly to foster the return of growth throughout the world, regulate globalisation, protect the environment… That is our roadmap. France will pursue those ambitions. It has the legitimacy and the ability to do so because that is France’s duty. There are countries that have a role to play in the world.
France, France’s mission, is to act as a bridge between civilisations, between societies, between cultures, to speak to all. France is a factor for balance in the world. France is a great European nation that works for itself and for Europe. France is capable of speaking to all the world’s peoples with the same respect and in the name of values that are universal.
To conclude, France, as you well know, is an independent and sovereign nation, while nevertheless remaining loyal to its allies. It is that readiness of France to engage with the world that is ultimately my deepest wish for this new year. One that I pass on to you for yourselves, Ambassadors, for your political leaders and for your respective peoples.
I thank you.