Fighting inequalities to be priority of French G7 presidency
French G7 presidency – Speech by M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to the diplomatic community (excerpts)
Biarritz, 18 December 2018
In a few months’ time, here in Biarritz, the heads of state and government of this forum – the G7, created 43 years ago – will be meeting here on France’s initiative. (…)
Since the first informal meetings of the White House “Library Group” following the first oil shock, the G7 has always been about avant-garde thinking. Formalized on the initiative of President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, the G7 – initially dedicated solely to economic issues – gradually embraced all areas of cooperation, acting as a genuine laboratory of ideas in the face of major changes in the international situation.
Many innovative and concrete mechanisms have emerged from its discussions. To it we owe the creation of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and with it the huge momentum that changed the face of Central and Eastern Europe as the Cold War ended. To it we owe the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), which today enables us to combat money laundering and terrorism funding. To it we partly owe the crucial Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which has already allowed millions of lives to be saved worldwide and whose next replenishment conference France will host next year.
This history reminds us that multilateralism has proven itself. Provided we dare to innovate, provided we dare to build the coalitions most able to resolve outstanding issues, it’s an effective method, capable of producing concrete, collective solutions.
Fight against inequalities
As the President announced at the United Nations General Assembly, the unifying thread of our presidency and the Biarritz summit will be the fight against inequalities.
The world we’re living in is both more horizontal and more vertical. More horizontal because everything moves around faster: goods, people, ideas and capital. Never have we been so dependent on what happens on the other side of the world. But the world is also more vertical: economically, the emergence of a billion people from extreme poverty between 2000 and 2015 can’t mask the sharp rise in inequalities. A few figures bear this out: half of global wealth is currently in the hands of 1% of the population. Since the 1980s, the incomes of the richest 1% have increased twice as much as those of the poorest 50%.
Lasting injustices – unequal access to care, unequal access to school and gender inequality – have far from disappeared, including in the advanced economies.
Globalization now affects everyone in their daily lives. Terrorism, the environment, energy, trade and migration raise questions that no one, in either the North or the South, can currently escape on their own. That’s a reality that should guide our choices as political decision-makers.
That’s the diagnosis the President asked me to share with you, as the French G7 presidency begins. It’s why it’s imperative that we strive to end inequalities.
The challenge is huge, but we’re not starting from a blank slate. Reducing inequalities is central to the Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations in 2015. But we must do more: we must change our behaviour, alter the way markets work, reform our institutions, amend our laws and adapt our public policies. To achieve that, we need fresh political momentum and a collective boost.
The French G7 presidency must be used to draw up a new international framework of action to combat inequalities. The G7 countries have shown that, with tailored legislative provisions and public policies, it’s possible to really reduce inequalities. But these initiatives must now serve as an example. Initiatives must be merged and cross-fertilized in order to set an example. In January we’ll prepare this comprehensive plan, which we’ll set out according to three major priorities.
Economic progress and social justice
The President was elected on a programme aimed at better harnessing and remunerating work. We want economic progress and social justice at the same time. Each worker has the right to a decent salary for the work they provide. It’s an essential principle which is also written into the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, whose 70th anniversary we’ve just celebrated. So we don’t believe it’s acceptable to grant trading advantages to countries that violate this principle and practise social dumping. International labour standards must be better integrated into trade and financial agreements.
Likewise, tax cooperation will be a key instrument for improving economic redistribution and justice. We’d like the G7 to secure progress in fighting endemic corruption, tax havens and under-taxation. We must end the race to the bottom that fuels discontent among those of our fellow citizens who conscientiously apply the rules and feel conned by these practices.
Reducing inequalities also requires essential social protection, which must be guaranteed for all. Everyone must be protected against illness, unemployment, old age, disability and during pregnancy. In the past, the international community repeatedly encouraged social security systems with universalist goals. This drive must be restarted.
Education, and in particular girls’ education, is a key objective. More than half the world’s population is currently aged under 30. To educate these young people is to prepare their future. We’ll continue to mobilize international funding to support universal high-quality education, including for girls’ access to school and for teacher training. We’ll work on vocational training and adapting skills to employment and training throughout people’s lives. To this end, I’ll be convening the development and education ministers, with Jean-Michel Blanquer, for a joint meeting which I hope will be productive.
We’ll also seek to strengthen health systems – particularly in the most vulnerable countries – and universal local access to preventive care, primary care and treatment against the major pandemics, be they transmissible or chronic diseases. The health ministers will hold a meeting to this end.
The ministers responsible for gender equality – backed up by the Advisory Council created by the Canadian presidency, which we wanted to keep – will propose and submit for commitment by states a legislative package made up of the laws most conducive to equality between women and men in the world. The goal will be to create global momentum for sexual equality. The President has also decided to establish a Simone Veil Prize for women’s freedom, which will reward those figures throughout the world who further the cause of women.
We’ll propose new initiatives to reduce professional inequality between women and men, for example by creating an ISO [International Organization for Standardization] standard for companies that respect equality or by incorporating equality criteria into company ratings.
Our second priority will be to support the new technological revolution in order to reduce the risk of a digital gulf that threatens segments of our populations.
If we don’t want this revolution to speed up injustices, we must work to regulate the economy of [digital] platforms, in order to distribute more effectively the wealth they generate. This includes in particular the major issue of copyright. Those who distribute must not reduce to the bare bones the fair remuneration of those who create. This too is a taxation issue, because if digital players enjoy a comparative advantage over those in our countries who maintain direct distribution circuits to our fellow citizens, we risk destroying local trade and the social bond that is integral to it. If this trade survives only in big cities, then we’ll have failed to make the digital sector what it must and can be.
Digital empowerment, moreover, is possible only through increased investment in the infrastructure that will enable us to combat the digital gulf and give everyone the means to acquire basic digital skills.
Building on the work done with the Canadian G7 presidency, we’ll also champion the plan to create an international group of experts in the artificial intelligence field. We want it to be to artificial intelligence what the IPCC is to climate issues. It will be made up of members of civil society, scientists, innovators and AI specialists. It will draw from international organizations, in particular the OECD and UNESCO. The aim is to achieve consensus on developing this technology ethically and responsibly.
Our third priority will be to combat inequalities linked to the climatic and environmental emergency.
Each of us knows that the most disadvantaged people are often those most vulnerable to climate change. It’s for them that changes in consumer behaviour or habits have the highest cost. I want to emphasize this: the ecological transition must lead to greater social and geographical justice; they run in parallel.
Beyond societies, there’s also inequality on a worldwide scale in the face of global warming. It’s often the poorest countries that are most vulnerable to drought, rising waters, natural disasters and the erosion of biodiversity. In order to make progress together on climate action, involving public and private finance, the President has decided to organize, with the United Nations and World Bank, a One Planet conference on climate and environmental action, during the G7 summit here, with all the partners concerned: states, international organizations, NGOs and the private sector. So the G7 summit in Biarritz will contribute directly, a few days in advance, to preparations for the United Nations climate summit that António Guterres will be hosting in New York in September 2019.
In this battle, I want to pay special tribute to the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. We made progress on these issues at the G20 summit in Argentina, where I accompanied the French President a few weeks ago. I’d like to congratulate Chile, which has just taken the decision to host COP25 on its soil. We’re also counting on Brazil to remain committed to this global challenge with us, alongside Mexico and so many other South American partners. (…)
What we’re expecting of this action framework against inequalities that I’ve just outlined to you are concrete results at national and international level, which can be combined with monitoring mechanisms based on clear and simple indicators. This collective work will require renewed policies and additional investments from international organizations, states and the private sector. France will play its full role in this, particularly by increasing its official development assistance to 0.55% of national wealth by 2022. We’re doing so because a more caring world is also a more stable world and because we believe in the possibility of progress for all. In the coming months, France will create a new development and international solidarity estimates act, to establish a shared framework involving the state, NGOs, private stakeholders and local authorities.
Ladies and gentlemen ambassadors,
The external partners we’ll seek to involve closely with our presidency obviously include Africa. We’d like to place at the heart of the G7 this “new alliance” with Africa which the President called for in Ouagadougou in November 2017 and, more recently, at the United Nations General Assembly. It’s time to recognize Africa for what it is: a stakeholder devoted to playing its full role in redefining the rules of globalization, and a stakeholder that is already drawing up its own solutions too – solutions that will enable the African countries to better harness their vast human and natural resources.
Our economic operators must get involved, no longer solely in terms of social and environmental responsibility but in terms of this new momentum of co-production, of creating shared value in Africa, with the Africans. This involves, firstly, an effort to support young Africans through vocational training and partnerships between higher education institutions and businesses. That momentum is already under way, as I myself realized when I inaugurated the Franco-Ivorian education hub in Yamoussoukro recently. But there are other examples. In any case, that momentum must be strengthened. That’s how we’ll combine economic openness, employment and wealth-sharing.
In 2019 the President will also visit two countries in Africa where this paradigm shift is already taking place: Ethiopia and Kenya.
We’ve already started building this renewed alliance with an especially strategic and vulnerable region: the Sahel. We’ve embarked on an unprecedented development effort there as part of the Sahel Alliance. The G7 will be able to strengthen this effort in several sectors like security, education, the environment and young people. At a conference I had the honour of taking part in just a few days ago, on 6 December, the Sahel countries created a priority investment plan. This particularly ambitious programme combines projects with a cross-border dimension in order to bring together the people of the Sahel and take action in the areas most exposed to the terrorist threat. The G7 must participate in this effort and support those major infrastructure projects which can move the Sahel in a positive direction. This will be one of our presidency’s strong commitments.
The start of our presidency will coincide with preparations for the election of the new European Parliament. In fact, the same challenges arise, be they at global, European or national level. I’m thinking in particular of the ecological and inclusive transition, gender equality, democracy and information, and tax justice in the digital era. And of course we must also show that we’ll provide coherent responses to these various challenges.
France won’t let up in its efforts to make Europe more sovereign. This European sovereignty doesn’t clash with our national sovereignties: on the contrary, it’s their best guarantee. Rather than being left to the powerful currents of unregulated globalization, each European country can rely on the shared strength of a union that must embrace its power. We must also protect the integrity of that union, at a time when the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union is taking shape. The European Union’s strength rests on that of its member states. In this regard, France will have a significant responsibility, as we know. It will strive to exercise it by working with all the other member states, with Franco-German cooperation obviously being more crucial than ever.
A great deal of progress has already been made in recent months to better protect Europeans against dangers and abuses: those of social dumping in particular, with the new rules applying to posted workers and road transport. We’ll continue moving forward on deepening the Euro Area and creating a dedicated budget. We’ll negotiate a new financial framework for the European Union for the coming years that is geared to our new priorities, especially defence, innovation and mobility, without weakening the traditional targets of European expenditure. We’ll seek an agreement at the beginning of 2019 on taxing the digital sector.
The new institutions that emerge from the forthcoming elections will have to promote and champion these same imperatives of fiscal and social justice. In particular, we must transcribe into EU law the political commitments made recently at the Social Summit for Fair Jobs and Growth in Gothenburg. Making Europe an area of convergence and fair competition was a strong demand of the people we heard during the citizens’ consultations on Europe. We must now implement it.
Ladies and gentlemen, the second goal of the French G7 presidency – in addition to the three priorities I mentioned a moment ago – will be to promote the strengthening of, and closer coordination between, those powers that believe we must face up together to mankind’s major shared challenges. To this end we’ll work in close coordination with the international organizations in 2019, as we celebrate the centenary of the International Labour Organization and the 75th anniversary of the Bretton Woods protocol.
We must first of all guarantee the safety of our fellow citizens. The terrorist threat has declined, but it hasn’t disappeared. Strasbourg has had terrible experience of this, and in this regard, ladies and gentlemen ambassadors, I’d like to thank all those who expressed solidarity to the French government at the time of the tragedy. The terrorist threat has declined, but it hasn’t disappeared in France, on European territory, in the Levant or in Africa. Nowhere should we draw back from our necessary goal of defeating Daesh [so-called ISIL]. It’s the same in Asia, where we’ll continue supporting our partners who are fighting to prevent the creation of Islamist terrorist sanctuaries.
We must fight this battle on every front, in France and abroad, in the judicial field and in theatres of military operation, by combating propaganda and preventing radicalization, by identifying funding channels, building on the Paris conference on terrorism funding in April 2018 and the initiatives taken against the use of the Internet for terrorist purposes. This also requires a concerted handling of the cases of foreign terrorist fighters present in the Syria-Iraq theatre – in order to prevent them constituting a new threat to our countries in future. So what the international community must aim for is global action. This battle will be included in our agenda for the G7 and will be the focus of a meeting of foreign ministers that I’ll be organizing in April.
Guaranteeing our collective security also means creating enhanced consultation, to bring about lasting resolutions to the crises that have provided breeding grounds for the terrorist threat.
In Iraq, Daesh has been defeated in its territorial form. But the threat has mutated: it’s become diffuse, asymmetrical. It takes the form of attacks targeting not only the State’s representatives and institutions but also civilians. But despite this threat, elections were held in May, and we support the new Iraqi authorities in their struggle. And they’re well aware that there will be no lasting victory against Daesh unless there’s inclusive reconstruction, which also involves protecting the minorities previously persecuted by Daesh.
In Syria, the situation is very different. Daesh maintains territorial positions in the east of the country. Their recapture by the Syrian Democratic Forces, with the coalition’s support, is the absolute priority. In parallel, we must stabilize the areas liberated from the terrorist organization, particularly by the Kurdish and Arab forces we supported, who have made an outstanding sacrifice in this battle. But there will be no lasting victory against Daesh, no safe and voluntary return of refugees and displaced people, without a solution that is acceptable to all Syrians. We know the parameters of a solution exist: a constitution, elections in which every Syrian can take part, and a neutral environment to prevent the script from being written in advance.
Libya today is at a crossroads. In Paris on 29 May this year, stakeholders in Libya made clear commitments on the country’s political, economic and military unification and on the organization of elections. These commitments were renewed in Palermo last month. It’s important that these elections are held swiftly and before the end of the spring. So, for the first time in a long time, we’ve got a way for that country – whose stabilization is key to the stability of the area surrounding the Mediterranean and to getting migration under control – to get out of the crisis. We’re determined to take that path with the Libyans, with Ghassan Salamé and all the partners who, in Palermo, lent their support to this approach. In Libya, we either adopt this line and succeed together or we all fail.
Present-day crises – to quote only these three examples – are increasingly impacting their regional and international environment. We must be able to view them as a whole, but also state that we want to bring our positions closer together. The G7 summit will also provide the opportunity to talk about all the international crises. Our collective discussion in the G7 must also allow us to uphold our principles of openness and respect for the rule of law, which we’re committed to. Democracy must be able – whilst respecting the principles of freedom of expression – to prevent attempts to interfere, to remove the obstacles to press freedom and regulate effectively the manipulation of information. These challenges, which have taken on a new dimension in recent years, will be some of our G7 presidency’s priorities.
To take just one example: over the past few weeks in France and, incidentally, in several other countries, we’ve witnessed an extreme disinformation campaign about the intentions and content of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. Let me reiterate: it isn’t a binding text, it doesn’t create any “right to migration” or any new right for migrants which isn’t already contained in previous international texts – first and foremost the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Sadly it’s no accident that some fake news is broadcast, relayed on an industrial scale by media outlets ensuring both anonymity and instant swift dissemination on topics most likely to split society.
By seeking to divide and radicalize opinion with a lot of false information and exploiting the new possibilities of exponential dissemination offered by social media, we’re attacking the very principle of democracy because we’re stifling the very conditions for debate with the din of hatred and constant outrage.
We must react in a more coordinated and systematic way so that these practices, now known and identified, can be effectively countered. It isn’t just states that need to fight this battle, ladies and gentlemen ambassadors. The whole of civil society needs to fight it: readers and journalists must get involved. This is why France supports the plan for a global compact for information and democracy, an initiative launched by the NGO Reporters Without Borders, which will reaffirm the need for free, pluralistic, but also reliable information which is protected from manipulation. France will help bring together stakeholders – states and digital platforms in particular – ready to make headway along this path.
Ladies and gentlemen ambassadors, states’ destinies are linked to a far greater extent today than they were when the G7 was created. This is being confirmed all too clearly in the light of the financial, humanitarian, security, health and environmental crises which have spread rapidly thanks to globalization. France firmly believes that international cooperation is the only way to face up to the increasing number of challenges we face together. Every international cooperation format is a source of stability and trust over the long term. We must be able to reinvent and adapt them to the new political, geopolitical and economic realities, so that consensus-building can be encouraged on a wider scale. France has been behind several innovative initiatives such as the One Planet Summit, the Paris Call on digital technology, and the initiative to combat impunity for the use of chemical weapons.
French G7 presidency
This openness will be at the heart of the French G7 presidency’s working method – it’s why the President asked me to bring you together today to present to you the priorities of our presidency. We want to involve in our work countries which aren’t G7 members, keen to develop essential enhanced cooperation on these priority issues. This is why, ahead of the foreign ministers’ meeting in early April, I’ll be organizing for the first time a consultation meeting open to certain countries also involved in defending the multilateral system, those which I usually call the “goodwill powers”, whose added strength can create real leverage on the major international cooperation issues.
The French presidency will also establish a process for systematically consulting non-state actors, particularly through the G7’s engagement groups. They will feed into and enrich the work of the G7 and we’ll also be organizing other platforms such as the National Council for International Development [and Solidarity], which will bring together the main figures involved in development, from the public and voluntary sectors.
A dozen ministerial meetings will take place, along with many consultations with businesses, professional organizations, NGOs and researchers, with the support of the international organizations concerned. All the topics which are a priority for international cooperation will be discussed in turn and we’ll make sure we are fully and constantly coordinated with the Japanese G20 presidency.
Ladies and gentlemen ambassadors,
I think the time has come to put men’s and women’s everyday concerns back at the heart of our diplomatic action and our system of international cooperation.
For 18 months, alongside the President, I’ve been all over the world and visited many of your countries.
In many parts of the world, I’ve seen people deeply fearful about seeing their destiny slip away from them. Putting people back at the heart of decision-making means living up to our responsibilities and putting their legitimate demands back at the heart of our international agenda; it also means making sure we create clear, effective collective rules. Putting people back at the heart of the decision-making process means ending a certain weariness which has taken hold of the international community that risks making us forget - in what would be an unacceptable repetition of history – that cooperation is the best guarantee of our prosperity and our only bulwark against outbreaks of extremism and against blind self-absorption.