Foreign Minister delivers New Year policy speech to press
New Year greetings to the press – Speech by M. Jean-Marc Ayrault, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development
Paris, 19 January 2017
Chairman of the French Diplomatic Press Association,
Chère Gwendoline Debono,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I’m delighted to welcome you to the Quai d’Orsay today. Thank you for the New Year greetings you’ve sent to me and the Foreign Ministry staff; in turn I’d like to wish you and the French Diplomatic Press Association an excellent 2017. I hope the coming months bring you health, happiness and success as you carry out your profession.
Among the good resolutions the Ministry made this new year, you’ll soon have the opportunity to discover that the France Diplomatie website – which is one of your working tools – has had a facelift, with a new, more legible and therefore more accessible and modern format.
Before anything else, I want to congratulate Gwendoline Debono once again on her work. I pay tribute to your bravery, because it’s needed, and your talent, which you have in abundance. You were one of the first journalists to enter the suburbs of Mosul alongside the Iraqi special forces fighting Islamic State. The role you play in informing our fellow citizens about the situation in that country is outstanding, and I’m happy to have been able to award you this prize today.
Talking about Iraq, I’m aware of your concern about your colleague from the newspaper Le Parisien, Frédéric Gerschel, who accompanied me several times on my visits and whom I’ve also known for a long time; he was the victim of a terrible road accident while he was in Iraq to cover the battle of Mosul. I want to send all my thoughts to his family, colleagues and friends.
Press freedom/attacks on journalists
You mentioned the working conditions of journalists, Mr Chairman. Today, 259 journalists are imprisoned throughout the world – it’s the largest number recorded since 1990. War correspondents, special correspondents and freelance journalists are increasingly the victims of deliberate attacks. In 2016, Reporters Without Borders recorded 74 journalists killed around the world. They were all brave men and women who paid with their lives to exercise a precious right: to inform freely. Two years after the attacks that struck Charlie Hebdo, we all remember the generosity and skill of your colleagues, murdered because they were rightly exercising their freedom of expression. We must also remember the reactions of support, in France and the international arena, from all the leaders who came to Paris to support France, from all the citizens who stood alongside us, alongside you in dealing with that terrible blow. The memory of that demonstration on 11 January 2015 is still in our hearts. As far as I’m concerned, it will remain there forever, as one of the symbols of what we are and must do everything in our power to remain: a free, united and unbowed people.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In 2016, as throughout the past five years, the Quai d’Orsay has been active on every front. The Minister has been working tirelessly for security and peace, for the planet, for Europe’s revitalization and for France’s influence in the world. French diplomacy is building, investing and operating in the fields of culture, the economy and human exchanges. It’s being modernized according to three priorities.
The first is the contribution to the fight against terrorism and to international security. 2016 was again marked by terrorism, which, in all its barbarity, struck our country, our main partners and many other countries around the world. In the face of this global scourge, France must provide a resolute, long-term response.
Only yesterday in Gao, terrorism struck hard, with the goal of obstructing the implementation of the Algiers agreement and, in particular, the creation of joint patrols that will enable non-terrorist armed combatants to be reintegrated into the Malian national army. That was the aim. It was done to frighten and discourage people. I repeat here – as I said yesterday evening, as the President and I had said in Bamako – that France will stand by its African partners so as not to let people be diverted from reconciliation, which is essential for the return to peace and stability in Mali.
In Iraq and Syria, Daesh [so-called ISIL] is retreating. But the coalition’s military successes need to be consolidated and, above all, supported and built on in humanitarian, security and political terms. It’s not so much about winning the military battle against Daesh: it’s also necessary to win the peace, by encouraging the establishment, in Mosul and then Raqqa, of inclusive governance that will allow people to begin a new chapter and look to the future with confidence.
The Ministry actively contributed in 2016 to the implementation of the action plan against radicalization and terrorism. Our efforts will be continued and stepped up in 2017, particularly through the mobilization of the French diplomatic network, to identify good practice in the fight against radicalization.
The second priority I’m especially committed to is providing collective responses to global challenges. We must profoundly rethink the way we develop multilateral solutions, and take the democratic imperative more into account.
That’s the spirit in which France envisaged its COP21 presidency: stringent and active efforts by many players from every background. For France, negotiating the Paris Agreement, under the impetus of Laurent Fabius, demonstrated its ability to mobilize its diplomacy to achieve a goal.
This success is all the more striking because it comes at a time when the international community is confronted, to an unprecedented extent, with a questioning of multilateralism. Nationalism is surfacing or resurfacing everywhere and could lead steadily and inexorably to severe shocks of which history has taught us the dangers. And yet, multilateralism is more necessary than ever. Given the disorder around the world, multilateralism is a very difficult exercise, a demanding exercise but – I’m convinced of it – the only effective method.
This year which is beginning, 2017, provides us with an opportunity to re-examine the role played by France on the international stage. The third of our priorities is to strengthen it and take action while remaining loyal to our principles and values, because France isn’t any old country. It draws its responsibilities from its history and the universal values it’s helped to forge. France knows the price of conflict, devastation and war. It’s committed to building a safer, fairer and more caring world, supporting freedom and the primacy of law. This commitment will continue to guide us in 2017 in the face of the crises troubling the world.
A special word on Syria, where talking about our powerlessness or criticizing our stance is par for the course. But we should be credited with three things. Firstly, our steadfast position and our determination never to give up, as demonstrated by the initiatives we’ve tirelessly championed at the United Nations Security Council.
Secondly, we should be credited with realism about the issues in the Syria tragedy, because what’s necessary is to create the conditions for a Syria which is one day at peace, whose territorial integrity is protected, which is respectful of its diversity and led by a government that will, through the return to peace, gain the strength to combat terrorism genuinely at last. Otherwise, that country will remain a place of chaos and a haven for those who directly threaten our security.
That’s why it is crucial for the Astana meeting to correspond to the framework agreed by the international community – i.e. the Geneva Communiqué and Resolution 2254, which provides for a political transition – and for the opposition, as we’re also demanding, to be represented inclusively. In this way, Astana will have a useful role in preparing the Geneva negotiations due to resume on 8 February. When I talk to the various parties involved – be they the Turks on Sunday, the Russians a few days earlier, or Iran, where I’ll be going in a few days’ time –, they all tell me they agree with this. It’s not enough to say so; we’re waiting for the evidence. We’re giving negotiation a chance, however small.
That’s why, despite all the issues I’ve mentioned, we’re supporting the Astana stage – and I mean stage.
Finally, we should be credited with being uncompromising about our values. Simple common sense tells us you can’t base a country’s future on a man who is responsible for many more than 300,000 deaths and the displacement or exile of over half its people, a man who hasn’t hesitated to carry out systematic torture and use chemical weapons, in a very deeply wounded and widely destroyed country.
Why? Because fundamental rights are at the heart of our identity and must remain so. France’s commitment to defending them, with conviction but without constantly lecturing people, doesn’t run counter to our interests; some people would seek to pit one against the other. On the contrary, it helps to promote them and provide an attractive image of France in the long term.
That’s what I observe everywhere on my travels. People aren’t asking us to stop being who we are.
On human rights, France has no option but to set an example.
Ladies and gentlemen,
2017 is beginning in a difficult global context, as you too have mentioned. The challenges we must face are many.
Middle East peace efforts
I’m thinking about the tragic situation in the Middle East, which is not only an expression but also the result of decades of tension. The regular opening and failure of negotiations have created more disappointment and bitterness, despite the huge international effort, despite the realization that the status quo is untenable and despite the fact that we’ve known for years what shape a solution will take. It’s based on the coexistence of a State of Israel and a Palestinian State, sovereign and democratic, living side by side in peace and security, on the basis of the 1967 lines and with Jerusalem as their capital.
None of this is new. France is working – and will never give up – to restart a credible negotiation process enabling a fair and lasting peace to be achieved. In order to give dialogue and peace every chance, the conditions must be created for the resumption of negotiations, particularly by offering incentives to the parties. France has been busy focusing on this in recent months. It was in this spirit that a new conference was held on 15 January, in the framework of our Middle East peace initiative. It provided an opportunity for the international community to send the parties its message of support for the two-state solution and express to them its willingness to lend its full support in the event of a peace agreement.
That’s what we did. Some people thought we wouldn’t manage it; some even thought it discourteous to do so five days before the new American president takes office. The opposite is true, because things happened last year: the adoption by the United Nations Security Council of the resolution which calls settlement activity into question, John Kerry’s speech, and this conference on 15 January, which is a reminder of what to me appears the only possible way forward.
That’s what was said and what is shared by a small group of countries, 70 of them – and important ones at that –, the whole European Union, the UN and the Arab League.
I’m also thinking of Africa. I was at the Bamako summit last week, with President Hollande, at which 52 states were represented. This strong turnout from our partners sends a message of confidence. Confidence in Mali’s future – it wasn’t easy getting this Africa-France summit held in Bamako –, and in the future of the partnership between Africa and France, a more demanding, more transparent, more open partnership reflecting the policy the French President wishes to see towards the African continent.
Africa is a priority for France – the whole of Africa, which was there with its official languages. The continent still faces many challenges. These challenges are terrorism, radicalization and extremism. They’re also demographic, and ones to do with economic and social development. The continent’s young people are an asset, a tremendous source of energy, dynamism and growth. Yet this expectation and requirement for a huge number of jobs to be created for young people places a serious burden on Africa’s economies. Jean-Marie Le Guen, Minister of State for Development and Francophony, is focusing a great deal on these issues. France is mobilizing €23 billion over the period 2017-2021 and making a significant contribution to this economic development effort. Perhaps after the Paris Agreement, which the Africans also contributed to, the energy transition and the digital revolution provide opportunities for Africa to take a leap forward. At any rate, this is what I see in African societies, where many initiatives come not just from governments, authorities and cooperation projects, but civil society. This is something new which must be taken into account, encouraged and respected.
I’m of course thinking of Europe, which is facing a vast number of challenges linked to terrorism, neighbouring conflicts, migration, the questioning of its ideal and the decision by one of its members to leave it. So much uncertainty weakens people’s confidence in the European enterprise.
France is clear-sighted about the consequences of this situation. But it still believes in Europe. The European enterprise is a collective success which gives every one of our member states a stronger voice and greater influence in the 21st-century world.
The British people’s decision to leave the European Union is one we regret, but accept. It’s a decision the British people have taken. Theresa May’s speech on Tuesday helps clarify Britain’s objectives. As far as the Twenty-Seven are concerned, they have already decided on the framework in which they intend to negotiate with the UK and defend the EU’s interests.
I say to you clearly, there will be no cherry-picking, otherwise Europe is finished. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean punishing the UK. Anyway, who’s talking about punishment? I heard my counterpart using the word recently. It isn’t France’s position. The British have made a choice, which will have consequences. That’s obvious. Talking about punishment is actually a smokescreen to allow those who argued in favour of Brexit to play down its impact on their people because they can clearly see its negative consequences.
In the coming months, the EU will be guided by simple principles in order to protect its modus operandi, integrity and cohesion, because right after the British referendum and many times since, its member states have reiterated their confidence in the European enterprise, their commitment to what makes our identity and to our values – democracy, human rights, the advantage of an open, free, safe society.
In Bratislava, in September , the 27 heads of state and government adopted a road map to address our compatriots’ and fellow citizens’ concerns more effectively and to a greater extent. The Europeans want a Europe that protects. This is why we’ve launched numerous projects to have greater control over arms trafficking, more effectively combat terrorism financing, ensure control of our external borders and give Europe a means of defence allowing it ultimately to achieve strategic autonomy. They want a Europe which ensures economic prosperity and social progress, which offers everyone greater opportunities, within societies geared towards the future and their young people. This is a priority of Harlem Désir, Minister of State for European Affairs, whom I particularly want to thank for his steadfast commitment.
The European Union must give itself the means today to ensure the economic growth of tomorrow and address the two major challenges of the energy transition and the digital transition. The Juncker investment plan has already met more than half of its targets in Europe. France, which is its second-largest beneficiary, saw the launch in 2016 of 37 new operations and the mobilization of nearly €16 billion of investment.
France-US relations/Trump administration
The last challenge I want to talk to you about today is the one that comes with the arrival of a new US president, as of tomorrow. American voters chose a figure who embodies a break with the past, but in order to do what? For the time being, there are predominant questions, concerns about which direction the new administration will want to take its diplomacy. I’m sure our interests with the United States, our common history, our shared values will continue to govern our relations with that country. France and the United States are allies – that won’t change. The European Union, which has contributed so much to our continent’s peace and prosperity, will remain a strong, useful partner for the United States, which has consistently supported it from the outset because it understands that it’s in its own interests. That will be France’s position: we’ll find, through discussion, common ground on the really key topical issues – particularly the fight against terrorism, to which the United States and France are contributing on a global scale.
France will swiftly develop close relations with the new administration. We’ll spare no effort in convincing the United States that its interests are better protected when we fight together against the major challenges we all face and adopt a collective approach. Or when international trade develops on the basis of rules agreed by everyone, with due regard for reciprocity and fairness – Matthias Fekl, Minister of State for Foreign Trade, is fully mobilized so that Europe strengthens its position as a regulatory power in the world and as a benchmark in terms of fair trade which benefits as many as possible. Faced with the temptation of unilateralism or an idea that deals can suffice for sorting out global affairs, France – I mean this – will speak out.
Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,
As certain regimes adopt a tougher line, but also sometimes simply due to the outcome of democratic elections, we’re entering a period in which we risk seeing the principles we hold dear being put to the test even more than before. This compels us to react. Firstly as citizens – every one of us has a responsibility for this, all the more so in this presidential election year. But also, in your case, as journalists by fully exercising – as you do – your freedom of expression, your contribution to prompting discussion of not just the essential issues affecting our country, but also Europe’s future and the way we think about the world’s future and the major entities which are formed or break up.
I’ll be aiming and fighting for the same things over the next few months until the end of this five-year term as I was a year ago; they’re identical to the things that have driven me throughout my political life: to advance our values, assert our interests, defend our fellow citizens, provide everyone with more opportunities, increase France’s ability to benefit from an open world, where progress is not just possible but necessary.
That’s what I wanted to say to you. Thank you again for being here this morning, and I’ll conclude, ladies and gentlemen, by wishing each and every one of you personal happiness and professional success./.