Foreign Minister outlines France’s global priorities
Ambassadors’ conference – Closing speech by M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs
Paris, 29 August 2019
Minister of State, chère Amélie,
Minister of State, cher Jean-Baptiste,
Chairs of the parliamentary committees,
Members of Parliament,
Secretary-General, cher François Delattre, this is a first for you, here in this capacity: you were already a veteran here,
Ladies and gentlemen,
People often say – and I’ve sometimes said it myself – that we live in a period marked by uncertainty and unpredictability. However, I’ve come to think that, on at least one thing, we know what to go by: the intentions of our partners, adversaries, allies and competitors. It’s enough to pay attention to what they say and observe what they do. It’s enough to look at the world as it is in order to glimpse the world in store, guess its faultlines and grasp its opportunities and threats.
Today, this effort to be clear-sighted is essential. In international relations, habits, certainties and what is obvious often prove to be very poor counsel. And since any self-respecting speech must include quotations, I won’t deprive myself of them either; some use them more than others, but I do less reading. I’d like to quote to you Thomas Schelling, who, in the preface to a major book on Pearl Harbour in 1962, wrote about the obvious often proving to be poor counsel – it was after Pearl Harbour, of course: “There is a tendency in our planning to confuse the unfamiliar with the improbable. The contingency we have not considered seriously looks strange; what looks strange is thought improbable; what is improbable need not be considered seriously.”
Tackling global challenges
To look at the world head-on, “to consider it seriously” in order not only to interpret it but to try and transform it, is to see it being rocked by three major trends, which endanger our interests and values.
The major powers seem determined to turn Europe into their playground.
The multilateral system, as we well know, is currently the target of unprecedented attacks.
As for the great global competition we’re immersed in, it now takes unprecedented forms and is being played out in new areas.
So to consolidate the unity of Europe and trigger its strategic awakening, to defend multilateralism in order to prevent the excesses of deregulated competition and think up collective solutions to today’s major challenges, and to show that democracies are capable of fighting the new battles of influence: these are the three huge tasks incumbent on you and us.
This task requires us, whenever necessary, to exploit the balance of power, without ever compromising on our principles: respect for international law, the promotion of human rights and the choice of dialogue, cooperation and solidarity. Because to turn our backs on these principles, to let ourselves be carried along by the surging wave of cynicism and selfishness, would be to abandon what we are, give up promoting France’s voice in the world and ultimately lose our soul.
I believe this requirement and this challenge sum up quite well the purpose of the diplomacy we must conduct together, under the French President’s authority. On each of the three challenges we’ll have to face, I’d like to remind you of our priorities and the approach we must follow, before saying a word to you about our ministry and the internal transformation projects I’d like to make progress on.
I’ll begin with Europe, because I’m convinced it’s as Europeans that we must seriously consider the world, and with our European partners that we must take action in it.
That’s the strong belief under which I fight here every day for Europe, with the support of Amélie de Montchalin.
On 11 November last year, we commemorated with the appropriate solemnity the end of the First World War in Western Europe. It was a war which, we must still recall, also continued in Eastern Europe well after the signature of the Rethondes armistice.
This year, other sinister or inspiring anniversaries remind us of the long road our continent had yet to travel in order to draw the strength from history’s tragedies to reunite and finally become itself. These anniversaries must also remind us of the price, and at the same time the fragility, of what we managed to build and must tirelessly work to protect.
Allow me briefly to recall some dates. On 23 August 1939 – 80 years ago – the pact concluded by Ribbentrop and Molotov on behalf of Nazi Germany and the USSR divided a whole swath of our continent between two powers. Fifty years later to the day – and it was no accident, of course – on 23 August 1989 – it’s now August 2019 – nearly two million people formed a vast human chain across the Baltic countries to express their aspiration for independence. And in Poland and Hungary in that same summer of 1989, the wind of freedom blew that would bring down the Berlin Wall in November. One year later, following German reunification, the signature of the Charter of Paris for a New Europe paved the way for the creation of a new security architecture, including with Russia – I’ll come back to this. That was 30 years ago.
These pivotal moments of the 20th century allow us to gauge the value of a reunited, democratic and free Europe. Words are sometimes deceptive. What’s been called the reunification of Germany, what was later called the enlargement of Europe, is in fact one and the same thing: the reunification of Europe with itself, with its geography and its history.
We’d be wrong to see this finally-united Europe as a haven from which we can contemplate the world without experiencing its shocks; in truth, it has meaning only through action and movement, and it’s never been so necessary or, perhaps, so radically called into question.
And because we can’t build properly today without knowing our history, all our history, I’d like us to consider together in the coming year that upheaval of 1989-1990: what it told us, what it told us about who we are. I’d therefore like you, Secretary-General, along with the Political Director, the Head of Archives and the CAPS [Centre for Analysis, Planning and Strategy], to make us some proposals to this effect in the autumn and for 2020, so that we can regain the spirit and meaning of Helsinki, the spirit and meaning of 1989, and the spirit and meaning of the Charter of Paris.
In May, crucial elections for the future of our Union were held. We avoided the worst. Even though anti-European forces have far from disarmed, Europe held its ground. The heralded wave of populism didn’t take place. The pro-European parties mobilized and generally held out. The higher turnout even showed that our fellow citizens have realized the stakes.
Thanks to the renewal of the European institutions, France will be able to increase its influence in Europe. A new strategic agenda close to our views has been defined. It sets the course on all the fundamental issues: climate protection, Social Europe, competition policy, industrial policy, border management and projecting Europe in the world. It’s an opportunity to take up Europe’s challenges with our partners.
These challenges – you heard the President on Tuesday – boil down to one ambition, an ambition we must pursue in the long term but which must already take up our energy: to build a genuine European sovereignty enabling us, in this troubled period, to defend what makes our continent special: this European humanism, founded on a unique way of conceiving the world, on a commitment to fundamental freedoms, on a very special relationship with culture and thought. A humanism which today, I profoundly believe, gives us invaluable benchmarks when it comes to tackling technological upheavals and the threats hanging over our environment.
This European sovereignty, promoted by the President – which helps our own nation not only strengthen full control of its destiny but also remain open – this European sovereignty must take on many aspects; first and foremost it’s about a common response to the challenge of migration.
We’re no longer at the peak of the crisis, as in 2015 and 2016. The decline in flows testifies to this.
But the subject is far from being behind us, and the human tragedies go on. People still die while trying to reach Europe, as the NGO ships always present in the Mediterranean are there to remind us. And it’s an issue that continues to weigh heavily in the European debate.
Because defending our values and principles, which make us duty-bound to take in people in need of protection and seeking asylum, is at the heart of our action and must remain so. But at the same time, it means fighting uncompromisingly against illegal immigration, people-smugglers, slum landlords and all those who exploit human misery.
There will only be a truly European and, for that matter, genuine response to this challenge if we can agree with our partners on a policy based on respect for the balance between responsibility and solidarity. We must put in place an effective sea-rescue and disembarkation mechanism, finally harmonize our asylum policy and humanely guarantee the return and readmission of those who are not eligible. And this we can do only together. And we must achieve it in the name of the Schengen Area itself, that precious asset whose very existence will otherwise be threatened by those peddlers of doom who only want to unravel Europe.
Meeting the challenges of migration also means maintaining firm, stringent dialogue with the countries of the South, while respecting the spirit of cooperation that governs our relations. In order to do this, we must more effectively coordinate our development assistance, which is currently increasing substantially – I’ll come back to this – with migration challenges.
The second challenge of building European sovereignty, for which must make active efforts, is Defence Europe. The President spoke at length about this on Tuesday. It’s based on three pillars:
the new instruments the European Union has equipped itself with: I’m thinking in particular of the European Defence Fund and Permanent Structured Cooperation, which France has worked so hard to make ambitious;
our various defence cooperation projects in Europe: I’m thinking in particular of the European Intervention Initiative, whose member countries paraded for the first time on the Champs-Elysées on 14 July;
Article 5 and the collective security commitment in NATO, where Europeans must carry more weight and assume more responsibility to continue the balanced reinforcement of the allied deterrence and defence posture. We’re playing our full role there, because for us “burden-sharing” isn’t an insurance premium paid by citizens as a purely commercial system, but a collective commitment to solidarity.
We mustn’t take this new Defence Europe for granted, and we mustn’t relax our efforts. France must remain a driving force. In this regard, we must set concrete short-term goals: to implement the European Defence Fund by the end of the year, a Multiannual Financial Framework that reflects our level of ambition, to succeed with operational and capacity-building projects, which will have to both fill our gaps and develop the equipment of the future, and to continue our efforts to enable Article 42.7 of the treaty, on European solidarity – which we benefited from after the attacks in 2015 – to be more effectively mobilized.
We Europeans must also make joint progress on concrete initiatives such as maritime security in the Gulf – an initiative in which France is willing to take part among Europeans – and the operations we’re conducting jointly in the Sahel, in the spirit of the European Intervention Initiative.
Regarding our third challenge – that of European economic and technological sovereignty – we have to be fair to Europe: in a way, it’s overcoming its innocence and naivety. Some initial milestones have been laid. I’m thinking in particular of the protection mechanism for our strategic investments; that’s now a reality. But we must now go much further and be bold, as the President has asked us to.
Europe must of course continue to show the whole world that it’s a great regulatory power. First of all because for us Europeans, the law is still the world order’s main instrument of regulation, but also because the standards we create for ourselves on European Union territory can also set an example to the rest of the world. This is what is happening with the GDPR [General Data Protection Regulation], which is starting to be picked up by other countries on the planet.
But being a regulatory power isn’t enough. Europe must also assert itself at industrial and technological level. My belief is clear: without standards technology is blind, and without technology standards are powerless. So Europe must also decide to make a massive technological and industrial leap. This applies to digital technology, 5G, artificial intelligence, space and all the major technologies of the future. Otherwise Europe is doomed to be a mere market for consumers of services and products manufactured elsewhere. Under these conditions, it will probably still be a good place to live, but for how long? And under these conditions, it would lose all ability to say what it is and write its own history.
And in order not to remain captive to the technology of others, Europe must be a productive force with its own industrial supply capacity. This is one of the keys to our sovereignty.
But our sovereignty also means affirming a Europe that demands reciprocity, a Europe that protects itself from all forms of dumping, a Europe that ensures fair conditions for competition, a Europe that protects the rules of multilateral trade and gives itself the means to respond to unilateralism and extraterritoriality, because – as the debates we had yesterday and the day before yesterday highlighted – certain extraterritorial measures taken by foreign countries are clearly contrary to international law and call for a tailored strategy to guarantee European sovereignty and protect our compatriots and businesses.
I mentioned the importance of European unity: from this point of view, Brexit – which is also one of the major challenges Europe has to face – is of course a disappointment and a source of bitter regret.
We’ve often said we never wanted the British withdrawal from the European Union, and we deeply regret this decision. But it was a sovereign decision by the British people, and so we must respect it.
Today we’re acting to defend our interests and the European Union’s decision-making autonomy. We’re not seeking to accuse or punish our British friends – that would be a bizarre idea! We’re simply seeking to protect the integrity of the Union.
This in no way diminishes our long-standing attachment to the United Kingdom and, of course, our desire to preserve a future bilateral relationship. We hope the British will join us, because it’s essential that we prepare together for the 10th anniversary of the Lancaster House agreements and maintain our ability to work jointly and pragmatically on Europe’s security. After 31 October, everything will still remain to be done. Our collective interest, on both sides of the Channel, will be to not forget this factual truth, based on our geography and our common history: we’re all Europeans. And the British Isles will always stay in one place: in Europe.
This European unity is essential, because there’s no lack of crises for which a concerted response by the Europeans is crucial.
Starting with the Iran crisis. The unity of the E3 group – which we comprise along with the British and Germans –, and more broadly unity among Europeans, are essential; essential to protecting the Vienna nuclear agreement, creating the conditions for de-escalation in the Gulf, to ensure maritime security and freedom of navigation in the Gulf and prepare the conditions for a future enlarged negotiation with Iran.
Our strength, France’s strength, is our ability to talk to all players in the region. That’s what gives us a central role on the issue, as we showed in Biarritz, by being agile and active.
Our action with regard to the Iran crisis perfectly illustrates the President’s approach: to take the initiative, make proposals, rally people around us, and build driving political coalitions in the framework of the United Nations and the IAEA. All this without ever forgetting what our interests are: no nuclear or ballistic proliferation, maritime security, stability in the region and no support for terrorist movements.
In the Sahel too, the Europeans must continue their collective efforts. In that region, which is in our neighbourhood, a major threat is looming to our security: terrorism, which feeds on poverty and weak states and fuels community conflicts.
That’s why it was essential for our European partners to join us, to work with us on development with the Sahel Alliance, but also on security with the launch, at the G7 summit in Biarritz, with Germany’s very strong cooperation, of a partnership for stability and security in the Sahel, which aims to widen the scope of security interventions and increase international support.
The third challenge we must take up together as Europeans, as the President told us – and it’s also one of the challenges of our sovereignty – is Europe’s relationship with Russia. There’s also an obvious geographical fact we too often lose sight of – I referred to it at the beginning – obvious geographically, historically and culturally: Russia is in Europe.
The President set out in detail in his speech on Tuesday, as he’s done several times in recent months, the difficulties we face in this relationship with Russia: chemical attacks, cyber attacks, military intervention in Syria, the annexation of part of Ukraine, the violation of treaties, etc. But is this downward slide in our interest, and must we resign ourselves to it as a country’s inevitable distancing from Europe? Obviously not! Dialogue, clear-sighted, stringent, long-term and tenacious dialogue, conducted with the aim of protecting our interests and those of our allies: this dialogue must be stepped up and must seek to bring about Russia’s gradual rapprochement with European principles.
That’s the reason for our action at the Council of Europe, in our presidency and in close coordination with Finland, because Russian citizens, as citizens of this vast unit that is Europe, are also entitled to protection of the rights conferred on them by the European Court of Human Rights.
It’s also the purpose of the Trianon Dialogue, which allows our societies to talk and move closer together. It’s the purpose of the economic links we maintain with Russia, in compliance with sanctions and in accordance with our interests. After all, why push Russia ever further into the arms of China?
In a few days’ time, I’ll have the opportunity to visit Moscow with the Minister for the Armed Forces, Florence Parly, to start discussing what could again become an architecture of security and trust. It will take time. The 30th anniversary of the Charter of Paris in 2020 – I referred to it earlier – must be a guide, because the 10 principles of Helsinki, reaffirmed then, seem to me, if you take the trouble to re-read them, still appropriate to our time and our European identity.
We’ll also have to ensure that the military competition the great powers engage in above our heads in Europe is still regulated by multilateral instruments. Indeed, the end of the INF Treaty and the risk of the New START Treaty undergoing the same fate in 2021 may take us back to a situation where US-Russian nuclear competition is totally unregulated – a situation we haven’t seen since the 1960s – while China openly demands a quantitative and qualitative increase in its arsenal.
In this regard, we must work in three complementary directions.
Firstly, we must of course provide ourselves with the means for our defence and deterrence, in a robust but non-escalating way.
We must do so because a policy of burying our heads in the sand or free-riding can only lead to Europe exiting from history or, worse, being transformed into a playground and a battleground. To avoid that, we must be actors in our own security. In this regard, we must avoid naivety, naïve optimism and, on the other hand, gratuitous aggression.
Secondly, because that’s not enough, we Europeans must at the same time think jointly about the conditions for military and strategic equilibrium on our continent, in both the conventional and the nuclear field, in an effort to reduce strategic risks and mistrust.
Finally, on this basis we’ll have to promote and build this new architecture of security and trust, which is ultimately in our best interest. We’ll get down to this important task in the coming weeks.
Faced with all these challenges – as you can see – Europe is about an approach: not being content with deadlock, creating ad-hoc coalitions carrying along the institutions, being active and making proposals, and rejecting artificial divisions, because let’s be clear: there’s populism in the West, just as there’s democracy in the East. We can find potential partners everywhere, and we must get them involved issue by issue. We’ll have to redouble our efforts in the run-up to the French presidency of the Council of the [European] Union in 2022, which we must already begin to prepare together.
In the times of unbridled global competition that we’re currently experiencing, clear-sightedness and pragmatism also require us, along with our partners, to come up with a new multilateralism.
By its history and its status, France must take the initiative to protect what is – let’s say it clearly: the only instrument capable of regulating international competition and stopping what the President on Tuesday called the “savaging” of the world, quoting Thérèse Delpech’s prescient book which, in 2005, was already warning us against the return of “barbarism” in the 21st century. France must be a balancing power.
Behind those who advocate unilateralism, those who champion revisionism and those who, under the pretext of promoting multilateralism, actually promote an alternative globalization based on their own interests – behind all this, what’s emerging is a faithless and lawless world. Faithless because we no longer believe in the virtues of cooperation, and promises made no longer have any value. Lawless because rules are bypassed or even sacrificed on the altar of pure power relations.
Multilateralism is not a dogma; it’s not an ideology. It’s an effective method, and it’s a method that works. Without multilateralism there would be no Paris Agreement. Without multilateralism there would be no UNESCO convention on the protection of cultural diversity. No global fund to save lives by fighting AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. No prohibition of chemical weapons. I could continue the list. It’s up to us to focus on what I’d call evidence-based multilateralism.
To say this isn’t to be naively optimistic. Multilateralism doesn’t actually rule out power relationships, it doesn’t remove them: it frames them, gives them rules and a framework of justice and law.
Yes, reinventing multilateralism is a matter of urgency.
This doesn’t mean we must abandon its long-standing forums: on the contrary, we must strengthen them and seek to increase our influence in them, but in a methodical way. In this regard, I’d like to make a slightly internal observation: by seeking to have everything you sometimes lose on every front. That’s why I want to set up a strategic steering group to define and propose to the President the battles we must prioritize in order to protect France’s role in the major multilateral organizations.
But what we can and must come up with is a new approach, involving states and international organizations but also local authorities, NGOs and private businesses.
This is what the President sought to do at the G7 summit by broadly involving civil society and inviting other countries. You’re aware of the results.
We’d already put this approach into practice last year with the Paris Peace Forum. The second forum this year will mobilize you, mobilize us to bring this fine idea to life in the long term.
And to uphold this world vision and these priorities, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and I this year launched an Alliance for Multilateralism, which will meet for the first time in New York at ministerial level at the end of September, with a threefold ambition: to compensate, reform and drive. Compensate for the insufficient commitment of states; reform and modernize institutions – because the United Nations is perfectible and we must adapt our multilateral tools to contemporary challenges; and drive strong initiatives, particularly where governance is absent or insufficient.
The Alliance has a “hard core” around France and Germany, which take the initiative, but along with Japan, Canada, Ghana, Chile and others its remit is to promote initiatives on the basis of modular coalitions open to non-state partners. It’s actually been years since we learned to work with goodwill partners, with genuine results. With the Alliance, we want to affirm that this way of working together is not only a working method but also, clearly, a highly political choice: the choice of cooperation, humanism and progress.
This reinvented multilateralism, this multilateralism in coalition, bringing together all powers and democracies of goodwill, is essential to give us the means to respond to today’s major problems.
We must first act to protect the WTO, i.e. in order to reform it.
As you know, the organization isn’t equipped to respond to the current distortions of global competition; it’s now only a few months away from total paralysis because its appellate body won’t exist then. You know, as I do, that the trade war has taken hold, with an exchange of unilateral measures that now extend to the technological and also the monetary field. And on this point we face a threefold challenge.
Firstly, to show our fellow citizens that our trade policy is capable of responding to all their aspirations, in terms of fairness and of taking sustainable development challenges into account. And the debates on CETA have shown this issue is essential. If we don’t do this, the risk of self-absorption, the risk of closing down to each other will become a reality.
The second challenge in this regard is the fact that defending our interests against unilateral measures and unfair trade practices is essential, whether it concerns illegally-imposed customs duties or protections and subsidies granted to our businesses’ competitors. Here again, it’s European unity above all that we must ensure every day, without neglecting the fact that power relationships are also part of our arsenal.
And the third challenge regarding the necessary reform of the WTO is to modernize the trade system to take into account the challenges of the 21st century, especially the fight against climate change and all forms of unfair practices. It’s also probably the only way ultimately to persuade the United States and China that a multilateral solution to trade disputes is in everyone’s interest; this would enable them to resolve their tensions in an updated multilateral system.
The other challenge requiring a drive for new multilateralism is climate and the environment. We have some imminent deadlines: the climate summit to be held in New York on 23 September on the initiative of the UN Secretary-General. We have other deadlines: COP25, then the World Conservation Congress we’ll be hosting in Marseille in 2020, before COP15, to be held in China. We must play an active role, and the whole ministry must be aware these are strong necessities, essential for us. In any case, for my part I intend to get involved personally. Let me also add that during the G7 which has just ended, you showed, we showed that this ministry is capable of mobilizing as a matter of urgency, to enable the President to lead a huge coalition of international goodwill to support our partners in rescuing the Amazon region.
Another priority of the new multilateralism is the common goods of health and education.
The Replenishment Conference of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria will be held in Lyon in October. It will be an extremely important moment for us, as the President told you on Tuesday.
As for education, it’s an issue that is central to development challenges, and in this regard France has regained its full credibility, particularly at the Dakar meeting, with the major reinvestment of €200 million sought by the President in the Global Partnership for Education. The best evidence is that the Global Partnership for Education has decided to transfer a significant number of its operational offices to Paris.
Finally, another major challenge for 21st century multilateralism: we must build a better-regulated digital world.
The digital transformation is today one of the key deciding factors in the new world order. Whether it be threats to the stability and security of cyberspace, terrorists’ new strategies, the race for hegemony over artificial intelligence, the claims of some companies that they can create a global currency, new interference capabilities, the aspirations of civil society, access to education and culture or economic sovereignty – the challenges have never been so numerous, power relations so unbalanced and the players so diverse.
We began to lay the groundwork with the strategic cyber defence review, France’s international digital strategy, the Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace, the Christchurch Call and initiatives on artificial intelligence. All this is absolutely decisive because the digital sector has become a new area of confrontation but also a new area of opportunities.
Our goal is clear: not to be locked into a purely binary approach where we have to choose between a libertarian model based solely on expressing support for deregulation – which barely disguises the law of the jungle – and an authoritarian model where the sole imperative is to attack, monitor and punish, in defiance of public freedoms. A third way is possible and we must build it together, in this new multilateralism, with the United Nations, states, companies and civil society, again establishing ad-hoc coalitions to create movement.
Not forgetting, of course, France’s attractiveness for international economic decision-makers concerned with these issues.
The same reasoning, in addition to the major challenges, also applies to the crises shaking the world today, particularly in the Middle East, all of which require determined action as part of a multilateralism that can take risks and take bold steps.
We can’t be mere spectators, because Europe is at the forefront of these crises, which directly threaten its security interests; because France has a special responsibility to act, especially in view of our permanent member’s seat at the Security Council; and also in the name of the principle of humanity, of that European humanism I mentioned at the beginning.
In this regard – on multilateral coalitions in the face of crises – stabilizing Libya is thus essential in order to contain the terrorist risk and most effectively and humanely deal with migratory phenomena in the Mediterranean. France was at the forefront in the efforts that led to the Eid al-Adha truce in August, after months of continuous clashes. The truce was brief but we don’t intend to stop there, because the G7 has mapped out the road for the coming weeks.
First, the truce must give rise to a lasting cease-fire. This is necessary to create room for a political solution which alone can guarantee stability. The best way forward is to quickly convene an international conference bringing together all relevant stakeholders and regional players, and to make progress on an inter-Libyan conference. This comprehensive plan, summarized in four points at the G7 meeting, is promoted by the UN Special Representative and has very broad support from the African Union. So it’s important now that a specific form of multilateralism can drive this approach, which is the only way to reach a pacified solution.
In Syria, our priority is still the fight against terrorism, because, as I remind you here, the threat posed by Daesh [so-called ISIL] has not disappeared, it’s become more diffuse, more elusive, but it’s still there, and that’s why we’re continuing our military presence. In order for our military successes to have long-term effect, we must also take action to stabilize territories liberated from Daesh’s control, revive the political process and resolve the Idlib issue. The military operations under way in Idlib are especially worrying at the moment, and I wanted to reiterate here what must be an imperative for everyone: for civilians and humanitarian workers to be protected. The President discussed these issues with President Putin, when he also recalled that there can be no impunity on the issue. The United Nations, its secretary-general and especially his special envoy have a key role to play in ensuring the political process is relaunched in accordance with the requirements of Security Council Resolution 2254. And these initiatives have our full confidence.
Finally, in Yemen, the ongoing conflict has no chance of addressing the warring parties’ concerns. Moreover, unacceptable attacks on Saudi territory now occur almost daily. But the continuation of hostilities is exacerbating the humanitarian disaster being suffered by the civilian population, while contributing to the break-up of the country – as shown by the recent fighting in Aden and secessionist tendencies in the south of the country.
For the first time in a long time, the announcement of an Emirati military withdrawal opens a window for a solution to the crisis. We must use this opportunity to revive the political process. The regional pacification process I mentioned with regard to Iran must also involve Yemen. The priority must be a resumption of the political process conducted under the auspices of the United Nations and involving all components of Yemeni society.
On Ukraine, an unprecedented window of opportunity exists, with a Ukrainian president who wants peace, who has the political base to impose difficult decisions, who has made gestures, and a Vladimir Putin who, for his part, expressed “cautious optimism” to the President in Brégançon last week. Today we’re in a situation that will enable us to organize a Normandy-format summit in the next few weeks, because we mustn’t miss our chance to make concrete progress.
Regarding the major crises of the moment, I haven’t forgotten those unfolding in Africa, which take up much of my attention and that of the President. I talked about the Sahel, but we must also talk about the Central African Republic, where the challenge is to implement the peace agreement reached just over six months ago; the DRC, where the situation remains fragile despite some advances such as the democratic transition, with the election of President Tshisekedi. I’m also thinking of Sudan, where steps have been taken to overcome the crisis following the fall of Omar al-Bashir, the establishment of new political authorities, in particular that of a civilian prime minister pending that of a government. France will have to be active in supporting this positive development. It’s doing so first of all by relying on African organizations, chiefly the African Union of course, with which France signed a strategic partnership through me a few weeks ago, for the first time.
I’d also like to say a word about Algeria. France’s only wish, given the profound ties that bind us to that country, is for Algerians together to find the path to a democratic transition. I said this to my Algerian counterpart on the sidelines of the Summit of the Two Shores. We trust in the spirit of responsibility, citizenship and dignity that has prevailed since the beginning of the protests. And we’re keen to ensure this spirit can continue being expressed peacefully, with due respect for freedom of expression and demonstration. The solution is democratic dialogue. In these historic times, we’ll continue to stand alongside Algeria and Algerians, with the respect and friendship that prevails in our relations.
This pragmatism we call for in building multilateralism is also being applied in the Indo-Pacific region.
There too, it’s about regulating competition: political competition, economic competition and competition over influence, in particular that of China. In April I took part in the second Belt and Road Forum. I recalled that those roads, like all roads, must be two-way; I recalled that projects must be transparent and social, environmental and financial sustainability rules must be fully respected. Perhaps we were heard. In any case, France hopes we can continue to engage in constructive, demanding but confident dialogue in this framework, as we demonstrated in Osaka with a specific joint commitment on the climate.
Our vision of the Indo-Pacific region is inclusive. With the last visits the President and I paid to India and Japan, and in our coming visits to Australia, we must strengthen our strategic partnerships and highlight the convergence of our strategies on the Indo-Pacific region. And we must move resolutely on three priority pillars, which are also among the priorities mentioned by the President on Tuesday: maritime security, the environment and climate, and developing quality infrastructure. I encourage you to continue your discussions, your work and your proposals in order to broaden this field and identify concrete projects, including in the South Pacific, where the President will be travelling in 2020.
I think that over the coming year we must implement France’s strategy in the Indo-Pacific axis in its entirety but also in all its diversity.
Finally – and this is my third point – in the face of widespread competition which is reconfiguring our world and is no longer limited to its political, strategic and economic dimensions, we must also take into account what I call the new attributes of power.
What are these new battles we have to fight? The battle of culture, the battle of information and the battle of development.
Yes, I’m increasingly convinced that culture, information and development are indeed the new attributes of power, and that’s how we must represent and handle them if we still want to carry weight on the international stage. Today there’s no longer any “soft power”: it’s about hard power everywhere. And each time we must ask ourselves this question – we asked ourselves it yesterday behind closed doors: how can we transform the “desire for France” that we observe into a competitive advantage?
Indeed, what’s being played out today is a struggle between values and systems. What’s emerging is a sometimes brutal challenge to what has founded our societies since the Enlightenment, with the risk of a widespread relativism and, consequently, a questioning of the fundamental principles of legal standards, obviously with the risk of seeing a proliferation of radicalization, the exploitation of culture and religion, and self-absorption.
In the face of this, we must be bold enough to go on believing in what we are and promoting our principles on the international stage. I very much like the following sentence, which is attributed to Edgar Faure, although I’m not sure of that and he’s not here to testify: “To say human rights are a Western invention is to deny the unity of the human race”. In any case, the utterance chimes with what the President said on Tuesday when he said the French spirit is both a spirit of resistance and an aspiration to the universal. This European humanism is our compass in the storm.
That’s why we must strengthen our instruments of soft power – an integral part of our foreign policy.
I’m thinking first of the reform of our French education system abroad. As the President forcefully reminded us on Tuesday, this area – relating to both our development policy and our cultural and linguistic impact – is central to our policy of influence. And it’s a vital public service for our compatriots abroad. I say this in the presence of several parliamentarians who represent them and who understand better than anybody the strategic importance of having an effective French education system abroad, at a time of stiff competition.
The President set the goal of doubling the number of students at French schools and lycées by 2030, crossing the 700,000 mark! That’s a very ambitious goal but we will meet it, while preserving the things that ensure the excellence of the French system: the values of a French-style education, its human capital and its educational model. That was the spirit in which we worked with Jean-Michel Blanquer on the plan to develop French education abroad.
In the coming days, we’ll have an opportunity to return to this topic publicly and in detail with Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne. But right now I want to draw your attention to three major aspects of this development plan.
First, welcoming more students in attractive conditions. In order to achieve this, we’ll expand our circle of partners beyond the currently certified establishments.
I’d therefore like you to mobilize investors, associations, and establishments in the diverse situations you encounter to help strengthen French services in this regard, with the understanding that, while the procedures will be streamlined, the certification issued by the Education Ministry will remain rigorous in order to preserve the excellence that is the hallmark of French education abroad. Experiments have already been organized in certain countries, even Brazil. I went to Brazil a few days ago, and we initiated a project with the sponsorship of Rai – you all know the former footballer who played with Paris Saint-Germain – he’s sponsoring this major project, which is allowing us to double the number of students we can accommodate in São Paulo; this is a great success, showing that we do highlight the value of Brazil.
Next, we’ll increase the number of teachers.
I applaud Jean-Michel Blanquer’s decision to send 1,000 additional classroom teachers to teach French abroad in the coming years. But local resources should also be mobilized, in conjunction with institutes of higher education and vocational training. Such virtuous circles are already operational in certain countries, as I said before, but I’m also thinking of Morocco, Lebanon, Mexico and many others. And they will, of course, be characterized by their quality. As the President said, teacher training is key. The creation of a specialized Master’s degree will contribute to that.
Finally, we’ll have the resources to achieve our ambitions.
As I requested, the Agency for French Education Abroad [AEFE], the backbone of French education in the world, will receive an additional €25 million starting in 2020.
In regard to the reform of AEFE, I also want to say that in keeping with the government’s pledge, the percentage of school fees paid by families, which had to be increased in 2017, will return to its 2016 level.
I also want to pay tribute to your efforts on these issues, which have made it possible to open university campuses in several countries this autumn in partnership with local universities. I’m thinking in particular of the French-Senegalese university campus in Dakar, which reflects the President’s commitment in Ouagadougou to the French-Ivorian education hub, and which I was able to visit last October, and the French-Tunisian University for Africa and the Mediterranean in Tunis. Because they project French excellence to students in these countries, these establishments perfectly dovetail with the strategy the Prime Minister reviewed yesterday.
Among the tools we have at our disposal for waging the battle for influence are the many means of encouraging cultural exchanges, with cross-cultural “seasons” and the 2020 Africa Season. We wanted Africa 2020 to provide an opportunity to change perceptions and, to paraphrase an expression the President used on 15 August, to better understand “that part of Africa that is inside us.” I’m convinced that it will be one of the highlights of next year.
But more generally speaking, I’m thinking of all the ways to foster dialogue with civil society. A website will never replace the richness of the conversations that you and your staff can have with civil society, and which enable us – which enable you, who are on the ground – to understand new societal trends and to grasp a bit of the changing mood all around the globe, thanks to our worldwide diplomatic network. I hope you can continue engaging fully in these contacts with civil society, with a particular focus – and this came out for me in the closed-door discussions we had yesterday – on young people.
I’m thinking, of course – and we spoke about it this morning – of the need to provide support for our cultural and creative industries as they engage in the great adventure of exporting their work; it will be one of the year’s major priorities.
I don’t want to revisit the reform of our export system – I spoke about it a great deal last year – except to say that it’s being fully implemented in France and in your countries. As the Prime Minister said yesterday, the first figures are already in, although it’s still too soon for a comprehensive assessment. As Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne has confirmed, exports were up by 6% in the first half of 2019 compared to the first half of 2018, and we encourage you to continue this effort. I want to applaud all those who ensured that this reform, about which some may have been a little apprehensive, was carried out in the best possible conditions; I particularly want to highlight the efforts of Business France and BPI.
Another battle for influence in which we must mobilize our efforts is the battle for information. The diverse ways in which it is manipulated offer a warped version of this cultural competition, distorting rules, twisting facts and undermining the job of diplomacy. But we’re not condemned to impotence in the face of these abuses. The time for responding and defending ourselves is now.
First, by raising our level of professionalism. Under the auspices of the Ambassador for Digital Affairs and with the assistance of the DSI [Directorate for Information Systems], we must design and implement nimble solutions to detect manipulation campaigns. Working with our partners in other ministries, we must also put in place a more effective international response system. I’d like an ambitious communication strategy to be developed in particular for Africa, both to better highlight our efforts and to better combat fake news. We can’t stand idly by in the face of smear campaigns and anti-French narratives.
In this same approach to enhancing our influence, we must also fight for a powerful external broadcasting service to provide objective quality information. I included this concern in the interministerial plan in the context of the reform of the public broadcasting sector, emphasizing that external broadcasting is a strategic issue that our foreign policy must thoroughly take into account.
The third battle in the area of international competition is the battle for development.
Last year we announced a law on development planning. We’re staying the course, as the President noted. Development is crucial when it comes to providing support especially for our African partners. It also provides powerful leverage in terms of influence. And it’s also a component of global competition. We’re seeing an increasing number of global players getting involved in this area with – as you know – varying standards and requirements in terms of corruption that are different from ours, when they’re not downright predatory.
Our development policy is a policy that corresponds very directly to France’s interests, as reflected by the priorities we’ve set: on preventing crises, combating climate change, promoting gender equality and fighting epidemics. But we need to become more effective and have therefore decided to focus our efforts where they’ll be most useful: on priority countries, especially in Africa, and vulnerable areas.
To achieve this, we must have adequate resources. We’ve been regaining ground over the past two years, and this upward trend is continuing. We’ll move forward with the goal of allocating 0.55% of GNI to official development assistance in 2022. For this purpose, the French Development Agency [AFD] – which this year has a commitment authority of more than €1.5 billion – will continue to play an active role, focusing as requested on bilateral relations and on donations that are utterly crucial to the 18 priority countries that we selected in 2018. And I hope that you’ll be able to be personally involved in tracking projects carried out thanks to the AFD, keeping in mind that the AFD is itself a tool of influence.
I also want to strengthen the Ministry’s capacity in areas that are key to actions that have demonstrated their added value. I’m thinking of humanitarian assistance, in the context of fulfilling, from next year, the President’s commitment to increasing humanitarian assistance by €100 million. I’m also thinking of the increased resources that we’ll provide to our diplomatic posts through the FSPI [Solidarity Fund for Innovative Projects], which will be increased to €60 million next year, compared to €36 million this year. I know that these programmes are useful to your work. They’re entirely in keeping with the Ouagadougou commitments, and perfectly complement the AFD’s work. They’re under your direct control: I therefore expect you to be able to take full ownership of them.
I’d like to conclude this point by noting that, in the context of the discussions that we had yesterday, the local organization of development assistance must obviously be improved under the guidance of our ambassadors. There should be only one French development strategy for each country. Important measures will be taken in this respect, in accordance with the recommendations of the inspection mission requested by the Prime Minister.
In this battle for influence, we should, behind each action, each tool that we implement, ask ourselves a simple question: Are we preparing the next generation to love and feel an attachment to France? Because in this area, like in others, if we just duplicate the same formulas, we’ll be condemned to failure: what I called a “desire for France” just now could turn into, as we discussed yesterday, “France fatigue.” We have to prepare for the next stage. In many countries we’re ahead of the curve, but in some ways people have grown accustomed to us. But what will happen tomorrow? Sometimes new generations no longer feel themselves to be French. That’s why, as I said a few moments ago, we must, from now on, get out in front of young people, even if that means going beyond our walls and rethinking some of our practices.
As you can see, I attach particular importance to these challenges and I’m determined to change our model. That’s why I’d like us to be able to develop a comprehensive road map for our influence policy. That is my responsibility.
Efficiency and effectiveness
In the face of all these challenges, our ministry must continue to demonstrate flexibility, imagination and, as President Macron would say, audacity.
The issue is simple: How can we organize ourselves in order to improve our flexibility and effectiveness?
First, we need resources. We’ll have them in 2020. With regard to France’s external action mission, financial appropriations have been renewed and even increased.
It’s also worth noting that there have been some positive developments, with greater integration of the effects of global inflation on the salaries of our personnel and on the operating expenditure of our missions into our budget programming, as well as the automatic mobilization of the precautionary reserve to cover any foreign exchange losses.
With regard to official development assistance, funding for the 2019 programme will increase by at least €130 million in 2020, with a major effort focused on NGOs. Shifting the focus of our official development tools toward instruments directly available to our diplomatic network will result in an increase in humanitarian assistance and the FSPI that I mentioned just now.
Greater accountability of key players in our ministry is also required.
I’m committed to the steering role of COMEX [Foreign Ministry executive committee], which means I can be kept fully informed by the directors concerned, settle major issues and establish guidelines. I have every confidence in the new secretary-general to continue, in collaboration with my cabinet, to ensure that this forum is effective and operational.
I’d also like to closely control our operators. You’ll do this in your diplomatic posts, as I’ve said; I’ll do it here in Paris. This is consistent with the significant level of resources that have been allocated and our determination to strengthen the coherence of our actions.
What we need internally is greater parity, justice and clarity.
We have to do more to implement, within the same Ministry, the commitment that I made in support of a decisively feminist diplomacy. That’s why I intend to launch a comprehensive plan to ensure gender parity. Agnès von der Muhll has agreed to be the new senior official responsible for gender equality. She’ll be assisted by a full-time member of staff in order to prepare, monitor, implement and annually evaluate this plan.
Considerable efforts have already been made over the last few years. We’ve doubled the number of female ambassadors in five years. There are now 45 female ambassadors following the 2019 initiatives, including in the major diplomatic missions. We still have some way to go but progress toward achieving gender parity has been made and I will personally ensure that it is accomplished in an atmosphere of calm; otherwise we won’t make any headway.
We won’t be able to uphold this commitment if we only focus on the appointments of ambassadors and directors. We must strive to promote equality at every stage of the recruitment and promotion process, notably by ensuring that candidates of both sexes are well represented on selection panels, in order to ensure greater gender parity among recruits as soon as they join the Quai d’Orsay and throughout their careers.
I also intend to strengthen our efforts to combat sexual harassment and to expand our mechanisms to address emotional harassment; we still have much to do with regard to this difficult issue. A special hotline has been set up. I’d like these measures to be enhanced and I will carry out an initial review very soon.
Regarding career management, I’d like the Director-General for Administration and Modernization, under the authority of the Secretary-General, to propose ambitious courses of action to improve the situation: notably the creation of pools of potential first-time ambassadors, professional training for panels, more systematic skills assessments, the inclusion of 360° evaluations in career and appointments management, the creation of a real tool for retraining personnel and a proactive policy for reciprocal mobility. The new Director will have a great deal to do.
On digital affairs – a major diplomatic challenge, which I mentioned in the context of multilateralism just now – I’d like us to achieve our objectives and to continue to increase our capabilities in four key areas. First, the major directorates concerned must be better organized in order to respond to critical digital issues. We must then develop a centre of excellence in this area in order to attract, train and retain genuine cyber-diplomats, which will necessarily involve the exchange of personnel with other ministries. I’d also like a digital steering committee to be established, chaired by you, Secretary-General; the Ambassador for Digital Affairs will act as its secretary. Lastly, we must be better organized in order to manage our own major digital transformation projects, and that’s why I’ve decided that our DSI will be transformed into a Digital Directorate this year.
Another important initiative for me is the reform of our legal services and the modernization of the consular network.
Increased litigiousness in international relations and all of our activities lead to constant interaction between legislation and diplomatic action, as well as between legislation and the management of this ministry. A year ago, I announced efforts to strengthen the role of legal affairs within the ministry. A legal affairs steering committee therefore now meets every month and makes a valuable contribution to the coordination of efforts to address these issues. But I’d like us to do more, by further strengthening the coordination of our services in this respect.
Lastly, the implementation of the Government Reform Act for a Trust-Based Society (ESSOC) establishes a framework for our modernization efforts to improve services provided to users and to promote their accessibility. As such, I will pay very close attention to four flagship projects: electronic voting for consular and parliamentary elections, the creation of the France-Visas website, the digitization of the civil registry for French citizens born abroad and the piloting of a global platform providing a telephone and email answering service, which will include a dedicated consular call centre. I know that these projects are not without risks but we’ll try to master them because they are key to helping us adapt to the needs of our citizens, whose international mobility continues to increase.
Lastly, in order to help raise French people’s awareness of the realities of our profession – I say ours, because I feel part of it – I also wanted our ministry to become more outward-looking. This is the reason for creating the Collège des hautes études de l’institut diplomatique [CHEID]; each graduating class will include personalities from the world of journalism and politics, as well as economic spheres and other government agencies. I’m especially committed to this initiative because the effectiveness and legitimacy of our action are also dependent on how we can increase awareness of them among the general public. It’s more difficult for us due to our mission, but there’s no distinction to be made between the national and international scenes – the Prime Minister reminded us of this yesterday.
This is what I wanted to say to you. We’ve been plunged into an age that is neither one of uncertainty nor of inevitability. We’re living in a world that is undergoing fundamental changes and France, a balancing power, must play its full role. By virtue of your duties, you are in a front-line position to contribute to this. As you will have understood, this is the heart of the message that I came here to deliver to you today.
I also want to tell you how proud I am to lead this ministry, together with Amélie de Montchalin and Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne. And to express my gratitude: on all continents, you are the public face of France, and you defend its interests with a level of competence and dedication that honours our country and our fellow citizens.
Please be assured that you can always count on my support in carrying out your demanding duties.
And since I can’t stop myself from ending with a quote, I dare to call on Danton: “We must dare, dare again, always dare!”./.