France and UK step up bilateral cooperation

Thirty-fifth Franco-British summit – Bilateral relations/migration/Brexit – Statements by M. Emmanuel Macron, President of the Republic, at his joint press conference with Mrs Theresa May, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (excerpts)

Sandhurst, 17 January 2018

Thanks very much, Madam Prime Minister. (…)

You perfectly recalled our profound historic link. And in beginning our work I pointed out that there are two things nothing can change – no vote, no political decision: namely, our history and our geography. They place us together in the face of a common destiny, geostrategic threats and a common destiny which exists.

And I think that’s what we must grasp today, and it’s not only the link which exists between the women and men of our two countries – many of whom also live and have grown accustomed to living on either side of the Channel – but also shared histories.

Foreign policy/Iran/Africa

As you perfectly recalled, the first priority of this bilateral relationship and of what we have to build together is to continue having a shared interpretation, a shared commitment, when it comes to foreign policy. A foreign policy and development pact was signed today by the ministers, formalizing regular meetings and permanent consultation on the major issues. And whether it’s about Iran, Syria or the Sahel, we’re both very committed to working closely together and ensuring that the whole of Europe can work together.

In particular on Iran, a subject which concerns us very much, we want, as we’ve done from the outset, not only to respect the commitments we’ve signed internationally – because that’s the basis of international credibility – but also to continue strengthening collective security in the region, taking resolute action when it comes to the reduction of ballistic activities and to Iran’s regional influence, but also respecting the framework we’ve set ourselves.

On Africa and the Sahel, today we’ve formalized several strong decisions. I’ll come back to the military side, but you’ve formalized your cooperation in the Alliance for the Sahel, which we launched in Bamako in July last year, and I think it’s an important gesture, consistent with our strategy, which is to take common action on the major issues, in order to conduct together, particularly in Africa, a joint development policy, moving towards projects which have, precisely, these shared ambitions, on education, in particular education for girls, on health and on the fight against global warming. This investment in the Alliance for the Sahel that’s been formalized today is, I believe, an important gesture that is part of this momentum.

Defence cooperation

And when you have the same policy, or at any rate this convergence, this joint strength when it comes to foreign policy, these shared views and interests, you also give yourselves the means to have strategic and defence alignment. That’s the thrust of our relationship, with the Lancaster House agreements, which date from 2010 and which are in no way called into question by the British vote and the organization of Brexit.

We strongly reiterated this, and we’ve continued giving it content, with a unique defence relationship between our two countries, which in my opinion is one of the factors of credibility in our joint commitments in many theatres of operation and which testifies to the excellent operational momentum between our armed forces.

As you pointed out, we’re able to act quickly and strongly when we’ve defined a shared objective.

We had the opportunity to discuss at length our strategic relationship, and in the communiqué you’ll find the main points on which we committed ourselves.

But here I want to emphasize the importance of that relationship: the extent of our cooperation on shared armaments programmes, ranging from the Future Combat Aircraft [System], with our work on cutting-edge technologies for combat UAVs, on which we asked our defence ministers to complete programming work between now and the spring, to the project on combating submarine threats, as well as the work on future generations of missiles which make MBDA one of the international leaders in the field.

All these projects have been confirmed, consolidated, with a timetable that now makes them completely operational.

Sahel

Our military cooperation isn’t limited to this development of capabilities: it relies equally on operational cooperation. The Prime Minister had the opportunity to describe the support the United Kingdom will lend Operation Barkhane in the Sahel, and here I want to pay tribute to the importance of this commitment. The provision of three Chinook helicopters and all the military and maintenance personnel, and this strong commitment to Operation Barkhane, is a strong signal of these shared views and this determination to combat terrorism together in the Sahel-Saharan strip. (...)

Estonia

Last September we were together in Estonia, we visited the British and French troops deployed a few kilometres from Tallinn under British command, in the framework of NATO’s forward presence. I’ve decided to deploy again a French military detachment in Estonia in 2019, within the British tactical group. This French commitment to NATO will enable us to further deepen the interoperability between our armed forces, and it’s also a demonstration of our shared commitment to that region and to a country we hold dear.

Defence Europe

We also discussed Defence Europe, which has recently undergone major changes with the launch of Permanent Structured Cooperation and the creation of the European Defence Fund. These proposals will thrive in the European Union framework, but it seems to me essential for that the very strong relationship between our two countries to go on contributing to the development of Defence Europe, according to methods that will be defined with our EU partners, but we’ve already adapted the framework so that this can be the case

In the immediate future, we agreed that the Franco-British defence relationship could contribute to the European intervention initiative, which should strengthen the links between the armed forces of a group of European countries that are particularly advanced in operational terms.

Calais

We then talked at length about the management of our shared border, and the situation in Calais in particular, where I was 48 hours ago with several ministers who are here today. It’s an issue you’re very familiar with, Prime Minister, since for several years you’ve had to manage it with France in your current and previous posts.

I want to say here that we’ve seen, on the ground 48 hours ago, all the difficulties that exist. The situation the region has experienced for a long time, what’s been able to be done – with the dismantling of the Jungle – and the inadequacies of the current situation, because what people in the Calais area are experiencing today can’t be considered satisfactory.

That’s why – and I thank you for this – we signed today, the interior ministers signed it today in our presence, a new treaty, the Sandhurst Treaty, which will improve the relationship and the management of the shared border.

It’s the first time in 15 years that we’ve signed a joint treaty on this subject, and it’s going to allow us, as you’ve pointed out, to improve the technical, operational cooperation for managing the shared border, to improve the work we wanted to do with the countries of transit and origin, once again to stop the movement of people. But it will also allow us, more broadly, to have intelligent, effective border management cooperation. It’s a common challenge we’ve got to win together.

A particularly important point in this new treaty, the Sandhurst Treaty, will be the issue of unaccompanied minors. For all those in a situation where they want to cross the Channel, the treaty is going to allow us to drastically reduce timescales from six months to 30 days for adults, and from six months to 25 days for unaccompanied minors. In terms of our shared ability to manage the issue of unaccompanied minors who have family in Britain, this is a key factor in dealing with it both humanely and far more effectively.

I think the treaty is going to allow us to profoundly change things, with a solution also for what we call vulnerable minors, i.e. unaccompanied minors who don’t come under the Dublin process either.

I think this is a huge step forward, it was the commitment I made to the elected representatives, all the state services and all the voluntary organizations, and I think it’s a new way of organizing things which is going to allow us, on this issue, to adopt very much a more humane approach towards these people, a more effective one, but also protect, through everything the treaty allows, the quality of our common border and the economic links it constitutes, because you drew attention to the huge importance of this.

And I think on both sides of the border we want to continue developing trade, a high quality of economic exchanges, relations between our companies, the existing trade, which is very substantial, and this requires us to have a completely secure border and be able at last to end the situation we’ve seen for several years.

Our interior ministers also agreed on work, precisely, based on joint projects, which, in that framework, with shared governance, will make it possible to support this.

Other bilateral cooperation

I won’t list all the cooperation projects we’ve agreed on today, that our ministers will have to implement, but they’re very varied and reflect the depth of the relationship in terms of civilian nuclear energy, cooperation on research as well – with two important partnerships today in the field of space and genomic medicine –, cooperation between economic players in almost every sector, sports cooperation and the organization of major sporting events in particular. In this respect a joint Letter of Intent was signed a few days ago.

The scope of these projects, which covers many economic sectors – traditional and hi-tech – our cooperation on renewable energy and the fight against climate change also reflect our desire to engage together in these extremely key issues diplomatically and concretely through business projects.

Brexit

Before you ask me about it, I want to say a word about Brexit, which didn’t take up the main part of our discussions – far from it. I respect the choice the British people have made, even though I regret it, as everyone knows. And I think we’ve shown today, and will continue to do so, that whatever negotiations are to come – they will be managed, precisely, in the framework of a process which has been set up, organized, with a single European negotiator, whose mandate we’ll negotiate, sorry discuss and conclude at the European Council in March –, the discussions must never lead us to go back on the sheer strength and quality of the bilateral relationship.

Brexit will never prevent a very high level of cooperation between our two countries. It may create uncertainty on some issues in the short term, [but] I think our responsibility is, precisely, to be able to manage this complexity and resolve to improve the situation on both sides of our border.

In this respect, the summit has illustrated our common political will.

Culture and remembrance

Because our relationship, while it depends on this history and geography I was mentioning, also depends on extremely strong human ties. This evening we’ll have the opportunity to see this, with several figures who illustrate the diversity and quality of this bilateral relationship, at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Whether it’s the academic, intellectual, business, sports world or the world of our young people, that relationship exists and a generation exists that is going to continue growing the bilateral relationship.

It depends on this unique history I mentioned, which has special resonance this year, the centenary of the 1914-1918 war, which saw so many French and British people perish side by side. I must say that, in my family history, I myself have traces not only of the war but also of Franco-British ties dating from that era.

Bayeux Tapestry

But all this goes back much further. And we’ll also be displaying this almost age-old history through the exchange of the Bayeux Tapestry that we wanted.

The tapestry is unique, it’s a source of pride for France, it’s a source of pride for Bayeux. There’s a whole job that is beginning which our ministers will have to carry out, obviously with local elected representatives and all those involved in the matter.

But I’d like us – as I announced in Athens in the Pnyx speech – to keep alive this Europe of culture and cultural heritage, because it reminds everyone both what is greater than us and the duty we have. And we should be humbled by the Bayeux Tapestry, not because of William the Conqueror’s exploits but because of the creative genius it illustrates and the history it relates.

Beyond the tapestry, there will be a huge amount of scientific cooperation, because obviously this exchange is subject to very strict conditions which are not up to either of us: we took the decision but they’re up to the experts, because it’s extremely fragile.

In almost 1,000 years it’s never left French soil, and it embodies the link between our two countries. Above all, I’d like it to open a new page of enhanced cooperation on the cultural and scientific levels that will enable us to exchange even more works of art, to allow our fellow citizens to share this overlapping history, but also allow our contemporary artists to continue an ongoing intellectual and creative exchange and continue building an imaginary realm that has no borders and knows only shared histories and keeps them alive. (…)./.

Read the Franco-British joint communiqué here

Published on 05/02/2018

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