French President’s New Year greetings to diplomatic corps

President’s New Year greetings – Fight against terrorism/Syria/Iraq/Libya/Israel-Palestinian Territories/United States/Russia/Ukraine/European Union/Asia – Speech to the diplomatic corps by M. François Hollande, President of the Republic (excerpts)

Paris, 12 January 2017

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Syria

I want to return to the Syria tragedy; it’s been going on for nearly six years now. So it’s a failure, a moral and political failure for the international community. I remain convinced that it was possible to put an end to it much earlier and that there’s a key period that will go down in history as a turning point: the summer of 2013. It had been shown that chemical weapons had been used by the regime. That was a red line that had been drawn, and its transgression wasn’t punished as it should have been.

Because there was no international action when France was ready to intervene, the worst happened. The worst was the emergence of Daesh [so-called ISIL], which was already there but which hadn’t acquired the scale we’re aware of today; it was the flow of refugees, which was already significant but which hadn’t taken on the importance we’re aware of today; the worst was the destruction of world heritage property. The worst, above all, was the massacres of civilians.

Because that decision wasn’t taken, we had this spiral. I hear people say now that we should talk to Bashar al-Assad; the people calling on us to do this are often the same ones who broke with him in 2011. I’ve always said he can’t be the solution to the problem he caused. It’s not merely a question of morality – [although] morality matters –, it’s a question of clear-sightedness. But I’ve always said that a political transition in Syria is necessary and that it means ruling out no players in the region and talking to everyone, including the regime.

France is in favour of every initiative that will make an end to hostilities possible. And that’s also why we voted for the resolution put forward by Russia following the ceasefire it proposed together with Turkey. But we can’t stop there: the negotiations must resume as quickly as possible. They must be conducted under the aegis of the United Nations and in the framework set in Geneva in 2012.

The parameters have already been laid down. Those involved should be brought together – all those involved, apart from fundamentalist and extremist groups – and action should be taken in the Geneva framework. We must also involve the regional players, and I’m not ruling any of them out. There again, I’ve always thought we must talk to Iran. I was even the first Western head of state to meet President Rouhani, in 2013. I also hosted a meeting with him in Paris.

But I’ve always stated clearly, too, that France is a partner of the Gulf countries and intends to remain so. Those countries [are] essential for resolving the crises in the Middle East and for the whole region’s stability, and that’s the message the Arab states of the Gulf wanted to send to France by inviting me to their summit in 2015.

Libya

I’m also very concerned about the situation in Libya: the tensions seen in recent days within the Presidential Council and the lack of dialogue between east and west are indeed major risks, firstly for Libyans, who are once again – and have for too long been – unsafe. But it also provides an opportunity for the terrorists, even though they’ve suffered blows in Sirte. Whenever chaos can be prolonged, terrorists move in.

It’s also an opportunity for traffickers of all kinds to boost their deadly trade, the first victims of which are migrants. The information we have is that migration hasn’t stopped – despite the winter period, despite the considerable risks being taken –, because for those traffickers it’s a form of business capital that remains profitable for them and also enables them to fund their terrorist activities.

The Sarraj government must therefore be supported in its efforts to bring people together, and dialogue must be encouraged between it and General Haftar so that the Libyan National Army can be fully integrated into the institutions, which is a priority for us.

I want to emphasize the risks – I was mentioning Syria and Libya; partition can’t be an outcome, and France is working to ensure the integrity of countries that may fall victim to these crises. It would be facile to ethnicize certain territories, to separate people and get rid of borders that were once established. In fact, it would provide an opportunity for terrorists to exploit the mess in order to continue carrying out their actions.

Israel/Palestine

Just as I’m not in favour of the partition of countries like Libya and Syria, nor can I accept the notion of a status quo whereby conflicts resolve themselves; it’s not true. That’s why France has taken the initiative of a conference on the Middle East. It will be held on Sunday. The aim is to reaffirm the international community’s support for the two-state solution and ensure that this solution remains the benchmark. But I can clearly see it’s grown weaker on the ground and in people’s minds. And if it were left to wither away, this too would be a risk for Israel’s security, to which France is resolutely committed.

At the same time, I’m clear-sighted about the results the conference may produce. Peace will be made by the Israelis and Palestinians and no one else. Only bilateral negotiations can succeed. So Sunday’s meeting must reaffirm the determination to support a two-state solution, foster concrete solutions for the development of urban, energy and transport infrastructure etc. to benefit Palestinians and Israelis, and encourage all exchanges among civil society. That’s the contribution Sunday’s conference can make.

But we must fully appreciate that the persistence of this conflict still creates – not only in the region but worldwide – a feeling of the weakening of the international community, of weakness, so we must make the international community face up to its responsibilities again. It’s been capable of doing so on issues that might have seemed much weightier in terms of the planet’s future – I’m thinking of the climate negotiations.

Climate

There too, France has shouldered its responsibilities, not only because it hosted that [climate] conference, at the beginning of December 2015, but because – thanks to the support of many countries represented here – we managed to ensure that this very high-level international meeting led to a historic agreement. It came into force in record time, less than a year after being adopted, through ratification by more than 100 countries. I say here clearly and frankly that nothing and no one will be able to call that agreement into question. On the contrary, it must be fully complied with. That applies to national contributions, the success of the coalitions and the mobilization? of finance. (…)

Future of EU/Brexit

Europe is facing a much more serious crisis than the one linked to economic circumstances or even influxes of migrants, who we must deal with in a humane, dignified way. In this instance, the crisis hitting it, affecting it, stems from the very foundations of its project, because on 23 June 2016 the UK decided to leave the European Union. It’s the first time a country – and not just any one; it’s a country which has been important in our history, which necessarily has its place in Europe because of geography –, but it’s the first time a country, a major country, has decided to leave the European Union.

All the implications of this must be understood, both so that the negotiations, scheduled for March, can begin swiftly and so that we can determine the future of the 27-member EU. We’ve got a meeting in Rome in March; it will be the 60th anniversary of the treaty which created the common market. So we must set out a vision.

I want to lay down the principles of it.

The first principle is respect for nations, because the European idea can’t appear to contradict the legitimacy of sovereignty. And the second principle is solidarity, because each country can’t just claim rights and take from Europe what it considers a priority for itself. That’s national self-interest, it’s got nothing to do with sovereignty.

That attitude, which I now see too often as the norm in certain European countries’ behaviour, heralds the break-up of the EU because it will spell the end of solidarity. Everyone will be seeking a fair return for what they’ve put in and simply want to make a profit, not have a common project.

The third principle is subsidiarity, which must define the priorities Europe has to pursue, whilst leaving states to act when they’re better placed to do so.

Once these principles have been defined, what are Europe’s goals?

Europe/defence/trade/Euro Area

The first goal is protection, which presupposes external borders being respected, but also defence, which ensures it [Europe] has full strategic autonomy for the next 10 years, complementary to NATO. European countries must understand that, of course, alliances will no doubt be respected, but that they, Europeans themselves, must say how their own territories, their own values must be defended, and they themselves must remember that there will be a foreign policy only if it is also based on forces which can allow our ideals to be defended.

France, in a 27-member Europe, is the chief military power in Europe. So it could think it doesn’t need to subscribe to a common framework; this would be a miscalculation and above all a misconception of what France’s role must be. It’s precisely because France is the leading military power in Europe, because it’s a member of the Security Council – a permanent member – that it must make its contribution to defending Europe. And this is what justified us holding a high-level dialogue with Germany, to show that we can strengthen our military capabilities, coordinate our defence industries and also be capable of greater cooperation on domestic security, intelligence, protecting our borders and also projection and support for Africa.

Along with providing protection on the security front, Europe must also be determined to ensure fair trade is respected in globalization. We forget to say that Europe is the world’s leading economic power, so it must ensure that rules, worldwide, are ones where trade can really be based on principles and standards, and not have them imposed on it from outside.

Europe must defend its culture and way of life. It must allow our companies to develop, i.e. not just be subject to competition rules but be able to be world leaders. We must also force multinationals to pay their share of tax in countries where they have their business.

At the same time as protecting, Europe must become or once again become an area of progress, and thus growth and jobs – i.e. the states which have the capacity to do this, which have structural trade surpluses as much as budget surpluses, must use this room for manoeuvre, just as states which have deficits must be careful to absorb them. But the EU must also jointly provide [financial] resources for public and private investment, the energy and ecological transition, the digital economy, research, universities and new technology.

Finally, the Euro Area must have a genuine budget and move towards fiscal and social harmonization. These are the positions France will defend and share with its partners to prepare the March meeting in Rome. (...)./.

Published on 26/01/2017

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