Minister outlines French foreign policy priorities for 2020

Foreign policy – New Year greetings to the diplomatic corps by M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs (excerpt)

Paris, 15 January 2020

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We are and will continue – more than ever in 2020 – to take the initiative in the face of crises. We’re engaged on several diplomatic fronts alongside our European partners: in Iraq, Libya, the Sahel and Ukraine.

Iraq/Iran

We’ve just seen a cycle of violence and direct military escalation on Iraqi soil. This cycle may seem to have been interrupted. However, we’re not witnessing a de-escalation but just, at this stage, an interruption to the escalation. That’s why we must remain especially vigilant. The machinery that led to the crisis of recent weeks hasn’t stopped, and the situation today is still very volatile, demanding greater collective mobilization on our part.

Today our priorities are clear. First of all we must ensure that the de-escalation of tensions is confirmed in the coming days and that no new destabilizing actions, direct or indirect, are carried out.

That’s the message we’re sending all our partners.

It’s the message the Europeans sent together last Friday in Brussels, where an emergency meeting was held on the initiative of the High Representative. I also note that, in all the contacts I’m having, the call for restraint and de-escalation is widely shared.

Our second priority is to continue the collective battle against Daesh [so-called ISIL].

The international coalition’s mission – which is unfolding in Iraq at the Iraqi authorities’ request – is an essential mission for that country’s security and for our security. The French President and I have told the Iraqi authorities it’s important for that mission to continue, in full respect for Iraqi sovereignty. We’re in very close contact with the Iraqi authorities and our coalition partners, because we must take into account the turmoil created by recent events in Iraq and at the same time continue the battle against Daesh.

Finally, we must do everything to prevent a nuclear proliferation crisis being added to this context of instability. That’s our third priority.

Our position is unambiguous: we’ve worked to preserve the Vienna nuclear agreement and will continue to do so, because we must ensure Iran doesn’t acquire nuclear weapons and because our strong belief is that the diplomatic path remains – despite the difficulties, which I don’t underestimate – the best way of achieving that goal. Who today could think a nuclear Iran would add to the region’s stability?

What Iran’s been doing since May – as I’ve said several times – is initiating bad reactions to a bad decision by the United States to deprive that country of some economic benefits of the agreement. When added together, these gestures gradually end up stripping the Vienna agreement of some of its substance. So the agreement is in danger if Iran continues to no longer honour its commitments while we, the Europeans, Russians and Chinese, continue to honour them.

The statement by the French, German and British heads of state and government on Sunday reaffirmed officially that we’re committed to the Vienna agreement and will remain strictly within its framework. And that’s why we’ve decided to use all its stipulations, including Article 36, not in order to abandon the agreement but to create a space for political dialogue with Iran. That’s the purpose of our request for the dispute resolution mechanism to be implemented. To create a space for political dialogue with Iran within it, within the Vienna agreement, in order – as its name indicates – to try and resolve our differences by diplomatic means.

Libya

We also want to make a European voice heard in the Libya conflict, because the EU can’t just stand by and watch the destabilization of that key country, a real strategic crossroads on which the security of the Maghreb and the Sahel also depends.

First of all, along with our German, Italian and British partners and High Representative Josep Borrell, then with all the EU foreign ministers, we’ve sent messages of firmness.

To recall that only a political process will enable the deadlock to be overcome;

To call on each of the Libyan and regional players to show responsibility and condemn foreign interference, which is an obstacle to a peaceful resolution of the crisis;

To prevent agreements being signed that exacerbate tensions and serve as a pretext for foreign interventions.

A ceasefire has been announced; if it’s observed on the ground in the long term, that’s a positive development, because everyone knows there will be no military victory in Libya. We call on each party to observe it. And at the same time, it’s now essential for the Berlin conference to succeed, to succeed on the basis of goals that must be widely shared: the long-term continuation of the ceasefire, the unification of Libya’s institutions, the dismantling of militias, control over and fair distribution of resources by and for the Libyan people, and finally a halt to foreign interventions in Libya. We’d like to involve Libya’s neighbours in this stage, because they’re the first to be affected by the crisis under way.

We fully support the mediation being conducted by the UN under the aegis of Special Representative Ghassan Salamé. This mediation must remain the central process for overcoming the crisis – both at military level, in order to move towards the armed forces’ reunification, and economically, with the resumption of inter-Libyan dialogue, in which France would like to play a major role in the phase that will follow the Berlin conference.

And in order to take effective action and help resolve the crisis, all the relevant players must be involved in stabilization efforts, including the African Union and regional partners. It’s crucial for them to remain involved alongside us.

Sahel

Equally essential is the engagement of France and its partners, in particular its European partners, in the Sahel. The fact that Europeans are alongside us today in Operation Barkhane and soon in Task Force Takuba, that Europeans are supporting the G5 Sahel Joint Force, that Europeans are engaged in the EUCAP Sahel Niger mission and that Europeans are involved in the Sahel Alliance is because that region is the southern border of our Union and we can’t let terrorist groups turn it into a jihadist haven. It’s our security that is at stake.

Those terrorist groups are adapting to the defeats we’re imposing on them. They’ve changed their approach – which in no way reduces their terrible ability to do harm, as last Thursday’s attack in Niger which killed 89 soldiers showed. They’ve also changed their target: unable to take control, they’re working to undermine the public powers’ authority. This twofold change – operational and strategic – has brought us up against a new scenario. So it was time to start a new process.

That was the purpose of the Pau summit yesterday evening. First of all it was the summit of unity that President Macron wanted. With the Sahel presidents all there, the United Nations Secretary-General, the African Union Chairperson, the European Union well represented, at high level, and the OIF [international Francophone organization] Secretary-General. It was a summit of unity.

It was also a summit of clarification and confirmation, because the G5 countries asserted the necessity of Barkhane’s presence and the support of its European and American allies.

Finally it was a remobilization summit that led to a major initiative: launching a Coalition for the Sahel. That Coalition will enable us to make better use of the existing mechanisms and ensure better leadership and coordination between the actions of the Sahel countries and the international community. It will allow us more effectively to coordinate the military effort with the stabilization and development effort, by organizing the Coalition into pillars:

- an enhanced operational military pillar, through the creation of a joint command mechanism between Sahel forces, the G5 force and Barkhane, and in future European special forces.

- a pillar to more effectively support military capabilities, through offers of training and equipment to national armed forces and the Joint Force.

- a pillar to enable increased commitment to state services remaining on and returning to their territories. The goal is to redeploy sovereign services, in particular through the training and deployment of staff linked to the police, gendarmerie and customs.

These pillars for strengthening local capabilities will come under the Partnership for Security and Stability in the Sahel, which the French President and German Chancellor launched at the G7 summit in Biarritz that you referred to, Ambassador, a moment ago.

- finally, a fourth pillar for speeding up development projects in the framework of the Sahel Alliance, also launched with Germany in July 2017 to stabilize the most vulnerable areas and ensure that people have direct access to basic services and their living conditions improve. That’s the real alternative. A date has been set next month in Nouakchott for a plenary assembly of the Sahel Alliance, whose effectiveness and transparency absolutely have to be increased.

As you see, we are utterly determined to help the Sahel countries fight the scourge of terrorism, and I think the Pau summit enabled us to provide the clarifications necessary and take the decisions which are essential for launching this new Coalition for the Sahel.

Africa

We’re still mobilized and vigilant in other African countries too.

I’m thinking of the CAR, where the peace agreement must be implemented and where there’s an important event this year: the presidential election. I’m thinking of the other countries where major elections are due to be held in 2020. I very much hope they go ahead harmoniously and can strengthen democracy.

I’m thinking of Sudan, the DRC and Madagascar, which experienced positive changes last year that will have to be confirmed this year, particularly through development action.

Finally, talking of Africa, I’d like to emphasize two major initiatives this year which will shine the spotlight on Africa and are part of the drive to update our relations with Africa announced by the French President in Ouagadougou in 2017.

The 2020 Africa-France summit, first of all. It will take place in Bordeaux in June and focus on the theme of sustainable cities. We’re inviting all those heads of state and government of the 54 countries – the 54 African countries – who are determined to take action as part of this innovation event, because this summit will aim to bring about concrete solutions in the face of the immediate challenge of urban growth, which is very important in Africa in the context of a very marked increase in the population. For this 2020 Africa-France summit, we want to be sure to mobilize a very wide range of players in addition to presidents: young French people, young Africans, entrepreneurs, economic players, local elected representatives, civil society organizations – they’re all invited to the event and, in particular, a dedicated hall in the Cité des Solutions.

And also, of course, the 2020 Africa Season, which will showcase African and African diaspora artists throughout France, so that everyone can get an idea of the incredible creativity emerging every day on that continent. The goal is to change perspectives about Africa, as President Macron wished.

Ukraine

Ladies and gentlemen ambassadors,

To return to crises, I’d like to talk about Ukraine, because I see that amid the worrying picture I’ve painted, a glimmer – admittedly faint, but real – has appeared in the east. As the President has said, the conflict in eastern Ukraine is “an open wound in the heart of the European continent”, and together with Germany we’ll be continuing our mediation efforts in order to bring about a negotiated solution.

Significant progress was made in Paris a few weeks ago, at the Normandy-format summit of heads of state and government – progress with a view to resolving the conflict in eastern Ukraine, a conflict in which, I remind you, 13,000 people have died and which remains the stumbling block for relations between Russia and the European Union.

The summit, the first at this level since 2016, enabled important decisions to be taken whose implementation began at the end of December with the exchange of 200 prisoners linked to the conflict. Other confidence-building measures benefiting the population will have to be implemented in the coming weeks: the disengagement and withdrawal of heavy weapons from new pilot areas, humanitarian assistance and arrangements to make it easier for people to move around. I’ll soon be visiting the contact line with my German counterpart Heiko Maas, to observe the proper implementation of the commitments made. A new meeting of heads of state should be held in Berlin in March and enable us to tackle the most difficult points, obviously. But it’s now a more virtuous circle: discussing the implementation of the political aspect of the Minsk agreements, with a view to the full return of Ukrainian sovereignty in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Multilateralism

Ladies and gentlemen ambassadors, believing in diplomacy today also means taking collective action to face up to urgent 21st-century challenges.

Because we believe in the effectiveness of collective action, we’ll continue to champion multilateralism vigorously and resolutely. A strong multilateralism, a multilateralism for our time, a multilateralism of evidence and results.

And as this year begins, I want to stress that arguing for multilateralism isn’t a posture, let alone a diplomats’ affectation that makes a good impression in international forums. No, it’s simply the only route for anyone who sincerely wants to tackle the major challenges of the planet that affect us all collectively, especially as these surpass us all as individuals. So in 2020 as in 2019, all our energy will be devoted to defending multilateralism.

We’ll do this, first of all, by working to defend the major multilateral institutions and to help them continue playing their full role.

In September we’ll be celebrating the 75th anniversary of the United Nations. It will be an opportunity to reaffirm our loyalty to the principles and values that oversaw its creation.

It’s about choosing to base relations between states on the law rather than on force, on consultation rather than on confrontation, on cooperation rather than on everyone for himself.

It’s also about defending human rights, everywhere and under all circumstances.

It’s also about respecting our cultures, all our cultures, and creating dialogue between them through exchanges and education, while never succumbing to misleading relativism.

These values saved our world from the worst tragedies of the last century. For 75 years they’ve served as a compass for us. I’m convinced they still have the strength to guide us today.

Championing the existing institutions doesn’t mean being conservative. Sometimes – when the status quo is impossible – it means working to reform them. I’m thinking in particular of the WTO, whose dispute resolution body is currently paralysed. To remain relevant, the international trade system must be modernized. That means taking into account today’s major challenges, first and foremost climate change, and it also means more effectively combating unfair trade practices.

It’s about collectively giving ourselves the means to combat forced technology transfers and regulate massive subsidies paid to industrial enterprises, which the WTO currently doesn’t properly do. That’s essential, because these unfair practices are largely behind the current trade tensions.

So all the WTO’s members must mobilize and go beyond words and overhaul our common trade rules. We’ll support European efforts to achieve this, with the first opportunity being the WTO’s Ministerial Conference in Nur-Sultan in June.

But we’ll also act to strengthen the Alliance for Multilateralism, which I and my colleague Heiko Maas launched last year to signal our support for multilateral diplomacy, which is being widely challenged today. We’re now a network of over 50 foreign ministers and we’ve decided to pool our strengths to promote a positive agenda for multilateralism together, with innovative multilateral initiatives, especially as regards humanitarian law, education and regulating the digital space. The Alliance’s next meeting will be held in February on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference. It will be the Alliance for Multilateralism’s first birthday.

Finally, we’ll continue two essential battles with our partners, which can be waged only by combining our forces.

The first is the battle against global inequalities, wholly in line with the G7 summit in Biarritz.

Glocal inequality

In particular the fight against inequality between women and men, with the Generation Equality Forum, which will be held in Paris in July, 25 years after the Beijing conference and 50 years after the first World Conference on Women, in Mexico City. We’re very proud to be hosting this event, which will be the biggest international conference in 2020, and we’re very proud to be co-chairing it alongside the United Nations and Mexico. The President has been personally involved in preparing for it. I myself, I believe, am promoting a feminist foreign policy. With the Equality Forum, we’ll be able to convey a strong message to half of humanity and a strong message which allows that half of humanity to contribute to our societies’ cohesiveness. Ensuring that women hold their full, rightful place, genuinely equal with men, must be one of the major goals of our agenda to regulate globalization, without which globalization will never manage to have the human face we want to give it.

Environment

The other, equally crucial battle is that for the climate and biodiversity.

The terrible fires which hit the Amazon region last summer and are currently devastating the east coast of Australia, and the report by scientists from IPBES, remind us that urgent action must be taken. 2020 must on no account go down in history as the year of missed opportunities. It must be one where there is a wake-up call and action for biodiversity, with several important meetings.

We must make a success together of the IUCN World Conservation Congress, which is being held in Marseille from 11 to 19 June. It’s an important forum which brings together governments – President Macron will be participating – and also civil society and scientists. It’s a milestone ahead of the COP15 on biodiversity taking place in Beijing at the end of 2020, during which a new global biodiversity framework should be adopted. Together we must make this COP in Kunming a success; it will determine the international community’s action in the future. And everyone must realize that the loss of biodiversity we’re witnessing today is not only depressing, it’s also dangerous – dangerous for humanity. Because when forests burn, the lungs of the planet are in danger. When oceans are polluted and get warmer, we weaken the main carbon sinks, and when species disappear, ecosystems – often essential to humanity – are threatened. The next France-Oceania summit will tackle the major challenges facing the region’s island countries and the action which needs to be taken to deal with this in terms of the climate and protection of oceans.

But we’ve also got to make a success together of COP26 on the climate, which is taking place in Glasgow in November. Let’s not close our eyes to the facts: we weren’t collectively able to make the last COP the success it should have been in light of the challenge. The results weren’t equal to either the gravity of the situation or the expectations of people who, throughout the world, are urging the international community to shoulder its responsibilities. In Glasgow we absolutely must raise our ambition again.

On this vital issue, Europeans want to continue leading the way, as they were able to do before COP21 in 2015. With our partners, we want to be in the vanguard of the fight against climate change.

This is why we’ve collectively endorsed the goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.

This is why we’re going to introduce a carbon inclusion mechanism at the borders to prevent environmental dumping. It’s a matter of both effectiveness and justice.

This is why we’re going to invest hugely in the ecological transition, with the creation of a climate bank. There’s an overwhelming need because every sector is affected, from energy and transport to manufacturing.

This is why we’ll ensure that our trade policy is aligned with our environmental and climate commitment. We welcome the Commission’s commitment, President Ursula von der Leyen’s commitment to propose that compliance with the Paris Agreement be a key element in our trade agreements – i.e. that non-compliance with it allows us to suspend those agreements or pull out of them.

This ambitious plan is the Green Deal proposed in December by the President of the Commission, her very first political act. There could be no clearer way of showing that the fight against climate change is the chief priority of the Europeans.

By outlining what the thrusts of our diplomatic action will be in 2020, I’ve emphasized the role our European partners have to play at our side; this won’t have escaped you. I could say that I’ve emphasized the European nature of our whole foreign policy.

Role of EU

Europe has a unique, independent voice, able to make a useful contribution to resolving crises and help build essential, collective solutions today. Europe does so first because it knows where it comes from and doesn’t forget, and because it has been able to build within itself an area of peace and prosperity for over 70 years, after so many dramatic events and tragedies, and so it has some experience to share in order to transcend yesterday’s conflicts.

Europe has a unique, independent voice which allows us to talk to the other major global players: to our historical ally, the United States; to China, which is an essential interlocutor in today’s world; to Russia, as part of a demanding dialogue aimed at restoring trust; to our strategic partners in Asia-Oceania, particularly Australia, South Korea, India, Japan and Singapore.

Europe has a unique, independent voice which is calling everywhere for alliances, coalitions to be built with countries which share with us our values, ambitions and interests. France would like to play its full role as a partner of ASEAN, a role which matches its position as a nation of the Indo-Pacific and its desire to strengthen relations with that region, whose central importance is now widely acknowledged.

A unique, independent voice which must allow us to renew our relations with Africa, Asia and our South American partners, and also with our neighbours, those of the Eastern Partnership and those of a new southern partnership.

A unique, independent voice which carries as far as the Indo-Pacific, promoting our inclusive vision of that region, and our desire to act there for the environment and biodiversity, develop high-quality infrastructure and safeguard maritime security.

In a world in the midst of upheaval, this European voice is one of our greatest assets. It’s another reason for wanting a strong, united, mutually supportive Europe.

2020 must be the start of what the President called, when he extended his New Year greetings to the French people, a “European decade”. A decade for transforming our institutions, a decade for implementing our new strategic agenda. This agenda is one of sovereignty, protection and solidarity.

It’s through concrete initiatives, key initiatives that we’ll be able to move forward together to continue asserting Europe’s sovereignty in every sphere, particularly when it comes to the economy and trade. Given the current tensions, which are affecting Spanish olive oil as much as Italian cheeses and French wines, Europe must go on defending its interests in a united way, particularly with a view to arriving at an amicable settlement of the disputes which pit us against the United States.

In this respect, we’re not seeking escalation, but nor will we be intimidated by customs duties and threats: further unilateral measures will not go unanswered and, if by chance the WTO authorizes us to do so, the European Union will respond with its own sanctions. But that isn’t what we want.

Our new agenda will give us the means to defend ourselves more effectively against unfair practices; this is the necessary complement to our efforts to reform the WTO.

Today, I feel there’s genuine awareness and that the European Union has opened its eyes to the – often very bitter – reality of power relationships on the international stage. I think the time of innocence, at times even naivety, is well and truly over.

2020 will also be the year of Brexit. We shall be very mindful of safeguarding the European Union’s interests, the integrity of the internal market and a level playing field. But we shall also be seeking to build a new relationship of trust with the United Kingdom, particularly in the area of defence and security. A close, ambitious, balanced relationship, because, whoever we are, we can’t erase history, no one can change geography or deny how things are: the United Kingdom remains in Europe and is an essential partner for us.

If we don’t give ourselves the wherewithal to realize our ambitions, there’ll be no “European decade”. So we’re fighting for a European budget commensurate with our new agenda: on agriculture, the climate, innovation and defence.

And it’s in this spirit, and strong in our European convictions, that we’re preparing as of today for France’s EU presidency in the first half of 2022. With the desire to persuade, the desire to get results, the desire to set an example and the desire to work closely with the institutions and all member states.

My dear friends,

Once again, I wish you a Happy New Year in our capital, where there will be no shortage of major international events in 2020. I’ve already mentioned the Generation Equality Forum. I’d also like to invite you to the Paris Food Forum, which will be held in June, on the President’s initiative, to debate an essential 21st-century issue: gastronomy, but also, beyond that, food in the context of climate change and the increasing shortage of resources. And, of course, in November, the third Paris Peace Forum. (...)./.

Published on 31/01/2020

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