Minister sets out France’s diplomatic challenges for 2016
Foreign policy/New Year greetings to the diplomatic corps – Speech by M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development
Paris, 29 January 2016
Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,
Marie-France and I are delighted to receive you in this house, which is also your house, in order to present our warm wishes for 2016: wishes of health, success in your work, and personal happiness.
I would like to start with the good news that we received an hour ago. Our ambassador to Burundi has informed me of the release of our compatriot, the journalist Jean-Philippe Rémy – whom many of you know, I am certain – and his British colleague, Phil Moore. This morning I had called for their immediate release, and I welcome this swift outcome. I reiterate France’s commitment to press freedom, in Burundi and in the rest of the world.
Dear friends, we all met together in late August at the “ambassadors’ lunch” in La Celle-Saint-Cloud. It was a beautiful day, and great French chefs had cooked for us. I hope none of you have a bad memory of it; in any case, I have not been informed of any early return to your countries of origin following the event!
French tradition says that our New Year ceremonies should be an opportunity to, before setting forth into the coming year, look back briefly over the previous one.
As we say in diplomatic speech, 2015 was “a year especially full of contrasts”. On the one hand, it was a dramatic year for peace and security, with a wave of violence. I have in mind the crises that broke out or continued last year, and their cortege of victims. I have in mind, too, the terrorist attacks that hit France twice, in January and then in November. These attacks shook our country. You saw and experienced all that from the inside; you shared our pain and reported back to your capitals.
These attacks rocked the whole world, and we all remember the march of 11 January, that gathering of leaders from around the world who came to Paris to show their solidarity with my country. Nor will we forget the exceptional wave of international solidarity following the attacks of 13 November. In many of your countries, spontaneous gatherings took place, the Marseillaise was sung – even by those who don’t speak French – and emblematic monuments were lit up in the colours of the French flag. Many heads of state and government visited our embassies to personally express their condolences, and a lot of you, too, came to sign our book of solidarity, here at the Quai d’Orsay. Our citizens abroad, who are competently looked after by Matthias Fekl, were also very touched by this solidarity, and the French people as a whole were most sensitive to these shows of support. Once again, I would like to express France’s gratitude.
We were not – far from it – the only ones to be hit by terrorism in 2015: Copenhagen, Karachi, the Bardo, Sousse, Tunis, Garissa University College in Kenya, the crash of a Russian plane in the Sinai, the Bamako hotel attack, the thwarted Thalys attack and the Boko Haram suicide attacks are but a few. Many of your countries have paid a very heavy price, and 2016 the beginning of 2016 continues to be marked by terrorism, in Istanbul, Tel Aviv, Jakarta, Ouagadougou, Somalia and in other regions. The terrorist threat is global, and so an effective response must also be global. Each of our countries has a role to play.
So 2015 was tragic; but it was also, in another way, a year of hope, with two great diplomatic achievements which both served peace. The Vienna agreement on the Iranian nuclear programme, whose timely signature on 14 July lessened the risk of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, will go down as one of the most important contributions to seeking a safer world in the last few years. The Paris Climate Agreement of 12 December has, for its part, set in motion irreversible momentum towards low-carbon development, and will also limit considerably the risk of conflicts linked to climate change. I will come back to this point.
Whereas the international community had been stumbling over these major subjects for many years, the successes achieved in 2015, in which France’s diplomats were closely involved, showed that diplomatic efforts can be effective and that, under certain conditions, multilateralism can produce excellent results. COP21, in particular, proved that we were capable of adopting “inclusive” methods on major universal issues, enabling every country not only to be listened to but also to be heard. This truly historic success we achieved in Paris against global warming and for sustainable development was also brought about thanks to your commitment. I would therefore like to thank you and, through you, your countries, for their very positive contribution, without which this agreement would, by definition, have been impossible.
2016 has begun in a difficult global context. When he received you last week, the President of the Republic spoke of the main international efforts that await us, and of the priorities of France’s diplomacy. Our four priorities have not changed: peace and security, the planet, Europe’s revitalization and France’s influence. I won’t go back over each of these. I will focus on three “spotlight” issues:
The first is the climate. The French presidency of COP21 did not come to an end with the advent of the agreement of 12 December 2015: it will continue until COP22 in November 2016, which will be held in Marrakesh, where we will hand over to our Moroccan friends. This year needs to be what I call the year of the “four Ps”.
P for the process of signing and ratification. The Agreement will indeed be opened for signature on 22 April in New York, at the United Nations. The French President and the Minister of Ecology, who are fully committed, will be present, as will I, in my capacity as COP21 President. It would be best if as many countries as possible could sign the agreement on that date, ideally at heads of state and government level, and then ratify it as soon as possible. I am also counting on you in this work of mobilization.
P for precision concerning the 29 articles of the Paris Agreement and the 140 paragraphs of the attached decision. This will be the goal in Bonn in May, at the first meeting of the group responsible for preparing the implementing decisions for the agreement and decisions. In Paris, in December 2015, we reached an ambitious compromise, and this spirit will need to continue in 2016, when the principles and objectives will have to be translated into acts.
The third P is the preparation for COP21 in Marrakesh. We intend to work with our Moroccan friends in the same constructive mindset that marked our collaboration with the Peruvian presidency of COP20; I should like to take this opportunity to greet the ambassadors of these two countries, our friends.
The final P stands for the pre-2020 period. Aside from the implementation of the Paris Agreement, which is due to enter into force in 2020, it will be necessary to provide monitoring as regards pre-2020 action and what is known as the Lima-Paris Action Agenda, which brings together initiatives from states and non-governmental actors. The decision was enshrined in the document written at the Paris Conference. It asks each successive COP president to appoint what the texts call a “champion”. This high-level champion will be responsible for ensuring monitoring of commitments, encouraging new commitments, inviting economic players to set themselves long-term goals by country or sector, and involving NGOs in this work, in order to keep political decision-makers informed. It is up to me to appoint the first of these champions, for a mandate lasting until November 2016. I have chosen someone who played an effective, appreciated role in the success of the Paris Conference, and who has the expertise, contacts and legitimacy she needs: your colleague, Ambassador Laurence Tubiana. We have full confidence in her.
I will add one major remark: all these decisions and actions in the COP21 framework are of course important primarily for the climate itself. They are also essential for the environment in the widest sense, for public health, for food security, for development and, last but not least – this is a point I wish to emphasize – they will be decisive for security and for peace. For uncontrolled climate change would result in widespread conflicts. Food and water shortages, risks of large-scale migration caused by the consequences of global warming, and threats from conflicts linked to control over fossil resources are all concerns that many of your countries are already facing. By acting against climate change and by turning the world towards renewable and decarbonized energy sources, the Paris Agreement is therefore an agreement working for peace for current and future generations.
Secondly, Europe is facing major challenges: the massive influx of refugees, the terrorist threat, weak economic growth and centrifugal forces – to cite but a few. The year 2016 will be critical for the European Union, and Harlem Désir is skilfully monitoring its actions. The dominant question, apart from the economy, is now that of internal and external security, whereas Europe was not built with that central objective in mind. We therefore need to find strong, quick solutions to these challenges, particularly that of security, while staying faithful to the founding principles of the Union.
A first aspect concerns the continent as a whole: the influx of men, women and children fleeing the atrocities of war. Our response has to be solidarity with refugees and the European countries that have made considerable efforts to take them in, and responsibility in implementing the decisions that have been – and remain to be – made. That means that the sharing out of refugees decided at EU level should be implemented effectively by each member state. It also means that control of the EU’s external borders needs to be strengthened – such as through Frontex – in order to carry out the essential security checks and keep out potentially dangerous individuals. That has to be done fast. The Minister of the Interior is working very actively on this point.
Further, the European Union and all the member states will have to continue supporting the countries that host the greatest number of refugees, such as Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. I will take part in the London Conference on 4 February, in order to set our France’s contribution to supporting Syrian refugees. The European Union and Turkey need to work on implementing the action plan that was concluded in December 2015.
Another challenge, which also concerns Europe as a whole, is – still in the area of security – combating terrorism. Major decisions were made in 2015 to respond to the urgency of the situation. Their implementation is also very urgent. The progress needed is known: implementation of a European PNR, combating the financing of terrorism, better controls on false travel documents, and the interconnection of databases to detect terrorists. The effectiveness of these decisions needs to enable us to achieve the creation of a genuine “European space of security”. As part of the fight against terrorism, France invoked Article 42-7 of the Treaty on European Union. Our European partners have answered that call, and I would like to thank them through you.
On these priorities – refugees and terrorism – the EU and the member states need to work in concert, for it is clear that only a strong European response will enable us to respond sufficiently to these challenges. Withdrawing behind national borders would, if you think about it, lead to an impasse. Yet European action without strong commitment on the part of states would be illusory. The effort has to be collective, and focus on the urgent implementation of the decisions made at EU level. As I recently said to my colleague and friend Bert Koenders, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, which holds the EU Presidency this semester: in this period of difficulties for the European Union, the response needs to be made in terms both of “crisis decisions” and “implementation of crisis decisions”.
Our European horizon cannot be limited to addressing crises. This year also needs to be dedicated to building the EU’s future. One of the major questions is that of the role of the United Kingdom in Europe, with the referendum coming up. The President of the Republic, the Prime Minister and I have all spoken on this subject. France hopes that an agreement will be reached on the demands presented by Prime Minister Cameron – an agreement that complies with our fundamental principles. Discussions are under way, and we hope that they will conclude at the European Council meeting in February. In any case, our stance is clear: yes to necessary reforms of the European Union, but no to its dismantling.
Doing our utmost to build the Europe of growth and employment will mean rapidly implementing the programmes of the Juncker Plan. It will also require ambitious European policies supporting the energy transition, with the European implementation of the Paris Agreement and the advent of the “Energy Union”, and a genuine European digital policy.
But the main priority of our diplomacy – this is my last “spotlight” issue – will be our commitment to international security and peace, without which nothing will be possible in the long run. I emphasize this aspect because that is our priority “across the board”, which is sometimes overshadowed by the violence that exists throughout the world and by the fact that we have to protect ourselves and act, sometimes by force but always in compliance with the law. Yes, our commitment to security and peace is a priority. Must we recall that, for us, seeking peace is obviously not a matter of naivety.
Combating terrorism, particularly the Daesh [so-called ISIL] terrorist group, will therefore remain central to our diplomatic and military action. In this long, difficult combat, comprehensive mobilization is vital for success. We owe that to our citizens, who now live with this threat and expect their government – that is our choice – to take decisions and show firmness.
This fight against terrorism requires resolute action in Africa. France, through the Head of State, has taken on, is taking on and will take on its responsibilities. Everyone remembers how we took action three years ago in Mali, in January 2013, to prevent the country from falling into terrorist hands, and we acted not a moment too soon. We extended this action politically by supporting the democratic institutions and then by concluding and implementing the peace agreement signed between the Malian authorities and the non-terrorist armed groups in Northern Mali, and militarily through Operation Barkhane throughout the Sahel-Sahara Strip. In December 2013, we also intervened effectively in the Central African Republic to prevent the outbreak of a civil war, and we are now supporting the country as it moves towards what we hope will be “normality”. Similarly, we are supporting the cooperation between Nigeria, Chad, Niger, Cameroon and Benin in the fight against Boko Haram and we are appealing for increased international support for the affected countries and for the African force which is being set up. The aim is for the Africans themselves to be able to develop the capacities enabling them to provide their own security.
This fight against terrorism – still with the aim of achieving peace and security – also requires resolving the Syrian crisis. 260,000 deaths, millions of refugees and displaced people, a shocking humanitarian situation, particularly in cities under siege: in the face of this tragedy, we all know that the solution is a political one – France has consistently maintained this position. We want the inter-Syrian negotiations, which offer a glimmer of hope, to get under way and be conducted effectively, which requires the humanitarian situation to improve as a matter of urgency, i.e. among other things, guaranteed humanitarian access, no more indiscriminate attacks on civilians, and the actual and immediate lifting of the sieges. France also wants the discussions to address the issue of the transitional government. There must be a clear objective, a credible transition, in which we believe Bashar al-Assad can obviously play no part. We support the work of the United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, Mr de Mistura.
As regards Libya, which is also key to international security, we must do our utmost to prevent it becoming a safe haven for Daesh. The ongoing political process must lead to the immediate creation of a national unity government and the international community must mobilize more effectively to support the efforts of Mr Kobler, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General. France will continue to shoulder its responsibilities. Taking urgent action for Libya is absolutely essential, not only to ensure the stability of the region, but also the security of all of Europe.
These major crises have not made us lose sight of the interminable and tragic Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is high time for the international community to move towards a definitive resolution – this time decisively. The following must be kept in mind: Israel’s security is an absolute priority, on which France will not compromise; the people of Israel have the right to live in peace and security, and we must do everything we can to guarantee this fundamental right. But there can be no peace without justice, and the current situation of the Palestinians, who have no state, is fundamentally unjust. At the National Assembly in November 2014, I stated, on behalf of the government, that a final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and lasting peace in the Middle East could be achieved only through the co-existence of two sovereign and independent states and that if the deadlock continues, France would recognize the State of Palestine. I added that this recognition would not be a favour or a sign of preferential treatment, but a right. I would like to reiterate that France will not abandon the security requirement for Israel, nor the justice requirement for the Palestinians.
For many months, France has worked to this end – all too often on its own. We have continuously advocated changing methods in order to end the confrontation between Israelis and Palestinians which has not succeeded in achieving peace. In 2015, we undertook several initiatives to try to make progress. I myself travelled to the Middle East to try to convince the parties to return to the negotiating table. We submitted a draft resolution to the Security Council, setting out the parameters and a conflict resolution schedule. In September, beyond the Quartet, we mobilized the key Arab actors and the European stakeholders within the framework of the International Support Group, meeting at the United Nations General Assembly.
Despite the obstacles and the major difficulties, I can tell you this evening that France is not giving up. Unfortunately, we have noticed that settlement activity is continuing, and recently the Israeli Prime Minister went as far as accusing the UN Secretary-General of encouraging terror after he reiterated that settlement is illegal and called for it to end. We cannot let the two-state solution fall apart. It is our responsibility as a permanent member of the Security Council and a force for peace. In the weeks ahead, France will thus take steps to prepare an international conference bringing together the parties and their main partners (American, European, Arab among others) in order to preserve and, if possible, finalize the two-state solution.
But, you may say, we’ve been trying for so long, it is extremely difficult, what happens if this final attempt at a negotiated solution hits an obstacle? Well in that case, we must honour what I said at the end of 2014 on behalf of the government at the National Assembly: we will need to shoulder our responsibilities by recognizing the Palestinian State.
I will end, dear friends, by stressing that our search for peace and security also requires our action for development. We have just launched an important reform in this respect. On my proposal and that of the Minister of Finance, the French President has decided to bring the French Development Agency (AFD) closer to the Caisse des Dépôts [French savings and banking institution] group. This reform will considerably enhance the resources for our policy on international solidarity and development. The AFD’s intervention capacity, to which Annick Girardin, Minister of State for Development and Francophony, is rightly so committed, will increase by €4 billion per year by 2020, including €2 billion for climate alone, and donations will increase by €370 million by 2020 compared to their current level – which will place France back on track towards the target of devoting 0.7% of national income to official development assistance. This increase will make it possible, in particular, to develop our action in countries in crisis, including in the Sahel and North Africa and the Middle East, and to place greater emphasis on issues of migration and security. Since, there again, acting for development means serving peace.
Ambassadors, dear friends,
As you can see, all these issues converge towards a cross-cutting, priority objective, namely the requirement for peace and security. We will continue to pursue this goal, in accordance with the values and principles guiding our diplomacy, namely independence, commitment to multilateralism, respect for international law, the defence of human rights and the dialogue between cultures as illustrated yet again the day before yesterday by the “Night of Ideas” launched at the Quai d’Orsay, which we will organize in several other countries in 2016 and hold again here next year. Madam Secretary General of the IOF [international Francophone organization], we will continue to passionately support Francophony. So much so that we have chosen to conduct a comprehensive and strategic policy in the fields of security, the economy, education, culture, science, tourism and sport through, in each area, an operator which is now coordinated with others, to serve France’s outreach.
My closing words will be more personal, to thank you for the high quality of our relations. Our relations are marked – I welcome this and the Quai d’Orsay is dedicated to showing this at all times – by trust and a common commitment to France and, I would add on behalf of Marie-France and myself, to friendship. I expect you have heard of the late great singer-poet and songwriter Jacques Brel. I wish to conclude by quoting his own New Year greetings: “I wish you never-ending dreams and the fierce desire to realize some of them.”
I wish you all, therefore, an excellent New Year 2016, and great success and happiness. Thank you./.