President’s New Year speech to ambassadors
New Year greetings to the diplomatic corps – Speech by M. François Hollande, President of the Republic
Paris, 16 January 2015
I’m very touched by the words His Excellency the Apostolic Nuncio has just uttered in the name of all of you. After the ordeal France has been through, international solidarity has been expressed powerfully and symbolically. Many heads of state and government were present at the march on 11 January, and where they could not be present, you were at the very heart of that expression, one of friendship, fraternity and also dignity. The very words chosen by you, Your Excellency, the Apostolic Nuncio.
It was undoubtedly an ordeal to suffer an attack by terrorists on our soil. Seventeen dead, 17 victims, our country’s worst attack for 40 years. Journalists killed because they were journalists, police officers killed because they were police officers and Jews killed because they were Jews. All the victims, all these men, all these women, were all united by one and the same idea: that France is a country of liberty. That is, alas, the only explanation to be found for their murders. The attackers set out to murder liberty.
The murderers committed their crimes in the name of a barbarous ideology. Whether it was al-Qaeda or Daesh [ISIL], it is the same ideology, the ideology of hate. Faced with that attack, France was capable of demonstrating the best possible reaction – first, it kept its dignity, and it remained united. Our response was also effective. The perpetrators of the atrocities were rendered incapable of doing further harm thanks to the exemplary action of the security services, police and gendarmerie. Additional arrests were made last night in order to identify possible accomplices. Similarly, we are acting in close conjunction with our neighbours and notably, at this very moment, with Belgium.
Those odious crimes aroused a response from the French people that was commensurate with its history and its values, and the scale and force of the demonstrations of 11 January were exceptional. Solidarity, as I have said, was expressed – national solidarity and international solidarity. I wish to say to you how deeply moved and proud we were, even in a time of such unhappiness, by the emotion felt in every quarter, by the demonstrations of friendship towards France. My fellow countrymen and women will never forget the tragedy that has struck them and their ability to stand up and express their dignity and mobilization. Nor will they forget what the countries of the international community expressed during that time.
Whatever opinions we may hold, and indeed whatever our disagreements, we demonstrated the unity of the international community facing a common enemy, one that has a name, a name to be spelled out: terrorism. We are at war with it. It is not a war against a religion; it is a war against hate. The attacks perpetrated in Paris are an insult to Islam. And around the world Muslims, as I never tire of saying, are the first victims of terrorism; not the only victims but the first to be confronted with the rising tide of fundamentalism, of intolerance. So we must do everything possible, as I am now endeavouring to do, to prevent things being conflated, which would in fact play into the hands of those who want to foment chaos, to divide, to spread fear.
I wish here to restate the principles that underpin France’s position, at all times and especially at this difficult time. France has respect for all beliefs, all religions. We respect them in the name of laïcité [secularism] (1). France acknowledges the contributions of all cultures to our common heritage. France is committed to freedom, freedom of expression, a freedom that will never be negotiable; it is a principle fundamental to our Republic, freedom of the press in particular.
France is the homeland of human rights and must therefore protect and ensure the safety of every citizen. France is an implacable opponent of racism, of anti-Semitism, of Islamophobia.
France, when struck down, is capable of unity. Its unity is its strength, even if we also have another form of strength when we are victims of violence and need to respond. But that strength, the strength of the French people, will be harnessed for a fight against terrorism that will be further intensified, in accordance with the law.
International efforts against terrorism
France is emerging from this ordeal with undiminished determination to take action at the international level. We are conceding nothing, we are affected by no pressure from any quarter; we have no fear, we are taking action because we are France, and because we are aware that on the international stage France is expected to promote our shared values.
I wish at this point to salute the remarkable work done by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Laurent Fabius, who is creating the right conditions for that action as the head of French diplomacy.
Our response to terrorism must be firm, but it can only be collective. Each of our countries must take every necessary step, and some still remain to be taken, notably with regard to the phenomenon of the foreign fighters who travel to areas at war for training before returning to our countries to commit the worst possible acts.
One-third of the 40,000 jihadists active in Iraq and Syria are foreign to the region. We must therefore improve international cooperation and share more effectively the necessary information on the movements of terrorists and the support and finance from which they benefit.
We must also combat all forms of trafficking more effectively because every type of trafficking can fuel terrorism: trafficking in weapons and trafficking in drugs, as well as trafficking in human beings. Europe must make its systems more robust. A meeting of foreign ministers is to be held in a few days in the wake of an earlier meeting of interior ministers; the European Council will also address this issue of security, of the fight against terrorism, in February.
What Europe must now do is ensure more effective checks on people crossing the European Union’s external borders. There is also a need to establish what is known as a European PNR [Passenger Name Record]. Put simply, this is a file for the exchange of data on aircraft passengers travelling between member states. This is imperative if we are to track the movements of terrorist trainees and of those already involved in the battle against our freedoms. That file, which must not compromise data protection, is essential if we are to track precisely those who travel to the Middle East or who return from there.
We must also be aware of the role played by the Internet and therefore of terrorists’ use of that technology, that information to disseminate their messages, to recruit new jihadists and even to provide them with the resources to become operational. Yes, we must take action with all those concerned to ensure that the Internet cannot be a resource enabling the preparation and commission of terrorist acts.
Looking beyond such essential measures, the best response for the longer term is firm action in favour of international peace and security, because as we know conflicts that remain unresolved, for far too long in some cases, are sources of inspiration for terrorists, and regions in chaos are training grounds for them. For some years therefore, and especially in the last two years, France has played its role in such action and shouldered its responsibilities with the assistance of its allies and partners.
Firstly in Mali, where we avoided a situation in which terrorists would have simply taken over an entire country, conducting an operation that is now in a different phase, not one of action, but one of stability. In the Sahel, we are maintaining the utmost vigilance, and that is why France has implemented what we have called Operation Barkhane, inflicting losses on terrorist organizations and establishing a presence across the whole region rather than in Mali alone.
Preventing chaos is also what we have achieved in the Central African Republic, enabling our forces to separate belligerents whose desire was to organize massacres. And thanks to our African friends and now alongside the international force being deployed, we’ve allowed that country to restore a form of stability.
But we have not finished. I have mentioned the Sahel, West Africa, Nigeria, where Boko Haram is engaged in what is a crime against humanity. The activities of that group involve not only the kidnapping of women, which is quite appalling enough, but also the massacre of children. Villages and entire towns are being razed to the ground.
Once again, we must support the countries affected by this scourge, which is what France is doing. In the case of Nigeria, that was the purpose of our initiative in bringing together in Paris, alongside Nigeria, every country which could be useful in the fight against Boko Haram. And today Cameroon, Niger, Chad and Benin are threatened. This is a situation that requires the international community to take appropriate steps and refuse to allow this to continue.
The situation in Libya is an important factor in the spread of terrorism and is a major cause for concern. Our duty is once again – thanks to the United Nations’ intervention, by the way – to mobilize the parties involved, who must engage in negotiations. This morning in Geneva an agreement was reached that was a step in the right direction, enabling a unified government to be formed, which is still an essential principle given that where a country has two governments, there is inevitably a problem, especially when it also has two parliaments.
Our first duty where Libya is concerned is therefore to get the parties involved to form a government and then to disarm the groups that have taken root in Libya, followed by the possibility of action against the terrorists occupying part of Libyan territory and threatening the region as a whole.
And France cannot, even if called upon to do so, act alone or act outside international law. We therefore call upon the United Nations, since that is its role, to ensure that initiatives can be taken and support provided.
The most urgent task in the Middle East is to combat Daesh, and here again France has shouldered its responsibilities. We are conducting Operation Chammal as part of the coalition. We are providing all our support to Iraqi forces engaged on the front line against the jihadists. These military operations in Iraq will be pursued alongside the authorities in Baghdad. Two days ago I was on the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, which has left and is heading for the region. It will enable valuable intelligence to be gathered and useful cooperation to be established with the countries in that region, as well as playing a role in our intervention where required.
In Syria, we are continuing to act in support of the moderate opposition, the democratic opposition that we have always encouraged. I shall not repeat here what I have already said on several occasions. When an intervention by the international community is rejected, when it is postponed for reasons invariably formulated in the name of law or timeliness, it is the international community itself that is putting itself in danger.
Today we are ensuring that those engaged in battle – and I am thinking particularly here of those fighting in Kobane and demonstrating very great courage – can have our full support. We are also aware that fighting is looming in Aleppo that may be extremely dangerous for the population. We’re talking about 300,000 people. Need I remind you that the failure to resolve the Syria issue has led to part of its population not only being displaced but also becoming refugees? Refugees in Jordan. Refugees in Turkey. Refugees in Lebanon, leading indeed to major economic, financial, social and humanitarian problems for the countries involved. And the idea that those people will remain in the region is a simple idea, so simple as to be simplistic. If nothing is resolved, part of that population will naturally also want to come to Europe, will try to come here. We should reflect on the possible consequences of such movements.
And in Syria, Bashar al-Assad bears enormous responsibility for the tragedy and it is not possible for anybody to believe, and certainly not us, that he can unite his people after so many massacres. And the choice cannot be either Assad or the terrorists, because in the end they are the same thing. Because today each is sustained by the other.
So what is the position of France and our diplomacy? To seek an agreement between the regime, if it wishes to start the transition, and the Syrian opposition movements. We must therefore resume what has been called the Geneva process; France is ready and willing to work to achieve this with the United Nations and all countries with influence in Syria.
Because France maintains dialogue with all sides – which is in fact what makes its diplomacy realistic – it is available to work with all those who can or who wish to help solve the crises in the Middle East. That is what we did in Lebanon in particular, where a major agreement with Saudi Arabia was implemented to reinforce the Lebanese army’s operation capability allowing it to protect its territory more effectively.
However, I also wish to say that Iran also has its share of responsibility in the resolution of these crises. That is what I said to President Rouhan, whom I met in New York last September. Iran needs to clarify its positions, its intentions, and involve itself in crisis resolution.
Finally, still in that region that has suffered so much, we also have Gaza, and what happened there last summer, which should lead us yet again to reflect upon the best way of putting an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Since April and the halting of the peace talks, the situation has deteriorated. There are the tragic events which occurred in Gaza. There is also escalation and there are risks of a flare-up. To avert those threats, France is determined to find a way forward because it has an unshakeable friendship with Israel and is also a friend of the Palestinian people.
We need to act swiftly. The two-state solution is the only possible solution. All agree on that. We must not allow it to slip away. The peace process has so often been started and, alas, so often left unfinished. The parties concerned are unable to bring it to a conclusion by themselves.
It is therefore our task to establish the parameters that are internationally known and acknowledged to arrive at a solution. That collective effort must be underpinned by an unchallengeable foundation, which can only be the United Nations Security Council. That is why France has wished to present, in the form of a resolution, a constructive approach based on consensus. France is still ready and willing to do so.
I also know that we must take action to settle the Iranian nuclear issue. In Vienna last November we took note of the remaining difficulties, notably those relating to enrichment and the production of fissile materials, and a decision was reached to extend the interim agreement to 30 June 2015. France wishes to see a definitive agreement but not on just any terms, which adopts a clear line: yes to access for Iran to civil nuclear energy; no to its access to nuclear weapons. We shall accept no compromise on that core principle. We want an agreement but an agreement that leads to that outcome.
Acting for peace is also what France is doing in Europe because there is a conflict on the European continent. The crisis in Ukraine. For months now I have been closely involved alongside Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, in seeking a solution and working to get a return to peace and a humanitarian situation which stops deteriorating.
Here again, the conditions for resolving the crisis are known: the complete implementation of the Minsk Protocol adopted on 5 September 2014. Since that date, we have unfortunately seen the situation deteriorate with a failure to observe the ceasefire, and deaths – many deaths.
For several weeks now, other, more encouraging signals have been sent out, despite continuing deaths in eastern Ukraine. A new ceasefire came into force on 9 December. Prisoners were exchanged at Christmas. The ministers of foreign affairs met in Normandy format a few days ago with a view to a meeting in Astana, not only with Germany and France but also with Ukraine and Russia.
The priority must be to ensure a successful meeting in Astana. But we shall not be meeting simply to place our observations on record. There will be no meeting in Astana unless there are results.
We have several objectives. Firstly, clear definition of the line of demarcation, the withdrawal of heavy weapons and detailed arrangements for the supply of humanitarian aid to the Donetsk and Lugansk regions. Additionally, elections in eastern Ukraine to allow all sides to be represented in due accordance with Ukrainian law.
Such conditions are not out of reach and we must work on this. That is what I am doing in very harmonious agreement with the Chancellor because we are directly concerned, and because we are also committed to Europe and Russia regaining relations of trust and having shared prospects for development too.
Because this conflict is very costly. It is costly in human terms first and foremost given the substantial deterioration in Ukraine’s situation. It is costly politically given the distancing that has occurred and the sanctions that have been applied. It is economically costly not only for Russia but for the entire region, as well as for Europe. It is therefore time, high time, that an agreement was found.
I travelled to Moscow for discussions with President Putin because France has a historical relationship with Russia and we must use that bond so that Russia returns to the relationship I still wish to consolidate between Europe and that great nation. However, Russia must also make the essential gestures expected of it. We are working on this but it is now a responsibility President Putin must exercise.
The crises relate not only to politics and security but also to health. In the face of the Ebola epidemic France once again was spurred into action, fortunately not alone, notably in Guinea, building new centres and treating patients, along with training and treatment for the healthcare personnel most exposed.
The World Health Organization – and this is good news – indicates a decline in the numbers of cases in the three most affected countries. The battle is not, however, over; combating the pandemics is a priority.
France is providing and will continue to provide the funds we have pledged to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria: €360 million. Likewise, although the Ebola epidemic has required us to take as a matter of urgency €25 million from our UNITAID contribution, which is financed by the airline ticket levy, these funds will be restored in 2015 because we consider that combating epidemics also contributes to our own safety.
Furthermore, the issue is not only solidarity but also stability for the world as a whole. Indeed, this year we, France, will be accepting special responsibility by hosting the climate conference in Paris. This meeting is a rendezvous between the world and its destiny. The facts are now both clear and established. Extreme climate phenomena are on the increase everywhere. They affect first and foremost the poorest and most vulnerable and are causing population displacements that may result in numerous conflicts.
Here again, we know what conditions must be met for success: to arrive at a global agreement committing 193 countries to ensure that global temperature increases are limited to no more than 2ºC. And to ensure that each of those countries, and this is the most crucial point, announces its commitments before the summer.
The Lima-Paris Action Agenda will accompany the transition necessary for combating climate change. We will need to increase the number of economic opportunities this commitment will make possible. But we will also need to raise the funds required for the energy transition.
Capitalization of the Green Climate Fund has now begun with $10 billion pledged for the period 2015 to 2018. We are very far, still very far, from the target, which is to raise $100 billion beginning in 2020. We must therefore step up all efforts and endeavour to obtain every commitment to ensure that innovative financing can also be added to the contributions made by states.
We are also conscious of the fact that there was a very serious failure in Copenhagen. We have drawn all the required conclusions from this and will not therefore be waiting for the Paris conference in order to get an agreement of this importance.
Once again, to wait would be to run a considerable risk for the planet. We are starting out from the Lima Conference held in December and which led to the establishment of a working basis for the Paris Conference. In this respect, I salute the action taken by Peru, where I shall be making a visit in the next few weeks.
On the basis of that work, France will act in accordance with three principles. The first is to listen to others. I know that among the countries you represent many are wondering what responsibility they each have to accept. France will listen to all of your concerns in order to take them into consideration and enable the second principle to be adhered to, and that is fairness. The agreement that must be reached in Paris will need to be differentiated to reflect the situation of each country and its level of development. And the most vulnerable countries, the most fragile, the emerging countries also, must be supported – hence the role of the Green Climate Fund. The third principle relates to political will, because there will be no agreement in the absence of political will. And there will always be a good excuse for not signing when the day comes to sign. We also know that if it is not signed it will be a long time before there is a climate agreement. And it will no longer be a matter of avoiding an increase in the planet’s temperature of two degrees but of preventing a warming of three or even four degrees. That is what the experts are telling us and I fear they are right.
Preparation for what is being called “COP 21” will be led by Laurent Fabius under the auspices of the United Nations. The entire French government, and the Minister of Ecology in particular, is fully mobilized to prepare for this essential gathering, one that will bring together not only civil societies but also companies, researchers and young people from every country.
I shall involve myself personally and go everywhere where France’s voice, the voice of the country organizing the conference, can be heard. I shall go to Davos to address businesses. I shall go to the Philippines with Nicolas Hulot and numerous public figures who have made protecting the planet their life’s work precisely in order to get people to mobilize. I shall go with President Aquino to the areas hardest hit by the climate disaster.
Whenever it is possible to put the climate issue on the international agenda, France will devote the whole force of its diplomacy to it, notably for the G7 and G20. I shall conduct every discussion necessary at the highest level with the heads of state of the countries you represent. At the Paris Conference, the heads of state are not the negotiators – that is a reality that needs to be properly understood. It means that it is up to each country to mobilize its society, to mobilize its players. Naturally, to get an agreement at the Paris Conference, the governments you represent and the heads of state will be obliged to make a decision at some point. I have welcomed for example the declaration made by President Obama where the United States is concerned, and the undertaking given by China, the country with the highest CO2 emissions, which has for the first time confirmed that it is part of the process, which is very important.
And then there are many emerging countries that have also said to us that they do not wish to see their growth and their development compromised. But at the same time, they have told us that if the agreement were fair, they would sign it. The heads of state and government will be judged – foremost amongst them ourselves, inevitably – on our ability to set aside a number of constraints, prejudices, and interests in some cases, to take action at the appropriate level, that of the planet.
The climate issue presents not just an ecological challenge – something well understood by all – but also an economic challenge. We need to understand that through the commitments which are going to be made, there is an opportunity for growth, an opportunity for technology, for innovation, and there will even be a criterion for competitiveness which will not be based simply on product price or quality, but on product content in terms of ecology and the environment. The countries that make most progress on the energy transition will be the most competitive tomorrow. From that point of view, France has passed a law on the energy transition that will soon come before the Senate; this will set goals completely in line with those promoted by us at the European and international levels.
French diplomacy is diplomacy at the service of ideals, at the service of principles, and at the service not only of peace but also of growth and competitiveness.
International competition is increasingly intense. It exists in every domain: trade, investment, higher education, research, tourism. In that context, France has chosen neither to be passive, which would in fact be to choose submission, nor to turn in on itself, a choice which would neither have any future nor protect the past. It would not protect it because the history of France is the history of a country that has always been in the vanguard, always on the move, looking to the future. Just as we have no fear of terrorism, we have no fear of competition or globalization.
We know that today’s world obliges us to stay at the cutting edge of innovation, to be mobile, to go out in search of developing markets and sectors. And that is what we are doing to improve the competitiveness of our companies, develop our exports and enhance France’s attractiveness as a location.
Our country has massive advantages ranging from the aviation industry to green technology, and including its gastronomy and cultural industries. France must make reforms and it is doing so. France also intends to be more effective in making its achievements – what people call France’s image – better known internationally. France gave the finest image of itself when it was attacked: that of a people spurred into action, united around its dignity, its freedom and everything of which we are proud. That image is just as valid where culture and language are concerned. We wish to promote the French language, which belongs to all its speakers, and I salute here the Secretary-General of the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie [international Francophone organization]. France is also competitive not only in terms of its products but also in terms of its innovation, its research, its talents. In a manner of speaking, for us the award of a Nobel Prize is a demonstration of our competitiveness.
We are also determined to ensure that we are better known for our successes. I think that, where our weaknesses are concerned, there are some people who devote quite enough energy to promoting them; there is no need for us to add to their efforts. Conversely, where our strengths, our qualities are concerned, what we are doing currently can be improved. And that is why on 1 January this year we set up a new agency, Business France, which will be launching a “Creative France” campaign – because creativity is what sets France apart.
You have expressed your New Year greetings and wishes to me at a particularly testing and painful time. But the strength of any wish is its possibility of becoming a reality. What wish might I make then for the world? Certainly, a wish to see a return to conditions of peace. A wish for the world to live up to its own expectations – that is, its future, the climate challenge. A wish also that we might enjoy more prosperity, combat inequality and enjoy what you call human dignity. More than ever, human dignity is what must drive the actions of France and the international community.
France is a great nation that acts on its own behalf, on behalf of the world and with Europe. The European Union has now emerged from the economic crisis, but it has not yet returned to growth, growth that will reduce unemployment. That must be its priority. That is the purpose of the Juncker Plan. I have just had a meeting with the President of the European Commission, and he confirmed to me that the European Union will rapidly put in place every procedure and every arrangement to bring that plan into force.
Growth is also the objective of the European Central Bank, which has met every target on inflation, which is now virtually zero in Europe. I wish to salute its efforts. The euro has returned to an exchange rate more in line with its fundamentals, and the level of oil prices – which must not slow our efforts to save energy – is reducing the cost of living for households in France and households in Europe, as well as increasing margins for businesses.
Europe must support this trend by looking resolutely to the future, digital technology, infrastructure, the energy transition, the green economy. Europe must also shoulder more responsibility at the political level in order to settle conflicts on its borders, speak to those on the other shore of the Mediterranean and go even further in its international action, wherever much is expected of it, wherever much is hoped of it.
I wish to see agreements reached between Europe and Latin America – something on which we are working – between Europe and Asia, and also between Europe and all the components that make up the European continent; here I am also referring to events in the East, and that is why I have indicated that with regard to Russia we must find a new approach and renewed trust.
Europe must be more active internationally, and it must also be more vigilant where its own security is concerned. I have mentioned the broad lines of this in referring to the fight against terrorism. Europe must be more active on the refugee issue as well as on combating illegal immigration. Europe must revise its instruments, its methods and its ambitions. The new President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, is also working along these lines, as is the President of the European Commission.
However, I wish to end on a thought that is valid not only for Europe and France but also for the world. When threats become more menacing, when risks increase, when tragedy strikes, people may take fright, seek isolation, withdraw into their shells, lose themselves in extremism and over-reaction. We can already see signs of this, including on the European continent. They are no longer premonitions. They are warnings to us. But people can also choose another path. They can stand up and proclaim their commitment to principles on which their identity is based; they can also promote ideals greater than themselves. People can be a source of mobilization. They may also oblige their leaders to take action.
In short, everything invariably comes down to the people. And the people can generate hope and take others along with them. That is what the French people did on 11 January. Not as a lesson to anybody, but to remain true to the universal message of France, because the best thing my country can do for the planet is to be useful, and that is what it will do throughout 2015. That is my wish now, at what is a difficult time for many, when collective strength continues to be our hope. Thank you.
(1) laïcité goes beyond the concept of secularism, embracing the strict neutrality of the state.