President sets out EU’s main challenges
Foreign policy – European Union/climate/Germany/migration/United Kingdom/United States/Russia/Syria/Paris 2024 – Interview given by M. Emmanuel Macron, President of the Republic, to the daily newspaper “Le Figaro”
Paris, 22 June 2017
Role of EU/extremism
Q. – Is France back in Europe again? Does it embody a kind of new leadership there?
THE PRESIDENT – Leadership isn’t achieved by decree, it’s built by giving a lead to other countries, other players, and this is being seen in light of the results we’re getting. It would be presumptuous to say now that France is exercising new European leadership. The real question is about what our action aims to achieve. And the starting point is the crisis Western democracies are going through. They were formed in the 18th century on a totally new balance between defending individual freedoms, political democracy and establishing market economies. A virtuous circle allowed individual freedoms to be recognized, social progress to be developed and the middle classes to be given the prospect of progress. Since the end of the Trente Glorieuses (1), doubt has set in. France, which probably had the most sophisticated social model, experienced this the hard way. When we look at the planet today, what do we see? A rise in illiberal democracies and extremism in Europe, the re-emergence of authoritarian regimes which undermine democracy’s vitality, and a United States partially withdrawing from the world. This situation is aggravated by increasing uncertainty and unrest. There’s a growing number of crises in the Middle East and the Gulf and increasing inequality throughout the world.
Q. – Where does this instability come from?
THE PRESIDENT – There’s no single cause. It stems partly from profound inequality created by the world order and Islamist terrorism. Added to these imbalances is the climate. People who think the fight against climate change is a fad of middle-class bohemians are profoundly mistaken. So the first question isn’t about whether there’s French leadership or whether we’re strutting about more than the others. It’s firstly about how to defend the common good of us all, i.e. freedom and democracy, and individuals and our societies’ ability to be independent, remain free, ensure social justice and protect our planet through the climate.
Without these common goods, there’s no desirable or sustainable future. Our challenge is knowing how we’re going to win this battle for which Europe, I’m convinced, is responsible. Why? Because democracy was born on this continent. The United States of America likes freedom as much as we do. But it doesn’t have our appetite for justice. Europe is the only place in the world where individual freedoms, the spirit of democracy and social justice are so closely wedded. The question is therefore: will Europe succeed in upholding its deeply-held values, with which it has nourished the world for decades, or will it be wiped out by the rise in illiberal democracies and authoritarian regimes?
Q. – How can Europe be relaunched in concrete terms? How can the Germans be convinced?
THE PRESIDENT – If we don’t realize what our challenge is, we can go on spending whole nights wondering where the next European agency will be located or how such and such a budget will be spent… In that case, we would step out of history. I didn’t choose that. Nor did Angela Merkel. The question is how we’ll rebuild momentum and the ability to give a lead. Because it isn’t just a case of slapping policies on countries or peoples. We’ve got to be able to give them a lead and fire their imagination. France won’t be able to act as any kind of driving force if it doesn’t speak clearly or view the world clear-sightedly. But nor will it be able to do this if it fails to strengthen its economy and society. That’s why I’ve asked the government to launch the basic reforms essential for France. Our credibility, effectiveness and strength are at stake.
But the power of a few can’t feed off the weakness of others for long. Germany, which carried out reforms around 15 years ago, is today seeing that this situation isn’t viable. So I’d like us to create shared strength. My approach for the Franco-German tandem is that of an alliance of trust. I’d like us to return to the spirit of cooperation which once existed between François Mitterrand and Helmut Kohl. We don’t go to a European Council without having a common position. This doesn’t mean we agree on everything, rather that we don’t want to waste time asking others to settle our disagreements. Otherwise Europe falters, and the key to getting moving again is a Europe which protects.
Q. – Why is this need for protection so essential?
THE PRESIDENT – Because, in all our societies, the middle classes have begun to have doubts. Their impression is that Europe goes ahead regardless of them. That kind of Europe drags itself down. We’ve got to create a Europe which protects, by giving it a genuine common defence and security policy. We’ve got to deal with major migrations more effectively by completely reforming the system which protects our borders, migration policy and the right of asylum. The current system places the whole burden on a few people and won’t be able to withstand the next waves of migration. I believe in a Europe which gives itself the wherewithal to protect its external borders, ensure its security through police and judicial cooperation in its fight against terrorism, set up a common system for the right of asylum and immigration, a Europe which protects against globalization’s disruptions. That’s the first stage. The institutions can’t be deepened until we’ve restored Europe’s coherence.
If we want to move to the next stage, there must be greater integration within the Euro Area. This is why I’m vigorously defending the idea of a Euro Area budget, which has democratic governance. It’s the only way of recreating a process of convergence between our economies and our countries. If we don’t do that, we’ll weaken the Euro Area. We’ve got to coordinate the pillars of responsibility and solidarity. I sense that Germany isn’t deadlocked over this.
Q. – Do you think the Germans, too, are ready to change?
THE PRESIDENT – I’m convinced they are. As far as security and defence are concerned, the German Chancellor has really shaken things up. She’s reconsidered deep-seated taboos inherited from the Second World War. Germany is going to spend more on defence than France in the coming years. Who would have thought it? But Germany has no illusions about the limitations of any action that is not fully European, particularly when it comes to military interventions. It knows that our destiny has become tragic again. It needs France in order to protect itself, protect Europe and ensure our common security. I also think that the trends I’m talking about are running through German society too. Our duty as leaders is to educate people about them. National egoism is a slow poison which maintains our weakening democracies and our collective inability to take up our historic challenge. I know the Chancellor is conscious of this.
Eastern and Western Europe
Q. – Europe today appears divided, between east and west in particular…
THE PRESIDENT – I don’t believe in this conflict between Eastern and Western Europe. There are tensions because our imaginary worlds aren’t the same as our recent history. I’ll never forget this phrase of Bronisław Geremek, whom I met about 20 years ago at the time when Europe was enlarging: “Europe doesn’t realize how much it owes us”. For his generation, committed to the Europe of the Enlightenment, Western Europe had failed by allowing the wall to be erected and the continent to be divided. When I hear certain European leaders today, they fail on two counts. They decide to abandon principles, turn their backs on Europe and adopt a cynical approach towards the EU, consisting in spending money without respecting values. Europe isn’t a supermarket. Europe is a common destiny. It grows weaker when it agrees to its principles being rejected. Those European countries which don’t comply with the rules must accept all the political consequences. And this isn’t solely a debate about east and west. I’ll talk to everyone, with respect, but I won’t compromise on Europe’s principles, on solidarity or on democratic values. If Europe accepts that, it’s because it’s weak and has already faded away. That’s not my choice.
Q. – Dialogue but no sanctions?
THE PRESIDENT – Dialogue, but it must be followed by practical decisions. I’d like everyone to bear in mind Europeans’ historic responsibility. We must promote a Europe that moves towards greater economic and social wellbeing. The goal of a Europe that protects must also prevail in the economic and social sphere. By reasoning as we’ve been doing for years on the posting of workers, we’re approaching Europe the wrong way. We mustn’t get this wrong. The great champions of that ultra-liberal and unbalanced Europe, in the United Kingdom, came a cropper on this. What was at stake in Brexit? Workers from Eastern Europe who went and took British jobs. Europe’s defenders lost because the British middle class said stop! The ill wind of extremes is fuelled by these imbalances. We can’t carry on building Europe in offices, letting things fall apart. The posting of workers leads to ridiculous situations. Do you think I can explain to the French middle class that businesses are closing in France to move to Poland because it’s cheaper, and that companies in the public buildings and works sector in France are taking on Poles because they’re paid less? That system doesn’t stand up.
Q. – You want to revitalize European defence, and France wants to set an example. But Bercy [the Economy and Finance Ministry] has frozen €2.6 billion in the defence budget…
THE PRESIDENT – There’s been no freeze in appropriations since I’ve been here. Measures were taken by the previous government, and the Audit Court [Auditor-General’s Department] will have to make a precise audit of this at the beginning of July. I’m not in favour of a policy of paring down. In the defence sphere, my strategy is very clear: expenditure equivalent to 2% of GDP by 2025. And in general terms, I’d like to conduct a responsible policy based on multiannual targets. The nature of the budget debate must change. This system where we spend months discussing a budget which is then changed three or four times in the course of the year is [symptomatic of] a country where there’s no longer any genuine democratic debate about the budget. I’d like us to have a serious and transparent budget debate in Parliament. When you want to make real savings, you have to have a multiannual strategy. Genuine long-term savings are made over two or three years, not in two months.
Q. – What’s the model for the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the EU? Is the door open to a reversal?
THE PRESIDENT – The door is open until the moment it’s stepped through. It’s not for me to say it’s closed. But as soon as things are embarked on with a timetable and an objective, it’s very difficult to go back – we mustn’t fool ourselves. I’d like the discussion that has just begun to be perfectly coordinated at European level. I don’t want bilateral discussions because the EU’s interests must be protected in the short, medium and long term. However, France intends to continue and strengthen its strong defence and security relationship with the UK. The Lancaster House treaty remains the framework for that cooperation. We’re also going to cooperate more on security and counter-terrorism. We’ve already decided on a joint action plan for combating online radicalization, because our destinies are linked: terrorist networks don’t recognize Europe’s borders. Lastly, regarding migration, I’d like us to develop our cooperation. We must absolutely avoid creating new focal points, which migrant camps are. Pragmatism will govern our relations.
Q. – Must we put the Schengen Area back on the table?
THE PRESIDENT – I’m committed to the Schengen Area, which allows free movement of people within the EU and is one of the components of our European citizenship. If we want to guarantee that free movement, we must step up controls at the European Union’s external borders. I’d like us quickly to give the European Border and Coast Guard Agency all the necessary resources, particularly to handle crises on those borders. Then there’s the issue of refugees. Refugees are people who apply for asylum in our country. We’re talking about women and men who risk their lives in our country, who risk them to come to us, who flee countries at war. We owe them hospitality and humanity. The problem is that in many countries, including France, processing asylum applications takes too long between filing, registering and processing cases, not to mention the delays caused by red tape and appeals to various courts. All these procedures can take up to two years. But during that time people can’t live in a country transitionally. They settle, they forge family ties… So we can see that, in the face of this migratory pressure, the current system is no longer satisfactory. So I’ve asked for a radical reform of the asylum system in France, to deconcentrate it and considerably speed up the time taken processing asylum applications. The aim is for us to halve this time on average, moving to six months for all procedures.
Then there are those migrants not eligible for asylum, who therefore can’t settle in France and whose situations must be resolved in accordance with our law, with humanity and in the framework of greater international cooperation. We’ll have to ensure they are actually returned to the border and work closely with those people’s countries of origin, with the transit countries, and more effectively combat the mafia networks that exploit human distress. On all these issues, I’m in favour of radical reforms enabling us to have a single European philosophy. Among other things, we must correct the ludicrous situation we’re seeing with “Dublined” people, who move from one country to another hoping finally to obtain asylum.
Q. – Following Brexit and the election of Trump, has your election put the brakes on populism in Europe?
THE PRESIDENT – I mistrust the term “populism” because it has several interpretations. Many people, on the right and the left, have told me I’m populist. When parties are tired, it’s surprising that anyone can talk to the people! If that’s what being populist is, it’s not negative. I don’t believe in demagoguery, which consists in flattering people, telling them what they want and talking to them about their fears. I’m not arrogant enough to think my election has put a stop to this. The French people have always been like that: just when you don’t expect them, there’s an upsurge. France isn’t a country that is reformed, it’s a country that transforms itself, a country of revolution. So as long as it’s possible not to reform, the French don’t do it. This time they saw they were on a cliff edge and they reacted. Neither my election not the majority obtained in the [National] Assembly have put the brakes on: they’re a challenging start. The start of a French renaissance, and I hope a European one. A renaissance that will enable us to rethink the great national, European and international balances, to regain ambition, the ability to look at things head-on, not to play on fears but to transform them into energy – because the fears are there, and so what divides societies remains. There’s no magic bullet; it’s a daily battle. I trust in the intelligence of French men and women. I didn’t flatter them, but I spoke to their intelligence. What exhausts democracies is political leaders who think their fellow citizens are stupid, playing through demagoguery on their fears and irritations and relying on their knee-jerk responses. The West’s crisis of imagination is a huge challenge, and one person won’t change it. But I’m determined to reconnect with the European people’s history and energy, in order to stem the rise of extremes and demagoguery, because that’s the battle of civilization.
Q. – How should we deal with the risk Donald Trump poses to Europe?
THE PRESIDENT – Donald Trump is, first of all, the man elected by the American people. The difficulty is that today he hasn’t yet drawn up the conceptual framework of his international policy. So his policy may be unpredictable, and that’s a source of discomfort for the world.
Regarding the fight against terrorism, he has the same desire for effectiveness as I do. I don’t share some of his decisions, especially on the climate. But I hope we can ensure the United States rejoins the Paris Agreement. I’m reaching out to Donald Trump. I’d like him to change his mind, because everything is linked. You can’t want to combat terrorism effectively and not commit yourself to the climate.
Q. – If the red line of using chemical weapons is crossed in Syria, is France ready to strike alone?
THE PRESIDENT – Yes. When you fix red lines, if you can’t enforce them you’re deciding to be weak. That’s not my choice. If it’s verified that chemical weapons are being used on the ground and that we can trace their origins, then France will proceed with strikes to destroy the chemical weapons stockpiles identified.
Q. – Can France act, even without cooperation with the other coalition countries?
THE PRESIDENT – What blocked things in 2013? The United States laid down red lines but ultimately made the choice not to intervene. What weakened France? Politically identifying a red line and not acting accordingly. And what therefore freed up Vladimir Putin in other theatres of operations? Seeing opposite him people who had red lines but didn’t enforce them. I respect Vladimir Putin. I had a constructive discussion with him. We have real disagreements, on Ukraine in particular, but he also saw my position. I talked to him at length, in private, about international issues and the defence of NGOs and freedoms in his country. What I said at the press conference wasn’t new to him. That’s my approach. Saying things very firmly to all my partners but telling them first in private.
Today with Vladimir Putin we have the Ukraine issue, which we’ll continue following in the framework of the Minsk process and the Normandy format. Before the G20 summit we’ll have a meeting in that format with Ukraine and Germany. And there’s Syria. On that issue, I’m deeply convinced that a diplomatic and political road map is needed. The issue won’t be resolved solely through military operations. That’s the mistake we’ve made collectively. The real aggiornamento I’ve made on this issue is not having spelt out that the ousting of Bashar al-Assad is a precondition for everything, because no one has introduced me to his legitimate successor!
My lines are clear.
One: absolute combat against all terrorist groups. They are our enemies. It’s in that region that terrorist attacks have been fomented and one of the sources of Islamist terrorism is nurtured. We need everyone’s cooperation, in particular Russia’s, to eradicate them.
Two: Syria’s stability, because I don’t want a failed state. With me, it will be the end of a form of neo-conservatism imported into France over the past 10 years. Democracy can’t be created from outside without the people knowing. France didn’t take part in the Iraq war, and it was right. It was wrong to wage war in that way in Libya. What was the result of those interventions? Failed states in which terrorist groups prosper. I don’t want that in Syria.
Three: I have two red lines, chemical weapons and humanitarian access. I told Vladimir Putin this very clearly; I’ll be intractable on these issues. And so the use of chemical weapons will give rise to retaliation, including by France alone. In this regard, France will also be perfectly aligned with the United States.
Four: I want Syrian stability in the medium term. That means respect for minorities.
We must find the ways and means of [creating] a diplomatic initiative that enforces those four major principles.
Q. – With the Islamic State [Daesh or so-called ISIL] group losing territory in Syria and Iraq, so-called “low-cost” terrorism is challenging our democracies. How can we strike a balance between emergency legislation and the need to protect freedoms?
THE PRESIDENT – Let’s talk first of all about the state of emergency in France. The state of emergency was designed to address an imminent danger resulting from serious attacks on public order. But the threat is long-lasting. So we must organize ourselves over the long term. I’ll be extending the state of emergency until 1 November, the time strictly necessary for Parliament to adopt all the essential measures for protecting French people.
A text is being presented at the Council of Ministers’ meeting on Thursday. What’s the gist of it? It will take into consideration all kinds of threats, including the acts by isolated individuals that we’ve seen recently. We’re envisaging specific procedures to combat this Islamist terrorism. It’s in no way a weakening of the rule of law or an incorporation of the state of emergency into the rule of law. We must create instruments to combat this new risk, under the oversight of administrative or ordinary courts. We need unprecedented responses appropriate to the fight against this Islamist terrorism. They’re what our society needs to emerge from a permanent state of emergency.
We must then increase coordination between all our services to combat the terrorist threat. In this context, I’ve called for the creation of the national intelligence and counter-terrorism coordinating body, with a national counter-terrorism centre being created within it.
This means, lastly, having a coherent international policy and being able to speak to all parties. That’s my diplomatic principle. I’ve talked to President Erdogan five times since I’ve been here. I’ve talked to Iran’s President Rouhani twice. I’ve hosted a meeting with Vladimir Putin. France doesn’t have to choose one side against another. Therein lies its strength and its diplomatic history. We must regain the coherence and strength of an international policy that restores credit to us. It’s about having an intractable security policy at international level by building the most effective coalitions against terrorism. Finally, we need a civilizational policy, consisting in eradicating the deep foundations of that terrorism.
Q. – You talk about frank dialogue with Vladimir Putin. But he doesn’t budge on anything. There’s still fighting in Donbass, Crimea is still occupied and the Normandy format seems to have been exhausted… Are you seeking a new approach?
THE PRESIDENT – When I talk about frank dialogue with Vladimir Putin, I’m not saying it works miracles. What motivates Vladimir Putin? It’s restoring an imaginary powerful Russia in order to keep hold of his country. Russia itself is a victim of terrorism. On its borders he himself has rebellions and violent religious identities that threaten his country. That’s his guiding principle, including in Syria. I don’t think there’s any unshakeable friendship towards Bashar al-Assad. He has two obsessions: combating terrorism and avoiding a failed state. That’s why convergences appear on Syria. For a long time we were in deadlock over the figure of Bashar al-Assad. But Bashar isn’t our enemy, he’s the enemy of the Syrian people. Vladimir Putin’s goal is to restore Great Russia, because according to him his country’s survival depends on it. Does he want us to be weakened or fade away? I don’t think so. Vladimir Putin has his own interpretation of the world. He thinks Syria is a fundamental neighbourhood issue for him. What can we do? Succeed in working together on Syria to combat terrorism and achieve a real way out of the crisis. I think it’s feasible. I’ll continue to be a very demanding interlocutor when it comes to individual freedoms and fundamental rights. Finally, there’s the Ukraine issue, and I’m going to wait for the first “Normandy” meeting to give you a specific answer on that. What’s certain is that we have a duty: to protect Europe and its allies in the region. We must give no ground on that.
Paris 2024 Olympic bid
Q. – Sport supports diplomacy. You decided to go to the IOC yourself to champion Paris’s bid for the 2024 Olympic Games. For you, does this bid go well beyond a city’s bid?
THE PRESIDENT – What I want to demonstrate by going to Lausanne on 11 and 12 July and then Lima in September is a whole country’s commitment. Why? Because it’s a sporting event but much more than that: it reflects, among other things, the policy we want to conduct on disabled people; it’s the Olympic and Paralympic Games! It’s a source of national pride and mobilization, and a considerable economic event. It’s also a gesture showing that, in our long-term battle against terrorism, we don’t stop major events. And it’s also a European and Francophone bid. It’s not simply Paris or France’s bid. It’s part of the commitment, pride and international reach a country needs. There’s nothing trivial about it in my view. It’s a strong message that we don’t embrace a world made solely of violence but a world of shared values, reconciliation, joy and peaceful competition.
Q. – How should we handle relations with Turkey, which doesn’t share our values?
THE PRESIDENT – At the moment Turkey is colliding with some of our values. But it shares some of our interests. First of all, we’re linked to Turkey by the Syria conflict. Turkey is a key factor in our regional policy because it’s not only a neighbour of Syria but also a country that takes in a large number of refugees and cooperates in the fight against terrorism. My dialogue with President Erdogan is rigorous and clear-sighted. We need this dialogue with Turkey. On migration, I’d like this dialogue to be European and coordinated. When Europe reached an agreement, it did so belatedly and passively, even though it brought results. We mustn’t repeat that mistake. Apart from that, given Turkey’s current positions, it’s clear that moving further towards integration into Europe isn’t a development that can be contemplated. But that doesn’t prevent a strong and steadfast relationship./.
(1) the 30-year boom period after the Second World War.