President warns of dangers of non-cooperation in today’s world

Paris Peace Forum – Speech by M. Emmanuel Macron, President of the Republic (excerpts)

Paris, 12 November 2019

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I really wanted to thank you for being here, for your active efforts, but also say how firmly I believe that this Paris Peace Forum and what we’re doing collectively is extremely useful.(…)

Madam President, you were saying that peace was being celebrated 101 years ago yesterday – not just in France, throughout Europe – following the end of the First World War. For many here, their country rose from the ashes of that war. The whole world was affected and Europe at the time thought “never again”. There’s a lesson to be learned, among many positive lessons from that time, namely that we failed to build lasting peace, because we failed, at the end of that first global conflict, to find the right multilateral channels of cooperation. The first attempt was the League of Nations, and we didn’t succeed, since no one had any reason to think that less than 20 years later there were going to be new kinds of brutality, and that in under 20 years an even more terrible war, a new world war, was going to tear Europe and the world apart again. And 30 years ago, almost to the day, as you said, the Berlin Wall came down. And with it ended divisions in Europe, sometimes betrayals, resentment. And back then we all thought that these tremendous freedom fighters – not just in Germany, but throughout Eastern Europe – some of whom had prepared for this moment, had created some kind of unstoppable force. We would experience our international system in a new teleological way.

Democracy would spread everywhere; everywhere, happiness would envelop us and basically peace – some spoke about the end of history – would break out everywhere. And here too, we failed in these predictions. This time as well unfortunately, because although a period of happiness followed for our European continent, the last few years have shown us how new modern rifts and fault lines can bring to an end what was previously seen as an unstoppable future. I’m citing these two examples – these two anniversaries, because we’re almost part of these legacies – to say that nothing is pre-determined in the matter we’re talking about. And even though modern times may seem difficult, it’s sometimes in difficult times that we build useful solutions. I cited two happy moments to say that the predictions of the time were subsequently confounded by our own weaknesses, our paralysis and our own mistakes. So there’s much to be hoped from the time when we’re meeting, because it’s clouded by deep divisions and a great deal of pessimism.

International system/problems

And so this is why I very deeply believe in the Paris Peace Forum, because we’re going through – and the three speeches which opened our forum showed this, I think – an unprecedented crisis of our international system. Unprecedented, because for the first time it hasn’t come at the end of a world war, but is linked, I’d say, to profoundly new challenges and an endogenous crisis in our system. Together they create a sort of unique chemical reaction. Let me explain. Our global political and economic system is in crisis. This system, which is basically the social market economy, openness, free trade, cooperation systems devised after the Second World War, has been tremendously successful for 70 years. It has pulled hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, as you pointed out, particularly in your country, Mr Vice-President [of China]. It brought peace to a huge number of regions where it was thought that war and conflict were unstoppable. It enabled a completely new system to maintain balance. Yet as recent years have shown, it has given rise to new inequalities, sometimes in our societies. It has split modern societies and is also sparking a crisis in our democracies and doubt in all Western democracies, which were its pillar. It has given rise again to unilateralism, sometimes even among those who were ultimately the guarantors of this international system. And so we’ve got, if I can put it like this, an endogenous crisis in the system, namely that on the economic and political fronts, the system is today in crisis and has been turned upside down. And at the same time, profoundly new problems have emerged over the past decade, at any rate this force, the demographic issue, and just one of its consequences: the large-scale migration we’re experiencing and which we sometimes deal with only in terms of its consequences, yet it’s a much larger, much more deep-seated issue. How do we feed a continuously growing planet? How do we manage demographic imbalances, whose main migration forces, I’d add, are being played out within Africa itself, sometimes within the Asian continent too, with major disruption. The technological and digital challenge, and everything it brings in terms of how work but also our imagination and the relations between our countries are transformed. And the climate challenge – chiefly the fight against global warming and for biodiversity.

So these three major challenges – I’m probably not being exhaustive –, in addition to the challenge – which isn’t new but continues to be a battle – of the fight for freedoms and democracy, come at a time when the international system and our own societies are divided, whereas in order to meet this challenge we need more cooperation. So the risk we collectively share is that there’s a temptation again in our countries – all those which have spoken and all those here – either towards laziness, the first risk: telling ourselves we’ve got organizations, we love them, don’t question them, they’ve sometimes lost their purpose, no one understands where they’re going any more, but let’s cover this breast we cannot bear to see, as Molière puts it, and things will make better progress. I don’t believe this at all. I’ve shown this sometimes by perhaps clashing with some people in this room a few days or weeks ago. I think we need truth. Prudishness and hypocrisy don’t work these days. Why? Because our citizens see it. We’re in an open world. The experts here, the citizens, the activists, they see the consequences of that world. When it no longer works, they tell us. So hypocrisy and silence aren’t a solution. And nor is laziness in thought or action.


The second option, at least as risky, is non-cooperation, i.e. a return to unilateralism or a form of hyper-regionalism. I believe this option is also very risky. It tempts some people, because it can be said that it’s much more effective to withdraw, respond to your own challenges yourself, provide a solution of closure on the grounds that the harm, in a way, is linked to a world that has become too open. I don’t believe that either. We tested that option in the past. It produces war. Nationalism means war. (…) Non-cooperation would, in a way, deconstruct what we’ve at least managed to build over recent decades. And it may lead to a third risk which would be a possible path: hegemony. Basically, in the face of these crises we could tell ourselves new powers must emerge and we’ll get behind them. It would be a solution to say: there are a few great powers, they’ll resolve the issue for others and we agree, in a way, to get behind them. I believe that hegemony – and I say this of a country that has sometimes tried this path for others; it was in the French Republic’s colonial times, we engaged in that discourse here, including in the name of freedom, saying: we’re going to solve the world’s problems, we’re enlightened, we’re going to enlighten others, it’ll work better –[hegemony] lasts a while; it doesn’t last very long. It’s no longer possible in today’s world. And so the path of hegemony or of distribution between a few hegemonic powers isn’t desirable either, because it will breed resentment again, frustration again, humiliation again. To respond to these challenges, I see only one path, the most difficult one, the most complex one, namely that of balanced cooperation, the one we call multilateralism, i.e. which accepts discussion, disagreement and mediation in order to find common solutions. And for me, the dialogue which is taking place between the first three speeches we’ve had and which will take place for two days between the different continents, the various players, is absolutely crucial in this regard.


Europe, first of all, is a continent where the solution must be built. Madam President, thank you for being here amid a busy schedule and for strongly promoting this vision of a geopolitical Europe, as you put it. Indeed, I believe very profoundly that Europe is part of the solution, for a simple reason: our Europe – several of us here play an active role in it, and whether we’re members of the European Union or geographical powers in this Europe, we all play this role – is a laboratory for multilateralism. Perhaps also the most complex laboratory, because for thousands of years it exhausted itself in civil wars. So Europe is probably the place in the world where we’re most familiar with the price of cooperation, or rather the price of non-cooperation, and therefore with how valuable it is to build stability, including when everything militates towards difference. This geopolitical Europe must be sovereign, democratic but actually build solutions for new balances and, I think, be a sort of trusted third party between the United States of America and China, if you’ll allow me, Vice-President. Which means having its path of independence, its own path, and helping build useful solutions, as you repeated, as you pledged earlier, Madam President, and I think it’s tremendously useful for us to continue to be partners in international forums and be involved in building these new solutions in a Europe newly conceived in this way, with all our regional partners. And I think it’s Europe’s role to gather willing powers around it, and in this regard the Alliance for Multilateralism initiative promoted by the foreign ministers present here – for which I thank them – began on the sidelines of the United Nations summit and will be continued by Ministers Maas and Le Drian with their colleagues, and it is, I think, a very important initiative which symbolizes precisely what this Europe can contribute to the concert of nations alongside the European Commission.


Next there’s Asia. As you said, Vice-President, a lot of heads of state and government from Central Asia, India and other countries are also here. Asia today faces tremendous challenges in terms of stability, peace and construction, and also has new solutions, sometimes about clarifying border conflicts, demographic and religious challenges. It’s a laboratory; very often in recent years it’s been a laboratory for conflicts which have always subsequently affected Europe. And Asia reflects our own challenges. And I repeat this here very emphatically, to express our full commitment vis-à-vis some of the conflicts still dividing it. But Asia, as you said, is currently being stabilized. The initiative you’ve taken is part of this; the European Union’s connectivity initiative is a useful addition and also a route for this dialogue with China. And China’s role, as you repeated, is an important element in this stabilization. And I thank you, Vice-President, for having spoken very powerfully in this regard. I think that the role you’ll have to play and have already started playing – in particular on the climate challenge – is very important. And as regards both the fight against global warming and the fight for biodiversity, the path, the role Asia can create is an absolutely crucial factor. In this regard, 2020 involves several meetings: a China-Europe dialogue where the fight against global warming and the issue of the economy will be decisive, and also COP15 on biodiversity, which will be held in China – an essential engagement for the international system.


Then there’s Africa, cher President Tshisekedi, which you talked about admirably, referring not only to your country but to conflicts. Many presidents are here and have also taken time out, even though they’re courageously leading countries that are being rocked by terrorism and by groups that challenge national sovereignty and threaten not only the stability of their country and a whole continent but also ours. And there too our destinies are linked, and I believe that Africa, as I reiterated yesterday evening to a few of you, is currently experiencing a collective challenge with us. For a long time it’s been an object of multilateralism; it’s currently becoming one of the subjects of multilateralism – in other words, it’s playing an active role. And I want to pay tribute to the commitment of the African countries present here, and more broadly the African countries that are taking control of their destiny and building concrete solutions. Tunisia managed to do this very courageously when it came to restoring democracy several years ago. And here I welcome the Prime Minister, who, alongside the late President Essebsi, had to very powerfully steer a course for the country following that democratic miracle. But the whole African continent – and I’m thinking in particular of the Sahel – is now facing this challenge, and it’s essential for African countries to be determined to tackle the political, military and security challenge.

New forms of multilateral cooperation

And in this new international order we also have to build new solutions in the United Nations framework that allow us to support the African security capability better than we do today, but also to help build it in terms of education, health, the environment and the economy, which are the four solutions that enable lasting peace to be built and prevent destabilizing factors from re-emerging. (…) In this dialogue you’ve started to forge, there are the beginnings of a solution, of a common agenda, new partnerships we can forge. And I believe our ability to build contemporary solutions clearly involves dialogue with the United States of America and the American countries. In the third forum I’d like us to succeed in mobilizing them more, to contribute even more to this dialogue. But there’s the ability to build pathways and new cooperation methods. We have forums; they’re sometimes deadlocked; the United Nations is one of them. It’s our responsibility to continue making progress to more effectively share a common agenda. And so for me – and I’ll conclude on this point – the strength, the added value of this forum, of our work, of the discussions under way, is to be able to rebuild new forums, new paths of cooperation, new alliances between our international organizations, as we managed to do in the fight against inequalities a few weeks ago in Biarritz, between international organizations, NGOs, foundations, academic stakeholders and businesses. And basically, through these two days of discussions and the work throughout the year, to confirm that we have a shared agenda: the fight against discrimination, access to rights, building those new balances and new rights in the digital sector, the fight against global warming and for biodiversity, lasting structures to tackle migration issues, the fight against geographical imbalances, and conflict resolution. (…) And then building new forms of cooperation, alliances – B4IG for example, promoted by our businesses to combat inequalities; the Partnership for Information and Democracy spearheaded by Reporters Without Borders and supported by several governments, elected representatives and businesses to combat disinformation and support better cooperation; the Christchurch Call between governments and businesses to combat [online] terrorist content and enable us to take more effective action. Those are a few examples of concrete innovations where people who haven’t previously talked to one another decide to take action together.

This forum will be full of new initiatives; we must continue to launch them in order, in a way, not to compete with current forums of multilateralism but to help reinvent them, build on them and above all take useful action. Why is unilateralism on the rise again in some countries? Why is doubt re-emerging? Because what our citizens criticize us for is sometimes our ineffectiveness, our wilful inability to see or to take action fast enough. And I think building these useful solutions, these new alliances, these innovations, is an extremely important element of the collective response to the current challenges in our countries, and a way of mustering the cooperation I was talking about a moment ago. (…) It’s up to us to continue taking useful action, and that’s why I believe very strongly in the usefulness of this Paris Peace Forum. (…)./.

Published on 04/02/2020

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