French diplomacy’s challenges and opportunities in 2014

Foreign Ministry New Year greetings – Speech by M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs (excerpts)

Paris, 16 January 2014


France/diplomacy/challenges and opportunities

How will we act in 2014? The world will not be fundamentally different, and the challenges that face us will probably remain the same. It’s a paradoxical world: overall it’s stable, overall it’s growing richer, but the peace and security of many regions or sub-regions may be under threat. And what people call the break-up of power makes it difficult both to address these crises and act in the face of the major economic, financial, social and climatic imbalances. I won’t go back over the reasons for this paradoxical situation. You’ve all already had the opportunity to hear me talk about the zero-polar world. (…)

The restructuring of the world is enabling us to contemplate new alliances and new partners on every continent. Let me add that the phenomenal expansion of digital technology is encouraging a citizens’ and democratic awakening which France, true to its values, sees in a very positive light.

To address these challenges and seize these opportunities, our diplomacy is setting itself four major policy guidelines that can each be summed up in a word. I don’t know who said: “Everything simple is false. Everything which is complex is unusable.” That’s quite true, and it’s one of the reasons why politics is difficult. But nevertheless, if I must sum things up I’ll say: peace, the planet, Europe, the recovery.

Middle East/Africa/peace and security

1) The first policy guideline is peace and security in the face of the threats posed by crises, particularly in the Middle East and Africa.

It’s our goal in Syria. The revolution degenerated into a civil war, where there’s a clash between sectarian and religious dimensions and large-scale external interference. The success of the Geneva II meeting, assuming it takes place on 22 January, is still uncertain. But on the other hand, we’re certain that there are no other terms to this alternative than the political solution of a negotiated transition that removes Bashar al-Assad from power. A man responsible for mass crimes can’t embody his state’s future.

The Iran issue will be decisive, with the implementation on 20 January of last November’s interim agreement and – much more complicated – the negotiation of a definitive agreement, the prospect of which is still uncertain. We must maintain our position: remaining open but firm, because the very condition for the credibility of an agreement with Iran is its solidity. We’ll be vigilant, because the question isn’t whether or not to trust Iran, it’s about ensuring Iran is held to its word.

We’ll continue to support efforts to relaunch the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. My colleague John Kerry, who was in Paris on Sunday, is – and it’s one of his strengths – an optimist. Let’s hope a path can be sketched out.

Libya has been somewhat forgotten, but that country is still one of our major concerns. Stabilization will be a central and perhaps even decisive challenge in 2014. I’m also thinking of the transitions in Tunisia – which seems to be pointing the right way – and in Egypt, which is more complex. I’m thinking of Iraq, where there’s only one way to describe the situation: disastrous.

Africa will remain central to peace and security challenges. The African Union wants – and it’s a very good thing – to improve its crisis management capability, and from this viewpoint the approach taken at the Elysée Summit [for Peace and Security in Africa] last December is very positive. It’s true that economic growth is high almost everywhere in Africa and modernization is under way. But the road to reducing under-development is still long, with many countries failing to overcome deep ethnic, socio-economic and now religious divisions and often major shortcomings in terms of governance and state-building.

In this context, we’re setting ourselves a threefold goal, reiterated at the Africa-France summit in December 2013: security, development, democracy – and those three goals are linked. On security, France doesn’t intend to act as “Africa’s policeman”. That’s not what the Africans want; it’s not what we want. What we want is to strengthen the Africans’ ability to take charge of their own security themselves by guaranteeing them, along with our international partners, the support they’re asking for.

In the CAR, we acted to prevent certain humanitarian disaster by providing direct support to the African force with UN mandate, with three goals: security, humanitarian assistance and a political transition. We’re a partner of Africa in both good times and bad. But we’ve broken with certain practices of the past.

In all the places in the world where we’re active – be it by being physically present or by taking a diplomatic stand – the goal is always the same, and I ask you not only to bear it in mind but also to apply it: the search for peace and security.

Climate change

2) The second policy guideline, to use a simple word, concerns the planet. The planet, in the sense of its overall organization: we’ll continue our efforts to secure better governance. The planet in the sense of its survival: that is, the climate challenge, with the priority being (…) the preparation of the 2015 Paris climate summit. All the Foreign Ministry staff are going to become climatology experts. Awareness of the climate danger has of course improved in recent years, but it’s not commensurate with the danger at all, and national, economic and geopolitical obstacles have so far been preventing decisions that match the danger. The goal of the 2015 Paris climate summit is this: to reach a global, legally binding agreement limiting the long-term temperature rise to 2ºC above pre-industrial levels. This goal – which is already very difficult to achieve, because the experts are talking to us about 4ºC to 5ºC – is a matter of survival for many regions of the globe threatened with submersion, desertification and cataclysms of all kinds.

2014 must be the year of ambition to prepare this agreement, through a whole series of engagements: there will be meetings here, there will be the summit organized by the United Nations Secretary-General at the beginning of the General Assembly week in September, and there will be the Lima conference in Peru in November. We’ll need to be totally active on this in order to face 2015, the deadline for decisions, under the best possible conditions.

How to proceed? Through dialogue, listening and strengthening alliances between progressive countries, withn Europe, Africa, the island countries and many LDCs. We’ll try to promote positive language, not in order to adopt the Coué method but because the climate isn’t simply a burden to share, it can be a chance to seize, an opportunity for growth, a chance to reinvent a development model. It will be a considerable source of jobs. It’s in this same spirit that we’re tackling work on the Millennium Development Goals for the post-2015 period.

We’ll put our energy into this goal with all staff, together with the Minister Delegate for Development, Pascal Canfin, and the Minister of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy, Philippe Martin. Our watchword for this period will be to act offensively, collectively and positively.

Let’s not forget that we hold the presidency and must therefore maintain the necessary “active, respectful distance”. We’ll have to carry out this presidency tactfully, methodically and effectively.


3) The third major challenge, after peace and security and the planet, is of course Europe, which – we all hope – must become once again a centre of growth and stability. Europe – contrary to what people sometimes, rather superficially, say – isn’t only experiencing a crisis. It’s experiencing a change in the world, and its real crisis is a crisis of ambition. So we must act directly at the different levels, because they’re complementary: putting the economy back on a sound footing, adapting to the new global realities and revitalizing the European project.

It won’t be easy. In 2014 we’ll be having elections and a broad renewal of the institutions, hence a transitional – I was going to say “floating” or even holiday – period, which isn’t the most conducive to decisions. The European Commission won’t in fact be renewed until 1 November, elections having taken place in May. But de facto, from March onwards, it will start losing a number of its members who are candidates in the European elections.

We will of course have to take into account what voters say, how they vote. And to this end, we’ll have to make progress, particularly but not only with our German friends. France would like to involve all those who are willing. In France and Germany, the executive powers’ timeframes coincide, which is favourable, because Mrs Merkel’s and President Hollande’s mandates are now more or less the same length. Let’s make the most of this.

Europe will have to continue the efforts made to restore its economy and consolidate the Euro Area. This requires the completion of a whole series of banking measures. We’ll also have to improve the Euro Area’s governance in order to remedy a whole series of shortcomings.

But this won’t be enough. As the French President said in his press conference very recently, we’ll have to move towards a number of concrete projects – be they in the economic and social field, the environmental and energy field, the defence field or many other fields – to try and create a more mutually-supportive Europe, a modulated Europe, because you can’t imagine all 28 countries taking exactly the same line. We’ll have to develop our European research and defence capabilities and support our companies, in particular SMEs. The EU must also get across its interests and values better, particularly in the areas of trade reciprocity, the climate and cultural diversity.

I also attach great importance to our neighbourhood, whether it be the South, which is natural, or the East, where our thoughts and actions mustn’t be confined to countries that are geographically closer to us in that eastern region.

And geography must also be given its full place. Between America on one side and Asia on the other lie Europe and Africa, which will naturally form a coherent whole.

Economic diplomacy

4) The last policy guideline: recovery, global impact. This is what’s behind the priority ascribed to economic diplomacy, but not just that. It involves using the whole of our foreign policy to serve our major objectives: to have a global impact, export and attract.

To have a global impact, because France’s positive image benefits all our external action and our companies. There isn’t economic diplomacy on the one hand and cultural and political diplomacy on the other. Yesterday, it seems we invented sports diplomacy… There’s only one diplomacy which aims to heighten France’s impact on the world.

To export, because this is one of the main preconditions for a return to growth. We’ve got to go and look for growth where it actually is, in the countries where it exists, the world over. I can only repeat what was said in the recent press conference: everything begins with businesses. Before wealth is distributed, it has to be created. Among other things, we’ll have to – our embassies must be first to do this – stimulate foreign investment in France. (…) There is insufficient foreign investment in France. This didn’t just happen yesterday, it goes back several years. You only need to read the comments in the US and UK press. It may be regrettable, but most investors read the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times more often than L’Humanité.

We have to roll our sleeves up and get more investors, companies and also tourists, students and researchers to come to France – which has all the strengths needed to succeed. I’ve also asked ambassadors to handle tourism because common sense and legislation happen to say that France’s representatives abroad are the ambassadors. (…)

Many measures put in place a few months ago now have begun to produce results. In our main partner countries, economic councils have been created which bring together, under the ambassadors’ authority, the entrepreneurs involved and the authorities to support our economic diplomacy. (…)


Visa reform has begun, but hasn’t gone far enough. Every month, I obtain precise figures for various countries along with the different visa categories and the time it takes to issue them. We’re still very far short of the target. Over the years migration issues, which of course we’ve got to keep an eye on, have been confused with attractiveness issues, which we’ve also got to keep an eye on. The best way to respond when you want to encourage movement [of people] mustn’t be “no”. This reform was begun with my Interior Ministry colleague, and it must be continued. In the same way, I’ve appointed “special representatives”, who are doing a very good job developing economic relations with certain key countries and taking them to a high level. To coordinate all this, the Quai d’Orsay’s Business Directorate is tasked with leading economic diplomacy. All this will be continued and developed in 2014. (…)

French diplomatic network

Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,

The world is going through a period of transition towards what could be called a new geography of power. In this “major shake-up”, France possesses many strengths. The first is a very concrete one: you. The French diplomatic network is the world’s third largest in terms of numbers. But from a qualitative point of view, I for one rank it top when it comes to the abilities and motivation of the women and men it comprises.

Everywhere, people highlight the decisive role and the impact of France’s foreign policy. Let’s not be arrogant about this in any way, let’s be proud; proud doesn’t mean arrogant. I know that I can count on you to act in the service of our global strategy in which France must remain a “landmark power”. We are present in a number of countries – the so-called Francophone countries –, but whilst maintaining our strong presence in those countries, we’re obviously called to be a global power. This is what the President, the government and I are determined about. I know you are too, you who’ve opted for a job as our country’s voice and face in the world. Once again, Happy New Year and thank you./.

Published on 23/01/2014

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