Minister outlines France’s response to global crises

Twenty-second Ambassadors’ Conference – Closing speech by M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development

Paris, 29 August 2014

Ministers and parliamentarians,

Presidents,

Ambassadors,

Ladies and gentlemen,

International crises/origins

Internationally, 2014 will go down as the summer of crises.

Gaza, Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, Libya, the Sahel, the CAR and even more: bloody conflicts that concern us all the more because they’re taking place in parts of the world where France is traditionally active. They add to other crises – a health crisis with Ebola fever, a climate crisis with disruption linked to greenhouse gases, an economic crisis with stagnation in Europe – which are helping create among the public a feeling of all-embracing concern reinforced by the globalization of the media.

Some people confidently explain to us either that there’s no cause for alarm or, on the contrary, that we’re back in the summer of 1914. Historical comparisons supposedly guarantee what comes next. No! Apart from the fact that the supposed “lessons of history” don’t really teach much, we must consider the scale, origins and nature of these crises, and especially our responses, if we want to carry out our mission, because that mission is to act (we’re actors, not commentators) in the interests of both our country and the planet. Yesterday, the President and the Prime Minister broadly set out to you those responses.

Why so many crises and so many all at once? I can see at least three broad explanations for it. The first is “the depolarization of the world”. You’ve already heard me emphasize that we’ve moved from the bipolar world of the postwar period (when the United States and the USSR were in confrontation but controlled crises together) to a unipolar world following the fall of the Berlin Wall (when the United States made the law) to today, when we’re experiencing a zeropolar world with blurred ideological markers, in which the (former and new) major powers exist but none of them, alone or in a stable alliance with others, has any real mastery over crises. Well, that’s where we are! Just as France’s political will is to act so as to move towards an “organized multipolar world” in the future, so we must note that conflicts today are accumulating and feeding off one another.

The US-British war in Iraq and the intervention in Afghanistan dispersed al-Qaeda throughout the world. Its metastases in the Sahel have strengthened the oldest movements and created new ones. The disorder – to put it mildly – in Libya has fuelled terrorism in Africa, while Syria has become a battleground between dictatorship and jihadists, both of them contributing to the rise of Islamic State in Iraq. Without any really governing power, this depolarized world is a world full of dangers.

A second broad explanation is what I’ll call “the fragmentation of power”. New states are demanding – sometimes rightly – increased roles. States no longer have a monopoly of force. Some no longer have it except in name – the result of decades of misgovernance that have weakened them, blocked development and stirred up people’s frustration, creating very favourable breeding grounds for radicalization and conflict; while Islamic State (IS), that caliphate of terror and hatred, claims powers in finance, justice, the army, thought, life and death that go beyond those of a state. So international society is in disarray, mixed up, with its traditional dignitaries, nouveaux riches, mafias, militias, shady groups and outlaws. This fragmentation of power is paralysing traditional collective security mechanisms, particularly the United Nations Security Council, which isn’t sufficiently fulfilling its role as a “justice of the peace”. If you bring the two phenomena together – the depolarization of the world and the fragmentation of power –, the current international situation can be summed up as follows: more forces to control at international level and fewer forces to control them.

Additionally, there’s a third broad explanation, based on the “dispersal of destructive capability”. It’s true on the nuclear level: hence the importance we attach to the negotiation – soon to end – on the Iranian nuclear programme. More generally, for technological reasons in particular, groups and even individuals can acquire, increase and deploy their own destructive capability much more easily than in the past. The terrible attacks in New York on 11 September 2001 were carried out with limited resources, including financially; think of the destruction now made possible by Boko Haram’s military strength in Nigeria and above all, 13 years after New York, the use by the group IS of incomparably greater financial, military and recruitment resources! Moreover, these groups are diverse in nature: some of them – I’m not talking about IS – may have legitimate demands, even if their resources are in no way legitimate. Others promote totally unacceptable ideas and practices. States which are established but divided have great difficulty engaging in dialogue with the former and effectively combating the latter.

These, as I see them, are general causes. But additionally there are specific regional situations. Staying in the Middle East, the constantly-rekindled tragedy of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict creates a permanent breeding ground for confrontation. The opposition between Sunnis and Shias contributes to conflicts, is amplified by internal rivalries and encourages ambivalence. The Arab Spring, originally a source of hope, has presented several countries with an impossible choice – put simplistically, either dictatorship or terrorism –, when the desirable solution would be a “Tunisian-style” moderate regime: inclusive, respectful of human rights and encapsulating progress. To this let’s add the contradictions and hesitations of the international community and several of its leaders, some military interventions that are justified and others not – rarely followed, at any rate, by the essential long-term political support –, the pitiful tide of displaced people and refugees, the spread of cross-border problems, people’s relentless poverty contrasting with leaders’ shameless wealth… All these crises pile up, and in their midst the new, simplistic, deadly, interconnected terrorism is a terrible threat, not only to the countries directly concerned but also to the whole world and therefore France.

In this situation, what direction should we choose? I immediately rule out two foreign policy stances that would both be mistakes. “The temptation of neutrality”, encouraged by those people – they do exist – who, pandering to a supposed public common sense, protest as soon as France commits itself, insist on the drawbacks (which always exist), but forget that most crises have global consequences and that our country can’t expect to remain one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, a pillar of the European Union, or just an independent and influential country, if we systematically leave it up to others to act. The other mistake would be the “temptation to gesticulate”, which also has its practitioners, out of either knee-jerk opposition or a sort of second nature. France’s foreign policy must be neither neutralist nor gesticulatory: it must be proactive and considered. Its ambition is to pursue those major objectives that are in keeping with our own interests and our vision of the world.

Foreign policy objectives/peace and security

The first of those major objectives is peace and security. This is where remembrance – upheld by the Great War centenary and the 70th anniversary of the Normandy Landings – and the present day’s tensions meet. I said it at the beginning: rarely have we experienced such an accumulation of dangers, and in the face of them France must be – and is – a peaceful power. But peace isn’t pacifism, and security isn’t neutrality. Hence the President’s decision to act, and sometimes intervene, when it’s necessary and in accordance with international law – for example, in Mali and the Central African Republic. Hence also our practical support for the people today being hunted down in Iraq. Hence our global diplomatic action: not only preparing a forthcoming international conference for security in Iraq and against IS but also in South-East Asia, with the constant effort to ease tensions, and in Eastern Europe to encourage a de-escalation between the Russians and Ukrainians. I want to say, having been informed of the latest developments, that the sound of Russian boots in eastern Ukraine must stop. Hence also our constant action to seek a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians, which requires the two-state solution, to which France reaffirms its commitment and which means the Palestinian state will at some point have to be recognized. Ladies and gentlemen, whenever the President, the government or I myself are asked a question about a major foreign policy choice, our answer is dictated by this central objective: security and peace.

Global governance

Our second major objective is the organization and protection of the planet. Next year will be the 70th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations: we’ll argue more than ever for a society that is better governed internationally, at the political, economic, social and environmental levels. Hence our constant support for the UN, which must be reformed in order to be more representative and effective. Hence also our proposal – which may appear Utopian, but today’s Utopia is tomorrow’s reality – for the five permanent members to voluntarily suspend their use of the veto in cases of mass crimes; a special session will be devoted to this at the forthcoming General Assembly. Hence also our constant commitment to human rights, particularly through our permanent campaign for the universal abolition of the death penalty. Hence our active role, despite budgetary constraints, supporting development aid and solidarity, for example to combat the Ebola epidemic.

Environmental protection

We’re acting for a better and fairer organization of the planet, but also for the protection of the planet: this will be the chief mission of our diplomacy in 2015 and no doubt the main task of this five-year term, with the COP21 presidency entrusted to us. Our goal? A legally binding universal agreement, plus a series of national commitments, plus a financial package including, in particular, the financing of the Green Climate Fund, and finally an encouragement, an inventory of the initiatives taken throughout the world by towns, regions and major companies or economic sectors to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, responsible for climate disruption. The ideal thing next year would be for these four aspects to make up a genuine “Paris climate alliance”, and if we achieve it this would signal our planet’s adoption of a new development model promising environmental transition and green growth.

European Union

The third objective of our foreign policy is the revitalization of Europe and the reordering of its priorities, a responsibility specially covered alongside me by the Minister of State, Harlem Désir. In a few days’ time, new European leaders will be chosen. They’ll set to work with the new Parliament. The results of the European elections on the one hand, and the objective analysis of the European situation on the other, show how necessary these very important changes are to the EU’s economic, social and environmental direction and even to its management. We see these changes not at all as a substitute for the reforms France must carry out, but as an essential complement. Since there’s a debate, I want to be even clearer: improving our national attractiveness, French housing, training or apprenticeship policy, the simplification of our rules, the reform of our state and our local authorities, and the public need to spend less and invest more, to mention only these few areas, in no way depend on Brussels: Paris must shoulder its responsibilities in order to pursue the essential changes. On the other hand, in an economically stagnant Europe with weak demand and 25% of young people unemployed, support for investment, active management of exchange policy, and the adoption of a new energy strategy and a new competition policy, for example, are the EU’s special responsibility. Yes, all this is the EU’s responsibility and must be strongly reoriented. As for the EU’s foreign policy, we want it and we support it, because contrary to what I sometimes read, we want it to be active, robust, even ambitious, and we ask it to focus on both the South and the East, on all the continents, and to be able to support France, just as France must be able to support it.

Foreign trade/economic recovery

Our fourth and final major foreign policy objective relates to our country’s influence and economic recovery. Of course, it’s businesses that create wealth, but you too, as representatives of the state, are accountable for the economic recovery, and the reforms recently carried out at the Quai d’Orsay must facilitate action in this respect. Our national competitiveness must improve, both inside and outside Europe. Among other things, Minister of State Thomas Thévenoud’s mission will be to concentrate, along with all of you, on putting foreign trade back on a sound footing. When you see, for example, our massive deficit with Germany (our second largest after China) or our €1.5-billion deficit with the Netherlands for the agrifood sector alone, or the efforts we still have to make in relation to Asia, Brazil and the Gulf countries – I could extend the list –, this concerns each one of you. There’s no “small” post. There’s no irreducible deficit or satisfactory surplus. Our watchword is universal and orderly mobilization. This economic recovery, wished for and supported by our French compatriots abroad, must be assisted with all the other tools of influence we have available. Conversely, it’s the best contribution that can be made to that influence. In this way, too, our diplomacy is global.

Foreign policy/decision-making

Ladies and gentlemen,

In order to achieve these four objectives, I should like to talk about the method or even the style of our diplomacy: deciding, deciding correctly, deciding together and deciding firmly. Deciding, i. e. avoiding the trap of fatalism or resignation. States, as I noted, can no longer do everything and do everything alone, but they remain central to action, since they are still the main depositories of legitimacy, including for the use of force, and the guarantors of stability. When France decided to intervene in Mali and in the Central African Republic; when it decided to vote to allow Palestine to become a non-member observer state of the UN; when it decided to support the moderate opposition in Syria in its fight against both the terrorist groups and the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad, who, incidentally, has long been encouraging them and who did not become our partner on the pretext that he would fight them now; when France decided to refocus its action and diplomatic resources towards the Asian, African and South American states; when it decided to strengthen the Lebanese army, which is the guarantor of the unity of that friendly country, or supply weapons to Iraq in order to counter the terrible threat facing minorities; through all these decisions and many others, France doesn’t resign itself, it doesn’t fall into line, it contributes to security, stability and progress.

Deciding correctly – that’s the second requirement. Unfortunately, in this field, there are no absolute certainties. We know, at least, that the costs associated with any action increase the more we delay the decision: this was the case with the euro crisis. Procrastination and inaction send out the wrong signals to those – and there are many of them – who are waiting to flout the law, violate borders, challenge world order, or simply threaten our interests. Who can say, for example, what impact the decision to renounce the strikes against Bashar al-Assad at the end of August 2013 had on the Russian President’s subsequent behaviour in Crimea or eastern Ukraine? At the same time, deciding correctly means understanding that no state or multilateral player any longer has the capacity to impose, alone and from the outside, the necessary reforms for governments to retake control. The major restructuring exercises conducted after the two world wars and decolonization are no longer possible: Libya, Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, Bosnia, the Central African Republic; progress will be made through an international approach and, on a case-by-case basis, with domestic stakeholders. Deciding correctly means encouraging this progress and supporting it.

The third requirement must be to decide together. We must increasingly work in networks. The European network: the organized multilateralism that we’re seeking needs a Europe that asserts itself. The Francophone network must also be mobilized. The Euro-Arab network. The P3 network (the United States, the United Kingdom and France). The P5 network. The Atlantic Alliance network. The G20 network and the G8, which has increasingly become the G7 network. The network of NGOs. The network of local and regional authorities. We need to diversify our networks of influence and our leverage effects, in the knowledge that France has an exceptional and recognized strength: its political independence and its concern for universality.

Lastly, deciding firmly. An example of this is our choices regarding the fight against terrorism, and I pay tribute to all the agencies that are making an outstanding contribution to this fight. We are engaged in this struggle internally and externally. The international community must urgently engage in a coordinated and uncompromising fight against terrorism, especially against the now notorious Islamic State. The use of force, through intelligence and military means. Financial action, by curbing their funding. Political action, in the interests of the unity and integrity of the countries concerned. Social action, by supporting the deprived populations and getting them away from this monstrous outgrowth. Regional action, European action, designed to be shared by the entire international community, including China and Russia. This strong and coordinated strategy is essential, as long as the group aims solely to subjugate or kill anyone who doesn’t think in the same way that it does.

Foreign Ministry/changes

Ambassadors,

A few months ago our ministry underwent a change of name and scope. You’ve fully taken it on board. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development is now in charge of foreign trade and the promotion of tourism, in addition to its traditional attributions. This extension, which I wanted, builds on an evolution begun in 2012: already at the time, the elimination of the Ministry of Cooperation in favour of extended geographical powers for the Quai d’Orsay, the full incorporation into our department of European affairs, development, Francophony and French nationals abroad, and the emphasis on economic diplomacy under the impetus of Jacques Maire, had all set the ball rolling. The Ministry’s new title, and the specific actions we’re taking and will be taking, build on this trend: the Quai d’Orsay has thus become the ministry for the state’s external action, with the relevant tools, while you yourselves, in each country, are the leading players and sole coordinators of our global diplomacy.

As regards the Ministry, its economic and financial remit has been confirmed, for the simple and obvious reason that there is now no lasting political influence without economic recovery, and this depends on both our dynamism abroad and our own country’s attractiveness. In concrete terms, foreign trade comes under our ministry; tourism as well; a practical agreement was passed between the Secretary-General of the Quai d’Orsay and the Treasury Director, with a merged Ubifrance/Invest in France Agency and Atout France now under our joint supervision. The same will apply to the major instrument for promoting international technical expertise, which is soon to be created. From now on, in each of our ministry’s geographical departments, the deputy director will be directly responsible for the economy.

Succeeding Pierre Sellal – whom I congratulate for his action – is the Quai d’Orsay’s new Secretary-General, Christian Masset – whom I wish every success and who will look after this. And knowing him, I know he’ll succeed. And I’ve appointed Rémy Rioux, from Bercy [French Economy Ministry], Deputy Secretary-General, with special responsibility for ensuring that our economic action cuts across departments. For tourism, which is a major sector, from now on a council for the promotion of tourism will be held regularly under my chairmanship; its President-delegate will be your former colleague Philippe Faure. This council will comprise the ministers and ministers of state concerned with tourism and 20 or so experts on these issues. Its first meeting will be held on Wednesday. A national tourism conference will annually bring together all professionals.

But be careful: there mustn’t be any confusion. This economic diplomacy must in no way lead us, lead you to neglect the other aspects – just as necessary to our global diplomacy. Indeed, a characteristic of your action – one of the things that makes it exceptionally interesting – is the need to be multifaceted. Each area of diplomacy enhances the others. Strategic diplomacy is essential (alliances, security, political partnerships etc.), but so is cultural and educational diplomacy (student exchanges, the development of Francophony, the années croisées (1), our external broadcasting etc.), scientific diplomacy, sports diplomacy and economic diplomacy. We must, you must operate on a very wide range of levels. France has the world’s number one cultural network, ranks third for its diplomatic network, is the country which welcomes the most foreign tourists, our language is a universal asset, our Official Development Assistance puts us in the top, our expertise too: all this is part of our external action. The Ministry is its nerve centre and you, ambassadors, are its leading intermediaries and actors. It’s this diplomacy – which is global in terms of both its geographical scope and the areas of diplomacy it covers – that the Republic entrusts to you.

Ambassadors/priorities

With special priorities for the coming period. I’ve recalled the general aims of our external policy: peace and security, the organization and protection of the planet, the revitalization of Europe and reordering of its priorities, France’s economic influence and recovery. In this framework, as ambassadors – I’ll end on this – I set you, for the coming period, five specific tasks you will have to take initiatives on and constantly assess, taking the variety of posts into account. In times gone by, artists signed their works and often added the Latin word “fecit”: so-and-so made it. Well, I’m proposing a similar initiative to you – undoubtedly a less artistic one, but just as specific.

Francophony

Firstly, “F” is for Francophony. The use of French in schools, universities, the media, society: you are accountable for this. Minister of State Annick Girardin has set clear guidelines. The OIF (2) summit will be held in Dakar in November. Jacques Attali has just put forward his proposals, which are very stimulating. I expect you to act through and for Francophony in the broad sense of the word, i.e. through our cultural and student exchanges, our institutes, our Alliances françaises, our education systems, our artists, our scientists, our cultural and creative industries and our development policy as well – all excellent tools for raising [our] profile. I expect you to ensure that Francophony makes headway in the country for which you are responsible and that it will be a constant concern for you. One of us yesterday put it nicely: “culture isn’t, or isn’t simply, a distraction”, he said, “it’s a warning”; yes, a warning that others exist, that true wealth is born of trade, that uniformity, regimenting and obscurantism aren’t inevitable. Well, Francophony as we understand it – French language, culture, exchanges and values – also forms part of this warning.

Business

“E” is for enterprises, be they French businesses abroad or vice versa – above all, medium-sized companies, because that’s where we fall short. Your door must always be open to them, but don’t expect them to come and introduce themselves to you or your departments: with the relevant tools, now reformed and coordinated, you must take the initiative, so that our external trade balance is restored as swiftly as possible – the key factor in our competitiveness. This involves you acting on a daily basis with regard to businesses. I’m not asking you to explain why our economic position isn’t better, I’m asking you to take action to improve it.

Climate

“C” is for climate, because, as has been said, in 2015 climate disruption will be the theme of the major Paris conference, attended by around 50,000 participants (25,000 delegates and 25,000 other people). The aim is to limit temperature rises to 2ºC through decarbonization. After the UN summit of 23 September and following our Peruvian friends in December 2014, the presidency of the 2015 Paris climate conference will be entrusted to us, to our Ministry in particular. The task is complex and exciting. On the basis of the guidelines you’ll be given, your brief will be to prepare for this conference with each of your countries of residence, point out difficulties, facilitate agreements and promote solidarity to support the most vulnerable countries. The world is counting on France’s diplomatic network to prevent climate chaos.

Investment

“I” is for investment, especially foreign investment in France. Through your position and your people skills, you are best placed to promote investment on our soil by individuals and corporations in the country where you are posted. This must be a constant concern for you and the departments under your authority: a little less macroeconomics but more microeconomics, investment, start-ups and jobs in France. You will act in liaison with, among others, the merged Invest in France Agency and Ubifrance, the Quai d’Orsay’s relevant directorate, the Treasury Directorate and the regions. It is up to you to take all desirable initiatives and see to it that they are actually implemented.

Tourism

Finally, “T” is for tourism, a crucial sector, which can still make a great deal of progress and provide our country with more foreign currency and non-relocatable jobs. I ask you to be very dynamic in this area, by making it easier for visas to be granted more quickly, getting French destinations and strengths promoted and being mindful of transport and hospitality, etc. One goal here as well: to improve our results. In most countries – European and otherwise – tourism is going to develop in conjunction with higher living standards and the globalization of trade. A billion tourists today, two billion in 15 years or so: besides French tourists, who are in the majority, we must attract the largest possible number of foreign visitors compared with our competitors, make them feel welcome, allow them to discover and enjoy our varied regions and assets in Metropolitan and Overseas France. This sector was long considered marginal (hence the mundane and sadly telling French remark: “he’s a tourist”): utterly absurd! Tourism is by definition France’s ambassador. We shall be enjoying its gastronomic side on Saturday with the “ambassadors’ lunch”, which major French chefs will be preparing for you and your foreign ambassador colleagues.

Similarly, on 19 March next year, a major campaign, “Goût de France” [“Taste of France”], involving over 1,000 restaurants from the five continents and all our embassies, will honour the “meal of the French”. 2014 was a difficult year for tourism, but it’s perhaps the area which can bring our country the swiftest and most spectacular results. Its success begins with you and where you are. I ask you – there are more laborious tasks! – to take immediate action on this.

Ambassadors’ mission

Ambassadors,

That’s your road map. It’s extensive. It requires resources. The Quai d’Orsay is contributing, naturally, to efforts to restore public finances to a sound footing; these are essential for defending France’s sovereignty, but we must continue to be extremely mindful – and I’m mindful when it comes to the decisions taken – of the resources at our disposal.

This is a demanding road map. “Demanding” is, by the way, the key word. You must be demanding with yourselves because it’s what is expected of someone in charge. On this condition, we can be demanding with our colleagues – we are – and I want, whatever job they do, to pay them a very special tribute for their high level of skill and their strong sense of the state.

The Quai d’Orsay is a magnificent institution and its staff are a credit to our nation. We are in the process of strengthening the Ministry and adapting it so that it plays its role to the full at the heart of the new world and the new century. On your shoulders rests France’s external action. I congratulate you on what you do for France. I have complete confidence in you. Thank you!./.

(1) cultural exchange programmes.

(2) Organisation internationale de la Francophonie, an international Francophone organization.

Published on 04/09/2014

top of the page