Q. – As was said this weekend, outgoing president Laurent Gbagbo has demanded the departure of the 10,000 UN Blue Helmets and also Force Licorne, the 900 soldiers still being deployed in Côte d’Ivoire.
First question: is France going to comply and withdraw her troops from Côte d’Ivoire?
THE MINISTER – M. Gbagbo no longer has any authority or power, we mustn’t forget that. The Ivorian people have clearly given their view. They chose M. Ouattara as President of the Republic. This was endorsed by both the Independent Electoral Commission and the United Nations Secretary-General’s representative. ECOWAS, i.e. all the West African countries, endorsed the result and recognized M. Ouattara, and are asking M. Gbagbo to go. The whole African Union is asking M. Gbagbo to acknowledge his defeat and go. The United Nations, i.e. all the countries of the world, has very clearly said that M. Gbagbo is no longer President of Côte d’Ivoire.
Q. – There’s no question of France “obeying” M. Gbagbo’s ultimatum?
THE MINISTER – That doesn’t make any sense! Neither for UNOCI [United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire] nor for France, for that matter. There’s a president, M. Ouattara, and he has, moreover, informed the United Nations that he wants the UNOCI force maintained.
Q. – So the 900 French soldiers in Operation Licorne remain over there. Are they ready to respond in the event of an attack? Have they got a green light from the French authorities if that happens?
THE MINISTER – No, that isn’t why they’re there. Once again, they aren’t there to intervene between the Ivorians. The international force is there for that, and it’s up to that force to act. The French Licorne soldiers have a very specific mandate in this regard, but it isn’t for them to intervene and they won’t.
Q. – If you don’t mind my saying so, my question wasn’t on intervention. It was “in the event of an attack”: if they’re attacked what do they have to do?
THE MINISTER – If they were directly attacked, you’ve got international rules, these aren’t rules we’ve laid down, they’re international rules. There’s a right to legitimate defence when you’re attacked, which applies to all the world’s armed forces and soldiers. But there’s no question of taking an initiative on this.
Q. – All the same, one gets the impression that Laurent Gbagbo is trying to bolster his power despite everything. And President Sarkozy talked about possible sanctions against M. Gbagbo, specifically, and his wife if he didn’t leave office before the end of the week, i.e. today. Obviously he’s not doing this. What are France and Europe going to undertake to do in practical terms? And how do you manage a crisis which is days old, while sanctions take much longer to take effect?
THE MINISTER – I want to begin by saying that the principle of sanctions was decided by the European Union on Monday last week and it was in fact decided, in that framework – it was the Foreign Affairs Council – that they would be individual sanctions; obviously we don’t want to target the Ivorians, but those not recognizing the presidential election endorsed by the international community, those opposing the process, would indeed be subject to individual sanctions. These individual sanctions, contrary to what you’re saying, can be introduced extremely quickly. There are other types of sanctions which may require more time, but sanctions targeting individuals can actually be introduced very quickly…
Q. – When you say they can be introduced extremely quickly, does that mean they could be introduced in the next few days?
THE MINISTER – In the very next few days, absolutely.
Q. – They’ll take much longer to take effect. We’ve seen this in the case of the Burmese junta; sanctions often aren’t enough to change the behaviour of a power.
THE MINISTER – If M. Gbagbo wants to try and make his country a “second Burma” or a “second North Korea”, he can always try. But let me remind you of one thing: against him is the whole international community. Everyone has been extremely clear, starting, of course, with the Africans. Indeed, we then also followed this position and today Laurent Gbagbo no longer has the means to talk to the outside world: M. Ouattara is going to appoint the ambassadors and it’s M. Ouattara’s ambassadors who are going to be speaking throughout the international community in Côte d’Ivoire’s name.
Q. – Isn’t what you’re describing purely theoretical/wishful thinking since we know that Alassane Ouattara is still confined to a hotel in Abidjan? How can he exercise his power and appoint ambassadors who would be able to represent his country abroad?
THE MINISTER – Well quite simply because now that the international community will acknowledge and talk only to people designated or endorsed by M. Ouattara, it isn’t actually possible for someone else to intervene. Moreover, I was telling you that there are travel bans issued against a whole series of people. There’s also the freeze on assets and, gradually – I know the African community is doing this – there’s the signature of the Ivorian State itself, stopping the country’s accounts, which are going to be transferred to M. Ouattara.
Q. – A way of isolating and cutting off power?
THE MINISTER – Absolutely. Listen, you’ve got to realize what democracy is. I believe we’re all committed to democracy. When someone no longer recognizes the rules of democracy, when he doesn’t recognize an election which has taken place, that person puts himself outside the international and national community and life.
What we’re saying to M. Gbagbo today is that in the end it’s up to him, in the next few hours, to make a choice and decide how he wants to be portrayed in Côte d’Ivoire and Africa’s history books. Is he going to be someone who goes down in history as a democrat, as someone who, after 10 years, allowed an election once again to be held in Côte d’Ivoire, or is he going to be portrayed as someone who ordered shots to be fired at Ivorians? (…)
Q. – Coming back to the incidents: there have been between 10 and 30 deaths according to reports. Why didn’t UNOCI, the French soldiers, intervene? Isn’t that part of their mission to protect civilians?
THE MINISTER – (…) Don’t mix up Licorne and UNOCI. It’s UNOCI which might be able to intervene in a very precise framework, its mandate as decreed by the UN. Its role isn’t in fact to intervene in street fighting.
Q. – But is that part of its mission to protect civilians? As it happens, civilians were threatened last Thursday and some of them died. If fresh incidents like last Thursday’s occur, shouldn’t UNOCI intervene, in your view?
THE MINISTER – Once again, it’s not for me to take the decision. You have a mechanism which is a UN mechanism; UNOCI is also working on the ground. You have officers on the ground. Those officers are in contact with the operations centre at the UN and it’s they who decide at what moment to intervene.
Don’t forget another thing: that an intervention is always something extremely delicate, because there’s also a risk of xenophobia in that country – we’re well aware of it – and therefore of a challenge to the very authority of UNOCI.
Q. – Would that mean intervening against M. Gbagbo’s forces?
THE MINISTER – Once again, UNOCI doesn’t have a mandate that currently allows it to fire on M. Gbagbo’s forces. So we must see. You know, an intervention operation is very delicate. There’s both a diplomatic aspect, led by the forces, and then, at a given time but under very special conditions, you have a chance to intervene. Once again, UNOCI’s mission isn’t to intervene or to shoot, even at M. Gbagbo’s forces. (…)
Q. – Finally on Côte d’Ivoire: M. Gbagbo seems to be dominant on the ground; M. Ouattara doesn’t seem to have the military means to gain power on his own. Shouldn’t the international community envisage another form of action in Côte d’Ivoire other than sanctions?
THE MINISTER – There are also, if you like, sanctions which may in a number of cases come under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. In other words, you have a number of things being set in motion.
Q. – I was talking about armed intervention.
THE MINISTER – Armed intervention may be the responsibility of a number of bodies which may decide to conduct an operation. Today I’d be wary of intervening because, in that area, it’s not France who intervenes.
Q. – Let’s move on to the subject of Afghanistan. Two soldiers have unfortunately died in Afghanistan in the past 48 hours, bringing to 52 the number of French soldiers killed since 2001 in Afghanistan, this Afghanistan war which has been going on for nine years. There are about 3,750 French soldiers deployed over there. Won’t these two new victims change France’s policy in Afghanistan – that is, a possible start to withdrawal in 2011, for handover to the Afghan army in 2014? Won’t the timeframe be altered?
THE MINISTER – I was very shocked to learn about the death of this officer and this NCO. Afghanistan is a country I’ve visited 14 times and unfortunately, when I was Defence Minister, there were also deaths and it’s something that hits you very hard. But that won’t change France’s determination to help the country take control of things. You say we’ve been at war since 2001. We haven’t been at war since 2001: we’ve been acting to free Afghanistan, first of all from al-Qaeda and those who represent it, namely the Taliban. We’re there to provide freedom and security to the Afghans. (…)
Q. – I’d like to get back to the unfortunate incidents of recent hours involving those two French soldiers, who I believe were two members of special forces. Why so many losses in such a short time? Is it because the anti-Taliban operations have been stepped up and therefore the clashes and of course the dangers?
THE MINISTER – It’s also because our actions have been stepped up. You must also look at that. In other words, we go to seek out the Taliban, the organizations, in the places where they are – sometimes in very difficult areas. That’s why there are much more direct clashes.
Q. – But can you confirm they were two members of special forces?
THE MINISTER – I haven’t confirmed to you that they were members of special forces.
Q. – It’s very striking that, in official French statements, there’s never any mention of a withdrawal date or the start of a withdrawal process, whereas the Americans and even the British have previously talked about them. Other countries have accepted dates. Does this mean we’ll stay to the very end – in other words, as long as there are Western soldiers in Afghanistan, we’ll stay ?
THE MINISTER – I’ll tell you why we don’t give a date. You have to be aware of one thing: global terrorists, wherever they may be, know perfectly well what we say and do. It’s one of the things that’s struck me the most. I’ve followed terrorist incidents as Defence Minister and as Interior Minister since 2002. I’ve seen a number of developments, but one of the things that’s struck me the most is their ability to know and analyse what we do. Telling them: “we’re going to leave, we’re going to withdraw our soldiers on such-and-such a date” is a way of helping them say: “we’ll draw back a little so as not to suffer any losses, and as soon as they turn their backs we’ll attack”. Are we there to give people who are our enemies pieces of information that will be useful to them? That doesn’t strike me as being the aim of the operation. (…)
Q. – You’ve mentioned the terrorist threat, and Interpol warned on Thursday of possible attack threats by al-Qaeda in the United States and Europe. A few days after the Stockholm attack, do you have any information to rule out or confirm these attack threats, in particular on French territory?
THE MINISTER – We’re all extremely vigilant on attack threats, because they exist. And you have a number of countries which are threatened, but I’d say that ultimately all countries are threatened, because what the terrorists seek is media impact as much as action. (…)
Q. - Another, final word regarding Afghanistan: Hervé Ghesquière and Stéphane Taponier have been held there for 355 days. Have you got any news, any information?
THE MINISTER – President Sarkozy, first of all, is following this matter very closely. We’ve tried to act. President Sarkozy himself met Mr Karzai in Lisbon at the time of the NATO [summit]; he’s very closely following everything that happens. And it’s true that it’s been nearly a year – just a few days under. We know they’re alive, in quite good health, even though it must clearly be starting to weigh heavily on all concerned. What we hope is that the steps which have been taken, particularly by the Afghan government, will enable us to find them as soon as possible. (…)
Q. Let’s talk about the crisis; we have 10 minutes left to talk about Europe – Europe in crisis, an economic, budgetary crisis and also perhaps, for the most pessimistic, a social and political crisis: you can tell us what you think about that. At the Brussels summit on Thursday and Friday, a decision was taken to create a permanent financial support fund. For France, is that a step forward, a necessary phase which will be sufficient to save the Euro Area?
THE MINISTER – It is indeed an essential step forward, which is due to the determination of President Sarkozy and German Chancellor Mrs Merkel, who managed to bring all the European Union countries along with them. Why? Because today we find ourselves in a situation where you have speculators who are trying to attack countries one after another, choosing the weakest countries first, of course.
Now, it’s true that, on Greece, there was some surprise and we took time to react. But the Heads of State learnt the lesson of what happened in Greece, which enabled us to react much better when Ireland was attacked.
Having said that, it was clear that, because the speculators were at work, if we wanted to deter them and show them the very strong determination of all the heads of State and government in Europe to defend the euro whatever they did, it was necessary to have rules. And what happened in Brussels the other day was that Europe provided itself with permanent rules which allow us to react much more quickly at that point, because we know the rules and no longer need to bring the heads of State and government together to take certain decisions. That’s a considerable step forward.
Q. – Do you think, then, that because of this decision other countries in very great difficulty wouldn’t experience the same complications that Greece, for example, experienced? One thinks of Spain, of course. Do you think this system will prevent a country like Spain from getting into very great difficulty?
THE MINISTER – I think Spain has made a lot of progress, but it’s clear – we’re very well aware of it – that the speculators were targeting a number of countries, including Spain, including Portugal and, to be frank, Italy. Because of that we’ve put mechanisms in place which enable us to respond. And I think the very fact of knowing we have the ability to respond, and that the sums put on the table which can be lent are large enough for us to be sure there’ll be a response – I hope this will deter the speculators.
Q. – For you, is that a sufficient response to defend the euro?
THE MINISTER – I think it’s a first sufficient response and we’ll have to go further afterwards. Regarding European Treasury bills, which some people have talked about, it’s something that can’t be discussed today because the conditions haven’t been met, and by contrast, with a system like this one, it could be a way to encourage a number of countries to be less rigorous, when what we’re also asking of all countries is to be more rigorous in their management, in particular their financial management.
Q. – You’re not saying no, just that it’s too early?
THE MINISTER – It’s certainly too early: what’s needed first of all is a better convergence of policies, both financial and economic. That’s the work on which we must move forward and it’s only later that we’ll be able to reflect, if need be, on whether it’s a good solution among others which could be put on the table.
Q. – What you say about eurobonds is clearly Germany’s viewpoint; now, certain commentators have said that, on that point, France has completely aligned herself with Germany’s viewpoint; and certain economists believe that accepting eurobonds would have enabled certain countries to stagger their debts – in other words, to pull through better.
THE MINISTER – The real problem…
Q. – Has France aligned herself with Germany?
THE MINISTER – Is that the only thing you’re interested in? You have only to look at what’s going on. I myself was at the Franco-German Council of Ministers last week. What do we do? We talk amongst ourselves, we discuss all the solutions and in general we try to find the solution which best enables us, at a given time, to respond to a question that arises. So France and Germany are working very closely together and always have, as you know. It’s what enables Europe to move forward; it’s what enables Europe to face up to the global challenges that are increasingly arising. And I’m sorry we haven’t talked about them, because, after all, that’s the challenge of the coming years: namely, how – in the face of the great global poles of China, India, Latin America – France and Europe will pull through, preserve their businesses and preserve their jobs. That’s the heart of the matter, after all.
So Europe also needs to organize itself, because one country can’t cope alone and Europe itself probably needs to have allies around it – whether they be Russia in the east or the Union for the Mediterranean countries in the south – in order to carry the weight of nearly a billion inhabitants itself, which enables it to hold dialogue.
To get back to what we were talking about, if you want to have a Europe that’s strong and well, France and Germany must continue to work very closely together and you must at the same time ensure our ways of working converge, because to have a pole you must also, as President Sarkozy says, have economic policies which aren’t exactly the same but which converge, and therefore social policies which also converge.
But, once again, eurobonds also risk making things easier for certain States which could get money at lower interest rates, without making the effort to put their public finances back in order and to carry out – as we’ve done in our country – the necessary reforms to ensure we’re in a position to preserve our economic and social models.
Q. – Lower interest rates for the bad pupils, higher interest rates for Germany: that’s where problems arise, because the Germans say: “why should we pay higher interest rates in order, as it were, to finance the bad pupils of the European Union?
THE MINISTER – And what would you do? Now, I think we should encourage solidarity, which is essential because the euro is also what protects us. And when some people talk about the disappearance of the euro, they’re being completely irresponsible. It means they haven’t understood a thing, either about the financial mechanisms or about the challenges the world will face in the future.
So we need solidarity; we need at the same time to have rigorous management of public funds, because otherwise things will unravel, and then you’ll no longer have the necessary wealth creation to pull your weight in the world.
Q. – Doesn’t the Europe’s health depend on the political deepening of Europe? People talk a lot about the consolidation of the Euro Area; we know Europe’s been weakened by the financial crisis. Should the revision of treaties which France has accepted this year, the revision that’s taking shape, be an opportunity for a political deepening of Europe?
THE MINISTER – I actually think that Europe, in order to pull its weight, must be a political Europe, and I’ve always said so. It’s true that today we have a State that’s something of an intermediary State in many areas and that we must start by deepening Europe’s economic capability, teach it to better defend itself against the outside, because very often Europe has been about accepting everything, whereas Europe was also made to defend our businesses, our technologies, our research capability and our way of life – we have to recognize that.
So we must do that and we must tell ourselves that, in today’s world, everything’s increasingly interlinked: the economic, the social, health, sustainable development, politics and defence. There, too, Europe must take control of its destiny, in all those spheres. (…)./.