Foreign Affairs Council
Brussels, July 18, 2011
MIDDLE EAST/EUROPEAN DEFENCE/HORN OF AFRICA/SYRIA/LIBYA
THE MINISTER – First of all, we began with the Middle East peace process. I congratulated Mrs Ashton on the work she did at the Quartet’s meeting in Washington in very strongly upholding the position we agreed at the Council of Ministers of the European Union and at the European Council. I expressed regret that the Quartet had unfortunately not agreed at ministerial level; the American text is upsetting the balance of the negotiation parameters Europe proposed. The process seems to be continuing, and I repeated that France is ready – given the Palestinian Authority’s extremely difficult financial situation – to organize a donors’ conference in the course of September; this received the support of many delegations and in particular of Cathy Ashton.
We then began the discussion of the Common Security and Defence Policy. There too, I congratulated Cathy Ashton on her excellent report. As you remember, the Polish and German ministers and I wrote a letter in the framework of what’s called the Weimar Triangle, calling on the High Representative to make proposals to move forward on the Common Security and Defence Policy. Those proposals are interesting, both as regards the sharing of tasks – pooling and sharing, as it tends to be called – and as regards relations between the European Union and NATO, or the necessary improvement of planning and conduct capabilities. (…)
I’d like to add two or three other subjects – first of all, about the situation in the Horn of Africa, in view of the absolutely tragic drought that’s been ravaging the area for several months. France called for and secured a meeting in Rome, chaired by the Director-General of the FAO, to launch an exceptional aid programme for Somalia. We also asked, here, that the European Union mobilize all its resources and that France also mobilize her bilateral aid.
As regards Syria, France took an extremely clear and firm position from the outset. We regret the fact that the Security Council is unable to speak out on what’s clearly a danger to regional stability and security, and what’s above all a savage and brutal crackdown against the Syrian people’s aspiration to more freedom and democracy. So we’re continuing to work, in New York, and we’re fully open to stepping up the sanctions adopted by the European Union.
Finally, the last point: Libya. Things are apparently making progress on the ground, the forces of the National Transitional Council are scoring points and at the same time, as we said in Istanbul, we’re coordinating our efforts to seek a political solution that involves Gaddafi stepping down. I’m happy that in Istanbul the Contact Group recognized the National Transitional Council (NTC) as the legitimate governmental authority representing the Libyan people. Finally, we’re also working on releasing the financial mechanism: I think France will finally be in a position – because we now have all the green lights – to send some of Libya’s frozen assets, i.e. about €250 million, to the NTC, which has extremely urgent financial needs.
Those are the main subjects I wanted to talk about.
Q. – The French initiative on the relaunch of negotiations in the peace process is still on the table; do you think the Europeans will arrive at a common position before the September deadline?
THE MINISTER – First of all, this isn’t a French initiative; the initiative was taken by the European Council. It’s this position that Mrs Ashton, on behalf of the Twenty-seven, upheld in Washington, and I’d like to stress that she had the support of both Russia and the United Nations for it, quite simply because the parameters we proposed are balanced between the two parties, which we call upon to resume the negotiations. We’re going to continue along that path. As I’ve told you, we’ll see what we do in September. We’ll shoulder our responsibilities, but the time hasn’t come yet. (…)
Q. – Do you think the reconciliation can be started by September?
THE MINISTER – I refer you to the text that was presented. I think in particular that the mention of a “Jewish state” may pose a problem; as far as I know, in Israel today there are Jews but there are also Arabs. Moreover, we in France and many Europeans have a secular vision of states that doesn’t relate to membership of a religion. That’s one of the difficulties, but there are others. I think there’s still – according to what Cathy Ashton told us – possible room for negotiation. I’m not extremely optimistic about the ability to achieve a result, but we must seize every opportunity to avoid an impasse at the General Assembly this September.
Q. – On Syria, with what’s happening, why don’t you break off diplomatic relations?
THE MINISTER – As you know, we protested strongly against the way our embassy and consulate were attacked. Breaking off diplomatic relations would no longer allow us to have links with what’s happening on the ground, so it’s not on the agenda today. (…)
EU MILITARY HEADQUARTERS/CSDP
Q. – On defence, is France in favour of establishing a European Union military command?
THE MINISTER – Yes, we asked questions [on this]. As I’ve told you, Mrs Ashton answered these questions satisfactorily by saying that we’ve got to go further as regards pooling [of resources]; the European Defence Agency is working on this. There are different approaches, which I won’t go into the details of.
Then there’s the need to clarify, improve, strengthen the relations between NATO and the European Union. It’s a point of view, you’re right to mention it: does improving our joint planning and conduct capabilities require having a European headquarters? I know our British friends aren’t in favour of this. There are other possible options. We’re perfectly open to the idea of going on working on these different options but, for us, making progress on the Common Security and Defence Policy is absolutely essential.
I’m not going to state the obvious to you, or say what’s self-evident. We’re in an extremely dangerous, unpredictable world and no European country alone has the means today to acquire all the necessary defence capabilities; so it’s through collective action that we can find the solution. All together, our defence effort is substantial; separated, we’re less effective; this is why we must go further. I might add that recent developments, particularly in Libya, have shown that there are occasions when the Americans don’t want to commit themselves to collective action. So Europe must, in that case, have the capacity to do so.
Q. – Are we moving towards the idea of Europe leading military operations?
THE MINISTER – I’ve just this moment been talking about that; we’re not moving forward for the very good reason that there still isn’t unanimous agreement on this. So what I asked – I think we’ll get it, otherwise it’s better not to have any conclusions at all – is for us to go on thinking about a broad spectrum of possible action. We can create a headquarters. We can also improve the existing capabilities – and, by the way, Mrs Ashton’s report considers both possibilities; she isn’t saying only that a headquarters must be created, but that there has to be work done on several possibilities. So we’re going to go on working. Quite obviously we weren’t going to take decisions this morning on such key issues, but we want progress made by the end of the year. What reassures us is that the High Representative has worked extremely positively and that foundations have been laid today for some interesting discussions./.