G8: Press Conference given by President Hollande
The G8 has just ended and I would like to mention 3 major decisions, or in any case, 3 major commitments that came out of this meeting in which I participated for the first time.
The first major policy objective—and I wasn’t the only one to have this goal—was to make growth central to our discussions and to ensure that it’s on the agenda of the forthcoming meetings that will take place within the European framework, the informal council on the 23rd, the European Council meeting which should determine the measures for growth at the end of June, and on the agenda of the G20 which is also scheduled for the end of June.
This desire for growth was mentioned in the final communiqué; it must also incorporate the need to balance public accounts, regarding which I’ve never expressed any reservations. As I said this morning, there can be no growth without confidence and there can be no confidence without growth. Even though we made commitments several months ago already with respect to balancing the public accounts in many countries and even though these commitments are being upheld for the most part, the growth dimension has been lacking until now. It’s been mentioned in certain texts but it hasn’t been translated into practical measures. There was a very frank, very direct discussion between the participants in this G8. We reached the conclusion that growth should be included in the agendas of the main international and European meetings over the next few months.
Each country will also put this idea, this objective, this desire for growth into practice in their own areas of jurisdiction. That’s what the public is expecting in each of our countries, as are the markets because they’ve started to doubt, notably in recent weeks, the ability of States to uphold their deficit reduction commitments if economic activity doesn’t start to increase. That’s the first lesson that I’ve drawn from the G8, the desire for growth and the inclusion of this priority in the meetings that await us over the next few weeks.
The second objective relates to the adoption of a common attitude, a common approach vis-à-vis two major areas of concern with respect to peace.
Firstly, Iran, which was discussed yesterday evening. I wanted to give the negotiation a fair chance while at the same time reaffirming the resolve that France has always maintained—and that I share—regarding the assurances that Iran must give that it will not use nuclear technology for military purposes.
The meeting due to take place in Baghdad on May 23 will be very important. Either Iran must adopt a transparent approach, respond to all the questions put to it or there will be another period of tension. Everyone knows that there could be extremely serious consequences. Here again, it was very important for us to meet. […]
The second issue of concern is Syria. There was support for Kofi Annan’s mission and also for putting pressure on Bashar al-Assad. Russia, which, as you know, has reservations with respect to any intervention or any more forceful decision by the Security Council, was also willing to agree to put pressure on Bashar al-Assad to make him aware of the need for a political transition.
The second conclusion of this G8 is therefore a common position, a common approach which, moreover, is the key to ensuring effectiveness on the Iranian and Syrian issues.
Lastly, the third lesson, the third conclusion, is that the G8 declared its solidarity, not just between the participants, but solidarity with respect to the Arab Spring countries—what we call the Deauville Partnership, i.e. Tunisia, Morocco, Jordan, Libya and Egypt—so that these countries can engage in a democratic transition and at the same time determine the conditions for their own development and growth.
And solidarity with respect to Africa. At lunch we had a meeting that allowed us to reflect on food security and the fight against hunger. France is playing a role notably through public funding for Ethiopia, Ghana, and Tanzania. There’s also a private enterprise partnership, funding from private capital markets in order to provide local funding that can create growth in these countries.
Beyond this, I stressed the need to increase food assistance. France is doing its duty, but other countries should increase their efforts with respect to the Sahel region so that the countries affected by instability can get the support they need to feed their populations and promote their development.
[…] I reaffirmed the commitments of the government that I formed a few days ago with respect to climate change and notably with respect to plans to promote insulation in housing, greater use of renewable energy and the diversification of our energy production.
I also stressed, and I wasn’t the only one to do so, the risks posed by oil price volatility including in terms of growth and recovery. There was no question of using strategic reserves; […] we agreed that everything possible should be done to lower oil prices.
[…] We will meet in Chicago for the NATO Summit where we will discuss Afghanistan and the position I’ve adopted and which I reaffirmed to my American discussion partners and our Alliance partners before the Summit, and yesterday again with President Obama. Because I believe that this position is an act of sovereignty which at the same time must be adopted in close cooperation with our allies and partners, and that the remaining troops who will stay there to conduct training operations and repatriate equipment after 2012—a very limited number of troops—should still operate within the framework of the mission, i.e. ISAF.
[…] France and Afghanistan signed a treaty of friendship in January. I will tell President Karzai tomorrow that we will ratify this treaty which provides for a certain level of support and assistance for civilian purposes.
That’s what I can tell you about our participation in this G8; I think it marked a new phase and all participants recognized this. […] It was different in that economic issues were extensively discussed, not just with respect to the euro zone but with respect to growth throughout the world because the downtown affects every country in the world in a different way. […]
I can answer your questions.
Q - You didn’t mention Angela Merkel in this short briefing. The New York Times is saying this evening that it seemed as if it was Angela Merkel versus the rest of the world. Isn’t it a bit awkward that she may be feeling isolated or even humiliated?
No, I didn’t have that feeling. It was a frank discussion, as I said. We talked about the issue of growth but budgetary commitments were not called into question. There’s no reason to think that one country has been set apart from the others. […] The growth dimension was discussed at length, and supported, not just by President Obama and myself, but by the other participants as well. […] I agreed to have a meeting with Mrs. Merkel and Mario Monti in Rome in order to make further progress on preparations for the meeting in June at the European Council.
Q - […] You didn’t mention Greece, either. […] You stated—and you said that you told your interlocutors—that you wanted Greece to receive support. You welcomed the efforts it had made, but are you taking a lighter approach to the austerity plans the Greek government must implement?
The final communiqué reaffirms our interest […] in having Greece remain in the euro zone while respecting its commitments. That’s the basic condition. Commitments must be kept, but […] if Greece can respect its commitments and trust the parties that may be governing the euro zone in the future, then it’s up to us to offer support for growth, or at least to make sure Greece avoids a recession. That means measures that don’t call Greece’s obligations into question, but facilitate its ability to meet those obligations. […]
I said I hoped strong signals would be sent to Greece. Those signals are: you will soon be voting, you’re a free country, you’re a sovereign country. I hope Greece decides to remain in the euro zone. In order for it to make that decision and to meet its underlying obligations, it must receive all the support Europe can offer through policies that promote growth. The kind of growth I am calling for […] doesn’t simply mean belt-tightening. Austerity must not be a foregone conclusion but—at least for the Greeks—one way to respect the commitments they have made.
Q - […] In two days, it seems you established a warm and trusting relationship with President Obama. Aren’t you afraid to undermine this budding friendship by sticking to your plan to withdraw French troops from Afghanistan?
I made a point of meeting President Obama before the G8 and the Chicago summit. In our conversation yesterday morning, we discussed two topics: growth, on which we essentially agreed […], and my decision to withdraw French combat troops by the end of 2012. There were no surprises in store for the NATO summit. Let me remind you of the conditions for this withdrawal, which will allow the Afghans to take over in Kapisa, where our combat troops were stationed. They are: to preserve the security of our own soldiers; and to allow France to continue its mission in a different form, within the framework of the ISAF alliance. Tomorrow, I will go over the modalities. I’m not saying that President Obama agreed with what I said, as U.S. troops will be in Afghanistan until 2014. […] This was a French decision alone, [and France] does not need to pressure its partners or tell others what they should do; it is assuming its sovereign responsibility and is remaining in the alliance […]. As I said, it is not negotiable. I must make sure this is done in close consultation with our allies, but the decision must be implemented as swiftly as possible.
Q - […] You talked about the need for growth. Can you tell us in general terms about what you hope for and how you plan to concretely translate that desire into reality? For example, are you talking about new loans at the European level—the so-called eurobonds people are talking about—and whether there’s a consensus on that, particularly with the German Chancellor?
I will detail all the proposals I make on growth at the informal summit on the 23rd. Other proposals may be put forth between then and the end of June. But the package will include eurobonds. I’m not the only one to propose them, and I have confirmation on that.
Q - Point eight of the declaration mentions the importance of open markets, reduced customs barriers and your commitment to combating protectionism. Do these different commitments contradict the ones you made during the election campaign, when you mentioned the importance of what you called fair trade?
There’s a difference between protectionism, which I reject, and fair trade. Fair trade is based on reciprocity. That is, that we can’t allow the entry of goods or open up our markets when our competitors aren’t making the same effort. There have been talks […] about a trade agreement between Europe and the United States. We talked about this, and stated that our position—not just the French position but the European position—would be to establish these rules and conditions. To facilitate trade on a clear, transparent basis, with guarantees based on reciprocity. But we still have a long way to go.
We already formulated a certain number of proposals at the G8 [with respect to growth]. But everyone must [act] in keeping with their respective responsibilities and geographical realities. That’s true for the president of the United States, even though this is an election season and he has a Congress that isn’t particularly easy to deal with. It’s true for Europe, which has deadlines and must act in a way that doesn’t undermine the prospect of growth through market instability caused by Greece or the problem of bank capitalization. I told you earlier that I hoped the question of recapitalizing the banks would be raised. It was, and there are elements of it in the explanations that will be given at the end of this G8 summit. The question remains as to who will recapitalize. But the idea of recapitalization is now well understood.
Q - […] You said earlier that your mandate had been honored. Can you explain what you meant by that?
What I meant was that I had pledged to make growth at the European level part of a pact, and I still have work to do to convince our partners. But I also pledged that growth would be discussed at meetings like the G8 and the G20. […].