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Preparation of the 20th Ambassadors’ Conference

Publié le August 28, 2012
Press conference given by M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs (excerpts)
Paris, August 23, 2012


THE MINISTER – Ladies and gentlemen, I have brought you together to talk about the Ambassadors’ Conference, which is going to take place next week, and tell you about a key element which will be a top priority in the Ministry’s action: economic diplomacy. (…)

Q. – Good morning. First question on economic diplomacy and particularly on the free trade agreements which are being prepared or under negotiation at European Union level. What are France’s priorities? Is it to make the future agreement with the United States the top priority? Will the priority be given to a possible agreement with Japan or Canada? In short, what are France’s priorities when it comes to these free-trade agreements?

THE MINISTER – There are indeed a whole series of agreements which are under discussion or scheduled. You’ve mentioned some extremely important ones. France has no objection in principle, but in all the discussions our main guideline will to ensure respect for the concept of reciprocity.

It’s a concept which, incidentally, was accepted, at any rate on paper, for the first time at a number of summits, but which must now actually be brought into play because in the past Europe – a lot of people stress this – has at times been too naïve. I’m going to give you some examples likely to amaze you.

When you look at the value of the public contracts granted to third-country companies, on the different continents, you see that in Europe, over a comparable period, €312 billions worth of public contracts were awarded to non-European companies. This is for the last year for which data is available. In the United States it was €34 billion and in Japan €22 billion.

Looking at these figures, there’s plainly a problem in respect of access to public procurement.

As regards the average rate of customs duties, for Europe it’s generally 3.2%; for Asia, it’s generally 7.8%.

As regards agriculture, for Europe the average customs duty is 13%; for Asia, it’s 28.7%.

In the case of industry, for Europe, the customs duty is 2.8, for Asia it’s 6.1.

When it comes to the use of trade defence instruments allowed under the WTO – that is, recourse to anti-dumping instruments – it’s nevertheless a trifle surprising to see, when you look at the measures initiated, the prize for the number of trade restriction measures adopted since October 2008 going to Argentina with 119 defensive measures taken and authorized as such, Russia 86 and Indonesia 56.

Which means that just as we are very much in favour of developing international trade, we are equally in favour of this being on a basis of reciprocity and so it’s with this simple idea in mind that we are tackling all the negotiations you mentioned.


Q. – On the subject of this economic diplomacy, does this mean that France’s foreign policy is therefore going to be geared more towards defending her economic interests?

THE MINISTER – When you define a foreign policy, there are some permanent givens. France’s foreign policy is one which promotes peace, security, international development and international regulation. It’s a policy which adheres to a number of principles you’re familiar with: respect for human rights, defence of human dignity and promotion of democracy. These givens don’t have to be modified; they are absolutely crucial.

At the same time, when you see the situation obtaining in Europe as a whole and in France, we realize that we must probably place greater emphasis on our economic assets than we’ve done in the past. And this is what I call economic diplomacy.

Let’s not be totally focused on ourselves, which wouldn’t make sense, but we really need to mobilize all public and private resources to promote what France has to offer and this is what I mean by active economic diplomacy.

It’s also – and quite a lot of countries already do this – why I’m saying that each diplomatic post will now have to have its own specific economic objective. This hasn’t been the case until now. It’s not at all that the government can usurp the role of businesses, since it’s businesses which trade, employ people etc., but we must be more mindful of this than we have been before.

Likewise, when I say that SMEs will have to be given more help to export, a lot of countries do this.

People often cite Germany. As you know, big companies take the small and medium-sized ones on their shoulders, giving them a boost, enabling them to develop. In France a number of useful agencies have been set up – Ubifrance etc. – but we don’t do this enough.

When I say that we must get the regions more in the loop, it doesn’t mean that every region can set up a delegation in China or anywhere else to develop French businesses. There has to be some coordination, and here our diplomatic posts can help.


When I say there has to be – it will be set up in the coming weeks – a Directorate within this ministry dealing specifically with businesses, it seems absolutely obvious.

So this is what we’ve got in mind. To mobilize in support of our businesses and our jobs. We have to work hand in hand and moreover from now on, every year, we’ll have a ministry open day for businesses, particularly small and medium-sized businesses, because it has to be understood – for you it’s obvious – that promoting our economy is a major way of heightening our impact on the world.

I often say “what defines France?” France is an influential power. I won’t go too deeply into – to use good French (1)! – what’s called hard power/soft power etc.

We are, in good French (2), an influential power and our influence is due to a series of very diverse qualities or distinctive features.

France is one of the permanent members – there are only five in the world – of the United Nations Security Council.

France has a language, French, currently spoken by over 200 million people, but which is expected to be spoken by over 700 million in the 2050s, particularly thanks to the development of French in Africa and of Africa itself.

France is a nuclear power. France is a country with principles. France is a country with international influence. But our influence comes from our economic strength, our economic power.

If we want the Quai d’Orsay and all government departments to promote France’s influence, we must also work on and give priority to the economic side. (…)


Q. – I’ve seen that you’ve got a round table on the United Nations and that M. Ladsous is going to come [inaudible]. I imagine that the Syrian issue will be discussed at it. In a week’s time you are going to chair the Security Council meeting. I know you’ve talked about this in recent days, but I’d like to know what you’re expecting from this Security Council meeting. You’ve said several times that you’re going to give priority to the humanitarian aspect. Is this the case? Isn’t there a political message? Are you expecting a resolution? What’s its content? Thank you.

THE MINISTER – (…) You’re right, the meeting must focus on the humanitarian aspects. The humanitarian situation in Syria and the neighbouring countries is extremely difficult since, as you know, there are between 2.5 million and 3 million displaced persons in Syria and over 300,000 refugees in the neighbouring countries – particularly Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq.

This is obviously causing huge problems. Under international law there has to be humanitarian access within Syria and we must make very active efforts to look after these refugees, whose numbers are growing, regrettably, as the Bashar al-Assad clan continue their brutal action. So this is causing extremely serious problems which every country involved is trying to deal with. In fact I’ve asked the ministers of the countries concerned, the neighbouring countries affected by the numbers of refugees, to come to the Security Council meeting, at which they’ll be able to speak.

Secondly, the humanitarian problem is creating difficulties for the whole international community.

Now it’s true that today there a number of political log jams you are well aware of. We aren’t at all giving up the idea of making headway on the political level which is absolutely essential.

In the past few days, President Hollande has again had the opportunity to express his view on this, saying there must be a regime change.

As you know, we’ve had meetings with Syrian National Council representatives. We’re keen for the opposition to mobilize in a way allowing everyone to be represented and the different communities to be protected.

We’re already, with a lot of others, thinking about rebuilding the Syria of the future, but at the meeting our idea is to focus on the humanitarian side in order to call attention to these issues – which are wholly essential since it’s a matter of women and men’s lives –, get more resources – which are necessary because all this is obviously incurring what are very often very heavy costs for the countries concerned –, alert public opinion and try to make progress on these issues.

We’ll very probably not be able to move forward on all these issues but, at least, on the humanitarian side we can move forward.

This is the thrust of the effort which not just France, but many other countries are making.

As the meeting’s preparation progresses, we’ll go into greater detail, but the goal is essentially to try and move forward, provide first-hand evidence and mobilize humanitarian support. (…)


Q. – If you get France’s diplomatic machinery in battle order to go and seek contracts abroad, won’t you lessen the French diplomatic service’s ability to defend certain values, defend seemingly oppressed people in certain countries? By setting this priority aren’t you reducing your ability to promote a message defending values in the world?

THE MINISTER – No. The question is pertinent and the answer is clearly “no”, since I haven’t said – and thank you for asking the question since it’s going to let me clarify it – that this quest for economic balance had to be carried out to the detriment of other concerns which are perfectly legitimate. I’ve said that France’s influence was also linked to the principle we were defending, to justice, human rights and everything France traditionally stands for. So it isn’t a matter of saying “for us it’s going to be economics instead of some other principle, of choosing to go 100% for one thing and abandon any other 100%”. A situation may occur – you’re right about that – where there’s a conflict. I’m going to take a very simple example: France is a power which produces weapons.

If we had only the economic dimension in mind, we could say “we’re going to sell these weapons to everyone”. The answer is “no”. There are rules set, very specific ones, which mean that we can sell specific categories of weapons to specific countries, but that there are others to which we refuse to sell, when economic interests alone – taking your line of argument – could lead us to say “we don’t care about the moral dimension, human rights dimension or nature of the regime, we’re doing it”. No, in that case, we decide not to do it. And there may be other examples.

If you like, pushing economic diplomacy doesn’t mean giving up the other elements of diplomacy. It means emphasizing this factor. Afterwards, there will be trade-offs, either at national level or at that of our embassies. But my feeling is that, so far, the economic side hasn’t been taken sufficiently on board. I’m going to give you another example. I’m struck by the fact that we mobilize – and in fact often very well – for single large-scale contracts, and make far less effort for standard retail goods contracts. Yet, foreign trade includes both single large-scale contracts and standard retail trading. And we need – this in no way undermines the upholding of our principles – to be more active in the retail export field. Another example.

We pay a great deal of attention, at least, our diplomatic posts pay a great deal of attention to what comes from France and can go abroad, but not enough as we should to the need for foreign investment capacity in France. Yet France is a great country, a big market, with lots of possibilities, and our diplomatic posts are perfectly aware of groups with the capacity to invest: we must be more active in this field.


But to come back to the nub of your question, in no case does giving greater importance to the economic side mean – at any rate to my mind – giving up what is really one of the core elements of France’s identity. I’m going to give you another example. Among the things I’ll be announcing to the ambassadors – you know there are a number of major international causes which are periodically debated – I thought that for the next two years we needed to direct our energies to pursuing a major international cause and the major international cause I’ve chosen is the universal abolition of the death penalty.

So I shall ask all our diplomatic posts to campaign, in ways they will have to decide on, depending on their local situations, for the universal abolition of the death penalty. There are countries where this won’t cause any problem. But there are countries – we know which they are – where this may cause problems because these countries have capital punishment. But this won’t prevent us, without being provocative, saying what we have to say or also, of course, doing what we have to do on the economic front. (…)


Q. – (…) There’s been a great deal of diplomatic activity in Paris this week: daily meetings with either Syrian leaders or UN officials and I believe M. Hollande is also going to discuss the issue with Mrs Merkel this evening.



Q. – Three points.

Mr Brahimi got off to a very poor start as Joint Special Representative of the United Nations and League of Arab States [for Syria]. Did France do anything to calm things down between the Syrian National Council and Mr Brahimi? You’ve seen both here this week.

Secondly, Qatar. There’s talk of improving the enhanced coordination, including on the ground – it’s President Hollande who’s saying this. Does this go further than what had been decided at the Paris Conference on 6 July?

And third small clarification: is France thinking about getting a consensus with other countries to bring Bashar al-Assad before the International Criminal Court in The Hague? And if so, soon? Or how many deaths do there have to be for France to express a view on this?

THE MINISTER – Rapid and clear-cut answer.

As regards Mr Brahimi and the Syrian National Council, I believe they’ve seen each other since Mr Brahimi was in Paris and the Syrian National Council was too. The previous week I myself had a meeting with one of the vice-chairmen, and then with the chairman and his deputies and then we went to see President Hollande, and the meeting was extremely constructive and positive. What they do between them is none of our business. But the contact was made.

As regards Qatar, President Hollande had a meeting yesterday, and I was present, with the Emir of Qatar, and all the different issues were discussed. We talked first about the general relations between Qatar and France. Also, of course – no one would have understood if we hadn’t – the situation in Syria: Qatar has never hidden her views and we’re trying, more broadly, to work in a convergent way – Qatar in the Arab League and us in the Security Council – and we enjoy a close relationship.

As regards the International Criminal Court, points of fact and of law have been assembled and the relevant UN officials are following this, and again recently it was stated that in their view, M. Bashar al-Assad’s clan – I don’t know whether this was the term used –, was responsible for crimes against humanity and it’s our view, without going into more detail at this stage, that, here, there can be no impunity.


Q. – During your visit to Beirut last week you called for Lebanon to be left outside the Syrian conflict. The clashes in Tripoli in north Lebanon have just confirmed your fears. The death toll rose today with another twelve dead and dozens more injured. Do you fear a widespread conflagration in Lebanon?

THE MINISTER – Everything must be done to avoid it and this is the position of every leader I’ve met, including the President of the Republic, Mr Suleiman, and Prime Minister, Mr Mikati. Given Lebanon’s fragile stability, her composition and geographical proximity to Syria, we, France, fully approve the Lebanese leaders’ resolve to keep as far as possible outside the Syrian conflict. But there are certainly people, groups who’d like there to be contagion between the two. And, we’re saying as unequivocally as we can that we very much hope this contagion doesn’t occur. Likewise – the press didn’t pick this up, but I said, I even phoned the Patriarch when I was in Beirut – we’re stressing that all the communities must be respected. I had referred in particular to the Eastern Christian community, but it holds for the other communities, the maximum must be done to avoid this contagion.

You’ll tell me it’s easier said than done, we aren’t on the spot, but as a permanent member of the Security Council, who’s always been an extremely close, true friend of Lebanon because the Lebanese are our friends, our cousins and our brothers, we say that, really, care must be taken to avoid doing anything which could facilitate this contagion.


Q. – Could you give us your reaction to the roughing up of a French local councillor by Salafists in Bizerte? Have you spoken to him?

More broadly, does this make you worry about the development of these Arab revolutions, whether in Egypt, Libya or Tunisia?

THE MINISTER – Indeed, I learned of that very serious incident a few hours after it happened. I immediately telephoned the Pays de la Loire regional councillor who had just returned to France. He told me exactly what had happened in Bizerte and he was, understandably, extremely shocked as were his wife and young daughter. He’s not just physically shaken, but also very shocked by everything he went through. I want to say absolutely unequivocally that what happened over there is unacceptable. To sum up, that man and his wife and daughter, who weren’t wearing provocative clothes contrary to what some may have said, were walking in Bizerte and were very violently attacked by what was identified as a group of Salafists.

Regrettably, from what he told me, no one there came to his aid, nor did the police.

I told him he had my full support because he was very shaken and, moreover, I’ve asked our representatives in Tunisia to take the incident up with the Tunisian government. Indeed, this sort of act obviously can’t be accepted. (…)


Q. – The concept of reciprocity you talked about, Minister, is something our partner countries, which don’t want to be just clients, are also very keen on and want to see applied. For example Algeria, who also wishes to benefit from French companies’ know-how and expertise. Renault has just achieved its best international sales in Algeria. We congratulate Renault, but for Algeria this isn’t enough. I could also mention Alstom and civil nuclear energy. France must go on the offensive to sell her products, but also to apply this reciprocity.

THE MINISTER – It’s an excellent example. Renault has projects in Algeria. You know that a short time ago I went to Algeria where I had a meeting with my opposite number and President Bouteflika. We decided to prepare what will, we hope, be the French President’s next foreign visit. We also took stock on various issues. As regards the specific situation of the projects in Algeria, there was an MoU, a pre-agreement for a Renault project in Algeria and things are at a very advanced stage. The project provides for the establishment of a vehicle manufacturing plant. It would be particularly beneficial to the Algerians since it creates jobs and, at the same time, the vehicles would be destined for the local market. It’s an altogether positive initiative. But let’s try and go further since we’ve got to have other things in mind.

In other cases, the projects are different and I come back to what you said about offshoring. If it were a matter – which isn’t the case of the Renault plant, and at a time when the automobile sector is in a difficult situation in France – of closing a unit in France and opening it in a third country to attack the French market, we’d be in a fool’s game. You can clearly see the difference. Although this project seems extremely interesting to me and I’m fully in favour of it, we may be offered projects somewhere else, maybe ones which are purely and simply offshoring and sometimes we won’t be able to oppose them because we’ve got a free economy. We have to have a general philosophy, we’re working for our own interests and, you’re totally right to mention it, this reciprocity. As we say in not-quite-grammatical French, it’s “win win” and everyone must get something out of it.

But in the case of concern to us (Renault), it’s a very good project and I hope we’ll be able to bring it to fruition. Incidentally, I’d discussed this with President Bouteflika and I told him that September and October would be devoted to the preparation of these projects, since there a number of matters on which we should move forward together. Subsequently, if the President’s visit takes place it could achieve some very tangible results. But I was pleased with my visit to Algeria since we addressed the substance of the issues, doing so in an excellent climate. (…)./.

(1) the Minister is being ironic because he uses the English terms “hard” and “soft” power.

(2) the Minister is again being ironic because he uses the English term “influential power”.