Official speeches and statements - June 14, 2018
US / NORTH KOREA
Q. - A historic meeting was held last night between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un, with a joint agreement on the full denuclearization of North Korea. What’s your reaction?
THE MINISTER - It’s clearly a significant step. Let’s remember the situation a few months ago, with invective, threats and very strong regional and global concern about the situation in North Korea. This meeting in itself is a significant factor. We don’t yet know anything about the document that was signed; we’ll analyse it when it’s made public. What we’re all waiting for is the beginning of a negotiation on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula; that’s the goal. I doubt everything was achieved in the space of a few hours, but it’s a significant step.
Q. - Is this denuclearization with North Korea consistent with binning the agreement on Iran’s nuclear program?
THE MINISTER - Clearly not, and you’re aware of the position of France and the European Union, which is to remain in the nuclear agreement with Iran. After all, to sign a document with Kim Jong-un, who has gone as far as obtaining nuclear weapons, is practically to reward someone who has gone against all the international treaties. The Iran nuclear agreement isn’t perfect, it’s not complete, but it’s enabled us to limit the concerns we may have had about Iran, and Iran is complying with the agreement. That’s why we decided to remain in the agreement and ensure Iran goes on complying with it.
US / G7 SUMMIT
Q. - Let’s talk about Donald Trump again, because he was at the G7 summit in Canada at the weekend. After his departure, he finally decided to withdraw his signature from the final communiqué. What do you think about that?
THE MINISTER - I think it lacks coherence. For us, this final communiqué was negotiated at length and adopted by everyone; a signature matters. Just as there was the United States’ signature on the Iran nuclear agreement, when you sign you commit yourself, and when you commit yourself you stick to it, particularly when you’re the world’s leading power. To change on a whim, on the basis of a moment’s irritation, is totally unjustified. There are important and serious commitments on global trade and how to make it just and fair, on issues related to gender equality and on environment-related issues. We must obviously continue to work, and we will continue talking to the Trump administration and to Donald Trump.
Q. - Has trust been broken with the United States?
THE MINISTER - It isn’t that. Donald Trump must be made to understand that everyone has an interest in multilateralism, because it’s the opposite of the law of the jungle, it’s a way of organizing life between states, and the United States has an interest in this as much as we do.
Q. - Is Europe proving itself strong enough against the United States? Customs duties on steel and aluminium have risen from 20 to 25%; in response, are the retaliatory measures strong enough? Isn’t it trivial to see these being applied to Harley Davidsons, bourbon and Levi’s jeans?
THE MINISTER - First of all, Europe’s reaction is united and extremely important. It perhaps isn’t what President Trump was expecting, but the European Union is wholly united; we all agree that the measures he took are illegal. We referred the matter to the WTO and launched legal proceedings in order to adopt counter-measures. The idea isn’t to escalate things, it isn’t to outbid [the US], make matters even worse and enter a trade war in which, as we know, there would be only losers. The idea is to have a united, strong, proportionate response which hits products manufactured entirely in the United States. That was our concern, and that’s what’s happened.
Q. - So Europe isn’t lying down in the face of Donald Trump?
THE MINISTER - I’d say that Europe has never been more united in both its assessment and its reaction.
Q. - While Donald Trump could tax cars imported from Europe, shouldn’t there be an even stronger response?
THE MINISTER - He needs to be convinced that with these kinds of measures there are only losers. There would be losers in American jobs in particular. Moreover, this is what’s starting to be said by a number of elected representatives in his majority in the United States, who are worrying about these unilateral measures.
ITALY / EU / MIGRANT SHIP
Q. - Matteo Salvini tweeted "Victory" yesterday after Spain said it was willing to accept the migrant ship, Aquarius. What do you think of this reaction?
THE MINISTER - You can’t think you’ve won by refusing to deal with a humanitarian crisis. What we’re talking about is a humanitarian crisis - over 600 people on a boat, in poor health, some of whom are ill, there are pregnant women, young children and unaccompanied minors. This must be treated as a humanitarian matter, following the rules of international law, i.e. opening the safe port nearest to the boat - thus in Italy.
Q. - Does that mean Italy has failed in its responsibilities? Isn’t there failure to assist persons in danger?
THE MINISTER - There’s one gesture, the one made by Spain, that I welcome, because that’s also what Europe is about. It’s a humanitarian, caring reaction, and we found Europe facing this very unusual situation. I welcome Spain’s gesture, but I’m worried because, as we’ve heard, the sea is rough in the Mediterranean at the moment. As is no doubt intended, transferring passengers in poor health to other boats to take them to Spain seems perilous. Frankly, the most straightforward, safest solution would still be for them to disembark at an Italian port. That doesn’t mean Italy has to go on dealing alone with the influx of migrants. Enough probably hasn’t been done, there probably needs to be a much greater European presence in Italian ports to support the Italian authorities.
Q. - What’s the French government’s official response? We haven’t seen any reaction from either the Elysée or Matignon. Can you give us the French government’s response?
THE MINISTER - I’m speaking to you this morning. The NGO "SOS Méditerranée" made no request to us for one simple reason: to reach France would also take several days at sea, on a rough sea, with passengers who aren’t in good health.
Q. - But would France have agreed, had it been asked, to accept the Aquarius ship?
THE MINISTER - I can’t speak for the President, but as I said, this is a humanitarian matter and, on that basis, you look at things humanely first and try to be as effective as possible. These lives, which are endangered, must be protected.
Q. - The President of the Corsican Assembly says he would have been prepared to open a port in Corsica.
THE MINISTER - That’s also several days away by sea. So getting back to the point, we aren’t here to compete to see who’s the kindest. We’re here to try and be as effective as possible because these people are in danger, in poor health. We’ve heard reports about the condition of people who have obviously suffered a great deal, probably crossing Libya, certainly since they boarded the boat. It’s urgent for them to be given treatment and assistance.
Q. - Has Europe’s weakness on the migration issue led us to the Aquarius situation?
THE MINISTER - It’s easy to be critical and say "all we’ve got to do is" or "we’ve got to". Europe is getting itself more effectively organized. It has certainly fallen behind. Admittedly, the problem needs to be dealt with in the migrants’ countries of origin. If I understand correctly - and I say this cautiously because we still know little about the Aquarius passengers - most of the passengers are from the sub-Saharan area, manifestly economic migrants more than asylum seekers coming from a war zone. We’ve got to step up our development assistance and coordinate it more effectively. Europe is Africa’s leading financial backer, but what we’re seeing today in Africa is growth, not development. There must be a move towards much more help for training, education and health, and we must ensure that these young people - because most of the migrants are young, brave - who want to succeed can do so in their country of origin.
Q. - They’re economic migrants. So they aren’t entitled to remain on European soil.
THE MINISTER - I’m going to answer that very cautiously: I don’t know. We’ve obviously got to look at their individual situations, on a case-by-case basis, as we always do, respecting the right of asylum. But very probably many of them are economic migrants. We must work a lot more effectively to help the African continent be a partner in growth and no longer resign itself to seeing the youngest leave.
And then we’ve obviously got to continue the job we began, which Emmanuel Macron started extremely courageously - because it’s a long, complicated job - of stabilizing Libya. As we know, those thinking about migrating experience some extremely dark moments in Libya, they’re often ill-treated.
A return to human rights in Libya can’t be imposed while there’s no state in Libya. This is why a few days ago the President convened a meeting of the Libyan parties in Paris to try and move towards normalizing the situation.
Q. - But we can clearly see that with this...
THE MINISTER - It’s clearly European action that can be effective and not only national action. We’re also going to talk to the Italian authorities. That’s clearly essential. Emmanuel Macron has invited Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte to come to Paris on Friday.
Q. - Are they going to discuss this issue?
THE MINISTER - That’s also why we mustn’t rush to speak on air. Diplomacy, work between European partners, means talking face to face, telling each other things, not necessarily doing so in front of a camera to pay lip service?
Q. - Is the Dublin process dead and buried because of Italy’s attitude? And are obligatory quotas needed to ensure the various European countries do their bit to take in migrants?
THE MINISTER - For its part, France has taken on its share of what are called relocations. We’ve taken on our full share, we’ve fulfilled our obligations as they were decided on in 2015, by taking asylum seekers coming from Greece and Italy. As you know, last year France reached a record number of asylum seekers - 100,000 asylum seekers -, so it can’t be said that France hasn’t done its bit. Some countries in Europe are refusing relocations, refusing quotas. We have to find a solution that doesn’t exempt the countries asylum seekers enter from their responsibility, because we’re then in an area of free movement. Asylum seekers really must be registered as soon as they arrive in the European area, but more solidarity is needed, more of a European presence as soon as they arrive in order to examine asylum seekers’ situations, and more financial support for the local authorities and local councils that take in migrants. We’ve suggested this to the European Union.
Q. - We can clearly see that the reception countries - whether it be Italy or Greece - can no longer cope; are we witnessing a phenomenon of being submerged, as Gérard Collomb said?
THE MINISTER - Last year there was a slowdown in the number of arrivals; we must continue further with controls of our external borders, we must continue further work with the migration countries of origin. We must obviously work on a political settlement in Syria, because what happened in 2015 was the mass arrival of Syrian refugees; we must do everything to ensure the political settlement enables those refugees to take part in their country’s future. All this can’t be done in a day, it’s not simple and there’s no magic wand. We, the French government, are very committed and it’s clearly action that can be carried out only comprehensively at European level. Europe is working on it, it’s difficult, it’s divided, there are countries that haven’t shown solidarity, we don’t agree with those countries and we’re going to try and find a solution. The European Council in June will continue working on this.
Q. - From this point of view, Emmanuel Macron’s record on Europe isn’t good; are you worried about the European elections that are taking place next year?
THE MINISTER - I don’t agree with you; everything being discussed in Europe at the moment is thanks to Emmanuel Macron. The proposals he’s made since last year have become the agenda in European leaders’ talks; his record on Europe is the reform of the posted workers system. Everyone told us it was impossible and we wouldn’t achieve it; we’ve achieved it.
Q. - Is that the only reform in Emmanuel Macron’s whole European project?
THE MINISTER - It’s not the only reform. European universities begin in September this year. Innovation and European Union funding for major innovation projects - we also agree on doing that; Defence Europe is under way. There are a huge number of things making progress, and at the end of June we’ll make progress at the European Council on Euro Area reform.
It’s France that is setting the pace for European talks, but Europe isn’t France on a bigger scale; all 28 of us talk, we make progress and I’m confident our European partners have realized the urgency of reforming Europe. What’s happening in Italy, what’s happening in the Mediterranean Sea, is a further signal. Europe must move faster and more boldly.
You’re right, the G7 summit ended badly and we regret this. Important work had been done, an agreement had been reached on a text; it’s never a good thing to go back on a signed agreement.
I’d like to share with you two firm beliefs. The first is that we need an effective multilateral framework to deal with major global issues - be it trade, the climate, health or terrorism. We need this, as does the United States. In the absence of a multilateral framework, the law of the jungle prevails and no one wins.
My second firm belief is that the United States is our partner and ally. Our shared history, the blood we shed together and our shared values testify to this. But being allies doesn’t mean keeping quiet about differences of opinion, and with President Trump’s administration we have differences of opinion. We don’t agree on trade, on the nuclear agreement with Iran, on the Paris Agreement or on Jerusalem, and we say so.
Against this background, with an ally we’ve also got to be united, united within the European Union and assert our own interests. The alliance doesn’t preclude us - quite the contrary - from asserting our interests in a national capacity and a European one. This is what we’re doing by deciding on retaliatory measures and safeguard measures in response to the United States’ unilateral measure to introduce customs tariffs on steel and aluminium; it’s what we’re doing by reforming the 1996 blocking statute and by remaining in the nuclear agreement with Iran. We need a more united, stronger and more sovereign Europe; this is what President Macron proposed and what we’re working on.
For a few dozen hours - 72 to be precise, as you said - a ship sailing under the Gibraltarian flag and carrying 629 passengers on board has been seeking a destination so that men, women and children in urgent need can be given assistance.
In this type of emergency situation, international law provides for a simple and clear principle whose very purpose is to guarantee people’s safety: the country nearest the ship concerned must offer it a safe port. So it’s Italy which, in this case, should shoulder its responsibilities. It’s chosen not to do so and therefore to fail to recognize the international obligations incumbent on it. I’m not unaware of the difficulties Italy has encountered for several years, as have many other European Union countries, in taking in some of the people crossing the Mediterranean, in this case the central Mediterranean. But it so happens - we have to be clear about things - that the Italian government has chosen not to comply with its international obligations to guarantee people’s safety. I’m highlighting that non-compliance.
Spain has said it’s ready to take in the boat: we’re happy about that. I inform you that we’re clearly ready to help the Spanish authorities take in and analyse the situation of the boat’s passengers, particularly those who would like to be granted refugee status. It’s clear, on the one hand, that France will shirk absolutely none of its international obligations on this, but on the other hand that there’s no hope, in the short or even the medium term, of a national solution resolving the problem. This extremely cruel and painful episode shows that the response can only be European.
You asked me about France’s position. Next Tuesday and Wednesday, at the Franco-German Council of Ministers to be held in Berlin, the President and the Chancellor will discuss the issue. Then, at the European Council at the end of June, we intend to make proposals to finally achieve a European solution.
However, let’s not pay lip service: as you know, not all European countries want a collective solution. So it will be difficult to obtain, but France’s goal will be to achieve that.
I’ll say a final word on migration issues. I’d like to tell the nation’s elected representatives that no other country in Europe has done as much as France to stabilize the political situation in Mali. No other European country is doing as much as France to try and help stabilize the Sahel. No other country has done as much as France to try and stabilize the political situation in Libya. No country other than France has implemented joint missions with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees: representatives of the UNHCR and OFPRA - the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons - have been to Libya’s southern border together to ascertain which of the people ready to cross the country were liable to benefit from refugee status and be hosted in France. That’s not negligible! We must be proud of it!