“France and the new Arab world” seminar – Closing speech by Laurent Fabius (27.06.12)
What is there to hope for, what is there to fear, what is there to do? Those are three questions I’d like to go some way to answering.
France views the changes in the Arab world with confidence, because she’s convinced it’s always preferable to give democracy a chance. Confidence but clear-sightedness, because we’re not unaware of the challenges of the present, the near future and the long term. It’s not within our power to automatically transform revolutions into successes, and we mustn’t interfere in the political life of sovereign states. For all that, aware of her responsibilities, France wants to and must actively contribute, bilaterally and multilaterally, to the progress of democratic, economic and societal transitions. (…)
In the face of such a complex and ambivalent situation, France – in the name of the close proximity, friendship and history that unite us – has a responsibility to be supportive. She also has interests to defend. The Arab world is our neighbour, and everything that happens there has direct consequences for us. From an economic viewpoint, the Arab world’s stability, given its resources, is a decisive challenge. There’s no reasonable choice for us other than to work towards the stability, peace, security and economic development of these key partners.
We’ll do so while upholding four great principles: a rejection of the use of violence against the people, the defence of fundamental rights, respect for pluralism and the rights of minorities, and the need for radical reforms to respond to people’s economic and social expectations.
In the short term, our priorities are set by emergencies. In Syria, the continued the bloody crackdown is claiming new victims every day. France is actively working to put an end to the violence. On Monday, with our European partners, we decided on a new raft of sanctions to step up the pressure on the regime. The negotiations – particularly between the permanent members of the Security Council – are continuing, so that the Annan plan can be actually implemented, which requires firm action from the Council, possibly through a resolution under Chapter VII. Next week, at France’s initiative, the Friends of the Syrian People group will meet in Paris, where more than 150 states have been invited. The challenge is to support the opposition and prepare the political transition, because Bashar al-Assad must go.
The situation in Mali, and more broadly in the whole of the Sahel, is another emergency. If we don’t act, northern Mali risks turning into a permanent haven for terrorists. That’s why we’re working actively there, too, to enable the restoration of security and constitutional order. We’re supporting the efforts of the African Union, ECOWAS, Europe and the United Nations to foster security and development. (…)
Iran remains a serious concern for us. Of course, that great country has the right to use nuclear energy for civilian purposes. But its possession of a nuclear weapon would entail serious dangers of proliferation and would destabilize the region. (…)
We’re also paying very close attention to the situation in the Middle East, where the relaunch of the peace process is crucial to stabilizing and pacifying the “new Arab world”. (…)
In the medium term, France intends to support democratic transitions wherever they’re launched. There’s no better guarantee of peace and stability than democracy. This principle – contrary to certain past practices – must be the backbone of our commitment. So we’ll support the democratic potential of the Arab revolutions, as well as the momentum of political participation that’s been expressed. We’ll show solidarity with peoples who aspire to democracy.
Having asserted this principle, the question of method obviously arises, because both in the initial impulse and the underlying momentum of those revolutions, there exists a desire to be freed from anything that might resemble supervision, be it internal or external. It’s up to each of those societies to find its path, and nothing – especially a third state – can take their place. So we’ll reject all paternalism, even, if I can use the expression, “pro-revolutionary paternalism”.
On the other hand, we’ll be both pragmatic and firm. France is proactive in recognizing the legitimacy and diversity of democratic manifestations and in talking to those who emerge from them. Wouldn’t it actually be paradoxical, in the face of the democratic processes under way, to be more scrupulously vigilant today than in the past towards the old dictatorial regimes? It would be just as paradoxical to refuse contact with legitimate, elected authorities, after agreeing to talk to dictators in the past.
At the same time, we must be firm about our values and clear-sighted about events. France will retain her freedom of judgment and will speak out if and when she deems necessary, while bearing in mind that democracy also means respect for two great principles:
Firstly, that fundamental freedoms – equality before the law, freedom of expression, women’s rights, the rights of minorities – are inviolable. We’ll pay particularly close attention to respect for women. It’s a matter of dignity, but also of progress for the whole of society. In order to create every opportunity for itself, the Arab world must give women their full role.
Secondly, that there’s no free society without the possibility of changeovers of political power and without pluralism. So we’ll condemn any attempts to confiscate power or restrict democratic rights. Respect for pluralism is all the more crucial because Arab societies are often ethnically or religiously diverse. The rights of minorities must be protected.
Our priority will be to support the new citizenry, by speaking to societies rather than to governments alone. Our interlocutors will also have to be democratic movements, voluntary organizations that defend rights, among them women’s rights, and movements working for education, culture and economic development. (…)
In the economic and social sphere, we – and Europe – can and must strongly support the changes embarked on. At stake is both their future and ours. Youth employment, education and training, regional development, productive investment, but also the fight against inequalities and against environmental degradation: meeting those needs is vital for the future of Arab societies. What’s at stake for us is the stability of the whole region, the future of mobility between the two shores of the Mediterranean, the future of our trade and of Francophony. Our destinies are clearly linked.
We know President François Hollande has made young people, justice and growth the three priorities of his recovery policy for France. It’s significant to note that these priorities – admittedly in a slightly different but an analogous way – are also the very same as those of the Arab Spring. So a natural convergence is emerging with a view to a mutually supportive approach between the two shores of the Mediterranean. Youth, justice and growth must be at the heart of the Euro-Mediterranean partnership we want to build. I emphasize youth in particular, which means priority for education, vocational training and also culture and academic exchanges. The recent annulment of the notorious and shocking Guéant circular [restricting non-EU graduates’ right to work in France] was a first expected sign, allowing France to confirm that she wants to be an “influential power” by contributing to training the elites who will build tomorrow’s Arab world.
These priorities also form part of a long-term vision: we want to help build a sort of major Euro-Mediterranean entity, a significant asset for Europe and the Arab world vis-à-vis globalization. To work at this, we need effective tools. (…)
The Union for the Mediterranean grew out of a noble, but clumsy ambition. It was probably unrealistic to include both shores of the Mediterranean in the same rigid grouping regardless of any differences, disagreements and even conflicts existing on both shores. (…)
Rather than now going back over the institutional question, I believe in the “variable geometry” method of cooperation, which can bring together volunteer countries for specific projects. (…)
France shares a special responsibility with the Maghreb countries. Given our proximity, we have to act with them to build an area of cooperation and exchanges between the two shores. But it’s also essential for Europe as a whole to get involved in the partnership with the Arab world. This is why France will promote this Mediterranean priority with conviction to her European Union partners, in accordance with the original spirit of the 1995 Barcelona Conference. (…)
Despite certain dark sides in the past, our history with the Arab world is first of all one of shared history. The Arab revolutions are turning a new page in this historic encounter with France, an influential power. It is our responsibility to write it together with the Arab peoples, as friends and partners, making the Mediterranean a promising area of cooperation and sharing.