Ambassadors’ Week 2017 - Closing speech by M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs (31.08.2017)

I’m glad to join you all today and, for the first time, to conclude this Ambassadors’ Week. It is one of the highlights of our diplomatic calendar, a French idea that has set an example for others. Indeed, 25 years after the first such meeting, it has been adopted by many other countries. I was recently invited to the Italian conference, and I will soon attend the German ambassadors’ meeting, just as the German Foreign Minister addressed you yesterday. So it is up to us to keep this wonderful concept going by further enriching it and drawing conclusions that are useful to our international efforts.

It was certainly the case again this year. I want to thank Secretary-General Maurice Gourdault-Montagne and his predecessor, Christian Masset, as well as their teams, and particularly the secretary-general of this Ambassadors’ Week, Philippe Autié, for their excellent work. I also want to thank each and every one of you for the useful comparison of viewpoints, our direct and candid conversations, and your commitment to educating the public at large and entrepreneurs about our diplomatic efforts.

I was impatiently waiting for this moment. A few months after taking office and after numerous trips, many meetings and quite a few initiatives, it gives me a chance to talk to you about the priorities I ascribe to our efforts and to lay out my instructions so that you can work effectively to achieve the objectives that the President presented on Tuesday. I want to do this on the basis of the very fruitful discussions I had with you during this week, especially during our closed session yesterday – a positive innovation that we will continue – but also during meetings with our guests, whether from civil society, entrepreneurs, or students, or such eminent officials as Sigmar Gabriel and Peter Maurer, who so kindly attended as our guests of honour.

French diplomacy

In recent months, France has experienced a political change that has astonished the world, transformed its image and renewed expectations as to what we will do. Yesterday, we heard that “things are expected of France”, and that gives us responsibilities. For now, we have room to manoeuvre, an opportunity to grasp, a role to play to ensure that our country remains true to itself on the international stage. I hope you seize this new momentum in all of your posts. Let me say loud and clear: there’s a lot to do, given the challenges we are facing and the opportunities we must seize.

You therefore have every reason to be proud of the duties with which you have been entrusted. In representing France abroad, you inherit a history, the embodiment of an image, the defence of strategic and economic interests. As an ambassador of France, you speak with a voice that will be heard, increasingly expected and always respected. In this regard there are no major or minor posts but a single diplomatic corps made up of all those who do their jobs in this universal network, a major asset for our country whose continuity is guaranteed by the President and Prime Minister.

The President presented you with his ambitions for France. He expressed his confidence that you would serve as its messengers worldwide. It is incumbent on me, as you heard, and incumbent on you too, as you also heard. I want the French to understand our efforts; I want them to be proud of their diplomacy; I want them to be convinced that we are effectively defending their interests, their values, and their aspirations at a time of great change and great dangers in the world, but also one of multiple opportunities.

“Renewing our efforts in a world of disruptions.” This theme chosen for Ambassadors’ Week clearly expresses the challenges we are facing and what we must do.

Foreign policy challenges

I will quickly skip through the context in which our diplomatic corps must operate, because you know it as well as I do. We must focus in particular on two particularly disruptive areas; I view them as fundamental.

First, the development of international crises in places that are ever closer to Europe. Syria, Libya, the Sahel, Ukraine – these crises are on our doorstep, in our immediate environment. What happens there affects us directly: consider the expansion of the terrorist threat, or the migration crisis that has affected Europe for nearly five years, or when our European security architecture appears threatened, as we’ve seen in Ukraine.

The second essential area of disruption relates to the organization of the international economy. While the crisis at the end of the first decade of the 2000s was a financial crisis, it is the spectre of trade tensions that is now emerging, with a China that is still determined to tightly control its economy and an America tempted to close its doors to protect its enormous domestic market. Given the above, the only response worthy of the name is a European response. I will come back to this. But to make itself heard and to defend its interests, Europe must further embrace a culture based on the balance of power, something it has all too often failed to do.

These two areas of disruption both stem from and reflect the return of a logic of power. Hegemonic strategies based on conflict are on the rise in various regions as well as in new, disputed spaces at the heart of globalization, whether they be marine or cyber spaces or outer space. They reflect the return of strategies of domination or intimidation, such as the resurgent desire to build areas of influence in which the planet is shared among great powers, and the corresponding weakness of the multilateral bodies that regulate the international order. Competition is sharper than ever, cooperation less evident.

Our foreign policy must be able to deal with this situation, without simply accommodating this new reality. It is our duty to ensure we have the means to resist those who adopt aggressive postures of this type, to ensure that international law and a collective search for peace prevail. That is why the President announced he would be increasing the defence budget, which will rise to 2% of GDP in 2025.

Diplomatic priorities

In this troubled international environment, what must we do and how should we act? I want to offer you several guidelines:

  • First, in the face of those powers that are more clearly reaffirming their own interests, we must be capable of doing the same. This means that first we must define our interests, prioritize them, ensure they have the means to succeed, and be guided by a genuine strategic vision, in the true sense of the term.
  • Second, this less regulated world must not frighten us or cause us to turn inward. France has an important place among the nations. Despite what certain pessimists enjoy repeating, our country is not in decline. France has solid assets enabling it to maintain its rank: strong defence, a solid technological base, cultural influence on a global scale, a positive image and soon, I hope, thanks to the reforms spearheaded by the President and implemented by the government, a more dynamic economy. Evidence of this is the many who – as you see on a daily basis – are seeking to expand their relations with us. That is a strength, particularly when such ties generate dynamic, long-term partnerships. Given my own personal involvement, I am thinking in particular of the relationships we have built in recent years with India and Australia.
  • But I want to stress my third guideline: we must not content ourselves with limiting our efforts to the world as it is. Our role is to promote collective actions and international norms. Promoting norms is more vital than ever, given the global challenges we must meet, whether they relate to our security, the climate, trade or education. The uncertainties and disruptions in the world no doubt make this more difficult than in the past; yet it remains no less crucial.

My method is therefore simple. I adopt a realistic stance, taking note of the complexity and deterioration of the international situation. I set attainable goals, and I make sure I have the means to succeed. Finally, and I want to emphasize this clearly, I measure the success of our efforts by the concrete results we achieve. It is my conviction that we hold all the cards when it comes to implementing a pragmatic, effective form of diplomacy. In a world that is in constant motion, in which power relationships are uncertain, our strength lies in our agility, our creativity, the speed of our thinking, and our execution. It is this agile diplomacy that it’s your job to implement.

However, I do not confuse realism with cynicism. Agility must be used to promote a vision. The world can be changed and France can and must – since this is its vocation – be a driving force and a force for progress: progress in terms of rights, cooperation and peace.

It’s with this in mind that I want to work with you. This brings me to the priorities of our present and future action.

Our agility on the international stage stems, by definition, from our capacity to act freely, to retain the elements of our strategic autonomy and – as the President requested of us on Tuesday – to make our independence a key objective of our diplomacy. Independence, however, is not isolation. Independence is the guarantee that we will always be able to take initiatives, create a political knock-on effect through our action and our power and assert, if necessary, our leadership. Isolation limits the scope of possibilities; it restricts our diplomatic horizon, it saps our resources. Independence, on the contrary, guarantees our freedom to make assessments, conceive ideas and take action.

The question we should ask ourselves, therefore, is: who do we want to work with?

Europe and Brexit

First, with Europe. The President has restored our country’s European ambition; he obtained a clear mandate from the French people to relaunch the European project. It is key, I want to stress this: Europe is the primary, indeed vital, framework in which our values and our interests can flourish.

We have great ambitions for Europe. President Macron announced that he would soon make proposals to give renewed impetus to the European enterprise and to allow our continent to remain a region unique in history, a region of prosperity, freedom and solidarity. These proposals will be targeted in particular at strengthening Economic and Monetary Union, ensuring convergence between our social and fiscal policies and strengthening European defence. In short, progress on all issues that are helpful to our citizens.

Let’s be clear: these issues are far from unanimously supported by the member states, and we must show a sense of conviction vis-à-vis our partners.

We will also organize democratic conventions, under the leadership of the Minister for European Affairs. This will involve meeting all those – including those who are most critical – who have an opinion about Europe, in order to ascertain society’s expectations. We will invite all participating member states to do the same.

In order to restore our citizens’ faith in the European project, we must keep in mind that the EU is inextricably linked to certain interests and values. European citizens expect it to assert these more strongly, for example in the area of trade. Defending Europe’s interests must also remain paramount in the ongoing Brexit negotiations. France wants the United Kingdom to remain a leading partner and ally. But the United Kingdom’s sovereign choice cannot be accomplished to the detriment of the EU and its member states. This is the purpose of the mandate of Michel Barnier, whom we support.

Europe must also assert its values. The urgency of this matter is clear to everyone. The European enterprise has always been a political project; its credibility rests for many people on sharing the same principles and on mutual trust in the democratic institutions of the member states. Current excesses by some of them are undermining our collective history; they are also a threat to our common political futures. They must stop, and France will take action in this direction.

European values are also a powerful foreign policy tool, especially in our immediate neighbourhood. The EU must continue to be demanding on respect for the rule of law, encourage those who make the most effort, and take into account developments in those who choose to regress.

Since the creation of the European External Action Service, nearly 10 years ago, the EU has asserted itself on the international stage. With due respect for each other’s respective competences, we must coordinate our diplomatic action with that of the EU, not only to enhance our power in order to better promote our priorities but also as a tool that is complementary to ours that we can use in areas where we have less of a presence. To that end, I ask you – just as I am in contact with Federica Mogherini – to maintain close and productive relations with EU delegations all over the world.

United States

However, our interests and those of our friends are not limited to Europe. Agile diplomacy requires support all over the world. In this respect, relations with the United States are of particular importance. The invitation extended by the French President to Donald Trump to take part in the 14 July [Bastille Day] ceremonies, in honour of the American troops who died to defend our freedom, reflects how much our alliance is rooted in history. This continues to be the case today, in the Sahel and in the Levant, as well as in terms of the role that the United States plays in the security of the European continent. Despite current disagreements – and they do exist – we must affirm the importance of this relationship and the closeness of our values with those of the United States. We must also be demanding on fundamental issues, whether it be on the climate, global crisis management, or our rejection of the extraterritorial sanctions affecting European companies. But in order to be demanding, in order to be credible in asserting our demands, we must be strong, and in order to be strong we must be united. This is also key to ensuring that our voice is fully heard in NATO and that our vision of a strong military alliance – and one that issues statements sparingly – can move forward.

China, India and Latin America

Beyond the circle of allies, France has a global vocation. It can work with those that history has brought closer to us, with those whose interests are aligned with ours and with those who are prepared to mobilize their efforts in support of causes that are dear to us. We are able to work with China on climate issues, we are able to work with India on issues as varied as maritime security or the International Solar Alliance; with Latin American countries we are able to take action to make progress in the area of human rights. France has friends everywhere. This is a major strategic advantage.

A France that is able to mobilize Europeans in support of an ambitious project, a France that is able to shape international debate – this is key to effective action in order to achieve clear goals.

The first of these, the top priority, is to find lasting solutions to the crises taking place in our neighbourhood, because they have a direct impact on our security, due to the resulting threats.

Iraq, Syria, Libya and Sahel

Our first priority is therefore to eradicate Islamist terrorism. We are strongly committed to combating militarized jihadist groups, and we will defeat them. I have just returned from Iraq, where I was able to take stock of the scale of the victories over Daesh [so-called ISIL], with our support, which was recognized in Baghdad as well as in Erbil. There is also no doubt in my mind that the organization will be defeated in Syria. In the Levant, we already need to look ahead toward the post-Daesh period and lay the foundations for political solutions that will allow lasting peace to be restored. That’s why I am talking to everyone in the region with the objective of helping to ease tensions. It is also the thrust of the initiatives that I am taking at the request of the French President with my P5 counterparts, and above all the regional actors who exert influence in Syria. We need to form an international contact group in order to reduce contradictions among the international community and effectively support the work of Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General Staffan de Mistura. This is in essence a pragmatic and demanding approach, because in France’s view it is clear that we need a political transition in Syria, in the interests of the Syrian people.

In Libya, France shares with others the special responsibility of helping that country restore unity and stability. It is in our interest, as reflected by the increasing number of threats linked to the collapse of state institutions: terrorism, arms trafficking and uncontrolled migration. That’s why, during my first few days in office, at the request of the French President, I visited the foreign leaders who exercise influence on Libya. I said the same things to all of them: we have to take note of the military situation and get the main protagonists finally to honour the commitments made within the UN framework. This is the assurance that the President obtained from Prime Minister Sarraj and General Haftar when he brought them together at La Celle Saint-Cloud, the bastion of French diplomacy. I will visit Libya in the very near future to follow up on this meeting and to seek the support of all parties for the joint declaration adopted on that occasion. This will, I hope – with the support of our main partners, notably Italy – enable UN Special Envoy Ghassan Salamé to organize elections in 2018 that will mark the start of the effective restoration of state authority in Libya.

Let’s make no mistake: the complexity of the crises in our neighbourhood requires long-term investment. That’s the case in the Sahel, another major focus of our commitment against terrorism and in support of peace. In this regard, it’s essential for the region’s states to boost their security forces, and we must support this. That’s the purpose of the resolution we promoted at the United Nations Security Council prior to the Bamako summit. Together with Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly, I’ll be working hard to ensure sufficient international support for a boost to the G5 force. We’re also engaging in the political field, particularly to ensure that the Algiers agreements for Mali are finally implemented, and to support economic development in the region. That’s the purpose of the Alliance for the Sahel, which the French President initiated with the German Chancellor on 13 July. By combining security and development instruments, together we’ll prevent terrorism and fanaticism. To maintain the coherence of our action in every sphere and persuade our partners, I’ve decided to entrust Jean-Marc Châtaigner with the mission of Special Envoy for the Sahel.

Ukraine

The priority we attach to solving crises in our close neighbourhood reflects, of course, the absolute need to guarantee our country’s security and economic success, now and in the future. In the same spirit, we must make every effort to ensure that peace is maintained on the European continent, despite the tensions. France will therefore continue seeking ways and means to have constructive cooperation with Russia, in the framework of open and stringent dialogue, with a view to ensuring stability, first of all in Ukraine.

Maghreb

We must also strengthen our cooperation with the Mediterranean countries: both those on the northern shore, the European countries, and those on the southern shore, especially the Maghreb countries, to which we’re linked by a long history, many affinities and very substantive human ties. So the difficulties in the Mediterranean region mustn’t deter us from exploring new paths for cooperation and from being inventive.

Israeli-Palestinian conflict

There are crises that represent an immediate threat to French people’s security. There are also crises that endure and fail to be solved. Their long-term persistence creates despair and traps people in deadlock. I’m thinking in particular of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Things can get moving in the region, because the fight against Daesh is changing people’s perceptions. France will play its full role in the search for the only possible solution: the two-state solution.

Multilateral bodies

As the President has told you, France is counting on its own strength, on the reforms it’s undertaking and on its ability to act to ensure its own future. But it also wants to seek, wherever possible, collective solutions to the global problems it faces, which require ambitious, pragmatic and shared solutions.

Our responsibility and our interest are to uphold collectively-decreed frameworks of action and legal rules. That’s the best guarantee of the transparency, predictability and trust of international relations. More than ever, France must play an active role in multilateral action forums.

Our presidency of the Security Council in October will provide an opportunity to reaffirm this commitment.

I’d also like to strengthen France’s presence within the United Nations system – at every level of the UN’s action.

Our influence involves representing our legal culture within international jurisdictions. At a time when the International Court of Justice has an increasing role in international dispute resolution and the wording of legal rules, the re-election of French judge Ronny Abraham is an essential priority, and it means you must resolutely continue our campaign of support for him.

That’s also why I’m asking you to make every effort to ensure that Mme Audrey Azoulay’s candidature to be the Director-General of UNESCO succeeds. I’ll also be working hard to strengthen France’s attractiveness to international organizations, many of which are already based in our country.

The credibility of our collective security system also depends on its ability to adapt to a more complex, unstable and interdependent world. That’s why we’ll be supporting the new United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, in his desire to reform the UN system. Ultimately, our message must be that a collective approach, a multilateral approach isn’t merely one possibility among others: very often it’s a necessity. There are issues we can tackle only in that framework. Those who refuse to see this today will, sooner or later, end up realizing that it’s obvious: selfishness and “lone-ranger” behaviour quite simply don’t work when it comes to some situations.

Climate

The climate is part of this, clearly. We’ll have some very important work to do, between now and the Polish COP presidency in 2018, on effectively implementing the Paris Agreement, firstly at the forthcoming COP in Bonn in November but also at the Paris summit on 12 December. More broadly, environmental issues will be central to our concerns, in particular with work starting on a Global Pact for the Environment, which we’re very keen to see.

Migration

Migration, too, is a lasting and multiform phenomenon that we must tackle in all its dimensions. It requires us, first of all, to fully accept our duty of asylum to those who have the right to our protection. Secondly, it requires us to establish a full range of cooperation with countries of origin, transit and destination, to control illegal migration. The President has tasked me with coordinating implementation of the decisions taken on this issue at the Elysée Palace on 28 August with our various European and African partners. To do this I’ll be relying on an ambassador responsible for migration, who will have a mandate provided by me jointly with the Interior Minister; that’s quite rare.

Weapons of mass destruction

It’s also true [that a multilateral approach is needed] when it comes to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. If France refused to take part in the negotiations on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, it was because, in an uncertain strategic environment – as North Korea reminds us especially acutely –, such an approach can only weaken the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which is the most balanced and consequently the most robust in the field. It’s a crucial challenge, in the face of the renewed risk of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery, be they nuclear, biological or chemical. On this, perhaps even more than on any other, political mantras limit people to irresponsibility. It’s through concrete acts that we’ll create a safer environment.

In this regard, we must combat the dangerous spread in the use of some of these weapons. I’m thinking in particular of chemical weapons in Syria, which have sown death and are jeopardizing the multilateral efforts made for so many years. The perpetrators of chemical attacks will be held accountable in the courts for their actions. On this issue, France will seek to ensure that impunity never exists. The criminals who have been responsible for using such weapons must know that we’ll continue our efforts to have the culprits convicted, albeit in 5, 10 or 15 years’ time. The future of our whole system of collective security depends on it: it mustn’t be possible to violate its most basic standards without one day suffering the consequences. On the basis of this principle, France will soon be proposing initiatives to its partners.

Digital technology

Communication has been revolutionized by the development of the Internet and new technologies. The result has been a huge growth in opportunities but also new risks. Cyber attacks remind us of this. There too, a collective approach is essential. France and its partners are committed to grasping this new reality in the light of international law and standards of conduct. In this area, we must actually think [with] agility and initiative, to provide the conditions for a new form of strategic stability and clearly identify our interests in terms of security and the economy, but also of protecting pluralism, upholding our democratic institutions and striking a balance on the subject. At the Prime Minister’s request, I’ll therefore be presenting an international digital strategy for France in the autumn, based on the excellent work done by David Martinon in coordination with all the departments concerned.

In this new field, where many different types of people are involved, we’ll also have to build coalitions on that basis and persuade not only states but also businesses and all private stakeholders, including in the voluntary sector.

Human rights

To carry through each of these projects, France itself must set an example, be true to its values and honour the commitments it makes to each of its partners.

With this in mind, I’ll be leading France’s action in the human rights sphere with conviction. France will take action because such is its remit. No stable system can be based on injustice.

Humanitarian and development aid

I’ll also strengthen our humanitarian action, in a context where violence against civilians is worsening. Around the world, 128 million people need immediate humanitarian aid. Because it’s aware of the need to work more effectively with local stakeholders as close as possible to the front line, France will soon subsribe to the Grand Bargain and the commitments arising from it in terms of harnessing local NGOs.

The expectations of our country as a development partner are also great.

There will be many challenges over the next five years; our voice will be carefully listened to on many subjects that require us to have the resources necessary for our action, without necessarily resorting to multilateral finance and without necessarily sheltering behind other European countries with more significant resources.

I’m thinking, first of all, of the implementation of the Paris Agreement. There are also our long-standing commitment in the health field. We’re the second-largest contributor to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, having paid more than €4.8 billion since 2002. Finally, education – the catalyst to development – deserves special treatment, including to facilitate access for girls and teenagers to quality education until the end of secondary school.

To fund these priorities, the President and the Prime Minister confirmed this morning, as you heard, the target of 0.55% of GDP for ODA [official development assistance], which means a rise from €8.5 billion to nearly €15 billion in 2022, taking current growth forecasts into account. Such an increase is a challenge in itself, and I know I can count on the expertise of the Globalization Directorate and the Administration Directorate to rapidly build the appropriate expansion scenario that the President has asked me for.

Economic diplomacy

Our foreign policy will be all the more effective because we’ll have taken all the necessary measures to put our country back on a sound footing, revitalize its economy and deploy all its talent. As the Prime Minister told you this morning, our reform programme is a programme of transformation; you’ll have to convey it abroad, so that our country’s image changes and it becomes known not only for its quality of life and excellence in industry and services but also, finally, as a country of entrepreneurship where people innovate, a dynamic and creative country. So you’ll have to play your full role in France’s attractiveness policy. We have an image to uphold, and you must be its standard-bearers.

We also have a special responsibility when it comes to fulfilling the government’s aims. As you know, our Ministry is responsible for two other important policies for our country’s economy: firstly foreign trade, and secondly tourism. In our globalized world, attractiveness is essential; it requires us to have an ambitious and coherent economic diplomatic service capable of promoting our companies’ interests and also fully incorporating economic issues into the analysis of strategic situations.

To this end, our first aim is to facilitate our businesses’ access to international markets. When it comes to our progress, the figures speak for themselves: today only 125,000 of our companies are in the export market. My goal is for 200,000 of our companies to be exporting by 2022, heading off to conquer new markets in Africa, Asia and Latin America, where the future of global growth is to be found.

To achieve this we need a method, because you can’t say things are OK when our goods and services deficit is increasing year after year. So we must change things. We need a method that combines simplicity and effectiveness. The demand for simplicity means a desire to clearly define a target, coherent action and a leading player, and thus decompartmentalize things which, too often, still operate in silos. That’s the “Team France” approach. I experienced it with some success in my previous posts. I’m demanding effectiveness, so as to give priority to actions that bring genuine returns to the French economy.

Your role is to pave the way for our businesses. To achieve that, you have a responsibility of strategic leadership and trade relations in your countries of residence. SMEs and ETIs [intermediate-sized enterprises] are your priority. They’ll have a single pathway, organized around a regional one-stop shop on departure, a single address, a single reference point – I’ll see the regional presidents to talk about this – and a one-stop shop in the country of arrival, placed under your responsibility. This is also why, this week, I wanted to revamp the “one ambassador, one entrepreneur” meetings, and I’m delighted by their success.

You also have a central role to play in promoting our country’s economic attractiveness. We’re aiming for 2,000 new investment projects in France by 2020. It’s incumbent on you – together with the economic services and the Trésor Directorate, whose work I commend, and in coordination with Business France – to explain to investors the reforms conducted in France. And for every productive investment, I’d like a dedicated working group to be established with Business France.

On tourism I’ll be more brief. I have the same demand: let’s be simple and effective. Let’s work with all the professionals. An ambitious but realistic target: 100 million international tourists and spending of €50 billion. To achieve these, full mobilization of the network is necessary in coordination with the operator, Atout France. I ask you to go out and meet local tourism stakeholders and, through regular events, promote France as a destination in its geographical diversity and wealth of expertise.

Soft power

I’ve mentioned the return of power politics. This is a reality we also – and increasingly – experience when it comes to influence, [and it] is essential.

True, our country is listened to; it has assets all over the world; but many countries have decided to engage before us – and sometimes against us – in the battle for influence. By opening cultural centres, increasing the number of grant programmes and promoting their own ideas of the world, they’re developing and consolidating a newfound strength, a strength that leaves an – often decisive – mark on people’s hearts and minds.

So we must monitor the influence of others, but there’s also, and above all, our own influence, which is primarily in your hands, as heads of post.

People are right to say “outreach diplomacy” is central to our foreign policy; the question is why. It’s more than one sectoral priority among others like crisis resolution and economic diplomacy. It’s an essential resource at the service of all the priorities I’ve mentioned, because by addressing the public, making them love France and winning them over, we’ll create fertile ground for diplomatic negotiation.

So outreach diplomacy has a global goal, but it’s nurtured by specific actions based on levers, many of which are in your hands, and in which our cooperation and cultural action network plays a leading role.

Francophony

In the international context we’ve revisited this week, our main strength in terms of influence is the French language. It’s not only the seed of our identity and culture. It’s what links France to the whole world. I’m thinking of all the French-speaking countries that share it with us. But I’m also thinking of all those who, by learning our language, by practising it – be they students, tourists or entrepreneurs – get closer to our country, in an adventure of shared universality which is experienced not as exclusive but, on the contrary, as a factor of cultural diversity and for promoting exchanges in every field.

The demographic projections for 2050 are often mentioned, pointing to a somewhat mechanical increase in the number of French speakers. You, better than anyone, know those big numbers conceal much less uniform realities. So we must play an active role to ensure that the French language is an increasingly active tool, of both France’s influence and its attractiveness.

Many things have already been done, but I believe many have yet to be done, in particular to decompartmentalize la Francophonie. Today, the word “Francophony” is sometimes seen in a negative light: in the best-case scenarios, it’s not understood; in the worst, it repels people, at the very time when it’s regaining major relevance in terms of bringing our country into the world’s new [power] balance. Francophony is political, with the OIF [Organisation internationale de la Francophonie] and the many bilateral relationships that share French; it’s cultural, with the activities of our Instituts français and Alliances françaises; it’s also educational, with the support of the AEFE [Agency for French Education Abroad], which combines a public service mission and an outreach mission that we’re fervently championing right now; and lastly, it’s economic. So Francophony is global, and it’s up to you, as heads of post, to spearhead its promotion with all the levers available to you. I’m conscious of Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne’s strong belief about this.

As well as promoting French worldwide, I wanted to share with you my strong belief that our ministry is one of the state’s major cultural players; that’s also what justifies our ministry’s leadership of the network, with the support of our operators, of course, in particular the Institut français, whose new president, Pierre Buhler, I’m pleased to welcome.

I’ll have an opportunity to come back to these issues in the coming months, because I’ve sought to make modernizing our outreach network one of the major projects in my road map. In order to prepare our ministry – and therefore our country – to address the major international challenges that await us in the future, that’s a fundamental move because, once again, it concerns the bedrock of all the actions we take. I can already see two clear areas of work: bringing the Institut français and the Fondation Alliance Française closer together, as announced by the President, and the mobilization – which I hope will be massive – of digital tools, which offer us considerable opportunities for spreading our culture and language.

I want to emphasize your role in bringing alive this outreach diplomacy, and particularly contributing personally to the battle of ideas and perceptions, championing our own ideas and being present in your respective countries’ discussion venues. This is a major challenge, well identified in Yves Saint-Geours’ report, from which I want to learn lessons together with the CAPS [Centre for Analysis, Planning and Strategy]. I invite you to take ownership of this now, and not hesitate to involve your colleagues in this drive.

It’s true that influence is measured by the fact of being listened to; but it’s also measured by the ability to listen. Your posts must be open to the whole world’s ideas, avoid the comfort of traditional certainties and habitual ways of thinking, and also be sensitive to the social dynamics at play in your countries of residence.

After COP21, the world will once again, I hope, have a rendez-vous in Paris in 2024. I want to pay tribute here to the [Olympic] bid committee’s tremendous team – some of its representatives are among us – for the outstanding work they’ve done.

The prospect of the Olympic Games in Paris, and Saclay’s future bid to host World Expo 2025, are opportunities to make Paris a place where the world’s ideas meet once again, organizing debates on contemporary upheavals and giving a full role to the diverse thinking of our time – much less homogeneous thinking than a certain intellectual laziness sometimes leads us to expect.

Foreign Ministry’s resources

Ladies and gentlemen Ambassadors,

To do all this – and it’s a lot – we need not only talent and dedication but also resources. We all know that diplomacy without strategic vision is blind; but diplomacy without resources is powerless. Our ministry is, of course, making its share of the effort necessary to control public expenditure. It’s done so again in 2017, all the more selflessly because we’re all perfectly aware that our credibility in Europe and the world is closely linked to our ability to honour our commitments, particularly on the issue of the public deficit. But the President told you the day before yesterday that 2018 will be a year of budgetary stabilization.

Both the level of our ambition and the need to control our expenditure demand strategic leadership of our efforts, to make them more effective. I’ll endeavour to do this myself by convening, twice a month, an executive committee that I created on my arrival to bring together around me the two ministers, the Secretary-General, the Inspector General, the three directors-general and, if need be, the directors or heads of department whom the agenda concerns.

I can also tell you that I, like the President, am committed to the universality of our diplomatic network, because it enables us to develop a global strategy and ensure it perfectly fits our resources. I also stress what an effective service the network enables us to provide to our compatriots abroad. It’s crucial. The safety and protection of French communities abroad is a major challenge in particular. Our monitoring tools and our crisis management mechanism are now seen as exemplary and are demonstrating our effectiveness whenever necessary – only recently following the attacks in Barcelona, Ouagadougou and London. Here I thank the crisis and support unit’s staff, as well as Red Cross volunteers, for their commitment and the outstanding service they provide to our compatriots in difficulty.

In recent years significant efforts have been made, sometimes with difficulty, to adapt the diplomatic and consular network. I want to pay tribute to your hard work, and that of the whole department, to carry through these changes, which should enable us to meet the target of 25% of our staff in the major emerging countries of the G20. I also wanted to announce to you that I’ve decided to revitalize our plan to renovate and modernize the Quai d’Orsay building. It will change the image of our ministry, transform its methods and improve employees’ working conditions and security. Four internationally-renowned architects are competing. The jury will meet very soon to choose the project that will be selected and completed by 2022.

Talking about modernizing our operation, I want to mention, of course, the digital transition, or digitization, of our ministry. There too we’re on the move: France Visas is one of the government’s most ambitious dematerialization projects in this regard. Digitization will have to be extended, to exploit its full potential.

In general terms, I’d like the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs to continue playing an active role in the major work of transforming public services announced by the President, as it has always done in previous efforts to reform the state. I’ll seek to ensure that human resources policy is implemented, in full consultation with the trade union organizations and with the consistency enabling us to ensure valid and secure professional careers.

I’ll also be especially vigilant, as I was at the Defence Ministry, to ensure that the challenges of staff parity and diversity are fully taken into account. I know a lot has already been done, and I’m delighted to be able to build on an already well-established foundation, with Florence Mangin, our new senior official in charge of equality.

Ambassadors’ role

Ladies and gentlemen ambassadors,

The President and Prime Minister’s priorities have been announced; it’s up to us to implement them. To conclude, I’d like to tell you what role I’d like to see you play in view of this.

Firstly, through your action on the ground, your analysis and your diplomatic correspondence, you’re the outposts of the knowledge and preparedness operation on which our sovereignty depends. Our diplomatic network is our country’s look-out post and you’re its guardians, throughout the world.

Your second mission is to be resolute champions of France’s interests.

This mission is especially demanding to fulfil because it falls, more than ever, under an interministerial framework. Indeed, you’re increasingly being called on to put together complex strategies bringing together a wide variety of state and non-state actors, and to tackle the challenges of the new diplomacy in a large variety of key sectors of globalization.

In this regard, your success can only be collective. You’re team leaders and, as such, you have a unique responsibility to the people working with you; you’re driven by a demand for solidarity, as well as the need to set an example, because you represent France.

I’m aware of what an honour it is for me to lead our country’s diplomacy – this diplomacy that has distinguished itself for centuries in the service of the nation and the protection of French people. Our shared responsibility is commensurate with the uncertain times we’re living in. I have no doubt of your commitment to accomplishing the task you’ve been set; you can rest assured of my constant active efforts as leader of our diplomacy. Thank you.

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