Foreign policy – United States/riots/China/Hong Kong/Russia/multilateralism/Libya – Interview given by M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to the daily newspaper Le Télégramme (excerpts) (Paris, 08 Jun. 20)

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Racism in the US

Q. – Rioting by the black community in the United States has never reached such a scale before. Can President Trump be accused of fanning the flames?

THE MINISTER – The protest movement currently shaking America reminds us that our democracies have never finished pursuing justice and equality. In order to be equal to their underlying values, they must always fight these battles. It’s their raison d’être. The death of George Floyd deeply shocked Americans, like all those around the world who believe racist acts have no place in our societies. And this murder is a racist act. We share that shock, because nothing affecting the United States can leave us indifferent. As for President Trump’s attitude, it’s for the American people to decide. All I can say, in the name of the profound friendship binding us to our American allies, is that at such a tense moment it’s necessary to bring people together and ensure that freedom of expression and the freedom to demonstrate can be exercised, in the absence of any form of brutality. Any violent act committed against peaceful demonstrators or journalists is unacceptable, in the United States or elsewhere.

China/Hong Kong

Q. – China seems to be adopting a more aggressive form of diplomacy than in the past. Are you afraid of a new Cold War with the United States and, more generally, the West?

THE MINISTER – The world we live in isn’t a world polarized between two great blocs, as at the end of the 1940s. We’ve clearly seen this over recent weeks; the Europeans are there, pointing to another possible path: the path of dialogue and international cooperation, in the service of our common goods and everything that really matters to us all. I’m thinking of our health. I’m thinking of our planet. I’m thinking of our collective security. For all that, we’re currently in an acute phase of international competition which the COVID-19 crisis is only amplifying. So in order to defend our interests, we must be clear-sighted and discerning. There are our allies, with whom we share principles and values, a history and struggles. And there are our partners, with whom we seek to cooperate, with no preconceptions but also without being naïve, without hesitating to set limits and take a firmer line when necessary. We can’t turn our backs on America any more than we can tackle an issue like climate disruption, for example, without reaching out to China. If Europe wants to be a force working for globalization with a human face, it must devise a third path comprising firmness in defending our interests and basic principles, as well as openness to genuine, multilateral dialogue. A third path that is neither the Cold War nor naïve acquiescence. And we’re working on that every day with our partners.

Q. – Are we doomed to look on powerlessly as democracy in Hong Kong is hemmed in?

THE MINISTER – We won’t remain onlookers! Alongside our European partners, we’ve just reiterated our commitment to the one-country-two-systems principle and therefore to a high level of autonomy for Hong Kong, as well as to its Basic Law, which guarantees respect for basic liberties, rights and freedoms and the independence of the judicial system.

Russia/multilateralism

Q. – Russia is making use of its armed forces or acting through proxy militias to regain some of the influence lost from its former empire, as can be observed in Ukraine, Syria and Libya. But can Europe look away without trying to understand it?

THE MINISTER – That isn’t what we’re doing! We’re very clearly condemning Russia’s interference in the crises you mention and this doesn’t preclude us from talking to Russia. In the past few years, we’ve been living in a climate of wholly fruitless mistrust, fuelled by decisions and actions by Russia which are clearly known and go against Europe’s security. But it isn’t in our interest for Russia to drift even further away from us. Without compromising in any way on our values and principles, and in total solidarity – rooted in facts – with our partners and allies, we’re trying to anchor it to Europe and get it to play genuinely by the rules of multilateralism.

Q. – You’ve said the “world after” [the pandemic] risks being worse than the “world before”. How can this new multilateralism – which you’re so keen to see – be devised, given that the new empires seem more focused on looking out for the next bilateral clash?

THE MINISTER – Because of this obvious fact: everything which divides us ends up weakening us collectively. In the “world before”, perhaps some didn’t perceive the consequences. Today everyone has a slightly better understanding of what a global challenge is. This is the case with the COVID crisis, which clearly shows that the health of some depends on that of the others. The solution can be only a collective one. This doesn’t mean the battle for the new multilateralism has been won. We aren’t being smug, we’re determined. We’ll have many obstacles to overcome because power strategies and the power relations mentality are now deeply entrenched in international life. But I think today that there’s a so-called window of opportunity. And France, with its European partners, intends to do all it can to take advantage of it.

Brexit/fisheries

Q. – Are you worried about the consequences of Brexit for Brittany?

THE MINISTER – There’s a major issue, namely access for our fishermen to British waters, under conditions as close as possible to the existing conditions. That’s especially important because the industry has been hit hard by the health crisis. And I can assure you I’m seeking to ensure that London guarantees them predictability, continuity in terms of technical standards and the access they need. Fishing isn’t a sector like any other, and it mustn’t be a bargaining chip in the negotiation! On the contrary, it must be a key structural element of the comprehensive agreement we’d like for the future relations between the European Union and the United Kingdom. We’ve no choice but to admit that the negotiations haven’t made any progress so far. I regret that, and time is short, but I’m not resigned to it! (…)

Libya

Q. – In Libya, because of the support Turkey has lent the GNA (Government of National Accord, headed by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj), Marshal Haftar seems to have reached an impasse. Was it wise to support him, as you did?

THE MINISTER –Two hundred kilometres away from the Italian coast, and therefore at the gates of Europe, the Libya conflict is in the process of being “Syrianized”, with militias in the pay of foreign powers such as Russia and Turkey. It’s extremely serious. This is why, after all these weeks of lockdown, my first visit took me to Rome: not just to show our solidarity with our Italian neighbours, who’ve been hit very hard by the pandemic, but also to talk about this crucial matter with my counterpart, Luigi di Maio. For France, it isn’t about choosing one side or the other. Our policy is to work with our European partners to convince the Libyan parties to return to the ceasefire agreement concluded in February under the aegis of the United Nations, in Geneva, and reject unilateral initiatives. Interference will lead nowhere. The path of military confrontation will lead nowhere. In January, we all met in Berlin to set a course: compliance with the arms embargo, the end of foreign interference and the organization of a broad, inclusive inter-Libyan dialogue supported by the international community. This course must now be followed. That’s the message from France and the Europeans./.

Translation courtesy of the French Embassy in London