Seminar of the French Ambassadors posted to the European space - Speech by Mr Jean-Yves Le Drian (Paris, 31 August 20)

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Speech delivered by Jean-Yves Le Drian to the French Ambassadors posted to the European space, as part of a working seminar in preparation of the French Presidency of the Council of the European Union in the first half of 2022.

Paris, 31 August 2020

Dear Heiko,
Ministers,
Minister Franck Riester,
Ministers of State, Clément Beaune and Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, whom I am very pleased to have at my side today,
Ambassadors,
Friends, ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to say that I am very pleased to find you all in good health, and that Heiko agreed to join us for this European seminar which is to set in motion a long process of preparation before we take over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union in the first half of 2022.

If I invited Heiko to this first exercise of group reflection, it is because France’s Presidency will of course seek to build on the current German Presidency in continuity and synergy.

Of course, firstly, because Germany and France share a special responsibility: that of opening their respective presidency “trios”.

On both sides of the Rhine, we take that responsibility to heart. And we absolutely intend to work harmoniously with the States we will hand over to: that is to say Portugal and Slovenia, for Germany, and the Czech Republic and Sweden, for France.

I say “of course” because the Franco-German partnership is today both stronger and more essential than ever before.

The very strong convergence of views recently in Brégançon between the President of the Republic and Federal Chancellor Merkel made that clear.
This convergence has not even been remotely shaken by recent football scores.
My dear Heiko, I had planned, in exchange for the Mannschaft jersey you gave me a short while ago, to give you a PSG one this morning. I will not, but I am delighted that, for your arrival, Julian Alaphilippe donned the yellow jersey in the Tour de France last night.

More seriously – although those are of course very serious matters – the Franco-German partnership is naturally more important today than ever before in large part because Europe is at a crossroads.

In an increasingly brutal world which is being reshaped by complex power games and the methodical dismantling of multilateral regulatory frameworks, Europe at last needs to step beyond its innocence and naivety to forge its own destiny. If not, others will decide its destiny in its place.

Europe is at a crossroads because in the face of global challenges, including terrorism, global warming, migratory crises and global inequalities, and to resist all the forces that are currently obstructing international cooperation, it needs to demonstrate that shared solutions are possible and undertake a great many initiatives of unity.

In short, while some believe Europe will give in to the apparently inevitable rise of a US-China duopoly, it needs to invent a third path.

  • A European third path, to retain its sovereignty and assert its independence.
  • A third path open to its partners.
  • A third path that is meaningful for the international community as a whole. We deserve better than alliances under threats, forced resignation and camp-choosing.

We have been reminded most violently of these European imperatives by the COVID-19 crisis.

It has highlighted the fragility of some of our supply chains and revealed an unreasonable degree of dependency on third countries, including in sectors of vital importance, such as pharmaceuticals and protective equipment.

This crisis has illustrated what may happen when coordination and cooperation are lacking in the face of a scourge which strikes everywhere, transforming our interdependencies into vulnerabilities.

And this crisis has spread and remains on the horizon after the summer holiday period, and the great rivalries and conflictual tendencies of international life have not been overcome by what could have been sacred unity. Worse still, conflictual tendencies have escalated and have now spread to new areas. They have put us in even greater danger than before.

That is the great clarification of 2020. It will no doubt have swept away a few illusions. Now at least, it is clear that we have our backs against the wall.
Across Europe, I believe that this awareness has either come or is soon to come.

The recovery plan adopted by the 27 EU Member States in July shows that. This historic affirmation of the power of European solidarity is the fruit of an initiative by the German Federal Chancellor and the French President. It is the fruit of their shared determination to stay on course in negotiations that were long and complex. That is why I said earlier that the Franco-German partnership is stronger than ever before. Because our leaders have together managed to achieve what had been wished for and sometimes even attempted by others, but never achieved. For the first time, the EU, as you all know, has established a capacity for collective borrowing to support our economies and the great projects of our future, including the digital transformation and the ecological transformation which is, with the European Green Deal, now central to our European priorities.

That is spectacular progress, showing that we have managed to rise to the circumstances.

*

So how, how can we sustain this momentum? How can this trial be transformed? By working together, as we are going to do this morning, to focus on what Europe can achieve in the next two years, between two presidencies.

It is up to the President of the French Republic, when the time comes, to determine the priorities of the French Presidency. Ambassadors, our role is, in the meantime, to contribute to his reflection, to propose options, and to begin forming the coalitions we will need to bring our ambitions to fruition. As you know, the success of a presidency is not decided in Brussels alone. Brussels is the finishing line. It is played out in the capitals and regions of the EU’s Member States.

We can only be truly useful to Europe if we manage to bring all Europeans on board in an ambitious project. The consensus of the lowest common denominator is not enough. The circumstances require more; but at the same time, an overly divisive vision would mean going it alone. We therefore need to together find a happy medium.

That is why Franco-German concertation is fundamental. And it is why your diplomatic work on the ground is just as fundamental. I am therefore counting on you to map out the positions of our partners, to explain our positions and initiatives and to seek, starting now, coalitions and common ground.
It is said that the most intense part of a European presidency is its preparation. Although you also have to be ready to respond to the unexpected, as we have seen with this crisis. It is always the preparation that counts, so we need to get to work, all of us, without further ado. I am counting on Clément Beaune to get us working on all these subjects. I have total confidence in him, and I have known him for some time.

To launch our discussions today, I would like to try telling you what is, in my view, the great European question of the moment, so that we can, together, seek to find answers to it.

It is a question that has loomed over European debate for some time.
It is a question that the COVID-19 crisis has thrust to the heart of our citizens’ concerns.
It is a question so complicated that it will still be there in January 2022, and we have six months to continue answering it.
In a word, the question is that of dependencies.
I use the plural quite deliberately, as there are two types.
There are dependencies that strengthen us, and dependencies that weaken us.
There are those that give us control over our destiny, and those that might deprive us of that control.

There are those that we choose, and those that are foisted on us.
Our interest is very clearly to fully welcome the first, deepening areas of European solidarity, while thwarting the others, as we continue to build our common sovereignty.

Some seek to escape making this distinction. Those who think solidarity is a bad deal. Those who bundle together sovereignty and sovereigntism and fail to see that national sovereignty and European sovereignty, far from being mutually exclusive, are in fact mutually reinforcing, as a powerful Europe is now so important for the power of our nations.

At best, theirs is a poor analysis; most often, it is a political calculation.
And if we, on our side, fail to clearly make the distinction, if we do not draw all its consequences, then Europe will remain exposed to the dangers of populism. And in this unforgiving world, we will soon pay the price.

And so I have a few remarks to make.

1) To begin, European solidarity is another name for our interdependence. Our Union is built on common interests, collective responsibilities and shared values and history, in a unique geographical area – this is its fertile soil.

When I say solidarity, I’m not only referring to the generous gestures that gave us hope at the peak of the crisis – although we will never forget, dear Heiko, that French patients were cared for in German hospitals.

But aside from being a moral duty, I believe that solidarity is first and foremost a pragmatic reality. Being mutually supportive is to be connected to each other. The European stroke of genius was the decision to transform these ties into a political project in order to end the absurd tragedy of fratricidal wars.

That is the meaning behind the “de facto solidarity” that the Schuman Declaration aimed to strengthen when it was written 70 years ago – 70 years! – so we could pool our efforts and achievements rather than break them up for the supposed immediate interests of each individual party.

In a way, we have just discovered this de facto solidarity, in the middle of the pandemic crisis, when COVID-19 hit our nations, endangering the lives of thousands of Europeans and destabilizing our economies. We coordinated our healthcare strategies and pooled our resources, having rapidly realized that this could make all the difference.

We did so to tackle the emergency, and now we do it to support the recovery of the European economy, while remaining vigilant to the evolving health situation and by taking the necessary measures.

However, on this matter we need to go further. I already discussed it with Heiko yesterday. We must anticipate any future crises such as this, by laying the foundations for a Europe of healthcare. Without a Europe of healthcare, there can be no Europe that protects. How can we do it?

Firstly, by boosting the competences of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control for epidemiological monitoring and early warning.
Secondly, we need to set up a European BARDA, like in the United States, to support innovation, research and production of vaccines, and the production of treatments.

We can do it by building up common strategic stocks and by diversifying our supply sources.

Lastly, we can launch global health initiatives, as we did with the ACT-A initiative and suggesting the creation of a High Council for Human and Animal Health, backed by the WHO.

As you know, healthcare is not a core competence of the European Union, and this undoubtedly led to us losing valuable time. We don’t need to change treaties or transform the institutions – at least not now. More pragmatically, Europe needs a new policy to meet the needs that we have seen, and which we are continuing to observe now in this field.

I wish to emphasize this point on the method, because I want the matter of “concrete achievements”, to quote the Declaration of 9 May 1950 once more, to continue to be a key focus in the preparations and conduct of the French Presidency. It must also be a key focus in view of the Conference on the Future of Europe, which will conclude in the first half of 2022. This conference must highlight concrete citizenship initiatives, rather than repeat European clichés.
Yes, “concrete”! Because for Europeans, solidarity is not just a word. It is action. It is a shared commitment. This is also especially true for another pillar of a “Europe that protects”: defending our security and controlling our strategic environment.

In this respect, August has been particularly crisis-rich. A little too rich! But I am not going to list them all: I will take just two examples that are particularly significant to defending our security.

When one of us is confronted with an aggressive and unjustifiable policy of fait accompli, we must respond collectively, because it is a threat to our sovereignty and to the interests of the Union. Here, I am referring to the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean, where the attitude of Turkey, which is violating the maritime area of a European Union Member State, is utterly inacceptable. Letting our security in the Mediterranean fall into the hands of others would be a grave mistake.

This is what the 27 Member States reaffirmed late last week, during our last meeting in Berlin, which you hosted, Heiko. But the European Union is ready to commence a dialogue. This does not mean it is any less determined to demonstrate great firmness, if necessary, even if this involves sanctions. And it is precisely to create the conditions for a more constructive dialogue with Ankara that today we working on mobilizing all of our diplomatic and operational levers.

On this issue, there is strong convergence between the President of the Republic and the Federal Chancellor, and therefore between Germany and France, on the permanent dual objective in this regard: stability and sovereignty. And I believe that is thanks to this convergence that we managed to convince our partners and together obtain results as clear and strong as those obtained in Berlin on Friday.
In the Sahel, too, it is essential that we remain mobilized together, despite the crisis of political, social and moral confidence that Mali is today experiencing.

There have been significant victories on the ground, and I believe that the enemy is within our reach: we must continue the battle, while supporting the people through development projects and humanitarian actions – the two go hand in hand. This summer, as you know, we learned through tragedy just how much these humanitarian actions worry terrorists, they who feed on despair among the people and target those whose selfless and brave commitment thwarts their plans of fanaticism and hate.

There is solidarity, too, in the negotiations on the future relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom. These negotiations are at a standstill due to the uncompromising, and quite frankly unrealistic, attitude of the United Kingdom. We have always stood united on Brexit. We have proven that those who saw signs of a widespread implosion of Europe were wrong. And I place my trust in Heiko to ensure that this unity will remain strong throughout this period. It is by standing united that we will continue to maintain our line: a comprehensive – and therefore not sector-specific or divided – ambitious and balanced wide-ranging agreement, that covers trade, fisheries, transport, and security – and maintaining the principles and interests of the EU, particularly by ensuring that there are fair competition conditions to avoid dumping.

These are the many forms of European solidarity, which makes our interdependence a factor of security, mutual assistance against adversity, and of course, a driver of development.

It will be common development because we live in a common area, but also because we share values, the respect of which must be a condition to participation in our solidarity mechanisms and obtaining European funds. It has been said before, but I will repeat it again here.

2) But – and this is complementary – we must also strengthen our European sovereignty in order to address other kinds of dependency: those which we basically never chose; those which weaken us; those which in the long run risk depriving us of control over our destiny.

To say this is not to advocate living in isolated autarky. It is not a call to turn inwards. Openness is in Europe’s DNA, and it is also in its interest to be open. To say this is simply to affirm our right to make the choices that have a lasting impact on our future ourselves.

This is true when it comes to industry, with the reshoring of the production of certain strategic assets. It also applies, again in industry, when it comes to European coordination of foreign investment screening in the most sensitive areas, in order to avoid predatory raids of which we are often the target.

It applies on access to our internal market, with measures to combat distortion of competition, be it from companies subsidized by third States or from companies which do not abide by the rules we set to cut CO2 emissions – this is the purpose of the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism, which needs to be set up swiftly. And France will continue to press the case for this.

It applies on foreign trade, an area where we have to step up diplomatic pressure, particularly at the WTO, to put a stop to practices that distort the rules of the game, and no longer hesitate to exploit the balance of power to ensure respect for the principle of reciprocity and full compatibility with the requirements of the Paris Agreement. There will soon be the EU-China Summit, which should contribute to this.

It applies on the legal protection of our businesses, with Europeans working jointly to respond more effectively to the extraterritorial measures of some of our partners, such as the United States.

It applies on the strengthening of Defence Europe, which has made considerable progress in a few years, with Permanent Structured Cooperation, the European Intervention Initiative and the European Defence Fund. I have a few memories – because I am starting to have some experience – of an informal meeting of defence ministers, which I believe was held in Bratislava in 2015, where, together with my German counterpart at the time, Ursula von der Leyen, we proposed permanent structured cooperation. It was not a huge step forward, but it was a joint Franco-German text, and we hit a wall – literally a wall – with extremely strong words from our counterparts saying that it was all absurd and the product of an unsuitable mindset. Look where we are now!

So in that respect, our progress must be clearly identified, and it was the fruit of joint efforts by France and Germany. We were able to act together on the issue, which concerns our security and sovereignty, because it was a matter of our own security, for both of us, and above all of affirming our status as a power at the European level. We are going to build on this momentum, since it is under France’s Presidency that the “Strategic Compass” will be adopted, on which work has just begun under the German Presidency.

It applies, finally, on the digital transformation, so that we are no longer dependent on others’ technology, and on standards we have not decided. Yes, digital technology has now become an area essential to our sovereignty, an area where there is a real risk that others will impose their choices on us.

So we need to work together to invent a European digital sovereignty that is both effective and in keeping with our values – in other words, neither isolationist nor dominant.

To strengthen the security of cyberspace, as we have started doing with the Paris Call.

To win the battle of innovation, by identifying critical areas such as artificial intelligence and 5G, the deployment of which raises essential security and sovereignty issues.

Finally, acting to consolidate our role as a normative power, following the great victory of the General Data Protection Regulation, which now serves as an inspiration for many States around the world. We need to pursue and defend the idea of shared, open digital infrastructure. Because no one should be able to appropriate these new common goods of humanity.

So I hope that, together with willing European countries, we can further discussions about European digital sovereignty, in support of the European institutions and in close collaboration with our businesses and civil society. This must be one of the major projects for the coming years, and I hope that our two presidencies will contribute.

To the deepening of this European solidarity, which enables us to meet our common challenges together, to the surge of sovereignty necessary to signal our independence from public or private actors who try to subject us to their agendas of influence or even predation, must be added a third slogan, I think: fully assert ourselves as the power that we are.

Europe has for too long been – how shall I put it – a retreating power, even though we hold values that should be universal and it is in our interest to try and influence the course of globalization by providing the necessary regulations and safeguards, rather than resigning ourselves to its excesses. My conviction is clear: we must cease holding back as a power, assert ourselves as a real power and ensure that our internal consolidation can be combined with our external affirmation.

We must therefore commit more together in the international arena to these global public goods, namely health, climate and biodiversity, ahead of COP26 and COP15.

Often, in recent history, Europeans have managed to unite forces, for example, in 2015, to get the Paris Climate Agreement adopted. And if we are to continue leading the way today, we need to strengthen our commitment to cut our CO2 emissions, cutting them to 55% of 1990 levels by 2030. If we can send the international community such a message, we will have already done a lot for the Glasgow conference’s success.

This should encourage us to remain committed to these important issues for us and the whole of humankind, and do so in conjunction with all our partners, particularly those in Africa, where I am convinced that many solutions to the challenges of the 21st century can be found. The next summit between the European Union and the African Union, in an unusual format, will be an essential moment for laying groundwork.

Shouldering our responsibilities and not remaining a retreating power, asserting our existence as a power externally, is also part of the battle we are waging together to promote collective action in international institutions within the framework of the Alliance for Multilateralism, which Heiko and I launched together a few months ago.

And it means finally devising, with our partners worldwide, a third way in order to avoid fruitless alternatives and ensure that the international community is not held hostage – is no longer held hostage – to the rivalry between the United States and China with its many avatars we have seen.

This, my dear friends, in an era shaken by the coming together of an increased number of global challenges and an acceleration of conflicting rationales, is how I think Europeans can act to defend their model and world view, with a very strong, shared determination to create a 21st century that is desirable, alongside our partners worldwide. And it is with this determination that we can act together, and this is what I believe we are going to do together, my dear Heiko, over the next two years.

I wanted to end by telling you that I personally attach very great importance to this, particularly looking ahead to our Presidency of the Council of the European Union, which in my view remains a huge responsibility. And, even when we have this honour for the 13th time, like Germany today, like France in 2022, it provides an opportunity to help strengthen our continent and an opportunity to move forward on issues that are essential for the future of our citizens, and it is also an exceptional moment for each nation to politically embody our Europe. That is what we are here for this morning with Heiko Maas, to whom I shall hand over straightaway. Thank you.