Speech by Ms Catherine Colonna, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, at the Conference of Ambassadors
Paris, 2 September 2022
Members of Parliament,
Directors, dear friends, ladies and gentlemen,
Here we are for a plenary Conference of Ambassadors for the first time since 2019. It is of course an immense honour to return to this setting as Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, but it is also a pleasure to return to this forum for discussions and reflection that we were deprived of for too long. I would like to say, most simply, that I am pleased that we are all together again, because we have really lacked contact over the last three years. These years have been marked by many difficulties and tragedies, and I would like in particular to pay tribute to the memory of two ambassadors who have died in recent months: Renaud Salins and Emmanuel Cocher. They are in all our thoughts. I know you miss them, and we all miss them.
This Ministry is special in that three quarters of its staff are abroad. Its members form a community that needs to meet to talk, to see the bigger picture, and to reflect together. And that is the purpose and the interest of these meetings that have been held for almost 30 years.
Yesterday, the President of the Republic commended your work over the last three years, marked by unprecedented crises, public health crises and security crises. And in his footsteps, I would like to start by expressing my total admiration for the work done by our network during the two years of the pandemic, and thus by you and your teams, to repatriate hundreds of thousands of our citizens, to come to the rescue of French nationals in difficulty, and to lead teams during periods of confinement and restricted movement. That has not always been simple. This crisis has demonstrated, if it needed demonstrating, the exceptional responsiveness, efficiency and devotion of all our staff.
But the two years of the pandemic have also stopped diplomacy functioning normally. Diplomacy is about contact, and we have been deprived of that. Fewer meetings, fewer field visits and fewer ministerial visits that no videoconference or written communication can replace. It is difficult to reach convergence of views on Zoom, to convince our contacts on Teams, or to negotiate effectively on Webex. And personally, I suspect that this drop-off in in-person diplomacy may be a partial explanation of the rise in misunderstandings and tensions and the aggravation of the world’s disorders.
There has been a lack of contact between us, and also across international society.
We are in a world where confrontation is now at the forefront, and that is my first point. This world requires us to assert ourselves in a combative diplomacy, or even, as the President said yesterday, “combat diplomacy”, the shape of which I will present later, before discussing the world view of this diplomacy and the vision it will defend. That requires us, as you know, to organize efficiently and to ensure we have the resources we need to carry out our work successfully.
My first point is that the world we will be working in is not merely a world of intense competition. It is a world where the sphere of confrontation has expanded. We have to know that and respond.
During the last Conference of Ambassadors, in 2019, the President described a world in profound transformation: shaken balances, lawless economic globalization, a global agenda overturned by the digital revolution and the ecological emergency, a Europe at a crossroads, and an international order under pressure.
That analysis may have seemed sobering. But it was accurate. President Macron spoke yesterday of the risk of old fault lines ultimately fragmenting the international stage in the long term, which would have implications for us. It is our job to avoid such fragmentation. But the trend is there. Think back to where we were in 2019, when we held our last plenary conference, with the first steps of the Wagner Group in the Central African Republic. It is now present in Mali, Ukraine, and no doubt elsewhere. Think of the multiplication of cyber incidents, against hospitals, town halls, companies of all sizes, and against States. And we have just, as you know, assisted Montenegro, which has suffered massive cyber attacks. Think of the misinformation spread by our adversaries at every latitude. Think of the tensions in maritime spaces, from the Eastern Mediterranean to the South China Sea.
We must not be naive. We are not leaving a world of order and harmony to enter a new world of conflict. International life has always been made up of agreements but also, so, so many crises, wars and tensions.
But there is a novelty: war. War returned to the European continent when six months ago, Russia chose to launch a military aggression against Ukraine. What does this war tell us? It tells us that a State, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, no less, can violate its own commitments and the most fundamental legal principles of the Charter of the United Nations. It tells us that imperialist aims are back, with six months of war already, to take possession of the neighbour’s territory.
The chimera chased by Vladimir Putin’s Russia, that of restoration of the Empire, is destroying all frameworks. The legal framework, as I was saying, as the Charter of the United Nations and the Budapest Memorandum are being openly flouted. The moral framework, as we are seeing atrocities and war crimes on a scale unprecedented in Europe since the conflicts that tore apart former Yugoslavia. And the political framework, with Russia openly threatening global food security and energy security and the security of the nuclear plant in Zaporizhzhia in order to achieve his goals of conquest.
We have chosen to help Ukraine defend its sovereignty, its independence and its territorial integrity, because Russia has, in attacking it, attacked the very principles of the international order. It has also attacked a State driven by the desire to live in freedom and peace, a State whose heroic resistance is a dazzling expression of its aspiration to freedom. I saw the strength and determination of that resistance on the ground in Kyiv, which I have already visited twice: first a few days after taking office, then alongside the President, when we initiated a joint visit with his German, Italian and Romanian counterparts.
As you know, we will stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes. We have chosen to support Ukraine because it is fighting for values we share: the values that unite our democracies, and those that Russia wants to destroy.
That is what sets aside this new imperialism: it is driven by a ruthless ideological agenda. It attacks not only the territories of other States, but also a model of society, ours, and everything that may be seen as an existential threat by an authoritarian power. Beyond the conflict in Ukraine, the shrinkage of democratic space is a temptation with consequences that you can see with your own eyes in your posts. From Venezuela to Afghanistan, from Mali to Belarus, limits are being imposed on civil society. Opposition forces are being gagged, press freedom is being worn away, the independence of the judiciary is losing ground, and equal rights are no longer guaranteed.
By definition, authoritarian regimes are, given their very construction, more prompt to risk direct confrontation. That has implications for us. The shift from a democratic government to a military junta brings with it a temptation of aggressiveness. In Mali, for example, we are seeing armed terrorist groups progress across the country, while the regime, run by the perpetrators of a two-fold coup d’état, lashes out against Denmark one day, Côte d’Ivoire the next, and always France, in an attempt to distract from the fact that it is playing by ear, going from failure to failure, hooked up with a group of Russian mercenaries. Yet in January 2013, it was France that, through its intervention, stopped Bamako suffering the fate of Mosul a year later.
Our democracies themselves are facing currents that weaken them in a context of growing polarization. Foreign powers are fomenting division between us. Brexit was in there interests, just as it is in their interests to see jingoism and separatism grow in our societies.
That will to bring conflict about everything now extends to a great many fields.
The pandemic crisis from 2019 to 2021 clearly showed that, in the face of a global public health challenge, the temptation of “every man for himself” was still there. At the height of the crisis, we saw countries take advantage of their importance in the production of health goods and equipment for political purposes.
It is also true that the consequences of climate change for resources are leading to new power balances. China’s massive purchases of agricultural land on all continents demonstrate how certain powers are preparing and acting.
Tomorrow, new areas may be affected by these trends: the high seas, where real plundering of resources is developing and where freedom of navigation is challenged more every day; outer space and the poles, where, so far, we have managed to avoid the most powerful actors setting down the law; and biodiversity itself, control of which could become a security issue.
Yet what we are seeing is that the will to seek compromises is losing ground a little further every day, faced with the desire to impose views without compromise, or to accept deadlock. We saw that just a few days ago when Russia, Russia alone, blocked the adoption of a consensual final document on a security challenge common to all States.
My second point is that, in this degraded environment, we will need to assert a combative diplomacy.
Each of our citizens can feel that today: we are at a serious moment, a turning point, as we often say, for global balances, and a moment at which our diplomacy will need to focus on the essential interests of the nation and defend them with our assets. Those are also your assets: the competence, dedication, versatility and universality of the network, great integration and influence in multilateral forums, and also determination and combativeness.
To do that, we can count on our alliances and partnerships that are real power multipliers. These alliances and partnerships need to be strengthened and deepened, but we also, as I was saying yesterday, need to renew and diversify them. Nothing should be taken for granted.
Our first centre of gravity, the most obvious, is Europe.
And with Laurence Boone’s support, I will fully devote myself to it. Our prosperity and our security depend first of all on the achievements of the European Union. On a deeper level, our democratic lifestyles depend on them because our Europe is a free community based on the rule of law. And I say this very adamantly, crises will not make us forget what is essential. There will be no decrease in our ambition, no renunciation of the terms and conditions, no tolerance for those who want European funds but do not accept Europe’s foundation: democracy and freedoms.
To fulfil this mission and against this difficult international backdrop, we need a strong Europe, a powerful Europe. Whether it comes to energy, defence or the most critical value chains, we are no longer the only ones in Europe to think this. We have made great strides. When war broke out at our doorstep, all the Member States reacted as Europeans. We succeeded collectively, throughout our Presidency of the Council, to take action to support Ukraine in the face of Russia, in all areas: sanctions of an unprecedented scale, military support, the welcome of refugees, humanitarian assistance, the fight against impunity, massive economic aid, and support for grain exports, including 10 million tonnes that were able to leave Ukraine thanks to the solidarity corridor. We have done this while accelerating the sovereignty agenda in the energy, military, digital and trade sectors, which were at the heart of our agenda of the French Presidency of the Council of the European Union. Its outcome, as you all are aware, was greatly commended, from the strategic compass to the climate package, and adoption of the fundamental DSA and DMA, which laid the foundations for a public digital order, which is European today and will be global tomorrow.
This European mobilization and resolution was well noted by our friends, our enemies and those who simply watch what we are doing, without taking sides. They are all watching us. For power, as you know, manifests itself in how others perceive us. We should keep this in mind.
But our work is not done. Europe must conduct three revolutions to become what I would call not only a powerful Europe but a full-powered Europe, which is simply the condition and the instrument of our independence.
Firstly, building our national and collective defence capabilities. Real progress and substantial commitments have been made. In the coming months we need to translate them into concrete action. I am thinking of the implementation of the joint weapons procurement instrument announced by Commissioner Thierry Breton, which is very necessary, a European rapid deployment capacity by 2025 and joint armament programmes. There cannot be a powerful Europe without a defence Europe. And there cannot be a defence Europe without defence budgets. The increases announced by countries such as Germany, of course, but also Sweden and the Netherlands, and to a lesser extent Spain and others, and the end of the Danish opt out, are tangible actions that should be commended and encouraged.
This defence Europe is clearly not defined as an alternative to NATO. From this standpoint, I am proud to have advocated on behalf of the Government for the bill ratifying the accession of Sweden and Finland to NATO, two new European members which will strengthen our Alliance.
The second revolution is that of the European Union’s energy independence. In the coming months, we will gradually reduce our collective dependence on Russian oil and then gas. European solidarity is organized for the winters ahead. But more must be done. While Russia is taking full advantage of energy as a weapon to destabilize Europe, while China is methodically taking control of the value chains in the area of renewable energy, we have no other choice but to accelerate: to diversify our supply, step up the development of new decarbonized energy production capacities, including nuclear energy, and resume debate on limiting the purchasing price of certain imported sources.
The third revolution under way is that of a strategic Europe. The European Union made a historic decision granting candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova. It also finally launched accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania. Our strategic interest is to secure as solidly as possible the Western Balkans to the European Union. And because the path to accession is demanding, President Macron has proposed a European Political Community, which would not be a substitute nor an alternative, but that will respond to the urgent need to manage together the challenges that concern the entire European continent beyond the European Union alone: security, health, connectivity, and energy, to name a few examples.
Finally, this common strategic approach should strengthen our unity. The gradual but steady decline of the former 17+1 format should in this regard be good news. This shows that a growing number of Member States understand that united, we will have more impact. And the gradual introduction of independent commercial defence instruments reflects our collective will to protect our internal market. For example, when Lithuania is targeted, this is what we did, while using Europe’s power of appeal to communicate our own fair and lasting competition rules. The new European rules on reciprocity, fighting foreign funds, and soon I hope, economic coercion, are all part of this aim. It is not only the end of innocence, a word used a great deal at the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, in its European part, it is not only the end of innocence, but the start of a counter-offensive.
We should most likely add our own internal revolutions to these three European ones. We have convinced everyone that sovereign Europe is a legitimate aim. This was no easy task just five years ago, as I was able to mention briefly earlier. We had a high level of ambition – actually, very high – for our Presidency of the Council of the European Union. We added the necessary impetus and at times shook up the dogmas of our partners. A new phase is beginning, we handed over the baton; a phase in which we should be even more attentive to how the other States view Europe. Then, we must pursue reflection, as is the practice, on the way the European Union works and possible institutional adjustments. President Macron has emphasized this on several occasions: there must be no taboos in this regard. Because in the end, everything that makes Europe capable of acting more effectively serves our national interest. The line is clear.
To do so, we should, of course, work with Germany, and the President confirmed yesterday how the discourse of Chancellor Scholz could open up, for us as well, new possibilities. We should take advantage of the period that is starting to define and implement a common road map that will enable us to further strengthen our bilateral relationship. The upcoming French-German Council Ministers will be a key moment for this common ambition. I would like to recall that we will celebrate next January the 60th anniversary of the Élysée Treaty, which has sealed the friendship between our two countries. I would like to continue together in this framework to help strengthen an inclusive, sovereign, effective, forward-looking European Union so as not to impose a French-German vision on others, but to ensure that the French-German duo can ensure the role of driving force that is so important and even indispensable in my opinion.
After the European Union, our other fixed points are our allies and strategic partners.
Our alliances and our partnerships are in a way our diplomatic capital. We have inherited some, we have built new ones and we should continue to do so.
Firstly, the transatlantic partnership to which the war in Ukraine has given renewed importance. France will continue to be an exemplary ally. Present in the field, in the Baltic countries as well as Romania as part of reassurance measures for European partners in the eastern flank, it acts in one case in close relation with the United Kingdom and Germany, and in the other as a framework nation, with our Belgian and Dutch partners. Whether their framework be NATO or defence Europe, the strengthening of ties between European nations always contributes to our collective security. France will also continue to require the same coherence in the face of those among our allies which appreciate the security cover of the Alliance but work to circumvent sanctions or cooperate militarily with its more direct adversary, Russia.
We should continue to consolidate our partnerships, everywhere France is present, through its overseas territories, starting with the Indo-Pacific.
Asia – which many people are talking about, and which I would like to talk about as well – is clearly a region that is the focus of intense competition among powers. In the future it may become a region of confrontation, which we saw only a few weeks ago with the military drills conducted by China near Taiwan, in which missiles were fired, some of which landed in the exclusive economic zone of Japan.
In this region of the world, France will continue to work for strategic autonomy of all the powers that adhere to these shared principles of regulation of an international order based on the rule of law. India clearly is and will continue to be an essential partner in Asia: for the past quarter of a century, an exceptional strategic partnership has bound us to this country, based on the common desire for autonomy furthering international stability.
India is the most successful example of this partnership as equals that President Macron talked about yesterday. Tomorrow, Indonesia may be a new leading partner. And we are building with Australia a new positive relationship after the serious undermining of our security partnership by the former Australian government. As part of the special partnership which binds us to Japan, we are finally developing aims that reflect what this country represents today in the Indo-Pacific region.
At the same time, we should be doing more in the South Pacific, where a new “great game” is being played. The third referendum in New Caledonia, which confirmed that this archipelago would remain part of the Republic, reminds us how hard our country must work with its neighbouring islands, the Minister for the Armed Forces told some of us this yesterday, because we are facing common challenges regarding security, the preservation of resources and climate change adaptation.
Just as strategic for our country and for Europe is the partnership with Africa. We must continue the transformation of the ties that bind us to this neighbouring continent.
Just like the rest of the world, Africa is experiencing crises, but in the years ahead, it will be first and foremost a multitude of partnerships to invent, and cooperation opportunities to develop. Here also, we must continue to transform our approach in the framework of renewed partnerships among equals, based on the needs expressed by our partners, and also those that we ourselves can express. We know that on this continent, new competition is emerging, some of which is aggressive or unscrupulous. For our part, we must learn to take action in this increasingly competitive area. It is up to us to show that we are the right partner, and the more reliable and respectful one, a partner who will be there on days of success and in the hard times.
Our policy will always be based on these two pillars: acting alongside States, engaging in direct dialogue with young people, businesspeople and all of the strengths of civil societies, to better understand and to be better understood, and to take better action.
Acting alongside States means confirming our commitment to support peace, security, good governance and development, as I did in Niger in July, with the Minister for the Armed Forces. We shall therefore remain present, alongside the African States that so wish, and in support of the needs they express sovereignly, to assist them in fulfilling their legitimate ambitions. Our support to economic, and especially agricultural, development, our official development assistance in the field of infrastructure, health and education; all this will be undertaken together. African States are among some of the worst affected by climate change. They are also among the youngest of the planet. They therefore have specific needs and expectations, that we can and must help them fulfil. And if there are partners, we will provide what is necessary, because our resources dedicated to development will continue to grow.
Taking action alongside States also means strengthening our cooperation with African regional organizations, and first and foremost the African Union. It also means supporting regional integration and regional peace and security efforts. Another element is promoting a more political partnership between the European Union and the African Union. There is work to be done. We played our part last February, in the framework of the European Union-African Union Summit of Heads of State and Government.
Taking action alongside States, conversing with citizens, engaging in dialogue in particular with the highly creative, innovative and promising young people, who represent the majority of Africa’s population – that was the undertaking announced in Ouagadougou in 2017, confirmed in Montpellier in 2021, and more recently, during President Macron’s trip to Cameroon, Benin, Guinea-Bissau and, last week, Algeria. This laid the framework for the transformation of our relationship with the African continent, with an ambition to invent the future together.
Tackling the future together often means beginning by navigating our shared past together – as you are already aware. We must continue the work on remembrance which has already begun with Rwanda, Cameroon and Algeria. On the cultural level, let’s be even more ambitious in building high-quality museum cooperation in particular. We also want to support artistic creation in all its forms: from literature to plastic arts. The President spoke about it yesterday.
This also implies capitalizing on the diasporas, and I would like them to be centre-stage in this effort to renew our approach. So work with them, seek out their ideas and their skills; on the ground, they will be powerful representatives for you. David Diop, Alain Mabanckou and Djailou Amadou Amal, who won the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens, for example, are the faces and voices of France, who express with great depth and finesse the complexity and the power of the ties between Europe and Africa. They are essential cultural brokers.
Our change of approach must also involve a change of image, because as we know well, the image we send out to the world, and particularly this part of the world, is strategic. We must dismantle false representations and put a stop to lies, but we must also take back control of our own narrative and image. Two days ago, the Council of Ministers appointed an ambassador responsible for public diplomacy in Africa, with the specific task of sharing best practices, providing advice on potential actions, and ensuring that France’s initiatives and actions are better taken into account in public opinion. Your personal involvement is necessary, and I would even say it could play a deciding role.
This brings me to my third point. Our diplomatic action, our European action, and our partnerships serve a vision: that there should be one shared humanity.
The first element of our shared humanity is our equal aspiration to rights and freedoms.
You are the representatives of the Republic, a deeply democratic State, with a Constitution which reminds us in the preamble that “Men are born and remain free and equal in rights.” Defending freedom is also a challenge of national interest, faced with the increasing number of attacks from outside. I mentioned it before: I am talking about all those who, whether State or non-State actors, aim to cause problems in our country, by manipulating public opinion, sowing division or supporting separatism in our society. It is the same obscurantist hand that struck Charlie Hebdo and Salman Rushdie. It must be stopped.
There is also an international dimension here. France has never been a disciple of democratic interventionism. To quote the words of President Macron yesterday, it works without demands or interference. But it does work.
Our foreign policy therefore incorporates the question of democracy and rights, because we hold the belief that every human being is equally worthy of enjoying basic rights. That is what we do, for example, in the Human Rights Council. Nobody should have to accept to live without freedom. The great Soviet author, Vassili Grossman, dared to write that in his novel, Life and Fate, a reading of which in today’s context is particularly enlightening, even necessary. I quote: “Man’s innate yearning for freedom can be suppressed but never destroyed”. This belief, forged in the midst of his experience of totalitarianism, should guide us.
In this field, just like many others, our foreign policy will take effect first on the ground, where it is confronted with what President Macron yesterday referred to as a “competition of universalisms”. It must actively contribute to opening up the space for democracy and rights wherever possible. It is one of the President’s priorities, reaffirmed at the launch of the Marianne Initiative, for example, in December 2021, which supports human rights advocates around the world. I would like us to be able to amplify this movement by setting up a “democratic resilience” plan in every embassy, wherever relevant, developed under your supervision and bringing the ministry’s resources together, in particular the civil society segment of the Solidarity Fund for Innovative projects (FSPI), and agency resources, or those arriving through multilateral channels. This strategy will also incorporate our cultural diplomacy resources, which very often provide a forum for discussion and the circulation of ideas, in places where they are threatened.
In this general framework, we shall continue our action to protect those who work for individual freedoms, such as community and humanitarian stakeholders, journalists and lawyers. We shall continue working for those who are oppressed or persecuted for who they are: religious minorities, some of whom, such as the Yazidis of Iraq, have been victims of Daesh and its genocidal acts, and members of the LGBTQ+ communities, for whom we shall have a dedicated ambassador by the end of the year, as desired by the Prime Minister. Finally, because no society can develop without gender equality, we shall continue to make our feminist diplomacy a key element of our action. For example, you must continue to work for the right to education for girls: the tragedy of the Taliban’s return to Kabul reminds us that it cannot be taken for granted. You must also work for sexual and reproductive rights, undermined even in the heart of a great democracy like the United States of America, and for equal rights and treatment before the law.
This democratic agenda should take into account the massive development of new media in our lives. Here, once more, France is a driver. I am thinking of the new Digital Services Act, mentioned earlier, and adopted under the French Presidency of the Council of the European Union. It will help fight against the dissemination of illegal content online, such as incitement to hatred and harassment. I have in mind the Christchurch Call to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online, launched by the President Macron and the Prime Minister of New Zealand. I am also referring to the International Partnership for Information and Democracy, which aims to promote access, particularly online, to reliable information of good quality, from free, independent and pluralist media outlets. Two summits, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly at the end of September, will consolidate these coalitions. At the national level, France’s External Audiovisual Services will remain a key actor.
As part of the meeting on the right to information, which my colleague, Minister of Culture Rima Abdul-Malak, and I shall organize jointly, I plan to reflect with you on the best tools to shield us from foreign interference. We must do more. I plan to take action with you, to define the common European framework that would allow us to act more effectively and support free media abroad. This requires you to have an even greater presence in virtual spaces where international relations play out, to spread awareness about your action as you do, but also to dismantle all false information, fight against this interference, and be more active or proactive. It is a fully-fledged area of our action today. It is a part of your role as diplomats.
Our shared humanity obviously includes our environment too, and we must protect it from competition mentalities and companies that prey on it. Competitors that follow diverging trajectories should be able to agree on this point. We want to believe so. It is therefore unthinkable to hope to resolve the global challenges that we are facing without China, the leading carbon emitter. That is the reason why we must continue to seek out agreements wherever possible, because we must avoid the return of a bloc mentality which would paralyze diplomacy, including in fields such as the environment or the climate, where it is a matter of urgency to find solutions. I am not saying that it will be easy, considering the new expansion of competition mentalities. Nonetheless, I believe in our ability to succeed, and this is for the simple reason that what we have qualified as the “brutalization” of international relations – and rightly so – did not wait for the war in Ukraine. We cannot say that the past decade has been a lot more peaceful than the previous century.
France has always wanted to promote humanist diplomacy, and since COP21, and even more so since 2017, it has continued to steadily move forward, wherever possible seeking and creating areas of common ground. From the Tropical Forest Alliance to the Ambition Coalition for Nature and People to the Alliance for Multilateralism and the One Ocean Summit in Brest, and the next UN Ocean Conference, which we want to hold in France in 2025, to the ACT-Accelerator initiative, to our involvement in the COVAX mechanism, where we achieved and even exceeded our goal with 124 million doses, we were able to overcome obstacles and avoid shocks on several occasions. We can do it. So let’s keep going. The annual Paris Peace Forum also provides us with a platform to seek new opportunities to foster this diplomacy of common goods and concrete projects.
In the year ahead, we must tirelessly continue our efforts, at least in two priority areas.
The first is to lower greenhouse gas emissions. This is the most urgent project in the coming years, both within our borders and internationally. COP27 will be held on 7-18 November in Sharm El Sheikh, while the war in Ukraine has made our dependence on fossil fuels a major issue. We must transcend the North-South division, which makes no sense in the face of the rapid climate change which is affecting the entire planet.
The second issue is food security. The short-term aim is to counteract the worsening food security due to the war in Ukraine, and in the medium term to address the structural shortcomings of the global agricultural market. Results were achieved at the WTO, WFP and IFAD, and must be consolidated. This requires new partnerships, particularly with the private actors within the action coalition which I launched on 23 June with my colleague Marc Fesneau from the Ministry for Agriculture, under the FARM initiative, initiated by President Macron, continued by the European Union and the G7, with private actors, recipient countries and in particular African countries.
Finally, our shared humanity has a framework for action: it is ours, it is multilateralism.
With the Europeans, we are continuing our staunch support for international organizations, starting with the United Nations. At the Security Council, abuse of the veto will never silence our votes for the rule of law and peace. In New York, Geneva, Rome and Nairobi, we are supporting the Secretary-General, agencies, funds and programmes, to tackle crises, promote human rights and encourage sustainable development for all.
The impartiality of certain technical organizations like the IAEA and OPCW is being challenged by those who dislike their conclusions, even obvious ones such as that the Damascus regime used chemical weapons against its people, and that there must be consequences for this. Others are pressured to a greater or lesser extent, like the WHO yesterday or the International Criminal Court by the previous US administration.
For our part, we will always support the multilateral system; because the international order needs impartiality, consensus and rules. We have formed solid partnerships to defend this method, first in Europe and then outside Europe, particularly with our Latin American friends, and these partnerships could perhaps be taken further.
We are also serving our shared humanity by taking action where divides are at risk of deepening, and I will mention some regional situations.
In the Sahel, which we have already addressed, our military withdrawal from Mali opens up a new chapter. We will continue to work on two fronts: first, we will help our partners combat armed terrorist groups seeking to destabilize them, because this is essential for our own security. But we will do so by providing more support, via an approach to empower and scale up our partners, based on their requests. The security approach alone is insufficient. That is why, secondly, it is essential that it go hand in hand with development and stabilization projects, the return of State services and improved governance. We will stand alongside the countries which promote this approach.
We must also learn from strategic restructurings underway in the Middle East. Our diplomacy is indeed a balancing power. Not because we are equidistant from everyone, because as I said we know our place, our allies and our partners. But because we are seeking a balance and want to prevent those who seek to add to the disorder from destabilizing international relations.
Regarding the prospect of Iran’s return to the JCPOA, as the President recalled, the ball is now in Tehran’s court. At the same time, Iran is continuing to extend its influence at the expense of the sovereignty and security of its neighbours and in no way is ceasing its hegemonic rhetoric. The issue of security in the Middle East is thus not confined to the nuclear issue. We will have to make proposals to both strengthen regional security and maintain the space for dialogue opened up by the Baghdad Conference last summer.
Our impartial commitment to the sovereignty and stability of Iraq has never waned. While Iraq is experiencing its worst political crisis since 2003 and in recent days has seen violent flare-ups, we can help promote a process of de-escalation and inclusive dialogue.
The Abraham Accords are also a sign of change. They speed up Israel’s inclusion process in its regional environment, which is positive and must be maintained. But the Abraham Accords are also incomplete. While supporting the regional economic integration process opened up by these Accords, we must remain at hand to restore a political outlook to the Palestinian issue. Our support for the security of Israel goes hand in hand with our compliance with international law, which we expect a democracy to scrupulously apply. It also goes hand in hand with our assertion of a law with equal dignity and sovereignty for both Israelis and Palestinians, i.e. a two-State solution, which is the only desirable outcome.
Lebanon is in serious decline and experiencing an unprecedented economic crisis. Our responsibility is to support the people of Lebanon who are drained by the situation, but also to exert our influence to put a stop to the negligence and abuses. But there are some grounds for hope: general elections have taken place, and a technical agreement has been signed with the IMF. But unless the Lebanese leadership suddenly starts to take action, the collapse of Lebanon will continue. We will thus pay full attention to ensure that the Lebanese leaders meet their people’s demands for reform and justice.
Finally, the stability of the Mediterranean region is even more vital. Our security, prosperity, and ecological and climate future largely depend on the Mediterranean. We must face these challenges together. That is why we are continuing to intensify and renew our partnerships with the Maghreb countries. The French President’s visit to Algeria laid the foundations for a renewed, forward-looking and youth-oriented partnership between our two countries. We are also promoting this ambition to revitalize cooperation and dialogue with Morocco, a country with which we have an exceptional partnership. And in Tunisia, another country close to our hearts, which is undergoing transition, we must continue to support the population affected by a serious economic crisis. This ambition must be broadly guided by our shared security interests, but must also take full account of the people’s aspirations for a freer and fairer world, in which their dignity and the rule of law are respected.
We will continue to act to reduce the chaos in Libya and to work on stabilizing it. Our assessment is correct: only elections will enable us to resolve the legitimacy crisis affecting Libyan institutions, which are only facilitating interference from actors whose motives differ from ours. The Libyans want to make progress, so we must help them to do so.
I could mention many other regional situations, but I would like to get to my fourth and final section. France will ask a lot of you in the months and years ahead, and in return, the government will give you the wherewithal to act. Now is the time to “reset” our diplomacy.
Firstly, you can rely on strong support from the people of France.
I will start with COVID, Afghanistan and Ukraine: over the past three years, French diplomacy has gained lot of trust. It confirmed that it is not only an instrument of influence and power to serve a strong and independent France, but also a reliable and efficient public service. This is a fantastic asset. You must continue to grow this trust.
The important outreach activities initiated by this ministry must also continue. They help to better promote our work and our jobs, to gain a better understanding of them. The Summer Diplomatic Academy, the Empreintes programme, your trips to regions must continue and enable you to maintain your relationship with the people of France, local elected officials, community organizations and of course even more than before, with members of Parliament, as the Prime Minister recalled to all members of government. Many MPs are here among us today, as they are throughout the year, and I would like to extend to them my warmest greetings and thanks.
To consolidate this link, consideration for the concerns of our compatriots must always be integral to our work.
The people of France expect us to protect them when they are travelling or living abroad. Furthermore, we will continue to work tirelessly for the release of our compatriots being held hostage or convicted on political grounds. We will continue to work tirelessly on the security of the people of France in these times of crisis.
In addition to security and defending our values, the people of France expect us to help them in their daily lives. They have major concerns over purchasing power. Economic diplomacy, which has always been central to our profession, has enabled our embassies to take full ownership of issues linked to foreign trade and attractiveness.
Under the banner of “Choose France”, and following competitiveness reforms undertaken in the previous five-year term, we have made France Europe’s most attractive country for foreign investment projects. This has been the case for the third year running. With Olivier Becht, we will work to consolidate France as a brand. I ask you to work with Business France, alongside our regions and all attractiveness actors to apply a simple principle: we must use all the resources at our disposal, and use them as a team.
Our diplomacy must be one which produces results, and each result counts if it allows us to contribute to what we want for France: full employment, growth, reindustrialization. The creation of even a dozen jobs in a small town is a success in its own right, not to mention the €6.7 billion of investment announced at the last Choose France summit.
Our economic diplomacy must enable our businesses to project themselves even more effectively worldwide. The deficit – I should say substantial deficit – in the trade in goods conceals the positive underlying trends which we need to develop. One example: despite the pandemic, over the past few years we have seen the number of French exporters break records, with over 138,000 of them now compared to 120,000 in 2017. It is encouraging, but not enough, in comparison to our neighbours’ export bases. You can count on the support of the solid partnership forged in 2018 with Business France, the regions, Bpifrance and CCI France within Team France Export, which I – with Olivier at my side – would like to deepen further.
For French nationals abroad, education must remain at the heart of our concerns: we will be strengthening the French educational excellence network, via the network of French schools abroad, which is also perhaps one of our best vehicles for expanding francophonie and a world view, and our values. Our goal must also be to get France back on the podium of the nations most attractive to international students – which is a very diplomatic way of saying that we have lost ground and need to reverse the trend.
Being close to our compatriots’ concerns and interests, as I am asking you to be, also means – when it comes to our diplomatic network –taking part in the major events which bring French people together. In less than two years, there is one which will take on a historic dimension for France: the 2024 Olympic Games. Our landscapes, our towns and cities, our expertise and our economy will be on show to the entire world. I thank my colleague Amélie Oudéa-Castéra for agreeing yesterday to talk to you about this. I hope she told you what I am thinking. We have 70 embassies which are already associated with this major event, the Olympic Games, through the “Land of the Games” label: my wish is for this number to be doubled by next summer. It is possible.
Finally, let’s turn to our resources, to which we shall also be devoting a special session this afternoon.
The French people have high expectations of you, and the international context justifies, of course, as you know better than anyone, France resolutely taking the path of stepping up its sovereign duties.
Over the past few years our armed forces have seen their resources increase, allowing us to hold our rank today. We must also raise our diplomatic ambition, which also involves increasing our resources: this is my priority and my commitment to you. Official development assistance will continue the significant, clear growth under way since 2017. This year, an extra €860 million for 2023 will be proposed for approval by Parliament.
Supported by Chrysoula Zacharopoulou, I will always be careful to ensure that the resources entrusted to us meet the political priorities set by the President and Prime Minister, which will soon be reaffirmed and adapted, if necessary, at a Presidential Council for Development meeting, then set out at a meeting of the Interministerial Committee for International Cooperation and Development (CICID) session at the beginning of next year. Because our development policy is an integral part of our foreign policy. The 2021 programming act drew the consequences of this by strengthening the political management of ODA, for which the Agence Française de Développement, the AFD, is the chief agency. This is the case in Paris and abroad. I ask you to be guarantors of this, by organizing local development councils and putting in place the country strategies expected of you.
But I would also like to say today that, with the support of the President and Prime Minister, whom I very warmly thank, the State external action mission (i.e. programmes 105, 151 and 185) will see its funding increase by €160 million in 2023. This rise consolidates the steady process to increase our budgetary resources begun in 2018, but with a significant rise.
Regarding jobs, I want to begin by paying tribute to my predecessor, Jean-Yves Le Drian, who succeeded last year in stabilizing the number of full-time equivalent positions, thus putting a stop, in his words – I think I am quoting him exactly – to the haemorrhaging of jobs in this Ministry. Next year – as the President has told you – for the first time in roughly 30 years, since 1993, we will be creating jobs. Since 1993: that means that no diplomat under the age of 55 will have seen an increase in staff at this Ministry. So it is a genuine break with the past, a genuine change. So the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs will see its job ceiling increase by 100 full-time equivalent positions this year. For a Ministry such as ours, that is a very substantial increase in our human resources.
These new resources affect your daily professional lives. Working in a crisis centre which manages €30 million of humanitarian aid, as was the case in 2017, is not the same as working in one managing €200 million, like this year. When it meets in 2023, the National Humanitarian Conference will be able to note the progress made and our country will be able to be proud of it. Nor is working with the organizations in the UN system, when voluntary contributions have fallen to €105 million, their 2017 level, the same as when those contributions will exceed €700 million in 2023. Being an ambassador with the Solidarity Fund for Innovative Projects (FSPI) amounting to €17 million, as in 2018, is not the same as being an ambassador when they amount to €60 million, like today, and soon more.
These new resources should also serve as a catalyst to help us focus on updating our organization and its methods. With regard to the budget, as in human resources, there will be no dispersion of funds – I will make clear choices, including those necessary to improve the daily workings of this administration. Without going into detail, those choices will obviously include such new political issues as the priority given to the Indo-Pacific, the security of our sites, cyber security, and our ability to respond to information threats. Two new departments will be formed to help us better address those threats.
In addition to these new resources – not as a result of them, but in addition to them – we must show that we are adaptable and innovative. I believe the word the President used was “agile.”
These are essential qualities for diplomats, and they are more necessary than ever.
Fifteen years ago, the Foreign Ministry took a pioneering step with the establishment of its Crisis and Support Centre, probably one of our greatest successes. The CDCS is a versatile tool, open to outside experts, that can be mobilized to serve the government apparatus. I want to applaud the effectiveness with which it coordinates government efforts to respond to consular crises. We have seen that with Ukraine, and humanitarian crises such as the situation in Pakistan, to which we provided relief this week, have illustrated it yet again. It took just a week from the Pakistani Prime Minister’s appeal for emergency relief to today’s dispatching of assistance.
I would like to see the same efficiency in other sections of the Ministry. For example, in 2023, I want the French Nationals Abroad and Consular Administration Directorate to create its own specialized support centre too, so that we can assist those in the consular network who are facing difficulties and respond to the legitimate expectations of French nationals abroad and foreign nationals who are seeking to enter French territory legally.
This also relates to the Directorate-General for Global Affairs. France leads numerous global coalitions on ever more varied topics. The DGM must therefore fit into the framework presented yesterday by President Macron, in which this Ministry fully assumes its role as an interministerial leader of international action. The DGM can play this role by rallying a number of actors, supervising agencies and ensuring that their legal autonomy does not expand at the expense of the State’s strategic goals, for which we are politically accountable. It must be able to communicate with civil society and local governments, integrating their expertise and resources, as well as those of other Ministries, into the task forces it will lead, and it must have the budget to do this. This is an enormous job aimed at strengthening our ability to ensure consistent leadership in global affairs, which are becoming increasingly technical.
Finally, I want our diplomacy to be even more innovative. In 2023, I want the Ministry to establish three funds to help boost innovation: a fund dedicated to innovations in soft diplomacy, so that our institutes and cultural services can receive support for launching new programmes; a fund for the ecological and energy transition, to support investments that enable us to reduce our energy consumption network-wide; and, in the area of communication, a €500,000 fund to support our most ambitious projects.
Lastly – and I am well aware of the fact that I took up my position at a time when serious questions were being asked within our institution, focused in particular around the reform of senior management, but extending far beyond – I want to say a quick word about us ourselves.
The fears that have been expressed for years over the risks of diluting the specific nature of the diplomatic profession are palpable today. Difficulties have also arisen in connection with an often very heavy and expanding workload, in conjunction with fewer resources, a growing number of missions, and increasing autonomy granted to agencies. They are also connected to the constraints inherent in a career often spent abroad, and especially the impact that has on spouses’ careers and children’s education. Our procedures and administrative processes have once again come under criticism. And I haven’t forgotten the category B and C employees, and staff members under private contracts for whom these matters are all the more urgent.
That is why the Ministry needs to take a moment to listen, to reflect and to hold discussions, in order to redefine the meaning of our collection efforts. There will therefore be a conference on France’s diplomacy. President Macron has agreed to support this idea, as he told you yesterday. We should ask questions at that conference that are as simple as “What is diplomacy today? What skills do we need? What lessons should we learn with regard to hiring and career development? How can we guarantee greater diversity and greater gender equality? How can we make the lives of our employees easier and show them that the administration that demands so much of them also has their backs?”
These are issues we will have to tackle together, as the French diplomatic community. With the President and Prime Minister’s support, this autumn we will conduct a large-scale reflection process open to the outside that should enable us to consider the diplomatic context in which we work and the resources and organization it requires, on the one hand, and professional careers and working methods on the other. And quite simply, the Ministry’s role within the State. That is how we will be able to move forward. And please, let us move forward.
Ambassadors, that is the crux of what I wanted to tell you today. As you are well aware, the President, the Prime Minister, I myself and the citizens of France have never had higher expectations of our diplomats than they do today, given the current state of disarray in the world.
You have the full confidence of the highest State authorities. You have mine. You are fortunate to have one of the most interesting, important careers that exist: the diplomatic career. Be creative, be positive and, working hand in hand with your youngest colleagues, who share your calling, map out an ambition for France and its foreign policy.
I am convinced that we have one of the world’s finest diplomatic services. So let us continue.