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European Council

Published on March 30, 2011
Press conference given by Nicolas Sarkozy, President of the Republic (excerpts)
Brussels, March 25, 2011



Q. – What’s your analysis and what was the Council’s analysis of the economic and political situation in Portugal?

THE PRESIDENT – I’d like to say first of all that the Council thanked Prime Minister Socrates for the courage he showed and the different measures he proposed to the Portuguese, which have so far been accepted by all the political parties. True, there’s been a political crisis, but according to what both Mr Socrates and Mr Barroso have told us, all the Portuguese political parties adhere to the goals set by Europe, even if the political struggle – which has its rules – led to a rejection of the plan presented by Mr Socrates. So according to what’s being said, there will probably be elections within two months, but our confidence in Portugal is complete and we’re reassured to know that all the Portuguese parties are well aware effort is necessary to improve the competitiveness of the Portuguese economy and reduce Portugal’s deficit.

So this hasn’t changed our analysis of the situation. Moreover, all the measures are now completely in place and have met with complete agreement: there’s an economic government, a Pact for the Euro. Another six countries have decided – announced – that they’ll adhere to this Pact for the Euro, namely Denmark, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Bulgaria and Romania. So economically speaking Europe has really done what had to be done, and that’s a great source of satisfaction. It’s got an economic government, a permanent fund, procedures and a pact. That’s what France has been demanding for a very long time. (…)


Q. – Following the terrible nuclear disaster in Japan, you discussed the matter at this European Council meeting, and the idea of stress tests is taking shape. What type of stress tests, and what would the consequences be for those power stations that failed them?

THE PRESIDENT – Yes, we talked about them in great depth. It’s also a question of responsibility. What’s happened in Japan is a wake-up call to the whole world. Let me remind you that what’s happened in Japan is nothing like what happened in Chernobyl. The earthquake, nine on the Richter scale: Japan’s never experienced anything so big. The power station, built in 1970, withstood it perfectly; the nuclear process worked perfectly. What didn’t work? The fact that the anti-tsunami defences, which were six metres high, were submerged by a wave that was 12 metres high, which overwhelmed the electricity system, which stopped the cooling pumps. So the main lesson from what’s happened in Japan is to defend against tsunamis. Obviously the question is different in regions where there are power stations but no sea, or regions which from time immemorial have never experienced a tsunami.

We therefore decided to subject all our power stations to stress tests, security tests, in the light of what’s happened in Japan. What we agreed on first of all was that the energy mix, the energy package, is the responsibility of the Member States. Some have opted for nuclear energy; others haven’t. And for those which have, here’s what will happen: the Commission will establish the monitoring framework and rules. The independent nuclear authorities will carry out checks and publicize [the results of] those checks, and the Commission and the European nuclear energy regulators will say whether they’re acceptable or insufficient. If a power station were to fail those tests – I’m speaking on France’s behalf – it would be closed down. That’s clear. In France, all the tests will be carried out and all the test results will be published, and if the tests were to be inconclusive, we’d immediately draw conclusions from it. There’s only one consequence: closure.


Q. – A more general question: when France rejoined NATO’s integrated military structure, it was in the hope this would enable the development of a Defence Europe and EU military capabilities. Now, what do we see in the case of Libya? That virtually all our partners want just one thing: to get under the NATO umbrella as quickly as possible, even when we have to intervene in our “back yard”, as our British friends put it. Don’t you now feel you’ve given up the real prize to go off chasing rainbows, because in this case Defence Europe appears more distant than ever?

THE PRESIDENT – Frankly, I don’t know what I’ve given up. Let me remind you that France was a member of 18 NATO committees, 18! And that she’s rejoined one of them, the 19th, and still hasn’t got to the 20th. If that’s the prize, it wasn’t up to much!

Secondly, NATO’s decisions, as you know, are taken unanimously, and yet this Libyan business, which is so painful, is the initiative of Britain and France, two great European countries, and the planes that are flying are British and French, in addition to the others, but they’re also Danish. But you yourself are very knowledgeable about Europe and you’re well aware that Defence Europe relies above all on a partnership, namely the Franco-British partnership, because they’re the most powerful armed forces in Europe. With what majority are we to build Defence Europe? Germany’s made a choice, and this choice today is for the unity of Europe. But you’re well aware that Germany has a history and that the German sensibility has hindered it from intervening spontaneously on foreign territory since the end of the Second World War. We must respect countries’ history. Europe consists of different histories. I’m very happy that we and Germany found ways to compromise and that Europe today is totally united on the Libya issue – totally. There’s Franco-British leadership on Defence Europe: everyone’s well aware of it, everyone’s familiar with it. And the fact that we’ve rejoined NATO’s 19th committee doesn’t change that situation, which existed before and will exist afterwards. What would our rejoining or not rejoining have changed?

Furthermore, it’s entirely natural, because you’ve got to have a lead nation organizing the handling of all these planes. Given that our American friends – and I think they’re right, moreover – don’t want to be that lead nation – and it might not be very clever for them to be, anyway, given Middle Eastern sensitivities – then somebody has to do it. Do you think France should do it? There’s a structure in NATO, there’s a machinery; we use it via the command in Naples and this poses no problem. And you’re well aware of it, too. It works, and the best proof is that two countries that aren’t NATO members, Qatar and the Emirates, will be taking part in the flights, the actions in Libya, without this causing the slightest difficulty. And political leadership is followed by coordination. What’s the problem? What should we have done differently? I’d be delighted to debate this issue – it doesn’t bother me – but what other solution was there? It’s very simple: there were two solutions, there weren’t three. Either the United States was the lead nation and coordinated, and I would have been told: “Ah, you’re just tagging along behind the United States” [or] if it’s not the United States that does it – and I don’t think it would be clever for them to do it, because of the sensitivity of Arab public opinion – then why should I oppose the NATO machinery? If political control lies with the coalition, must France be the lead nation? Aren’t we sufficiently committed? Would that mean I’d have had to invent a system to compete with the NATO machinery? What possible sense could there be in that? (…)./.

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