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Foreign policy

Published on June 15, 2015
Article by M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, published in the daily newspaper Libération
Paris, June 11, 2015
France, a diplomatic power maintaining its rank

I read with interest the long articles in your 30-31 May edition devoted to the theme: “Where has the diplomacy of the Left gone?” Since I am not entirely unconnected with defining and implementing that diplomacy, I thought your newspaper might be interested in a few comments on these matters.

Debates on the nature of French diplomacy are rather similar to arguments about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Realist or pro-human rights?

Pragmatist or idealist? “Gaullo-Mitterrandist” or “neoconservative”? Do these conventional dichotomies reflect the reality and complexity of modern diplomacy?

After three years as head of the Quai d’Orsay, my clear answer is: no.

Challenging these categories does not mean diplomacy can do without guidelines. On the contrary. Nothing would be less effective or more dangerous than diplomatic choices made by fits and starts, with no direction or vision. Our country would be like a cork tossed around on the tide of international events. There is no question of that.
That is why the French President and I have decided the opposite. In the face of a chaotic, complex and often confused world, our diplomacy needed a clear, coherent framework of action – which does not make it any less ambitious. We have set four priorities that specifically determine my action.


First of all, peace and security: that is the clearest aim. In the knowledge that peace does not mean pacifism, or security neutrality. Hence the choice of military intervention if it is absolutely essential for security and in accordance with international law. Mali and the Central African Republic in 2013, the Sahel since August 2014, Iraq since September in the framework of the Global Coalition to Counter Daesh [ISIL]: these interventions, accompanied by a plan for political progress and development, have contributed and are contributing to peace and security: that is their goal. Not only in those regions, but all over the world, including on our own territory. The jihadist terrorists, who operate in those areas, ignore borders. In today’s world, withdrawing does not mean protecting oneself.

Our commitment to peace and security guides all our choices. Hence our joint diplomatic action with Germany, in the Normandy format framework, for de-escalation in Ukraine. Hence our stringent position on Iran’s nuclear programme: yes to an agreement, but a robust agreement that removes Iran’s access to the atomic bomb and prevents nuclear proliferation in that explosive region. Hence, too, our efforts to revitalize the negotiations for a definitive resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which requires a two-state solution, the only one that will bring justice to the Palestinians and guarantee security in Israel. Hence also, in the Middle East, our mobilization to defeat the barbaric, obscurantist Daesh horde – a battle which will be long-drawn-out – so as to create the conditions for a stable, “inclusive” Iraq and enable a political transition in Syria. Hence, too, our efforts for peace and security in Libya, and in the fight against Boko Haram. These aims will be hard to achieve – we are not alone; the reality often differs from the ideal – but the purpose of our action is clear.


The second priority of our foreign policy is to organize and protect the planet. In this, the United Nations’ 70th anniversary year, France is arguing more than ever for a better-regulated world based on international law and the multilateral system. A strengthened UN can only be a reformed UN. This is why – and it is a significant innovation – we are proposing, among other things, that the five permanent members of the Security Council should voluntarily suspend their right to veto in cases of mass crimes, and we ourselves are ready to do so. Organizing the planet also means continuing our development aid efforts despite budgetary constraints, as we have been doing to combat Ebola.

We want a protected planet. This is French diplomacy’s major challenge for 2015, and even for the five-year term. If we achieve an agreement at COP21 in Paris in December, then the word “historic” will not be a misnomer. The French President and the government are galvanized for success. It is patient and complex work. We shall need commitment from everyone: states of course, but also regions, cities, businesses and civil society. This vision of a Paris Climate Alliance is being increasingly shared, even though we know that bringing together 196 countries around a single text limiting global warming to 2ºC will be very difficult. I shall have the task of chairing this COP21.


Our third priority is to revitalize and reorient Europe. The majority of our fellow citizens still believe in the European idrea, but they have become mistrustful of the EU’s actions. Since 2012, however, several reorientations have taken place which are in line with our wishes: the interventions of the European Central Bank, the cheaper euro, the Juncker investment plan, progress on the financial transaction tax and the fight against tax avoidance, and the completion of banking union, enabling finance to be better regulated. The EU must clearly go further, on at least three fronts.
Simplifying both the workings of the institutions and the European legal framework applying to citizens and businesses; protecting, by acting more strongly in terms of the fight against terrorism, defence, migration policy and the social system; and developing the EU by consolidating the Euro Area and promoting ambitious policies for tomorrow’s major challenges – the digital sector, energy, climate and the countries of the South. On all these issues, we are acting for a strong EU. This is the message we are sending, particularly in the face of the UK’s demands: yes to reforming, no to dismantling.


Final or top priority: our country’s global reach and economic recovery. As early as 2012, I chose to put economic diplomacy at the heart of the Quai d’Orsay. Why?
Because without an improvement in our economic competitiveness, our international influence would ultimately be under threat. So in addition to major flagship contracts, our economic diplomacy is now concentrating on mid-caps and SMEs, developing them for export. It is one of the missions of the new operator we have created, Business France, which is also responsible for attracting foreign investment to France.


So those are the four priorities of our foreign policy: for each decision taken since May 2012, this is the compass I refer to – with, in addition to these broad lines, one fundamental principle: independence.

This independence must not be confused either with an arrogant position or with populist diplomacy, bold in words but hazardous to put into action. There have been a few examples of this in the past. Independence is the ability to define freely what we regard as just and to act accordingly. When the French President meets Castro, as a sign of our renewed relations with Cuba, when I visit Moscow for the ceremonies to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the victory over Nazism, when we express our position on the possible enlargement of NATO, France is not bending to anyone’s demands: it is showing it is independent. We are.

This independence is one of the keys to our influence. The world knows that, in the face of the major international issues, we decide on the basis of our own judgment – and not under pressure or fear. It also knows that, while legitimately upholding its interests, as every country must do, France does not act egoistically but promotes values, universal principles, and a particular vision of the international system based on justice, respect for human rights, freedom and peoples’ sovereignty. France is committed to seeing beyond itself, and this feature of our diplomacy is recognized.

For the past three years, we have been keen not only to be consistent with this hallmark of our foreign policy but also to strengthen it. Have we achieved this? It is not for me to judge, but I observe that France is a diplomatic power which maintains its rank, that the majority of French people – on both the Left and the Right – see this, and that it makes them sometimes proud and at least satisfied. In a difficult and dangerous international context, this is not the worst record one could have.

And now to the question your newspaper asked: is our foreign policy left-wing?
Some, I believe, doubt this. I do not know if the above lines have made them change their minds. But let me sum it up: action for peace, fighting for our planet, unstinting support for UN multilateralism, better economic and financial regulation, the desire for a more effective Europe closer to people, promoting our culture and values, upholding great causes like the universal abolition of the death penalty, etc. These pillars of our diplomacy did not strike me as signalling a dangerous lurch to the Right./.

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