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Franco-German relations/Ukraine/migration/Syria

Published on February 23, 2016
Statements by M. Jean-Marc Ayrault, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, at his joint press conference with Dr Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Federal Foreign Minister of Germany (excerpts)¹
Berlin, February 22, 2016

FRANCO-GERMAN RELATIONS/UKRAINE

Thank you, Frank! Cher Frank, ladies and gentlemen, first of all I’m delighted to welcome you here together with my counterpart, Frank-Walter Steinmeier. With Frank-Walter I share a deep and trusting friendship and it’s always a pleasure, too, to be here in Germany, a country I know well. As you know, it’s a tradition for the first visit by a newly-appointed foreign minister of France or Germany to be to the partner country. Traditions are important to me, and this time we’re even going beyond tradition, because we’re paying a joint visit to Kiev today, shortly after I took office. This visit is urgent. And it’s very important, because its aim is to find solutions to one of the worst crises the European Union has to tackle in its neighborhood, namely the conflict in Ukraine. I’ll continue in French.

Frank-Walter and I also hope to have a working session between here and Kiev. And we’ll make the most of this working session – which will last several hours –, because we French and Germans know we have a huge task ahead of us. I’m aware of the work done by you, Frank, and also my predecessor, Laurent Fabius; I intend to continue that work, deepen it and extend it as far as possible. And we all know Europe is facing an extraordinarily difficult situation: a massive influx of refugees, security threats, and conflicts in Europe’s immediate neighbourhoods. Many people doubt the European Union’s ability to act, to face up to these historic challenges. And for my part, I’m convinced that the responses must be European. There’s no solution in national withdrawal. That would be both mistaken and wrong. And I’m also convinced – you’ve said it, you’ve recalled it – that Germany and France have a special responsibility in Europe. And by a historical coincidence – today is 22 February – it happens that this day, 100 years ago, was a terrible day for Europe and Germany and France: the day the Battle of Verdun began. For 10 months our forefathers clashed in one of the most horrendous battles in the world’s history. More than 300,000 French and German people were killed and over 400,000 injured. And the agony of Verdun puts us under an obligation. Commemoration mustn’t be a quickly-forgotten moment of reflexion. On the contrary, it must be a source of energy for us to act, tirelessly, because therein lies our common history, the special meaning of the relationship between our countries, playing an essential role.

I’m aware of the doubts sometimes existing in people’s minds – in Germany and in France too – about the Franco-German relationship. Those doubts are probably inherent to our countries’ lives. And every couple has its ups and downs! But I’m also aware of the importance of the Franco-German relationship in Europe. Of course, it’s often criticized – I’d almost say it’s usually criticized: when it doesn’t work, people say the Franco-German engine has broken down. But when it’s doing well, they’re quick to condemn the Franco-German Directoire.

I believe the truth is different. Our countries are very close and at the same time different. Their relations are very varied, very profound. The strength of the Franco-German relationship lies in always seeking a solution, because we must act in a complementary way, and because our differences become a strength when we decide to do so.

It’s primarily a matter of conviction. I have strong convictions. But it’s also a matter of working methods: in the face of crises, you have to show determination and imagination.

MIGRATION

I’m thinking in particular of the massive influx of refugees, in the face of which Germany and the German people are acting with a courage that commands respect. Today we must face this situation together. I believe we have the same goals: to improve controls on the flow of refugees – to that end, we must regain control of the EU’s external borders – and to halt the arrival of illegal migrants, who are exploited by criminal organizations.

We’ve taken decisions at European level. Now it’s about putting them into concrete practice. This was repeated at the [European] Council meeting on Thursday and Friday.

France intends to act resolutely to this end, in liaison with Germany and its main partners who are affected.

SYRIA

Frank-Walter Steinmeier mentioned the war in Syria. We share the same analysis of the situation. We’re acting in line with the same principles: an end to the bombing, humanitarian access, the resumption of the political process. The urgent thing is for the bombing to stop, to enable humanitarian access and the resumption of the political process. The international community must put pressure on the Syrian regime and those supporting it, beginning with Russia, to secure a drastic improvement in the situation on the ground.

UKRAINE

The joint action of France and Germany over the past year has enabled us to work on the definition of a political solution to the conflict in Ukraine and the implementation of the Minsk agreements. The task isn’t easy, as we know and are going to see on the ground. It’s taking time to get results. But we must persevere. We’ll support Ukraine. We’ll support the implementation of reforms in Ukraine. We’ll also continue to call for the implementation of the Minsk agreements, all the Minsk agreements. That’s the message we’re going to send together in Kiev from this evening onwards. (…)./.

¹M. Ayrault spoke in German and French.

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