Visit to Russia
Ladies and gentlemen,
I’d like to thank Vladimir Putin for the excellent welcome he extended to the French delegation accompanying me, for this new meeting of the Franco-Russian Intergovernmental Seminar. Over two days, we spent nearly six hours together discussing not only all the issues to do with Franco-Russian relations but also those pertaining to international relations. This morning I met President Medvedev.
All these meetings have basically taught me one thing: the excellent Franco-Russian relationship has, for several years, continued to grow more diverse and substantive and, I want to emphasize, mutually trusting. (…)
But through this partnership, we’re in the process of building a common European space where, tomorrow, goods, people and culture will move freely, and a common European security space. Basically, in the face of the major globalization challenges shaking our economic models, France, Europe on one hand, and Russia on the other, have every interest in coming together, working together and building an economic and social model which doesn’t lead to us having another model imposed on us that we wouldn’t want.
Russia is a strategic partner of the first order for France, and France intends to stand alongside Russia in her modernization drive, just as France expects Russia, in return, to support us in the international arena. And I’m thinking in particular of the French presidency of the G20 and, in less than a month, the G8, where we’ll be dealing with very important themes related to that very idea of regulation and globalization for which we count on Russia’s support.
The events organized in the framework of France-Russia Year, in both France and Russia, have been a great success. More than five million visitors have taken part in the 350 events organized in that framework; this shows there’s great interest in Russian culture in France and in French culture in Russia. Among those events, I’d like to cite a few outstanding successes: the exhibition on Holy Russia at the Louvre, qnd the Picasso exhibition at the Pushkin Museum in Moscow and at the Hermitage in St Petersburg. I myself had the opportunity, with Vladimir Putin in June, to inaugurate the Russian National Exhibition at the Grand Palais; I think the intensity of this joint year shows that unflagging mutual attraction between our two countries.
But 2010 hasn’t only been a year of cultural exchanges: it’s also been a year of very strong political contacts between France and Russia.
President Medvedev came on a State visit in March. Vladimir Putin came to Paris in June. President Sarkozy took part in the Economic Forum in St Petersburg. President Medvedev came to Deauville in October for a tripartite France-Germany-Russia meeting. Our main challenge, moreover, will be to maintain the same level of political contact in 2011.
Finally, this seminar comes in a year which has been very rich in terms of bilateral cooperation. Our trade increased by nearly 38% in the first 10 months of 2010. That shows how far behind us the economic and financial crisis is, when it comes to economic cooperation and the volume of business between France and Russia. I remind you that our investors were keen to stay in Russia despite the crisis, particularly in the banking and automotive sectors, and we can see they were right, because the upturn in the Russian economy is opening up great prospects for them. I’d like to recall that France is the fifth-largest foreign investor in Russia and also Russia’s fifth-largest supplier, whereas in 2007 we were ranked ninth in investments. We’re now ahead of the United States. I also want to remind you today that Russian investments in France are welcome, and the agreements signed by businesses from our two countries just now illustrate the growing momentum in our trade.
EU-RUSSIA VISAS/COTE D’IVOIRE
To finish, I’d like to say a word about international matters and welcome the fact that the Brussels summit, which took place the day before yesterday between the European Union and Russia, enabled very important progress to be made, in particular the mutual lifting of the short-stay visa requirement, to which the summit gave a very strong political boost. As you know, France is very strongly committed to doing everything to ensure progress on that point and to achieve, ultimately, the lifting of visas between the European Union and Russia.
I’d also like to welcome the progress made with regard to the procedure undertaken for Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization. And finally, I’d like to reiterate all my thanks to Vladimir Putin and to President Medvedev for the position they’ve taken at the United Nations Security Council on the situation in Côte d’Ivoire, which will, I’m sure, play a key role in enabling this crisis to be resolved peacefully and in the interest of the people of Côte d’Ivoire. (…)
Q. – You mentioned the partnership and the easing of the visa regime; it was much talked about in different forums with our European partners. But recently, at the Russia-European Union summit in Brussels, you said it might be a little premature. Have you discussed the matter today? What’s your position on it? And with your permission, another small question: did you discuss the construction of the St Petersburg-Moscow motorway? There are French companies taking part in it. (…)
THE PRIME MINISTER – The debates held in Brussels yesterday show that the aim of ultimately lifting short-stay visas between Russia and Europe is a shared aim on which we’re going to move forward, without waiting. I told Vladimir Putin I was going to take a number of decisions at the French level to ensure we exploit to the maximum the possibilities of the current European regulations – in particular, to be able to issue long-stay visas automatically when short-stay visas come up for renewal. (…)
MOSCOW-ST PETERSBURG MOTORWAY
Regarding the motorway, it’s a question which concerns the Russian authorities alone. French companies are obviously waiting for this project to get started. But it’s not for the French government to express a view on the matter.
Q. – On the sale of the Mistral: everyone understands work must be done at the expert level, but don’t you find, on the French side, we’re having to wait rather a long time?
And the second question: the diplomatic cables revealed by WikiLeaks, originating with American officials, give an assessment of Russia that’s poles apart from the definitions you gave about Russia, about a year ago, when you described it as “a State, a great democracy”. By contrast, these American cables, originating with American officials, speak about the corruption existing in the country and of its having infiltrated, according to them, even the highest level of the State. I’d like to know if these revelations have, in whatever way, altered your assessment of Russia, or do you perhaps maintain a radically different view from that expressed by your American counterparts?
THE PRIME MINISTER – On the first question, you know that I am, I believe, one of the very first people to have upheld the idea that France was perfectly justified in offering the Mistral technology to Russia, who wanted to acquire amphibious landing ships [LHDs or BPCs (bâtiments de projection et de commandement, as they are known in French)]. So I’m happy that France’s bid has been retained following the call to tender which was issued, a call to which – I’d like to point out – several NATO member countries also responded, which shows that any criticisms made at a given time about France’s decision – I’m thinking about the Rambouillet Seminar – were somewhat… somewhat hypocritical. (…)
On the second subject, I’d like to say first of all that the French government doesn’t need diplomats from whatever country to get an idea of what Russia is, of her workings, her evolution, where she’s coming from or where she’s going. We’re present in Russia; we have diplomats we trust, who provide us with information. We have contacts with Vladimir and, as many French leaders do, with the Russian leaders, which are close contacts, strong contacts. We have companies that invest in Russia, we have researchers who work in Russia, we have academics who work in Russia: we know all the difficulties Russia encounters, we know all the handicaps she has to overcome, but we also see all her progress, all her potential./.