Ladies and gentlemen, first of all I’d like to convey my deepest respect and friendship to Michèle Alliot-Marie. We’ve known each other for a long time – too long perhaps! – but throughout your political journey, this superb career which has taken you to the highest posts in the Republic, you’ve always been able to show that professionalism, that work ethic, that determination, that loftiness of vision which are associated with your name, including here at the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs in a spell that’s been brief but marked – as you’ve just recalled – by a whole series of positive initiatives. I’m well enough placed to know that political life is sometimes brutal and unfair. I’m also well enough placed to know that what goes around comes around, and I wish you, too, chère Michèle, good luck and a fair wind!
As you can imagine – and as you’ve just said, Michèle – I feel quite emotional to be coming back here. It’s true that I probably spent two of the finest years of my public life here. But let’s be very clear: I’m not returning in a spirit of nostalgia to talk to you about the past, or with a magic wand to solve all the problems that have been building up in this ministry for the last 10 or 15 years.
I come here in a spirit of confidence: first of all, confidence in you, ladies and gentlemen diplomats and colleagues at the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs. Fifteen years have gone by, but I haven’t lost contact, and when President Sarkozy asked me to oversee the White Paper on France’s foreign policy two or three years ago, I had an opportunity to re-establish many of these contacts with you.
I’m aware of the considerable human potential that exists in this ministry. I know how mindful you are of embodying the State when posted abroad. I’m aware of your professional conscience. I know you’ve sometimes suffered from remarks made about the lack of vision of French diplomacy… Who foresaw what’s just happened south of the Mediterranean, with a chain of revolutions one after the other? What foreign ministry, what government, what international relations expert, what think tank? So it would be unfair to criticize French diplomacy for it.
I want you to know I have confidence in you. I want you to know that – as I did during my last spell – I’ll try to devote a large part of my time to listening to you and motivating this team, because there’s no effective foreign policy unless there’s an excellent diplomatic tool. I’ll attach the highest importance to that.
I also come here with confidence because I know France’s voice is heard in the world. And when I hear people say the opposite I tell myself that – unfortunately – petty political arguments often prevail over objectivity.
Our voice is heard at the United Nations; I was there not long ago. I don’t need to remind you that it was on Britain and France’s initiative that the Libya issue was referred to the Security Council.
Our voice is heard at the G8 and G20, where President Sarkozy has taken initiatives that are of course difficult to complete but which nonetheless demonstrate France’s capacity for innovation and imagination.
Our voice is heard in Brussels, at the heart of the European Union, where France also leads the way and where President Sarkozy has been able, in particular, to move forward on a subject that wasn’t easy: the EU’s economic and financial integration.
We’re going to strengthen that voice together, because we have many things to say, and that’s the third reason I have for being confident: we know what we’ve got to do. The path is marked out in our institutions; the Head of State sets the course; it’s up to us to ensure those orientations are realized. I’d briefly like to mention two or three of them.
First of all, we must restructure the Union for the Mediterranean. It was a visionary initiative to try to constitute not only an economic but also a cultural and political union on the shores of the Mediterranean. Of course, what’s happening today south of the Mediterranean completely changes the scenario, and we have a duty to think about it and seize back the initiative; it will be one of our priority ambitions.
We must then push ahead further with – and I uttered the word just now – integration of the European Union, not only economic and financial but also in defence and security policy. From this viewpoint, I’ve come to the very strong conviction that, in a world that’s completely changed, France must make her voice heard, but she’ll be able to do so only in osmosis, in synergy with all her European Union partners.
Thirdly, we must strengthen the strategic partnerships we’ve developed with the planet’s new emerging powers. The world has changed and we must obviously draw conclusions from that, with regard to China, Russia, Brazil and others still. This desire for strategic partnerships mustn’t stop us fighting for multilateralism, because we can’t resign ourselves to a world that boils down to an alliance of powers: we know the damage this caused in previous centuries. There, too, global governance will be an important challenge for us.
Finally – I don’t want to go on too long – I’d also like to stress that we’ll have to anticipate what strikes me as not only an unavoidable but also a desirable development, namely the boom in Africa in the 21st century. It would be a strategic error to relax our presence on that continent, with which so many links have been built in the course of history.
As you see, we have our work cut out. I’m very happy to have a great team around me for this task. I’d like to express to Henri de Raincourt and Laurent Wauquiez – to re-use the word – my full confidence in them. I’m aware of their dedication to the public good and their ability to put their all into their mission. That’s how I feel in coming here. I have no doubt that it’ll be very difficult, for loads of reasons, not internal French reasons but ones linked to the state of the world, which is unpredictable and therefore dangerous. I’m convinced that what’s happening south of the Mediterranean can have the best outcome – and it’s our duty to ensure it does have the best outcome – but it can also have the worst outcome.
So we’re going to have lots to do in terms of vigilance, readiness, initiating proposals, and imagination too, because I’d like French diplomacy to remain loyal to its tradition by not simply observing and commenting but also being innovative and imaginative; we’re going to do it together. I come here with a lot of enthusiasm, joy and confidence./.