Russia/plane crash – Bilateral relations/trade – Euro Area/Greek debt crisis - Syria
THE PRIME MINISTER – First of all, I’d like to tell the Russian and French press, as I told Vladimir Putin a moment ago, how shocked we were by yesterday evening’s air disaster, which claimed several dozen lives and plunged Russia into mourning. As President Sarkozy did this morning, I offered my sincere condolences to Vladimir Putin and asked him to pass them on to the victims’ families.
In the past four years we’ve considerably strengthened relations between France and Russia, and we were noting, last night and this morning, that most of the projects we’ve spoken about together over the past four years have already been, or are in the process of being completed. Trade between Russia and France has made considerable progress, having returned to the level before the crisis; in other words, it’s increased year-on-year by more than 30%.
There’s a very busy timetable of visits between France and Russia: President Medvedev was at the G8 summit in Deauville a month ago, and he’ll be at the G20 summit in Cannes; Alain Juppé and Frédéric Mitterrand are going to Russia soon, and we’re holding the annual Intergovernmental Seminar with Vladimir Putin in France in the autumn.
The Année Croisée [France-Russia cultural exchange programme] has itself continued thanks to next month’s launch in Saint Petersburg of a Franco-Russian cinema academy and – thanks to the Franco-Russian season –a language and literature academy in 2012.
Some very symbolic projects have been completed: I’m referring, first of all, to the sale of the first two Mistral-class LHDs [amphibious landing ships], a major strategic decision which proves that Russia and France know the Cold War is over and that we’ve now forged strategic relations, with the aim of creating a vast economic area spanning Europe and Russia. I’m also talking about the launch of the first Soyuz from [French] Guiana, which will take place – after a few delays – in October. I’m also thinking about the start of building work on the Moscow-Saint Petersburg motorway by a great French company, Vinci.
In the economic sphere, our trade has started to increase again following the crisis and is continuing to rise, at a very time when both our countries are facing the same imperatives of modernization. France intends to stand alongside Russia in this undertaking, playing a role in the ambitious programme in several areas: innovation – and I’m thinking in particular of our participation in Skolkovo [innovation centre] – finance, where we’re contributing very directly to the development of the Moscow financial centre, and energy efficiency, where last December we signed the birth certificate of the Franco-Russian Centre for Energy Efficiency, which is now operational.
France is pleased to be the Russia’s fifth-largest foreign investor and Russia’s fifth-largest supplier, but we want to do a lot more than be just suppliers and clients: we want to develop industrial cooperation. The Paris Air Show, which Vladimir Putin is going to visit this afternoon, is a good example of this cooperation that we’re in the process of creating together. We’re going to see the Superjet 100, 30% of which was built by French companies; we’ll also see the Beriev 200, the water bomber that the French sécurité civile [emergency services] is going to try out this summer. We’re hoping this will be the start of some very promising cooperation.
We also talked about other economic projects that we’re following closely, like the Shtokman gas field, and the high-speed railway line project between Moscow and Saint Petersburg. And we also mentioned the new projects we hoped to launch [when we met] in December, in the areas of health and agriculture. Those are two subjects where things have moved forward a great deal, because the first Franco-Russian health conference is being held in Moscow in a fortnight’s time. The success of the G20 agriculture ministers’ meeting in Paris this week owes a lot to the very good coooperation beween the French and Russian agriculture ministers.
Finally, Presidents Sarkozy and Medvedev have decided to make France and Russia work together on the joint development of the North Caucasus, which is very positive. The related infrastructure work could be the focus of contracts with French companies.
Finally, a word to say that Vladimir Putin and I discussed – and are going to discuss in a moment, over lunch – international and European issues. On the European issues, I reiterated our support for Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization before the end of 2011. I also reminded him of France’s efforts to secure the abolition of visas between Europe and Russia, and we did a lot of work to that end; there are still certain stages to be completed. We also talked about energy issues, of course, with the construction of the Nord Stream gas pipeline, in which French companies are involved, and the construction of the South Stream gas pipeline, on which there are still a number of negotiations under way. And finally, we talked about nuclear cooperation; following the Fukushima accident, France and Russia – who are two major players in the nuclear energy field – want to demonstrate the safety of the nuclear industry in France and in Russia, and we decided to take initiatives to that effect.
Finally, I was very happy to inaugurate, just now with Vladimir, this monument to the Russian soldiers who took part in the First World War; it was an idea Frédéric Mitterrand mentioned, very late on a very rainy evening, by the fireside in the music pavilion at Matignon. Less than 18 months later, the monument has been inaugurated, and I think it’s a fine symbol of the strong relationship between France and Russia.
Q. – (on Russia’s support for Mme Lagarde to lead the IMF, and on Greece)
THE PRIME MINISTER – I’ll let Vladimir reply about Mme Lagarde’s candidacy!
EURO AREA/GREEK DEBT CRISIS
On the Euro Area I’d like to say that, since the start of the economic and financial crisis, the first thing we must realize is that Europe has shown its ability to react and show solidarity. Little by little, we’ve been establishing tools for tackling this crisis that didn’t originally exist. It hasn’t always been easy, but we’ve got there every time. So we dealt successfully with the difficulties Portugal was experiencing; we dealt successfully with Ireland’s difficulties. We’re now confronted with the difficulties Greece is facing.
We’ve already helped Greece a lot financially, and we’re determined to continue helping her, but in order for us to do so, the corrective efforts the Greek government has undertaken must be continued, both in terms of public finances and in terms of the Greek economy’s competitiveness; it’s the only way to ensure a lasting solution to the situation the country is currently experiencing.
So the release of the new tranche of aid from the European countries and the International Monetary Fund is expected in July, following the Greek parliament’s approval of new budgetary consolidation and privatization measures. And I’d like to stress the fact that it’s absolutely necessary – and I had a chance to say so to the opposition leaders in the Greek parliament – for all the Greek political parties to show the greatest responsibility on this occasion, in a period that’s crucial for that country’s future.
Q. – A question about Syria for Mr Putin. Prime Minister, why is Russia continuing to oppose any UN Security Council resolution condemning the crackdown in Syria? And in more general terms, what do you intend to do in the face of a situation that’s deteriorating by the day and in which even some countries in the region, who are, like you, committed to Syria’s stability, like Turkey, have started to distance themselves from Bashar al-Assad’s regime?
THE PRIME MINISTER – Before you ask me your question, just a word – even though the question wasn’t addressed to me – to say that Alain Juppé and I are going to continue over lunch the conversation with Vladimir Putin on this issue of the situation in Syria, which is extremely worrying for us. We’ve taken an extremely clear position on this, but we want to act in accordance with international law, so we don’t believe the Security Council can remain silent any longer, and the time is drawing near when everyone will have to shoulder their responsibility on this issue, which we can’t be indifferent about. And we’re going to continue the discussion together over lunch, because our approaches are – how shall I put it? – different but may become closer, as they have on many other subjects.
Q. – (on partnerships between France and Russia)
THE PRIME MINISTER – I just want to add that in the past four years we’ve appreciated the progress made on the business climate in Russia, and this progress clearly isn’t unrelated to the fact that French companies have progressed a great deal in the Russian market. And they’ve progressed a great deal, as I said in my first remarks, in the context of real partnerships: Peugeot-Citroën has just build a car factory, Renault and Avtovaz are very closely linked, Total and EDF are very active in Russia, and Alsthom has forged long-term partnerships.
The aviation partnership was mentioned just now; well, yes, the challenge is to do better than fifth place – undoubtedly first! Before we get there, there are fourth, third and second. Russia’s a very big country, and France also has an effort to make in terms of competitiveness, and we’ve been doing so for four years now with Christine Lagarde. But the first time I met Vladimir Putin, there really were many bones of contention between French companies and Russia, and between Russia and the companies; I have to say that during today’s meeting we didn’t encounter any./.