Brussels, June 24, 2011
As this European Council draws to a close, I’d like to give you a brief summary of the main things we’ve learned from it. First of all, on Greece, we have the satisfaction of seeing that the commitment we announced and negotiated with our German friends in Berlin last Friday has been accepted by the whole European Council. Greece has support. The Europeans have confidence that the Greek government and parliament will pursue the brave policy embarked upon. And the Europeans, along with the IMF, will do what’s necessary to ensure that, from the beginning of July, aid to Greece is released and a new aid plan is put in place following the Greek authorities request, and the practical arrangements for the private sector’s involvement – both banks and insurance companies – are exactly in line with the principles Mrs Merkel and I set out last Friday: in other words, on a voluntary basis. The finance ministers will establish the technical mechanisms next week. So the whole mechanism will basically have been negotiated and put in place at the beginning of July.
Secondly, regarding Schengen, France called for solidarity among all the member states to save Schengen – a fundamental achievement of the European enterprise – to reform Schengen and in particular to provide for a new safeguard clause in the event of one country’s failure to ensure its stretch of Europe’s external border is guarded. The reform of Schengen has begun. The principles of this reform reflect, point by point, what France asked for.
Thirdly, on Libya, I note with great interest and satisfaction the support of the entire European Council for the action we’re carrying out in Libya with our NATO allies, particularly the British. The number of European countries that recognize the NTC [National Transitional Council] is growing, and David Cameron and I had the opportunity to take stock of the progress of the coalition’s operation on the military side.
On Syria, the European Council totally supports the efforts we’re making with the British to secure a stricter resolution and more sanctions against the Syrian leaders.
And finally there’s the European Council’s support for the [Middle East] peace initiative in the form of a Paris conference over the summer. The whole European Council decided to regard this initiative as opportune, to prepare for the major meeting in September [expected UN General Assembly vote on recognition of Palestinian state] and ensure the maximum unity in Europe.
There you are, ladies and gentlemen. I’m open to your questions now, of course.
EURO AREA/GREEK DEBT CRISIS
Q. – I’d like to ask you a question about the Euro Area crisis. How do you explain the fact that, 18 months on, we’re pretty much at the same point, the financial markets still haven’t calmed down and you’re still running around after the markets, patching things up time and time again? Is this general incompetence on the part of European leaders at finding the right response?
THE PRESIDENT – The €440-billion patch: I can see that the “Libération” news desk’s eminent representative has a peculiar view of plans to support companies in difficulty, because at the European Council we decided to establish the permanent financial stability mechanism. The European Council adopted the treaty: it’s €440 billion. So I won’t use the word “patch”, if only out of respect for European taxpayers as a whole.
Secondly, you, who are following the different crises we’ve had to overcome with great professionalism – and you haven’t forgotten Ireland: today, Ireland’s stability bears no resemblance to what it was a few months ago, last year; you haven’t forgotten Portugal, who today, thanks to the consensus among her politicians, can face up to these different tasks; we’ve had three financial crises to face in Europe in recent months: Ireland, Portugal and Greece; two out of three have been brought under control – I don’t know if you see two-thirds success as competence or one-third success as incompetence, but you’d make a particularly strict and inflexible examiner.
Regarding Greece, you can clearly see the problem is very great. Greece’s two-year interest rates have risen to 30%. How do you expect the country to face up to this situation alone? Besides, the Greek government’s efforts are significant. The deficit has been reduced by five percentage points of GDP. You can’t regard that as nothing. You see, it seems to me that 27 independent countries grouped together in the European Union, 17 countries in the Euro Area, which have been able to face up to all these crises – you, who believe in Europe, you ought instead to be welcoming the fact that Europe has been able to show this ability to endure crises. Look at the euro’s level of parity with the dollar, look at the average deficits in Europe compared to what other countries have, including the United States. When President Obama deals with the crisis in the United States, he has to debate with his Congress, but that’s one country: there are 27 of us. An agreement had to be found. So far we’ve passed all the tests. The conclusion I prefer to draw is that Europe has reacted with a strength and unity many of you didn’t believe it was capable of. (…)
Q. – A few questions about Libya, where the military intervention began three months ago now. There have been more than 12,000 NATO sorties, I believe, very strong political pressure and sanctions, and Mr Gaddafi is still there. How much longer can this go on? Are we getting close to the point where you fear failure in Libya ?
Second question, if you’ll allow me: a few days ago Mr Gates, the American Secretary of Defence, complained about what were, in his opinion, very insufficient resources – military and financial resources – being devoted by the Europeans to NATO, explaining, essentially, that the alliance was kept afloat by the United States and this couldn’t go on for very long. It seems Mr Rasmussen, the organization’s secretary-general, shares this viewpoint. What’s your reply to them?
THE PRESIDENT – (…) I don’t feel the bulk of the work in Libya is being done by our American friends. You were talking to me about Libya, and at the same time our American friends have two UAVs and a number of refuelling planes; we’re very appreciative of it, but a man as responsible and intelligent as President Obama wouldn’t dream of saying America’s doing the bulk of the work in Libya. (…)
Secondly, regarding Mr Rasmussen, I spoke to him on the telephone recently and I can tell you he’s delighted with the involvement of French planes and helicopters. Just one figure: last year, France invested €18 billion in her military equipment. And this year we’re going to invest €16 billion. So I think these criticisms can be addressed to any country you want, but not France. Let me take this opportunity to pay special tribute to the bravery and skill of our soldiers. We saw what they were capable of doing in Côte d’Ivoire, and today we can see what they’re capable of doing in Libya.
You asked me: “Can we talk about failure?” What failure? We’ve been in Libya – a country three times the size of France – for just under three months. Two months ago, everyone was talking about our getting bogged down, one month ago certain people were talking about a counter-offensive by Gaddafi’s forces, and today everyone acknowledges that Mr Gaddafi’s forces are on the retreat everywhere, and that the popular uprisings have even reached the south. And if I look at the situation – in the west Ras Lanuf, in the east Benghazi, Misrata, Brega, or in the south – the people’s insurrection is universal. [Consider] the brutality of Mr Gaddafi, who orders artillery to be fired against the civilian population, with no distinction between military and civilian targets – none! (…)
TRICHET/EU FINANCE MINISTER PROPOSAL
Q. – I have two questions, if you’ll allow me. The first concerns the recent statement by M. Trichet regarding the appointment of a finance minister for Europe who would oversee budgetary policies in an integrated financial sector. What [do you think] about this proposal?
THE PRESIDENT – What counts is an economic government with a common economic policy, and for us to build towards this, and I think that at the point we’re at – and I apply this rule to myself – the fewer statements we can make on all these subjects the better. Deeds, decisions, composure, calm and a touch less creativity.
MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS
Q. – On the Palestinian territories, aren’t the positions of the Europeans today quite contradictory? There are about as many positions as member states. How can we reach a common position that doesn’t involve Europe being absent, and how can we reach that crucially important day in September when the Palestinian state wants to be recognized? Do you think this recognition might be a symbol of peace or not?
THE PRESIDENT – I don’t think there are 27 positions on the question of unilateral recognition or otherwise. There may be three: you recognize, you don’t recognize or you abstain.
So I very gladly acknowledge the diversity, but I won’t talk about 27 different positions.
Secondly, there’s very broad agreement for Europe to play a more important role in the peace process.
And thirdly, there’s agreement to support the French initiative, perfectly spearheaded by Alain Juppé, for a conference in Paris – an initiative for peace between the Palestinians and Israelis – and this initiative will allow Europe to have a common position, make everyone face up to their responsibility and show who wants peace and who doesn’t.
That’s what we’re going to work on, and I was very happy that the text of the European Council’s conclusions accepted the French initiative for an option that will allow Europe to create a path to unity.
EU FOOD AID TO MOST DEPRIVED
Q. – On a subject that wasn’t on the Council’s agenda, certain states that believe aid to the most deprived people isn’t Europe’s responsibility are preparing, at the beginning of the week, to block a proposal to finance charity organizations and food banks. Those states include Germany and Britain. You take a different position. Have you made contact with the German and British leaders – or are you going to – to get them to lift this veto? And if the veto is maintained, will the French national budget replace this European aid?
THE PRESIDENT – You’re talking about the reduction in the European Food Aid Programme for the Most Deprived [PEAD]; I can tell you the decision greatly shocked me. The European Food Aid Programme for the Most Deprived is very important for charity organizations and NGOs in Europe, so France is strongly committed to maintaining it, especially because the current programme represents only 0.4% of the budget, and with 0.4% of the budget you help 13 million Europeans. My response is clear and unambiguous: France calls on the Commission to examine all solutions immediately in order to strengthen the PEAD in the future, and we’re going to be very active on this issue in Luxembourg on Tuesday, at the council of agriculture ministers. (…)
Q. – Regarding the Euro Group meeting of 3 July, given its importance, can you tell us whether Mme Lagarde will take part whatever happens?
THE PRESIDENT – (…) No, I can’t say.
Q. – Can you give us any details of the progressive withdrawal from Afghanistan? We have reports on the ground that are rather ambiguous, after all. What’s your analysis of the French troops’ departure?
THE PRESIDENT – On Mme Lagarde, I’m delighted that the performance she gave to the members of the IMF’s Executive Board went well. You know how confident I am in Mme Lagarde and how much importance I attach to her being appointed to lead the IMF. But let’s allow the process to take its course; it’s only a matter of days now, and you’ll have the answer to your question, even though you’re aware of my hopes.
Regarding Afghanistan, I’d like to say first of all that we’re in a coalition with allies. It’s entirely natural for us to talk about things to President Obama, of whom we’re allies and friends. What would it mean if we didn’t talk about them? So we decided on the same move, in view of two factors.
The first factor is the transfer of responsibilities for security to the Afghans, which has begun in several provinces and is working.
The second factor is the defeat of the terrorists with the death of Bin Laden.
The third factor is the improvement in the security situation in certain regions. (…) President Obama and I have the same analysis: Bin Laden’s death is a very serious blow to the terrorists. The transfer of responsibility to the Afghans is working well, and the security situation in certain provinces – not all of them, but certain ones – is improving.
So we decided to act accordingly and bring a number of soldiers home:
Americans for the Americans, French for the French. And we’re deciding this together, not in opposition, and in complete transparency.
We talk to President Obama about the situation in Afghanistan very regularly, and it’s our responsibility, bearing in mind that a number of young soldiers are risking their lives. Between now and the end of this year or the beginning of the next, several hundred French soldiers will return to France, in full accordance with the decision taken by the American president. And then it’ll be a matter of discussing the definitive withdrawal. The definitive withdrawal is planned for 2014. If the situation improves, we can bring it forward. (…)
Q. – Mario Draghi was appointed by the European Council this morning. I’d like to know the general tenor of the conversation inside the Council and whether you can confirm that you spoke to Bini Smaghi this morning and apparently received an assurance he will step down from the Executive Committee of the [European Central] Bank by the end of the year.
THE PRESIDENT – There were two telephone calls between Bini Smaghi and two European Council officials, since Lorenzo Bini Smaghi spoke on the telephone to President Van Rompuy, who mentioned this to the European Council. Lorenzo Bini Smaghi made a point of telephoning me to tell me he would be assigned new duties before the end of the year, without me obviously having to get involved in Italy’s very complicated politics. So there you are, things went well; I think I was one of the first, on France’s behalf, to support the candidacy of Mr Draghi, who is a man of great calibre – France has complete confidence in him. But no one thinks there can be two members of the same nationality among the six [Executive Committee] members of the European Central Bank. (…)
Q. – Just a clarification, about the Schengen Area, on the exceptional circumstances for reintroducing border controls, and then just a short question on relations with Algeria and Alain Juppé’s visit.
THE PRESIDENT – Alain Juppé’s visit to Algeria went very well. He had a long meeting with President Bouteflika, among other things, on which he reported back to me. I’d tasked him with conveying a message of friendship to the president; as you know, everything concerning Algeria and France arouses emotions and is fascinating and complicated all at once. But the visit couldn’t have gone better and you can be sure that I was extremely pleased with it. On Schengen, the Commission will look at the exceptional circumstances and if [there are] exceptional circumstances, there’s a safeguard clause allowing Schengen member states to re-establish their border controls. But let me be clear: this doesn’t challenge the right of Europeans to move around within Europe. The safeguard clause enables a member country to re-establish its border controls if a Schengen member country collapses to the point of no longer being able to defend common borders.
Q. – Does this involve every state vis-à-vis the failing state, or one state?
THE PRESIDENT – It remains a national decision, i.e. the Commission looks into whether a state is failing to guard the EU’s borders properly, but at that moment everyone is free to decide whether or not to re-establish border controls – it isn’t compulsory. And it doesn’t challenge the principle of freedom of movement. It allows us to control this freedom of movement. An analysis is being made of the situation and whether the circumstances are indeed what we feel they are. The analysis remains at EU level and the decision to re-establish border controls is a national one, because if there had to be a decision taken unanimously or even by qualified majority… I was very pleased we were able to take this step because I’m committed to Schengen and I emphasized that if Schengen wasn’t reformed, this was where it risked falling down.
Ladies and gentlemen, have a good weekend./.