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Nineteenth Ambassadors’ Conference

Published on September 6, 2011
Speech by François Fillon, Prime Minister, (excerpts)

Paris, September 1, 2011



The past year has been punctuated by events of global historic significance. Under the authority of Alain Juppé, supported by Henri de Raincourt, Jean Leonetti and David Douillet, huge demands have been made on our diplomatic service, and at times it’s even been hustled by history’s electrifying pace.

This electrifying pace reminds us of the need to guard against prejudice, preconceived ideas – in short, the pre-packaged thinking and conservatism which prevent us from understanding the changes in the world.


I want to draw three lessons from 2011. First of all, the power of freedom is stronger than fear. No country, no people is forever doomed to suffer the yoke of totalitarian regimes. Côte d’Ivoire, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria: aspirations to democracy, respect of human rights and the rule of law are universal.

Realpolitik is part and parcel of diplomatic action because inter-state relations have their own rationale. But the force of these universal values must no longer be under-estimated. It’s to France’s credit that she influenced the course of events in Côte d’Ivoire and Libya.


The second lesson concerns the regulation of globalization. The crisis has had the merit of speeding up political leaders’ engagement with globalization. Between the cult of “beneficial” globalization and taking shelter in illusory and suicidal protectionism, we’re gradually setting the rules for an interdependent world. Our clock is ticking because people have the feeling that globalization is more a threat than an opportunity.

In Cannes, we are keen for the G20 to complete the tasks already under way in order to attack the roots of the economic and financial crisis. Going beyond the reform of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, we need to pursue reforms in the field of financial regulation and lay down the foundations of a more stable and more robust international monetary system.

Under our impetus, the G20 and G8 have succeeded in innovating by dealing with issues which had never before been tackled in this format: regulating the Internet, fighting drug trafficking, promoting more stringent nuclear safety standards and supporting the Arab transitions, and, in the G20 framework, taking greater account of social standards and better agricultural market supervision and regulation.

Moreover, I want to point out that had it been possible to adopt earlier some of the recommendations of the Action Plan the G20 Agriculture Ministers approved in Paris in late June, and in particular the constitution of emergency humanitarian reserves, the international community would have been better equipped to cope with the food crisis the Horn of Africa is suffering today.


Finally, the third lesson concerns the role of the United Nations. Often disparaged, it has demonstrated an ability to react fast and has reasserted itself as the absolutely essential tool for the international community’s collective action. By implementing, for the first time, the principle of the responsibility to protect, defining robust peacekeeping mandates and resorting without hesitation to the international justice system, the UN has risen to the challenges of 2011.

France has often instigated action, not just at the Security Council, but also on the ground, to enforce international community decisions. In this respect I want to pay tribute to the commitment of the Ministre d’Etat, Alain Juppé.

Wherever I have gone to meet our soldiers this year, I have seen the same commitment and have sensed the same pride: on the “Charles de Gaulle” in Jeddah, after her mission off Afghanistan, in Côte d’Ivoire with the soldiers from Operation Licorne, and also on our bases in Gabon and the United Arab Emirates. And I want to have a special thought for the French UNIFIL contingent in Lebanon, victim of a cowardly attack in July, and for our forces in Afghanistan.

I want to say that we will adhere to our goal of rapidly transferring to the Afghan security forces responsibility for Surobi district and then Kapisa province. The gradual withdrawal of our soldiers will start this autumn and be completed in 2014.


In this tumultuous world where the cards of power are being reshuffled, European nations must be more capable than ever of uniting their strengths. Never has the European Union been so necessary and yet never has it been viewed with such suspicion, criticized and weakened by the prevailing scepticism. Well, we must resist anti-European populism.

We have built Europe for peace. We are going on doing so to protect our way of life, protect our prosperity and, even more fundamentally, not stray from the path of history.


Over half of global economic growth, two-thirds of currency reserves and a third of total wealth production are no longer in the West, but in the emerging or developing world. According to recent forecasts, in terms of GDP, China could overtake the United States in 2025 – in fact she would just be returning to her pre-19th century position – and India overtake Japan in 2030. All this dictates the need to strengthen and modernize Europe’s heritage.

August’s financial turbulence reminded us how vital our solidarity was. The 2008 global financial crisis struck a Europe still poorly integrated at financial level. And in the past three years, we have had to innovate and build as a matter of urgency.

Admittedly, it’s always possible to express reservations on Europeans’ difficulties in coming to agreement. One can always point, in various quarters, to delays and difficulties. Clearly too, confronted with these crises, Europe has, sometimes painfully but on every occasion, managed to find the solutions to prevent the looming disaster. Significant headway has been made: the Euro Area summit now meets as often as necessary in order to take decisions and the Elysée meeting on 16 August this year proposed strengthening its role still further. In fact, we are moving forward towards the creation of a Euro Area economic government at head of state and government level, which will have to establish a permanent secretariat.

We now have European supervisory agencies for the banks, financial markets and insurance companies. We have a European Systemic Risk Board, chaired by the European Central Bank. And to protect the Euro Area we have created a European Financial Stability Facility able to provide financial assistance of €440 billion, and whose ability to act preventively, to buy government bonds on the secondary market and even participate in recapitalizing financial institutions has just been recognized.

We have decided to make this Facility permanent by creating as from 2013 the European Stability Mechanism. Before the end of September, all Euro Area countries must have adopted this Facility’s reform measures, as France and Germany pledged to do on 16 August. All this progress has been possible only because we’ve gone back to the very foundations of the European enterprise: recognition of our common interests in the face of adversity, creation of joint structures, and of course, the decisive Franco-German impetus.

When everything looked in jeopardy, once again it was the agreement achieved between our two nations which allowed Europe to move forward. And today moving forward means working for greater budgetary and fiscal integration within the Euro Area.


Restoring sound public finances is now the priority for every country in Europe. Henceforth, the instruments monitoring national budgets, now being significantly strengthened, will be responsible for the collective oversight of macroeconomic imbalances. The adoption by everyone of what’s called the “Golden Rule”, as proposed by France and Germany, will give the whole edifice credibility. Our country must set an example and, to this end, I’d like the opposition to find the courage to say that it’s ready to support this rule, which is neither a party political nor exclusively a French matter.


As for taxation, the Commission’s proposals for a common consolidated corporate tax base must swiftly be finalized. And, on their side, France and Germany are preparing to take a historic step in European fiscal integration by proposing to establish a common corporation tax for the two countries as from 2013.

Alongside budgetary discipline, we must create the conditions for returning to sustainable growth. Europe must encourage research, innovation, training and higher education – in line, moreover, with the objectives of the Euro Plus Pact.

This means that investment must be directed towards the digital economy, zero- or virtually zero-emission energies, electromobility [electric vehicles], aeronautics, the space sector, bioscience and nanotechnology.

For Europe, in this period when it has to cut its deficits, it isn’t a matter of spending more, but of concentrating on up-and-coming sectors, of involving the maximum amount of private capital, reducing European research programmes’ administrative costs and implementing inter alia the French ideas on a European venture capital fund and European patent fund. Over and above the European funds, every European policy must target economic growth.

I note that there’s already visible progress: trade policy now seeks to take on board the concept of reciprocity, particularly vis-à-vis public procurement; European legislation is now endeavouring to develop such engines of growth as electronic trading and the creation of digital businesses; and finally, competition policy itself seems to be taking greater account of international realities and the need to develop sectors of the future.


While today Europe’s priority is clearly an economic and financial one, it must also strengthen its security. Schengen’s effectiveness must be improved. The decisions taken by the June European Council are a move in this direction and must be rigorously implemented. These decisions provide for a more credible assessment of states’ border security measures, increased European resources to help states confronted by difficulties in managing their borders and a safeguard clause to be activated in the event of a state’s obvious failure to fulfil its Schengen obligations.

We must pursue this path. It’s very important for Europe’s future not to allow credence to be given to the idea that Europe might be lax, because this risks weakening the very principle of freedom of movement.


Finally, I want to say a word about Europe’s foreign and defence policy. It’s too soon to judge the effectiveness of the new structures, particularly the High Representative/Commission Vice-President and the European External Action Service, instituted by the Lisbon Treaty.

But to gain legitimacy, this new mechanism must swiftly bring EU states new, pertinent analyses, options warranting joint action – in short, real European added value.

In Libya, it’s above all the Franco-British action which has spearheaded European and even international action. Moreover, since the November 2010 summit, cooperation between Paris and London has been in the vanguard of developments in European defence. It’s a known fact that our two countries alone account for half Europe’s defence budget and two-thirds of its military research spending. While this Franco-British cooperation is absolutely necessary, it can’t suffice for the whole of Europe. And this is why France is supporting the Polish [EU] presidency’s efforts to revitalize Europe’s defence policy without dogmatism or excluding anyone. (...)./.

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