Informal European Union foreign ministers’ meeting (Gymnich)
THE MINISTER - The Paris conference [on Libya] was a great success: everyone recognizes that. It set out the approach: first of all, we’re all anxious to maintain the resources to act militarily as long as there’s still a risk to the civilian population – in other words, until Gaddafi is neutralized, which isn’t yet the case.
Next, we must enable the NTC [National Transitional Council] to exist: as you’ve seen, the process of unfreezing Libyan assets is under way, which will most probably provide $15 billion quickly.
Thirdly, we must support the NTC in implementing its political road map – the timetable has been announced, with a constitution and elections – and then in the economic rebuilding of the country, while remaining vigilant on the commitments made by the NTC: namely, respect for the democratic principles and human rights that inspire this whole popular movement.
The United Nations will clearly play a predominant role in this process: a meeting is planned in New York on 20 September, with the Friends of Libya group. As for the European Union, it will also be very active at all levels: in the military field, in the security field and building the rule of law.
Syria isn’t Libya, but I repeated that we had to be consistent with ourselves and that the international community, the European Union and France must fully shoulder their responsibility to protect civilian populations against the violence of dictators. That’s exactly what’s happening in Syria: we’ve tried many times – our Turkish counterpart also reminded us of Turkey’s efforts to this effect – to advise Bashar al-Assad to engage in a reform process; he hasn’t. This shows that today we must speed up a change of regime, which means toughening sanctions – I’m delighted the European Union has adopted six rounds of sanctions, particularly an embargo on oil exports –, continuing to work at the United Nations to secure a more explicit condemnation of the Syrian regime than is the case today, and finally working with the opposition: people often say, but what’s the alternative? That’s more or less the question we were asked about Libya when we recognized the NTC. In Syria, too, we must help the opposition organize itself.
I said very emphatically that Europe can and must play a role in searching for a solution. Sometimes Europe is perhaps a little timid; it’s made do with playing a listening role. I think today it has a special role to play and the various partners expect it to intervene.
MIDDLE EAST/UN RESOLUTION
What’s our goal? To prevent a failure for everyone in September at the United Nations General Assembly.
A failure for Israel if a resolution immediately recognizing the Palestinian state were passed by a broad majority, because Israel would necessarily be isolated.
A failure for the Palestinians, because the following day will doubtless not be very favourable: we’re aware of the threats to the Palestinians that their financing will be suspended.
A failure for America, who will become isolated, and a failure for the Europeans, who would risk being divided.
So what do we do? We heard the report by Catherine Ashton, who made many contacts. I made one myself only yesterday, with the Secretary-General of the Arab League. Our idea is to work on finding the bases for a resolution that would be acceptable to the different parties. Without going into further detail – because this is all going to take place in the coming weeks – I think there’s a chance of achieving such a balance.
Finally, we talked about the Eastern Partnership. As you know, a summit is going to be held in Warsaw at the end of September: the French Prime Minister will be there. We attach great importance to that partnership.
The discussion that took place this morning with several members of the Eastern Partnership – Turkey as well as Croatia and Macedonia – was very useful. France simply repeats that we must be honest with our partners and not let them imagine that, sooner or later, this partnership could lead to the prospect of European Union entry. That is France’s position. The current state of the European Union, the financial crisis and other difficulties we’re having to face prevent us from conducting an enlargement policy beyond what we’ve told the Balkans countries – particularly Croatia, who is on the point of entering the European Union. (…)
Q. – You said Syria isn’t Libya. You said the process must be speeded up. Where is the European Union heading in relation to the crackdowns under way in Syria? We can’t sit back and wait.
THE MINISTER – Libya isn’t Syria. By that I mean, first of all, that the regional context isn’t the same and the national context is also different: Syrian society isn’t Libyan society, and we know the risk of confrontation between the communities that make up Syria – Christians, Sunnis, Alawites etc. We must take all that into account. The regional context isn’t the same, and by that I mean we’ve never envisaged presenting a resolution to the Security Council resembling UNSCR 1973. The Russians have told us they’re mistrustful: they believe we went beyond the mandate in Libya; they won’t let it be done in Syria. That’s not the issue at all. There’s no question of embarking on a military intervention.
On the other hand, we – and France in particular – have been perfectly clear from the outset: we’ve condemned what is happening in Syria unhesitatingly and unequivocally, for the reasons I mentioned just now.
Now, people always say: where’s the effectiveness? People criticized us for engaging militarily in Libya, saying we were going to get bogged down, which wasn’t the case. Now we’re criticized for not going far enough on Syria. There’s a reason for that: beyond the different context I mentioned just now, it’s because we’ll never intervene without an international mandate and a green light from the United Nations Security Council, the only body in the world that can legitimate the use of force. Now, you know very well that there’s no chance today – if the idea were ever contemplated – of preparing, let alone securing a clearer condemnation than the one made in the statement by the Presidency a few days ago. We’ll work on it and we’ll try to persuade India, Brazil and South Africa. We’re trying to gather a majority of votes. And we’re trying to persuade the Russians not to use their veto, but we haven’t yet succeeded.
Q. – Are sanctions still enough against Syria?
THE MINISTER – Yes and no. No – that’s clear because the massacres are continuing, because the crackdown is continuing, because the period of Ramadan was particularly bloody. Yes, because it’s a system that takes effect little by little and gradually isolates the country.
All the same, we’ve made some fairly good progress: only a month ago, the statements we’ve heard from President Obama and the Arab League hadn’t been made. It’s clear the pressure on the regime is increasing. It’s not satisfactory. We too would rather the massacres stopped overnight. (…)
Q. – On the Eastern Partnership, what specifically are you expecting from the summit at the end of September? Doesn’t France see this initiative as something of a threat to the Union for the Mediterranean?
THE MINISTER – No, not at all. We have neighbours in the East and we have neighbours in the South. Just because we attach a lot of importance to the partnership with the South, that doesn’t mean we’re neglecting the partnership with the East. We merely said that in the distribution of the European Union’s financial resources we want the proportion of two-thirds to the South and one-third to the East to be respected. Apart from that, we’re very much in favour of developing our relations with those countries. Their stability and progression towards democracy are also an important challenge for us, and there’s a lot to do; we talked at length about the situation in Belarus, which isn’t acceptable. We have there a regime that doesn’t respect the fundamental principles of democracy and imprisons its political opponents, which is unacceptable. Ukraine also has difficulties of this kind.
This partnership must also be a means for us, a lever for saying very clearly that Europe is ready to help, to cooperate, inasmuch as we share the same values, particularly the same democratic values. (…)