Afghanistan – Economic growth – Greece – G8/G20
Q. – Following the meetings with Americans and European leaders in Washington, Camp David and Chicago, what’s France’s image today?
THE MINISTER – France’s image is good. I think the mission has been accomplished…
Q. – Has François Hollande got off to a good start as President?
THE MINISTER – I think so. There’s been a mixture of straightforwardness and firmness that I think everyone has appreciated. There was one powerful moment in particular when he spoke to about 50 heads of state and government in the large hall in Chicago to explain what France’s position was. He spoke very clearly, saying about NATO: “We’re entirely loyal to our alliances, and at the same time I’ve decided – and it’s a sovereign decision – that French combat troops will withdraw [from Afghanistan] before the end of 2012. That’s how it’ll happen.” I think everyone appreciated the way he spoke, which was both straightforward and firm. For anyone used to these international meetings, you feel that’s when the balance tips, and I think it tipped the right way. (…)
Q. – It’s the NATO summit in Chicago, and you’re talking about Afghanistan. France, François Hollande, is telling NATO, “we’re leaving Afghanistan, it’s not negotiable”. For those who have fought, and with so many victims, is that really appropriate (…)?
THE MINISTER – We said that if we came to office, combat troops – and I mean combat troops – would leave Afghanistan in 2012. The only thing that remains is to do so while of course ensuring the security of our troops.
Q. – But it’s the United States and her allies who are going to ensure security and protect the French soldiers and civilians who are going to remain there.
THE MINISTER – No, the commander of NATO troops, General Allen, who is an American, has said there will be – and I quote – “no degradation in security” as a result of the decision taken by the French. We then met President Karzai, who is the first person affected and who said previously that the Afghans will take over from our troops in Kapisa.
Q. – (…) France will also pay a contribution; do you know how much?
THE MINISTER – No, we haven’t yet released our figures. What you have to understand, even though it’s been little publicized to date, is that in January the President – at the time it was President Sarkozy – signed a treaty between France and Afghanistan that provides for a whole raft of cooperation in the coming period, on security and in the civilian, social, cultural fields etc. And that’s going to be carried out. We’re going to honour that commitment. On that basis we’ll be able to make the financial assessments, which we’ll do in the next few weeks.
Q. – At Camp David, all Barack Obama’s guests promised growth. At the G20 summit in Cannes in October, they made the same promise. Why don’t these apostles of growth decide together on a common initiative to support growth?
THE MINISTER – I don’t think the situation is the same. In recent months there’s been such a deterioration in the budgetary situations that basically the debate has been only about so-called budgetary austerity. One of the merits of François Hollande’s election has been to put the issue of growth back at the top of the agenda.
Q. – Yes, but for the moment everyone’s talking about growth, but people don’t see how [to achieve it]. Is everyone responsible for sorting things out in their own country?
THE MINISTER – In concrete terms, there’s a meeting scheduled for Wednesday…
Q. – In Brussels.
THE MINISTER – …with all the Europeans, and everyone is going to put their concrete proposals for growth on the table. Then a small group will probably be appointed to come up with concrete solutions on 28 and 29 June. The debate needed, firstly, to be refocused on growth; François Hollande has done this, but also with the help of President Obama, which must be emphasized, and Mario Monti, who played a very useful role in particular. We now need to be very precise and very practical. (…)
Q. – Have Europeans in Chicago, Washington and New York understood that the continent’s future requires a genuine economic, political government of Europe?
THE MINISTER – Yes, of course. What I’ve obviously been struck by is a determination to develop growth, but also a great concern, a very great concern about Greece. We mustn’t beat about the bush; we really need to explain to our Greek friends, without being arrogant, that if they want to remain in the euro – and I believe a majority of them do – they can’t vote for parties which would actually make them exit from the euro. It’s very delicate, because France isn’t going to tell them what to do, but, at the same time, our Greek friends must be told things as they are today.
Q. – But when we say we want to rescue them, does that mean we’ve got to forget all about Greek debts?
THE MINISTER – No, we absolutely must respect the so-called memorandum and, at the same time, provide future prospects. We must promote growth; we’re coming back to what we were saying a moment ago. Everyone has really got to understand that what’s at stake is whether or not the Greeks remain in the euro. You can’t want to stay in the euro and not make any effort to.
Q. – So, finally, there’s been a G8 and soon there’ll be a G20; these meetings have now become fixture. You’re going to stick with them even though you’ve criticized them.
THE MINISTER – Everything depends on the agenda. We’ve never criticized the G20; it’s a useful forum which, moreover, will be taking place next month. If the G8 is simply a meeting with no outcome, there’s no point to it. If it’s a G8 like this time, where people are saying that “emphasis must be put on growth”, it becomes interesting.
If I can just say a final word: this isn’t simply an economic issue but a democratic one, because if we don’t manage to stimulate growth, there’ll be revolts in a whole string of countries – and, sadly, we’re seeing this in several European countries and elsewhere. So it’s both an economic and democratic issue./.