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21st Ambassadors’ Conference

Published on August 29, 2013
Speech by M. François Hollande, President of the Republic

Paris, August 27, 2013


As I speak to you, the world is horrified at the revelation of the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Everything leads us to believe that it was the regime that committed this despicable act, which condemns it once and for all in the eyes of the world. Indeed, using weapons that the Community of Nations banned 90 years ago in all of its international agreements is shameful.

Need I remind you that this conflict has already left more than 100,000 dead? And that it is now spreading throughout the region, with attacks in Lebanon, the flow of refugees into Jordan and Turkey, and the unleashing of deadly violence in Iraq? This civil war is now threatening world peace.

During the past year, France has acted. It led the effort to hold the Friends of Syria conference that took place in Paris in July 2012. Last September, it was the first to recognize the [Syrian] National Coalition as legitimate representative of the Syrian people. And it promptly provided humanitarian and material assistance to the opposition so that it could carry on with its fight.

Today, it is our responsibility to seek the most appropriate response to the Syrian regime’s atrocities, once the major part of the United Nations investigation has been completed.

The chemical massacre in Damascus cannot remain without a response. The international community cannot fail to react to the use of chemical weapons. France stands ready to punish those who took the appalling decision to gas innocent people.

In recent days, I have held numerous consultations with our – particularly American and European – allies, as well as our Arab partners, to consider all the options. Tomorrow I shall be holding a Defence Council meeting, and Parliament will be informed of the situation as soon as possible.

Furthermore, I have decided to increase our military support for the Syrian National Coalition, while upholding our European commitments.

Only through this firmness will we see a political solution prevail one day in Syria.


For France to live up to its responsibility is the goal and the pride of the foreign policy I have been conducting with Laurent Fabius since my election.

It is based on three major principles:

Independence, which leads us every moment to decide, in full sovereignty, while being loyal to our alliances, to European solidarity and to our bilateral agreements. It’s this freedom that makes France useful to the world and to peace.
Respect for international law.

This is the best way of ensuring borders are respected, disputes are settled and collective security prevails.

But international law must evolve with the times. It cannot be a pretext for allowing large-scale massacres to be perpetrated. This is why I recognize the principle of “the responsibility to protect” civilians, which the United Nations General Assembly voted for in 2005.

Finally, the requirement for dialogue, because France wants to be a bridge between the continents and avoid what some peope have called the clash of civilizations. It wants to be a “landmark power” – i.e. a nation that speaks beyond its interests alone.


In order to be effective, these principles depend on [France] having the means to act: firstly its diplomacy, but also its military capabilities, which give it a special role further strengthened by its status as a permanent member of the Security Council.

So France must ensure that its defence tool remains reliable. The next military estimates bill, inspired by the work of the White Paper on Defence, will guarantee this. It will maintain defence budget funding for the coming five years, including in this very difficult period for our public finances. But it’s the essential condition for preserving our credibility and deciding on an intervention whenever our country deems it necessary, in the framework of international law.


This was the case in Mali on 11 January – not to usurp the Africans’ role, but to act with them…

Seven French soldiers died in Operation Serval; dozens of others were wounded. I want to pay tribute to their sacrifice and, more broadly, to our forces, who enabled Malian territory to be liberated and a presidential election to be organized; I welcome the way it went ahead. It gave strong legitimacy to its new President, Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta.

In eight months, from January to July, we thus succeeded in driving away the terrorists, making Mali secure and starting the political transition. Rarely has an operation in recent years managed to achieve its goals in so short a time.

France will now reduce its military presence, but will continue to support Mali in the challenges lying ahead of it: restoring the state, improving governance, guaranteeing security and successfully working for development, and show extreme vigilance, because violent groups – both terrorists and traffickers – are seeking to establish themselves wherever states can no longer control their territories, and wherever regional cooperation isn’t working.

We can see it in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the number of atrocities – of which women and children are the first victims – is increasing. That’s why we got the United Nations to put an intervention brigade in place in the Kivus. And today Monusco in Goma has the responsibility of opposing the armed groups destabilizing the region.

Likewise, action in the Central African Republic is overdue. The country is on the brink of “Somalization”. I’ve met the NGOs working there. They’re doing an admirable job. The assessment is damning: 60,000 children are in danger of dying of malnutrition, and 1.5 million out of 5 million inhabitants have been displaced.

I call on the African Union and the Security Council to deal with this situation. France will help them do so.

But I remind you now: it’s above all for the Africans to ensure their security.

That’s the purpose of the Elysée summit to be held in December, eight months after the African Union decided to create a crisis response capability, and six months after the meeting on maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea, at which actions were undertaken against piracy.

Europe will be represented at the Paris summit, because we must respond together to the African countries’ requests for training, support and equipment of their armed forces, because that continent has a bright future. It must be able to control its destiny by itself. France will stand alongside it, without seeking anything for itself.


France’s responsibility is also to support the Arab countries in their difficult transitions.

I recalled in Tunis that no religion was incompatible with the exercise of democracy and that Islam could provide new proof of this once individual freedoms, equality between women and men, and pluralism were respected.

So France is showing solidarity with the Tunisian people to enable them to regain their voice through the swift organization of elections as indisputable as those of 2011.

That’s one more reason to condemn the perpetrators of the violence targeting political activists in Tunisia, which is being used deliberately to endanger the democratic process.

In the name of these same values, we call on the Egyptian authorities to restore law and order as quickly as possible and move towards new elections with all players in society. France is willing to contribute, with others, to mediation. It makes this proposal without any intention to interfere, and with the sole concern to be effective.

I’d like to broaden my remarks by offering new prospects of cooperation to the countries in the region. I suggested to Malta at the 5+5 summit that we build together a Mediterranean of projects. We can’t remain limited to the short-lived initiatives of recent years. I call for new, less ambitious but more concrete partnerships.


But I am well aware that nothing solid can be achieved until the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved.

France’s position is unwavering. The foundations for achieving a just and enduring solution are well known. They are based on the coexistence of two viable states that recognize each other across secure borders.

I supported Palestine’s admission to the United Nations as a non-member observer state. But no vote can take the place of direct discussions.

That is why I welcome the resumption of talks, resolutely encouraged by the US administration. Make no mistake: this is one of the last opportunities to conclude a peace agreement.

It must not be squandered. Together with its European partners, France stands ready to play its full role with the Israelis and Palestinians, in consultation with its Arab partners.

That is what I will be saying in Israel and Palestine this autumn.


But another issue threatens peace in the region. It is the Iranian nuclear programme, as long as it serves a military purpose. Thus far, negotiations have failed. I want to believe that the election of President Rouhani could change the equation.

For Iran is paying the price of sanctions and isolation. And that price will grow if nothing changes.

That great country must choose transparency and full compliance with its international obligations.

I therefore await concrete, prompt, verifiable and verified gestures.

But time is running out. With Iran equipping itself with the resources for what is unacceptable, the threat is growing. And the countdown has already begun. Hence the urgency of negotiations in the E3+3 format. They must swiftly lead to progress.


So on all the challenges, conflicts and crises, France is making its voice heard. Not for the sake of itself, its influence and interests, but for the sake of its idea of the world’s equilibrium and of its own responsibility.

Its responsibility is also to fully address planetary changes.

There are now dozens of new powers. In 20 years, the emerging countries’ share of global GDP has gone from 36% to 50%. The largest ones have already reached technological levels comparable to the developed countries. They have considerable currency reserves.

Huge middle clases are developing there. It’s predicted that the urban population will be more than four billion strong in 10 years’ time, half of it in Asia. That’s an economic challenge, but it’s also a considerable opportunity for our companies, academics and creative professionals.

I have confidence in France’s ability to face up to this competition.

It must still take the right decisions, adapt its policies and modernize its economy. I’ve embarked on those reforms.

The target I’ve set is to return to equilibrium in our non-energy trade balance by 2017.

All the state’s tools must be actively used. Our embassies and consulates, the economic services abroad, Ubifrance, Coface, the Invest in France Agency: they must all work together with a single aim – to support our companies in conquering new markets.

Export financing instruments must also be improved: it’s unacceptable for major French industrial bidders to be penalized against their competitors for lack of financial support. The government is working on this.

SMEs must be one of the priorities of economic diplomacy. Whenever a major contract is won, French subcontractors, component manufacturers and suppliers must also gain access to the markets. I ask you, ladies and gentlemen ambassadors, to ensure this happens.

Concurrently, our country must attract more investors, entrepreneurs, researchers and students. Every facility will be granted, including in terms of issuing visas.

Tourism must be elevated to a great national cause, which means improving reception facilities in airports, stepping up security and increasing infrastructure and supply levels. France is already the world’s leading tourist destination; its aim is to achieve the highest tourism receipts of all the European countries.


It’s not a question of the economy on the one hand and influence on the other. Everything plays a role in France’s presence in the world:

That’s the case with our academic policy. France hosts 48,000 international researchers and 300,000 foreign students: we must do more. That’s the role of Campus France, whose mission is to direct a greater number of promising students to our universities and grandes écoles (1).

Our cultural network is also a lever for asserting France as a brand, promoting our creative professionals and architects, and making our way of life an aspiration for the emerging middle classes.

An active diplomacy is also a diplomacy focused on French nationals abroad. Hélène Conway is working on that. The number of our compatriots living outside our borders has doubled in 15 years. We have more than two million of them, and they take part in the economic, cultural and social life of their countries of residence. Pursuing part of one’s professional career in another country is becoming ever more commonplace. It’s a change our diplomacy must adapt to – in order both to support our fellow citizens and to make the most of their presence.

France projects itself abroad through its language. The Francophone world accounts for 15% of global wealth. That’s a tremendous asset – in Africa, which will have 600 million French speakers in 2050, but also in Asia and America, where our language is being used more, and in all the forums where decisions are taken, because in order for tomorrow’s world to be thought of in French, it must speak it. That’s the mission I’ve entrusted to Yamina Benguigui.


France is a universal nation. It is destined to establish genuine partnerships with major countries.

With China, I’d like the 50th anniversary of the restoration of our diplomatic relations to be the opportunity to continue our cooperation on energy, including civil nuclear energy, but also to restore our trade balance.

The Chinese Prime Minister told me politely that China does not intend to have a trade surplus with France.

I replied to him, equally courteously, that France doesn’t intend to have a structural deficit with China, either. We undoubtedly have some way to go to reach a balance, but also to welcome more Chinese investors to France.

I don’t want to raise new fears here, but when we have the opportunity to have capital invested in France, including in our industry, I don’t want to reject it.

Just as we support the investment made abroad from France – because it’s a way of gaining access to markets and competing for positions –, so we must accept that there be industrial investments by emerging countries in France. For many years there’s been a very large gap between French investments abroad and foreign investments in France – even though France is one of the countries with the most inward investment by foreign countries providing their capital.

With India, the world’s largest democracy, I want to broaden further our economic relations, defence cooperation and cultural exchanges.

With Japan, the state visit I paid in June was the opportunity to resume our exceptional partnership with the world’s third-largest economy, which has put growth at the heart of its agenda.

With Brazil – which is going to host major international events –, France has special affinities. I’ll have the opportunity to bear witness to this by going there before the end of the year.

With South Africa, the close dialogue between our two countries on the continent’s security is particularly invaluable, because it enables us to end the rift between English-speaking and French-speaking Africa.

Finally, I’d like to mention Russia. We know what unites us – history, the economy, culture – but also what divides us, and that frankness enables us to move forward.


For I have a duty to express everywhere our commitment to respect for human rights.

France prides itself in defending them when they are flouted, and in recalling the demand for dignity, equality between men and women, but also for combating homophobia, which is taking on worrying proportions.


France’s responsibility is to help the world be better governed. What are our goals?

Firstly, to continue the fight against tax avoidance. Major progress was made at the G8 on exchanging economic information, lifting banking secrecy and combating aggressive tax optimization. I expect the G20 summit in St Petersburg next week to build on all these advances.

Secondly, reducing global imbalances. There must be greater coordination between the major economies’ policies, in the governance bodies: at the IMF, the World Bank, the G8 and the G20. The growth of some can’t be achieved to the detriment of others. In the same spirit, it’s essential for currencies to reflect the real state of economies.


Lastly, to reach a climate agreement.

We can’t recognize global warming and stand idly by.

That will be the point of the 2015 Conference, which will take place in France – because we suggested holding the conference.

In order to be successful, we have to reconcile two requirements: the aspiration for development, especially in the poorest countries, and the need to keep global warming within sustainable levels.

Our approach will therefore depend on the voluntary contributions of states, assessed on the basis of reliable and transparent criteria, and on a global agreement that will be binding on all countries, in line with the principle of “common but differentiated responsibility”.

France intends to set an example through its own energy transition and by upholding its European commitments. It has already initiated a process of persuasion.

That’s the task I have entrusted to Nicolas Hulot.

I have confidence in our ability to get past the failure of Copenhagen.

President Obama made a strong commitment to the issue of global warming, and my exchanges with the Chinese, Indian, and Brazilian leaders, as well as with the African heads of state, confirm my view that it is possible to achieve a compromise.


This is also true for ensuring development financing.

France is the world’s fourth-largest donor. I made the commitment to overhaul the framework of this policy, which represents over €9 billion a year. This is the purpose of the bill on our development policy, championed by Pascal Canfin.

France’s action will focus on the poorest countries and will plan to bring together all the development players, particularly local authorities, NGOs and businesses.

I have also asked for our contribution to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria to be maintained at its current level.


Ladies and gentlemen ambassadors,

It is France’s responsibility to take the initiative in Europe.

Progress has been made over the past year:

The Euro Area’s integrity has been safeguarded. Greece has been rescued, not without pain.

Stability and solidarity mechanisms have been introduced. The ECB played its part in this.

The fiscal compact has been ratified.

Banking union has got under way.

Growth has been put back at the heart of the agenda.

Youth employment became our shared priority. France will, incidentally, be hosting a second European conference on this topic in November.

So many advances that few imagined possible in the space of a year.

Today, Europe is emerging from recession. Everything which can boost economic activity and create jobs must be speeded up and encouraged. We won’t manage this unless Europe reorders its priorities.


My proposals are threefold: simplify, move forward, clarify.

Simplify, with a stabilized Eurogroup presidency, the establishment of an economic government for the Euro Area, and harmonization of fiscal and social rules, particularly the minimum wage.

Move forward. This means fleshing out the European project in at least three areas: first, energy. I’m arguing for an energy community which ensures interconnecting networks, security of supply and climate protection. Secondly, digital technology. In October I would like Europe to define its own rules to protect private data and the technology it needs on its soil.

Finally, defence. I want, at the December European Council, to give impetus to a European industry, implement structural programmes and move towards Defence Europe.

Clarify. It is time to draw conclusions from the different relations member countries maintain with the European Union. I respect the choices of those who want to leave things as they are and even of those who might decide to stand on the sidelines. But I above all intend to go further with the countries which have decided to forge ahead. It’s our project of mutually-supportive integration in a “differentiated Europe” where there would be distinct paces, content and even decision-making rules, whilst keeping the union of all [member states] as an area of freedom, democracy and solidarity.


On all these issues and thus on this initiative, France intends to act in harmony with Germany, because our two countries are indissociable. Irrespective of the government, irrespective of the majority, we are duty-bound to promote Europe’s future. Next week, I shall be welcoming President Gauck to France on a state visit.

He wants to go to several symbolic places: to Paris, of course, where the bulk of the visit will take place; to Marseille, to give the city encouragement and also pay tribute to its cultural renaissance; and finally to Oradour-sur-Glane, to convey the message – the only one that truly matters: forget nothing and be able, at the same time, to build the future together.

It will further demonstrate the strength of this friendship. This friendship has the characteristic of not overly focusing on the two countries which decided on it, but of being at the exclusive service of the European idea.


Immediately after the German elections, I would like France and Germany to retake the initiative, as our two countries have been able to do at each stage of the European enterprise.

For all these reasons – and I’m not forgetting the appointment of the new European Parliament – the year ahead will be decisive for Europe’s future.

Do I have to oversimplify almost to the point of caricature? Either Europe is able to draw up a project for itself again, or slowly but surely it will undergo a process of disintegration and declining in status, which will not just be fatal for Europe – which has been the great human adventure of the past 70 years – but will harm the whole world, because Europe is a benchmark, a framework, even an example of regional cooperation.


Ladies and gentlemen ambassadors,

You carry France’s message. This is both a responsibility and an honour.

During my many visits, I have noted the quality of our diplomatic tool and of all those civilian and military staff contributing to it. Laurent Fabius would quite rightly like to develop it. It isn’t a question of “change for change’s sake”, it’s a question of being able to take up the world’s challenges and react to its changes.

France must be active everywhere – that’s your mission and ours too.

Active in finding political solutions to tensions which flare up,
Active in backing peoples’ aspirations,
in supporting the poorest countries,
in promoting essential regulation,
in forging partnerships with the emerging countries,
finally, active in exercising our responsibility.

There are times when this responsibility is tough: do we commit France or not? Do we act or not? Do we take decisions or not? Do we intervene or let things take their course? This question has been put to the Head of State at specific moments in our country’s history. Once again, the question is back or is going to be back in the next few days.

Do we act or not? Do we get involved or leave it to others? France has decided to exercise its responsibility everywhere, for itself and for world stability.

Thank you./.

(1) Prestigious higher education institutes with competitive entrance examinations.

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