CAR – Syria – France/Newsweek article – France/Germany – Europe – Iran/nuclear
CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC
Q. – A month after the start of Operation Sangaris in the Central African Republic, the impression is that France already risks getting bogged down…
THE MINISTER – The situation is difficult but we certainly shouldn’t talk about getting bogged down. What would have happened if we hadn’t intervened? Probably [there would have been] 10, 50 times more victims! When your name is France and you’re asked by the Africans and the UN, you can’t stand aside and close your eyes. Problems exist, the political situation hasn’t been stabilized, but the goal must be maintained: to disarm impartially, restore security, facilitate humanitarian aid and prepare the political transition. Nobody could think everything would be settled in a month.
Q. – Must France send military reinforcements there?
THE MINISTER – It’s not for us to usurp the Africans’ role. MISCA [AFISM-CAR] (the African buffer force) is gaining strength and will soon have 6,000 troops. It’s already playing its role on the ground. We’ll maintain our contingent of 1,600 troops. Stabilizing the situation politically will be crucial.
Q. – The polls show that this intervention isn’t very popular…
THE MINISTER – That’s understandable. Many people believe that the Central African Republic is a long way away, that the problems are complex and that it has a cost, which is true; but on the other hand, they entirely accept that we must come to the aid of friends who are getting entangled and shoulder our international responsibilities. In the CAR, we’ll honour our commitments, as we did in Mali. There will be no mission creep.
Q. – Two and a half years after the start of the war in Syria, the moderate opposition seems to have been wiped out. What can be done?
THE MINISTER – On Syria, France has taken a fair position: Bashar al-Assad can’t lead his country’s future after committing crimes against humanity. We may regret that we weren’t followed more from the outset, at a time when the situation was a little less tragic. In Paris on Sunday, I’ll be chairing a meeting of the 11 countries that make up the core of support for the moderate opposition. If we want to avoid Assad on the one hand and al-Qaeda and the terrorist groups on the other – and hence a clash between the extremists, with its terrible consequences for the region – we must support the moderate opposition. The purpose of the Geneva II conference is precisely to seek to build a transitional government by means of an agreement between certain elements of the regime and this moderate opposition. It clearly won’t be easy.
Q. – An article in the American magazine Newsweek describes France as a country in decline. Does that shock you?
THE MINISTER – It’s rather a case of that magazine being in decline before it was bought by a businessman who, incidentally, is… French! The article is riddled with mistakes. Economically, the path for our country to follow is clear, namely what I call the recovery triangle: competitiveness (of our companies), attractiveness (of France’s location), restraint (in public expenditure). As regards foreign policy, most observers acknowledge that one country in Europe is making its mark: ours.
Q. – In his New Year greetings on 31 December, the President mentioned future initiatives with Angela Merkel. Can 2014 be a year of renewal?
THE MINISTER – I hope so – a year of Franco-German and European revitalization. For example, we must complete banking union: it may seem abstract, but in reality it’s about guaranteeing depositors’ money and the solidity of the banking system! For energy, we can pool our techniques in order to consume less, [and] our essential efforts to combat climate disturbance. In terms of defence, manufacturing a UAV together, fighting terrorism…
Q. – Can greater harmony between tax systems be envisaged?
THE MINISTER – Yes. For example, Germany has a lower corporation tax rate than ours, but fewer exemptions. For us it’s the opposite. Why not a kind of shared “tax snake” [tax band], with a maximum and minimum corporation tax rate?
Q. – Is this revitalization important with a view to the European elections in May? Europe isn’t getting a good press…
THE MINISTER – We must give citizens a taste for Europe again. It’s complicated, because the way Europe is managed – which is criticized – tends to get confused with the European idea itself, which thus gets called into question. Rather than institutional revisions, people want something concrete. Look at what we’ve secured for the Posting of Workers Directive: the French people have understood that we managed, in concrete terms, to improve a socially dangerous instrument.
Q. – Is the December agreement, in which Iran agrees to suspend development of its sensitive nuclear activities, enough?
THE MINISTER – It’s positive and it should start being applied in January. A permanent agreement will still need to be concluded in which Iran agrees to give up nuclear weapons for good. Here too, France will play its role for security and peace.
Q. – Do you trust the new president, Hassan Rouhani?
THE MINISTER – What’s being said is new and positive, but we’ll also and above all have to judge deeds. (…)./.