Official speeches and statements - March 10, 2016
1. European Union - Turkey - Migration - Press conference by M. François Hollande, President of the Republic, following the meeting of heads of state and government from the European Union and Turkey (excerpts) (Brussels, 08/03/2016)
Significant progress was made today and last night on how Europe must address the problems, the refugee crisis. Preparations for this progress had been under way for several days. As you remember, Chancellor Merkel came to Paris, and work was also done with the Turkish Prime Minister - first on Sunday evening, but also with Donald Tusk, the European Council President, and of course during the lunch at this extraordinary meeting of the European Council.
Why was there progress? The goal is to halt the illegal transportation of refugees or migrants from Turkey to Greece, and it was finally agreed that there had to be a policy based on three principles: the security of the EU’s external borders, effective cooperation with Turkey, and substantial assistance to Greece, because it’s Greece that is currently responsible for not only the external border but also the flow of refugees who can no longer leave Greece and who are still there.
So I’m picking up on those three principles, to illustrate what was decided today and last night.
Security of vessels: so we’ll strengthen the NATO fleet in the Aegean Sea, and the Turks will be prompted to take charge of people-smugglers’ vessels that have been spotted, found and escorted to port by the NATO fleet and the European coastguard. Security also for the «hot spots» which are in charge of overseeing the refugees or migrants themselves. So security means going back to the Schengen principles and the European rules.
Second illustration, second principle: cooperation with Turkey. One very important point was endorsed today, namely the agreement with Turkey to readmit those refugees and migrants who arrive illegally on European shores, i.e. in Greece. In other words, this means Turkey would take back those migrants and refugees, and so they’d be resettled, as it were, in Turkey. Irregular migrants, moreover, have no place remaining in Turkey and would return to their countries of origin. Syrians who arrive on the Greek coast by illegal means would also be returned, readmitted, to Turkey. But in order for Europe to continue guaranteeing its role of welcoming families or people in danger, there would be resettlement in Europe for (...) other Syrians, who would come to Europe legally.
Insofar as Turkey is taking this very important action of readmitting, taking back those refugees and migrants who left Turkey illegally for Greece, insofar as Turkey is making this gesture, conducting this policy, taking this strict approach, then there may be what’s called a liberalization of visas for Turks, but according to the rules originally set: the so-called Visa Roadmap.
Next, the third principle, the third illustration of progress: assistance to Greece. Greece must be helped in several ways, firstly because Greece must create its «hot spot» centres. Four are already in place; a fifth is about to be operational. France will also join Europe in lending its support to Greece for the functioning of those centres, which are essential to the mechanism.
Next, Greece must be helped, because those refugees who are currently there must be relocated and so, in a way, distributed according to the rules between European countries. France is also doing its duty from this point of view, in relation to the commitments I’ve made, and this very day 148 Syrians are being taken into France according to this relocation procedure.
The third item of assistance that must be provided to Greece is humanitarian aid. Let me remind you there are 30,000 refugees in Greece and there may be more in the coming days. Greece will receive euro300 million this year, euro200 million in 2017 and euro200 million in 2018. France will also add its own contribution to the humanitarian aid.
So Europe has today created goals and instruments enabling us to say there will ultimately be no more illegal flows. Of course there will always be attempts. There will always be smugglers, even if we combat that despicable traffic. But in a way, if the security of the borders is guaranteed, if Turkey does its duty in terms of readmission and if help is provided to Greece, it’s a complete provision enabling us to return to Schengen. That will no doubt take a little more time. These approaches and decisions must also be specified, as far as possible, for the next European Council meeting, but we finally have consistency and European action based not only on goals but on instruments that can be effective.
To achieve this, it was necessary to talk, to negotiate - firstly among Europeans but also with Turkey. Turkey is taking charge of hosting a lot of refugees: 2.5 million today. Turkey is undergoing the consequences of the war in Syria and is a victim of terrorism. So Turkey must also be helped in what it’s doing, but it must also be supported in what it must do, and particularly those readmission procedures and the fight against trafficking and smugglers. Turkey will also - and this was a decision that had already been taken - benefit from euro3 billion in aid from the European Union over the coming months. If necessary, this aid can be increased if the refugee problem - as is likely - still persists in 2018.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be vigilant as regards Turkey, particularly in relation to the press, freedoms and the law. Insofar as there’s a desire on Turkey’s part - and this timetable was already planned, incidentally - to move towards the negotiation of chapters for Turkey’s bid to join the European Union, this vigilance must be stepped up further.
At the European Council meeting, several voices - I’d almost say all of them - were raised about what’s happened in recent days concerning the press in Turkey. Just because the EU and Turkey cooperate - and that’s necessary -, just because Europe helps Turkey - and that’s essential -, just because Turkey itself is being struck [by terrorism] - and there too it deserves our consideration and solidarity -, that doesn’t mean we must overlook violations of rights or freedoms.
That’s why this Council meeting - which was long and extraordinary, because there will be another European Council meeting next week - managed to cast a ray of hope: hope that the refugee issue can be handled by Europe with solidarity and effectiveness, through this cooperation with Turkey, with respect for people and also with a determination for everyone to honour their commitments.
France won’t shirk, either from the assistance it will provide to Greece or from the support it will lend to the NATO force, the border guards and the «hot spots». France won’t shirk, either, from its commitments to take in refugees. The figure of 30,000 was set in September 2015. That’s still our goal and our promise. (...)
This programme benefits 50 young entrepreneurs, who are here and who have already presented some of their innovations to us. I’ll begin by expressing my gratitude to you: thank you for having confidence in France.
This country, France, welcomes you, and welcomes you for what you’re going to bring to enhance it - I’ve already glimpsed this: for example, a robotics start-up company which is going to transform the way wheelchairs work and which, in a few months, a few years, is going to change the lives of many of our fellow citizens here and maybe throughout the world; homes constructed with 3D print-outs, which can not only change the way flats and houses are built, but also come up with solutions for refugees very quickly; there’s also a water treatment start-up which was presented to me, which is going to revolutionize the industrial world and perhaps even the world of sanitation.
There are so many other projects you’re taking forward which are both useful to France, where you’ll be setting up, and are also - as has been said - going to advance a global ambition.
You come from many countries: Canada, the United States, India, Japan, China, Lebanon, Tunisia, Brazil, the United Kingdom - yes, even the United Kingdom - and some projects are being developed by international teams. For example, a young Chinese woman and a young Japanese man are working together on a digital marketing project, and two men from Italy and one from Lebanon are developing a digital app to support young students in their academic careers.
Through all these projects, all that they signify, we also want to get across a message together. We want France to be a land of innovation and a land of welcome. Welcome, because it’s part of our tradition, because in France we’ve always wanted women and men who wish to create, be entrepreneurs and innovate to be here in a country of culture and creativity. And we want to be a land of innovation, where tomorrow’s world is invented. Finally, we want young people, young people of the world but also France’s young people, to play their full role. (...)
Since 2012, France has opted for a strategy based on innovation. Never have so many start-ups been created in our country. Every year 1,500 are established in Paris alone; the city has the most start-up incubators in Europe. Last year, the turnover of French start-ups increased by 50%; never has so much capital been invested in innovation in France as last year.
Twelve French start-ups fundraised more than euro25 million in 2015, and four fundraised over euro100 million. (...)
Nor have French start-ups ever become globalized as quickly, because we’re moving up a gear and certain French start-ups have acquired a global reputation in the space of a few years. I can’t list them all. Included are Blablacar and Deezer, but there are many others too: Criteo, Withings and Parrot have gained an international dimension.
One hundred and twenty start-ups accompanied [Economy] Minister Emmanuel Macron to Las Vegas. (...)
We also wanted to spread innovation. Of course, Paris is the capital city and it, too, competes globally. But we wanted there to be 13 major French Tech cities, so labelling has been planned. In France, labelling is about criteria, selection and competition, and so we put to a number of cities the challenge: are you able to offer a so-called ecosystem for businesses? Can start-ups develop? We were able to accept 13. (...) So here you’ve got a capacity, through 13 major cities, to develop innovation.
We also wanted to put financing in place. The Banque publique d’investissement [French Public Investment Bank] has set up - and I thank it - a euro200-million fund and grants designed to pay for start-ups to get under way, irrespective of nationality. French Tech also makes active efforts to make our start-ups known internationally, with euro15 million to promote them.
It isn’t the state that manages the French Tech initiative, it’s really promoted by all those involved in innovation. To encourage the development of innovative companies, we do admittedly have especially dynamic fiscal instruments, and I thank our friends who are familiar with these instruments and have highlighted them, because they’re probably the most powerful in Europe and maybe the world - particularly the R&D tax credit. As was rightly pointed out, we wanted to extend the R&D tax credit to include innovation, all forms of innovation, not only technological innovations but also design and everything which contributes to creativity. (...).
Three of my predecessors visited: Charles de Gaulle, François Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac. They all, in a way, had the same feeling: that here in Argentina they were on familiar ground. It must be said that the Teatro Colón has something of the Paris Opera about it, and the Plaza Francia in Buenos Aires brings together two Mariannes - the Argentine Marianne and the French Marianne - to carry the flame of liberty together. (...)
Today, my visit reflects not only your bicentenary but also your [recent] accession to the presidency of Argentina. Together we want to begin a new stage in our relationship. I’m here with many business leaders, who have all welcomed the new course you’ve set and the reforms you’ve embarked on. Mr President, together we’ve set out a road map that will enable us to develop partnerships in many areas: energy, space, aerospace and new technologies.
You’ve also wanted - and I thank you for it - to be fully engaged in the result of COP21, to which you contributed as soon as you were elected. What I want to promise you here is to support you as far as possible, facilitate relations between Argentina and the international financial community, back your accession to the OECD and also ensure we can step up investments.
We also have a desire to increase cultural, scientific and academic exchanges, and we’ve signed agreements between our higher education establishments, our research establishments. You’re the country that welcomes the highest number of French scientists, and we’re proud to be your main partner in this field. (...).
France has an ambitious asylum policy
I am convinced, like Etienne Balibar, that only a rigorous European policy in keeping with our values can today allow us to control the unprecedented migration crisis confronting our continent. But I cannot let what he has written - that France is responsible for the difficulties Europe is encountering as it tackles the crisis, or that it has thwarted the efforts deployed by Germany to resolve them - go unanswered.
Firstly, the «Juncker Plan» to relocate migrants arriving in Greece and Italy, which Etienne Balibar rightly welcomes, is nothing more than a taking into consideration of the proposals which France, in August 2014, convinced Germany to present with it to the European institutions and its partners. To this end, I for one paid a round of visits to Europe’s main capitals from the summer of 2014. Consequently, far from wanting the plan to fail, France itself laid the foundations for it, in full agreement with Germany.
The proposals which constitute this plan have always been based simultaneously on the desire to increase controls on the European Union’s external borders, provide assistance to the migrants - whom the people-smugglers expose to death at sea -, more effectively take in refugees, distribute them in a balanced, transparent way within the various member states and provide for immigrants to be returned to their country in a dignified, humane way when they are ineligible for the right of asylum.
The agreement on these principles between France and Germany does not, obviously, mean that differences cannot emerge now and again over the migration crisis. But these do not create a «demarcation line». The French President and the German Chancellor repeated on Friday 5 March that our two countries are working in the same spirit and with the same desire to resolve the crisis. And it is ultimately this agreement which protects us from the «end of the European Union» which Etienne Balibar fears.
Secondly, I must protest once again at the groundless argument, picked up again in that article, that France is somehow falling short when it comes to the right of asylum. Admittedly, it is not a country «of first entry» like Italy or Greece. Admittedly, the refugee flows are heading first and foremost towards Austria and Germany, for geographical as much as economic reasons. But in 2015 France adopted the most ambitious asylum reform in its recent history. Last year, it accepted more than 80,000 asylum applicants, i.e. many more than the United Kingdom, for example. It is the only country which has established a special protection mechanism for certain particularly vulnerable victims of Daesh [so-called ISIL], such as the members of the religious minorities who are refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Finally, it has pledged to take in 30,000 relocated refugees over two years as a way of showing solidarity with the countries of first entry. Even though only a few hundred of them have arrived in France to date, this is not because of a lack of attractiveness on our country’s part, let alone a deliberate lack of commitment. It is quite simply because refugee reception and distribution mechanisms in «hot spots» still operate only very imperfectly. What’s more, I myself paid an on-the-spot visit to the island of Lesbos a few weeks ago to assess these difficulties and propose to the Greek authorities our assistance in order to resolve them quickly. But despite these failings, France is the country which has taken in, to date, the largest number of relocated refugees: 148 of them arrived on French soil from Greece on Monday 7 March, and will be welcomed in asylum applicant reception centres in several French regions.
France is also very actively participating in the fight against people-smuggling rings which exploit migrants’ distress and put them in great danger. In this respect, a French military ship will set sail this week from Toulon to take part in the Atlantic Alliance operations to combat unlawful trafficking in the Aegean Sea, a crossing point for thousands of migrants.
Finally, no informed person could write that the plan to dismantle the Calais «jungle» will have the effect of «driving hundreds of desperate people back onto the roads», because the action which began in Calais on Monday 29 February, with the judge’s approval, has no objective other than to provide shelter for people in situations of great distress, exposed to the cold, living in mud and subjected to the violence of the people-smugglers, who try hard to extort money from them for an unlikely and dangerous illegal planned crossing of the Channel.
None of these migrants is destined to be «driven back onto the road». On the contrary, one or several solutions to provide them with shelter are being proposed to every one of them, on a voluntary basis, by social workers, with the help of voluntary organizations. So there are 400 places in the Jules Ferry reception centres for the most vulnerable people - women and unaccompanied minors. In this way, for those who wish to remain in Calais in the immediate future, 500 places exist in heated sécurité civile [emergency services] tents and 1,500 others have been created within the «temporary reception centre». Finally, everyone who envisages asking for asylum is being offered a place in one of the 102 reception and guidance centres all over the country, where the relevant voluntary organizations are offering them guidance on what steps they take. More than 2,900 migrants chose to leave a makeshift camp to go to one of the reception centres, contradicting the too-swift analysis that they would reject en masse the prospect of asking for asylum in France.
Given this unprecedented migration crisis, every one of us - politicians, civil servants, journalists, intellectuals - can no doubt usefully do some soul-searching. But it is difficult for me to accept, without protest, the supposedly most clear-sighted and most rigorous minds distorting the policy which has been implemented by France for nearly two years, forgetting that it has constantly worked with Germany to tackle the migration crisis, ignoring the fact that it is implementing an ambitious asylum policy, and questioning, against all the evidence, the strength of its European commitment.