Official speeches and statements - April 11, 2016
The centenary of the Battle of Verdun, which is being commemorated this year, reminds us of the incalculable value of Franco-German friendship at the service of Europe.
Europe today is at peace and reunified, but it is facing significant challenges in an unstable world. They must prompt Europeans to shoulder their responsibilities together, in order to protect their security while defending their freedoms and strengthen their economy while protecting their social model. European solutions alone will be capable of addressing these challenges in an effective and lasting way.
Decisions have been taken to ensure that Europe can protect its external borders, act firmly to combat terrorism and contain the flow of illegal migrants while respecting its values, and especially the right of asylum. These decisions must be applied without delay and built on whenever necessary. France and Germany have lent their full support to them and are contributing jointly to their implementation.
Other initiatives will be necessary to ensure that Europe is better prepared for long-term challenges. France and Germany will make new proposals this year with a view to strengthening Europe where it is expected to take action: security and the defence of Europeans, through the strengthening of Schengen, a tailored asylum system and external action capabilities to promote peace and stability; and growth and employment, through the energy transition and digital modernization, the revitalization of investment and the deepening of Economic and Monetary Union.
France and Germany are also determined to strengthen their bilateral cooperation further in every field. In particular, they have decided to establish a Franco-German council on integration into our societies, to compare their experiences of how to address this common challenge and to be inspired by what has succeeded. (...)
I welcome the excellent tourism figures for 2015; France welcomed 84.5 million international visitors last year, representing an increase of 0.9% over one year. This increase is mainly due to the dramatic rise in the number of Asian tourists (up 22.7%). The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development is committed to enhancing France’s attractiveness and making it easier for tourists to visit our country, including by improving the visa application process.
The attacks which struck Paris in November hindered this progress, especially in the capital. I remain committed, alongside Paris’s mayor and councillors, the elected representatives of the Ile-de-France region and tourism professionals, to actively promoting France as a tourist destination following these events. My goal remains to attract 100 million foreign tourists per year to France from 2020 onwards.
For more information and detailed figures: http://diplomatie.gouv.fr/fr/politique-etrangere-de-la-france/tourisme/article/tourisme-statistiques-du-tourisme-international-vers-la-france-en-2015.
THE MINISTER - I’ve been in my post for two months, give or take a day, and the day after I took over from Laurent Fabius I went immediately to Munich to discuss the Libya issue, because things are happening over there. Since the intervention in 2011 with the bombing, we haven’t resolved the problem. It’s a bit like in Iraq; I’m among those who were against an intervention in Iraq, and I think that those who were [against it] were right, because we can see the subsequent chaos.
In Libya it’s the same thing: you carry out strikes and afterwards it’s chaos. And who suffers from this primarily? The Libyan people, of course, who have had enough, and Daesh [so-called ISIL] is also taking advantage of it.
It’s a priority issue not only for Libya, for the countries in the region - I’m thinking of Tunisia in particular and Algeria - but also others. And it’s also a priority issue for Europe, because if we do nothing, terrorism will make progress, will strike us even more, and hundreds of thousands of refugees will also find a route to leave.
Q. - You had a discussion with Fayez Sarraj, the head of the national unity government, which has returned to Tripoli, which seems to be somewhat forcing the destiny of that complicated country, Libya.
THE MINISTER - I met him in Tunis, because he was still there three weeks ago. The goal he had - he’s an extremely brave person - is to go to Tripoli, the capital, as a symbolic place to establish his government, and that’s what he’s done, taking personal risks. The international community absolutely must support him, France is supporting him, and the countries which support him are also intending to reopen their embassies.
Q. - Well, on that very point...
THE MINISTER - Tunisia’s already done so. I spoke to Mr Sarraj on the telephone yesterday and he invited me to Libya. As soon as the conditions are met, I’ll go there, because it’s very important, in order to make progress on solutions in that tribal country which stabilize it and also reassure the region, including Europe, that the government can act. So it’s already taken some decisions: the central bank is under its authority, and soon the national oil company [will be] - in other words, Libya’s assets.
Q. - And when is the French Embassy in Tripoli due to open?
THE MINISTER - It’s difficult for me to give you an answer, because the building is currently empty, the embassy staff having been forced to leave for security reasons; so we must do preparatory work. But it’s a political choice to create the conditions for this return. As I told you, Tunisia - which has been hit by Daesh on its border with Libya - has already returned, and the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Mr Kobler, intends to reopen his office in the coming days.
Q. - A short question: is a military intervention still planned in Libya? Will the international community get down to this?
THE MINISTER - I don’t think we should repeat the mistakes of the past. If you imagine air strikes and troops on the ground, that’s not on the agenda - at any rate, it’s not France’s position. On the other hand, to make Mr Sarraj’s government safe, if it requests international assistance, we’ll examine that, but it’s his decision and we must respect the country’s independence. And in order for the country to be defended, it had to create a government. It absolutely must be supported. (...)
Q. - Jean-Marc Ayrault, 30,000 more refugees for France?
THE MINISTER - Yes, that’s what was pledged.
Q. - There are already 80,000.
THE MINISTER - Every year 80,000 refugees - this is increasing in France - ask for asylum.
Q. - Can we do it?
THE MINISTER - Yes, we can do it. Germany took in more than a million refugees last year. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, but the Germans are doing it. Firstly, it’s a matter of principle; these are people fleeing the war in Syria and who want to save themselves, and millions of them are in neighbouring countries such as Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. But just as many are coming to Europe and they can benefit from the right of asylum. So we must all play our part, and France’s position on this is clear: a decision was taken by Europe to share out refugees, and France committed itself and will honour its commitments.
Q. - And all our partners are going to follow that decision...
THE MINISTER - That’s where the difficulty lies; you’re right, there are countries which have said no.
Q. - There you are.
THE MINISTER - And yet it’s a collective decision. It raises the issue of how Europe works. Firstly, people say that Europe makes decisions and takes a long time to implement them. It’s a problem and applies to many areas - I’m thinking in terms of security, with the PNR, which the European Parliament is finally going to vote on in a few days -, but even so it’s incredible that it’s taking so long. It creates distrust towards Europe.
And then there’s the issue of exoneration from certain obligations, we’ll take whatever suits us - some countries do this when it comes to finance, in particular, which allows them to make progress - and then when it comes to collective duties, they’re no longer there, and that isn’t possible if we want to go on creating a strong Europe. (...)