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New Year Greetings

Published on February 27, 2008
Speech by M. NIcolas Sarkozy, President of the Republic, to the Diplomatic Corps

Paris, January 18, 2008

Prime Minister,

Minister of Foreign and European Affairs



I would like to extend a very warm welcome to you. Please accept my sincere wishes for you and your families, and please also convey to your Heads of States my very best wishes for them and for the countries you represent with such distinction.

Papal Nuncio,

Thank you for your kind words. Please convey to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, whom we shall have the honour of welcoming to France this year, my deep gratitude for the very warm welcome he extended to me at the Vatican a month ago.


In welcoming you here this afternoon I do not intend to return to the detailed analysis of the state of the world and the description of the role of France which I presented to the French Ambassadors on 27 August last year. You are familiar with the contents. It remains valid. I think it would be more useful today to begin by telling you about the convictions and thinking that underpin my action in the international arena, and then to present the priorities for action in 2008.

A single conviction has inspired me throughout my political life and impelled me since the French people entrusted me with the highest office of State: I was not elected to bow to fate. Indeed, I do not believe in fate. I was elected to create opportunities, to change France through a continuous process of far-reaching reforms. I was elected with the conviction that France has an important – perhaps even irreplaceable – role to play on the international scene. I was elected with the resolve, with the utmost determination to act, to pursue a coherent, ambitious, effective foreign policy.


My second conviction is that this foreign policy must start from a clear-sighted and realistic analysis of the place of France in the world as it is today. Now, while it is fairly easy to take the measure of what France represents, it is harder to define the world at the start of the twenty-first century and harder still to predict what it will look like over the decades to come.

My profoundly held belief, as you know, is that two challenges will contribute to shaping international society in the twenty-first century, probably even more so than did ideologies in the twentieth century.

The first challenge is climate change, which threatens the very future of our planet and humanity as a whole. It raises the question of how to manage energy resources, now these have become scarce and dear, and the still thornier question of our capacity to come together to invent a new form of growth.

The second challenge concerns the conditions for the return of the religious sphere in most of our societies. In my Saint-Jean de Latran speech I spelled out my conception of a secularism that defines the place of religion in more positive terms. This week, in Riyadh, as I spoke before the Consultative Council of Saudi Arabia, I echoed the wise words of King Abdullah and argued in favour of an open, tolerant conception of religion. But some groups want to impose their fundamentalist, hegemonic, intolerant views. The most extreme form is that of the al-Qaida-type global terrorist networks, which dream of bringing about a clash between Islam and the West, the better to dictate their law to peoples who simply aspire to live their faith in peace.

I remain convinced that the world can face these two challenges successfully, but only on one condition: that it finds the way to unite. That is the great question: will we be capable of uniting, and how can we do so?

We have left behind us the simple certainties of the bipolar world, stable but unjust, that imposed its law on us between 1945 and 1990. We are no longer even in the unipolar world that began to emerge between 1991 et 2001. Words that rang true just a few years ago, such as "hyperpower", no longer apply today.

For the next three or four decades, probably, we have entered an era of relative power. The economic and political emergence of China, India and Brazil, and Russia’s return, are creating objective conditions for a new concert of the great powers, a multipolar world in which the European Union could progressively come to be one of the most active poles, if it has the will to do so.

It now remains for us to invent the relations between these great powers of the twenty-first century, and the institutions to enable them to act effectively for the common good of humanity. Notions of enemy or adversary are no longer relevant to them. The whole question is to know whether the idea of responsible partnership can prevail over those of competition and rivalry.

The whole question is to know whether we will be capable of building a new order for the twenty-first century; an order better suited to our globalized world and to the challenges we must face; an order in which all States, be they large or small, will feel that their interests are fully and fairly taken into account.


In response to these fundamental questions, I – together with Bernard Kouchner – have sought to provide answers in the name of France that mark a something of a break and form part of a coherent vision of our country’s place and role in today’s world.

I wanted to start by placing France clearly and distinctly within its family, the West. In a world that has lost its bearings and where confusion tends to reign precisely because we are in the midst of a transition to an order yet to be invented, I believe it indispensable to state clearly where we stand and the values we hold to be essential.

This repositioning in no way implies abandoning or in any way undermining our independence or our freedom of speech and action. I said so forcefully before the United States Congress: France is "a friend who stands on his own two feet, an independent ally, a free partner."

By placing itself clearly within its Western family, France – and that was my intention – has raised its credibility, increased its scope for action and its capacity to wield influence both inside and outside its family.

Inside, to begin with: our absolute priority is the construction of the European Union. Thanks to the simplified treaty, after ten years of paralysing debate over its institutions, Europe is moving forward once again, and France has resumed its rightful place at the heart of the EU. With a new positioning, since beyond the Franco-German entente, which is more than ever vital, I wanted to forge close working relations from the outset with the European Commission and Parliament. I have wanted France to listen to and stand by the new member States from Central Europe, for they have much to give us. I have wanted to strengthen our ties with our Mediterranean partners.

But we all know that the French ambition of seeing the European Union emerging as a global twenty-first century player aroused misgivings, notably in matters of defence. Surely France was seeking to weaken, perhaps even destroy, the Atlantic Alliance? I wanted to give a clear answer to that suspicion, and I did so before the Congress of the United States. Given the scale of the threats and crises facing us, the development of a European Defence is a strategic necessity. So that is my priority for the coming years. There is no sense in creating opposition between this and the Atlantic Alliance. European Defence and our Atlantic anchor are the two sides of a single defence and security policy. This is the context within which France intends to update its relationship with NATO. We now need to get down to work, and France will be making both pragmatic and ambitious proposals with a view to both the French Presidency of the EU and the Summit marking the 60th anniversary of the Alliance.


Outside the Western family, next, our repositioning has bolstered our credibility and added weight to our message. This was the case in Beijing, when I set forth our views on the need to restore balance in relations between the main currencies, after having previously spoken about this to the United States; in China, I was immediately followed by the President of the European Central Bank, the Chairman of the Eurogroup, and then by the President of the Commission.


This was also the case when, after much consultation, with Egypt and Saudi Arabia notably, and with the encouragement of the principal leaders concerned, I chose to engage in a dialogue on the subject of Lebanon with President Bashar al-Assad.


And this brings me to the second new departure I wanted to introduce into our foreign policy, namely my wish to conduct a diplomacy of reconciliation. In this age of relative power, marked by rising attacks on the legitimacy of external intervention and a widening of religious, ethnic and social divides, France needs to engage in dialogue with everyone. It must seek tirelessly and pragmatically to reduce the factors of tension and move towards peaceful solutions consistent with the principles from which we draw our inspiration.

That is the thinking behind the dialogue I have restored in Africa with the Presidents of Rwanda, Sudan and Cote d’Ivoire. That is the thinking behind the welcome I have extended to President Chavez and to Colonel Gaddafi. If we had not responded to the Libyan leader’s gesture in renouncing weapons of mass destruction under international control, in renouncing terrorism and compensating the victims, and in releasing the Bulgarian nurses, what message would we be sending to the leaders of North Korea or Iran, just as we are trying to convince them to halt proliferation?

But we must be clear: diplomacy of reconciliation is in no sense a diplomacy of accommodation. Because we stand foursquare at the heart of our Western family, we are conducting these dialogues on the basis of our values and principles, speaking plainly, transparently, and firmly. It is in this spirit that I took the initiative in favour of the Bulgarian nurses and the hostages in Colombia, in particular Ingrid Betancourt. It is in this same spirit that when in Beijing I spoke against capital punishment and for freedom of the press, and when in Moscow I spoke up for the rights of ethnic or social minorities. And when the terms agreed to at the start of the dialogue are not satisfied, or when this dialogue falls short of the hoped-for results, it is up to me to draw the consequences. That is what I have done with Syria with respect to Lebanon.


The third new departure in our foreign policy concerns the notion, to which I attach great importance, of diversity, with its corollary, reciprocity. I devoted the bulk of my speech in Constantine, Algeria, to this. In Europe, more than anywhere else, we have experienced with the Holocaust the absolute horror that can result from rejection of Others and their differences, be they ethnic, religious or cultural. The same rejection of the Other led to genocide in Rwanda. Today, it is in the religious sphere, with the rise of various forms of fundamentalism, that we see the emergence of an urge to exclude and to put up barriers.

Just as I hold fundamental the fight for democracy, so I believe that the fight for diversity, for openness, for tolerance, for acceptance of others and their differences is essential. It is, in a sense, the precondition for the extension of freedom and democracy putting down roots.


Let me be clear: I favour the flowering of religions, as I favour the right of each person to have no religion, or to change religions. That is my conception of secularism. And it was in that sense, as Interior Minister for four years, that I authorized the opening of an unprecedented number of mosques in France, for Islam is now our second-largest religion and all who so wish must have the possibility of practising their faith in dignity and tolerance. More than anyone else, I have contributed to the emergence of a French Islam. And it is for that very reason that I can plead with conviction that it must be possible, in Islamic lands, to practise one’s religion, whichever one chooses, in dignity and tolerance. How can those who call for the opening of mosques in France refuse the opening of churches wherever that may be justified?

Ultimately, what is at stake in Lebanon? Is it not precisely the survival as a sovereign and independent State of a people who, throughout history, have shown to the world the finest example of how the great monotheistic religions can live together harmoniously, in tolerance and respect?


The final new departure in our foreign policy concerns the construction of a world order adapted to the emergence of new powers and able to deal effectively with the challenges of the twenty-first century.

At the United Nations, I want to see an energetic resumption of reform, starting with that of the Security Council, which needs to be expanded in both member categories. And everything should be done to ensure that the Bali process, the sole legitimate framework for making decisions and reaching agreement, culminates in December 2009 in the signature of a treaty commensurate with the colossal stakes confronting the whole of humanity in the shape of climate warming.


Reform of the International Monetary Fund is no less necessary, and I am happy that a Frenchman, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, has been chosen to head it and carry out this indispensable change; ensure that this institution better reflects the true economic weight of the world’s principal powers, in particular of the great emerging economies; and finally, I hope, along with other competent institutions, tackle major issues such as the system whereby a few major groups have appropriated such huge dividends, which occupied a central place in my first speech to the United Nations General Assembly last September: the oil monarchies have taken the welcome initiative of setting up a Fund to help the poorest countries pay their energy bill; I hope the major oil and mining companies enjoying profits far greater than their efforts would warrant will also contribute to a similar Fund.


The G8 too needs to change. It remains an incomparable instrument for informal consultation and providing stimulus. But who can fail to see that it needs to be expanded progressively to embrace China, India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa, who have now formed the G5? It will take time, I know. But I hope that the next Summit in Japan, in early July, can be an opportunity for us to take a step in this direction.



What, in this context, should France set as its priorities for international action in 2008?

The European Union first of all, with the French Presidency following that of our Slovenian friends in the second half of the year. In addition to preparing for implementation of the simplified treaty and the defence project, I want, together with Bernard Kouchner and Jean-Pierre Jouyet, to see Europe making progress in areas of concern to Europeans, namely:

Climate, for which the EU will need to make clear how it intends to spell out the commitments of the 27 member countries to ensure the success of the Bali negotiations. With the Grenelle Environment Round Table process, France has set about inventing a new model of growth; we should adopt a similar approach at the European level;

Energy, to improve both the solidarity between us via the growing interconnection of networks and our independence by systematically diversifying both our production and our suppliers;

Immigration, with the adoption by the 27 of a "European pact" spelling out broad principles, setting objectives such as a European asylum regime, and implementing common means of action.

Finally, agriculture, for which, as of this year, we will be seeking agreement on the principles permitting the post-2013 CAP genuinely to be placed on a new footing.


But the EU also needs to do more to shoulder its international responsibilities, from Chad with the deployment of the European force in February, to the Balkans, with the tricky task of managing transition in Kosovo. Because the status quo there is no longer a viable option, and because we have explored every course of negotiation in vain, the EU should stand united in firmly implementing the only practicable solution, namely that which is on the table. But it should also offer the countries in the region, Serbia included, credible prospects of rapprochement with and integration into the European family.


2008 will also see the launch of a grand design for civilization, namely the Union for the Mediterranean, whose purpose is to bring peace, understanding and cooperation based on concrete projects to all those who live on its shores. The proposed summit to be held in Paris on 13 and 14 July, in the presence of all members of the Union, will, I hope, lay the basis for the launching of the first projects.


This great ambition will be facilitated if 2008 also turns out to be the year of the creation of a Palestinian State alongside the State of Israel, as agreed at Annapolis. I do not underestimate the difficulties, but the spectacular success of the Paris donors’ conference revealed the hopes and the commitment of the entire international community. I will be going to the Middle East in the spring to affirm forcefully our support for the two chief negotiators, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President Mahmoud Abbas and bearing a simple message: peace is possible! The two peoples expect it! We must now take every risk for the sake of peace!


And it is now, too, that we must extricate Lebanon from a crisis that is endless because it is fuelled from outside. The Arab League has unanimously adopted a settlement plan that coincides entirely with the ideas put forward by France. It behoves all concerned to shoulder their responsibilities on this basis, both inside and outside the country, and it is up to the international community to judge each player according to his acts. France will continue to stand by the Lebanese – and I mean all the Lebanese.


Concerning Iran and its nuclear programme, you know my position: I stated it precisely on 27 August. Nothing that has happened since has led me to alter my judgment or the French approach. This consists of firmness – because sanctions are necessary in order to convince the Iranian leadership to return to the negotiating table – and dialogue, which I have engaged in because we are seeking not regime change, but on the contrary to bring Iran back into the fold as a positive player in its region, provided it respects international law.

This is in its interest, as it is in its interest today to calm the tensions between Sunnis and Shiites, from Iraq to Lebanon, and to avoid a "talibanization" of Afghanistan.

I mentioned earlier our world in transition, in which two great challenges – those of climate and religious extremism – could well drag international society into confrontation. This is what is likely to happen if the States concerned, whether by design or through myopia, proved incapable of uniting to tackle the threat of al-Qaida. I am convinced that developments in Pakistan and Afghanistan, through the global threats they constitute, call for a concerted drive on the part of all – I repeat all – the powers capable of weighing in on the right side of the balance.

In agreement with President Karzai, France will be hosting the forthcoming conference to support Afghanistan and will be stepping up its commitment there. It will be taking this initiative alongside Pakistan, which has been seriously destabilized following the atrocious murder of Benazir Bhutto, and I shall be receiving President Musharraf in Paris in a few days time.



There is a continent that occupies a special place in the hearts of the French, and that is Africa. More than any other European country, France feels close to it. Perhaps it is that very proximity that makes it hard for us to accept the simple fact that Africa has changed, and that France’s relations with Africa must also change.

Of course, France will continue to be Africa’s most resolute advocate in Europe and in the major international institutions.

We will struggle tirelessly to bring about enduring peace, human rights and economic growth, which are at the very heart of the Millennium Goals. On the ground, however, I would like to see us working more closely with civil society, with a resolute emphasis on youth, and on addressing their concerns. I expect our Ambassadors to come up with precise proposals in this regard.

I also want to set in motion that diplomacy of reconciliation so dear to my heart vis-à-vis Angola, where I shall be going soon, thus sealing with President Dos Santos the revival of Franco-Angolan relations; vis-à-vis Rwanda, with the hope that 2008 will be the year in which we restore our relations; Sudan and Chad where, with Bernard Kouchner, we will work unstintingly to achieve a lasting settlement to the crisis; and lastly in Cote d’Ivoire, where the holding of free elections guaranteed by the UN would open the way to the normalization we are all hoping for.


Finally, 2008 will be a year of great uncertainty over the state of the global economy, with the accumulated effects of the "sub-prime" crisis and the rising price of raw materials, in particular energy. This for me is an additional reason to speed up the pace of reform, in France and internationally, so as to bring about a return to confidence and growth.

In the space of one generation we have witnessed an unprecedented shift in the distribution of global wealth, with the accelerating transfer of factories, then of financial reserves, to the emerging countries. The current weaknesses are contributing to global economic integration, and the process is the exact reverse of that which occurred ten years ago with the Asian financial crisis: today it is Asia and the Gulf that are coming to the rescue of the West. But the lesson is the same, namely that our economies are so interdependent that no country now can act alone without making full allowance for the impact of its initiatives on the world economy.

The time has come for the leading players, old and new, to consult closely and discreetly in order to grapple seriously with the two major weaknesses in the present-day international system, namely the relationship between the main currencies, whose persistent imbalance is a danger to us all, and the absence of transparency and sufficiently binding rules on funds and financial products, which can pose a grave threat to the world as a whole in the case of upheaval.

Together with others, France will be announcing initiatives on these issues in the coming weeks. I will be going to London on 29 January in this spirit.

* * *

As you can see, ladies and gentlemen, I definitely do not believe in fate! You can count on France, in 2008 and beyond, to contribute with all its strength to the necessary changes to ensure that the present transition leads to a fairer, more prosperous, more peaceful world order. Thank you./.

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