Official speeches and statements - September 4, 2017
1. Foreign policy - Fight against terrorism - Defense - European Union - Excerpts from the interview given by Mr. Emmanuel Macron, President of the Republic, to the weekly "Le Point" (Paris - August 31, 2017)
You’re now on the front line against terrorism. At the Congrès [joint meeting of National Assembly and Senate at Versailles], you named our enemy: Islamist terrorism, something François Hollande had refused to do. Has your perception of the threat changed while in power?
THE PRESIDENT - No, my position hasn’t altered. On the one hand, to say that the terrorism we’re experiencing today has nothing to do with political Islamism is false. But on the other, to say it’s «Islamic» terrorism, as some political leaders proclaim, is a mistake. That actually means implicating the more than four million French people who are of Muslim faith: I don’t want to let it be said that they have anything to do with terrorism. But this terrorism is Islamist, because it clearly has a link with radical Islamism. Contrary to what politicians have grown used to doing, I absolutely refuse to pass judgment on a particular religion, and therefore on its followers, whether it be to condemn it or absolve its supposed essence. It’s enough for me to note that terrorists want to erode the foundations of our country and our Republic in order to spark a moral collapse and trigger a civil war. They’re also fueled by historical, economic, social and contemporary frustrations. This Islamist terrorism also has seismic repercussions, it sparks copycat reactions among individuals who suffer very serious psychiatric illnesses and find in it a pretext to commit horrible acts, when they have nothing to do with the religion. That’s why our response to terrorism can only be multiple, to include all these dimensions. It must be not only security-related but also economic, cultural and educational. That, moreover, is almost the key thing. Paul Valéry was right when he said: «Any social state demands fictions.» Our society needs collective narratives, dreams, heroism, so that some people don’t find the absolute in fanaticism or the death impulse.
Heroism? What do you mean?
THE PRESIDENT - For too long, we’ve resigned ourselves to a bland democratic life. We’re currently paying the price for the collective stupidity of believing in the end of history when, on the contrary, it’s coming back to hit us in the face. In order to confront it, we must reconnect with the political heroism peculiar to the republican world, and regain a sense of the historical narrative.
Our country actually doesn’t provide heroes any more. Why do young people from the suburbs leave for Syria? Because the propaganda videos they’ve watched on the Internet have, in their eyes, transformed terrorists into heroes. Because they feel that, through this propaganda, they’re discovering a cause that reflects their thirst for engagement. It’s been described very well by experts like Gilles Kepel. So the challenge of politics today is also to recreate a winning spirit.
How do you intend to instil this new state of mind?
THE PRESIDENT - We must become a proud country again. We must explain that there are heroes in France, geniuses and people who are committed on a daily basis. And also that everyone can find their rightful place in our society. We must identify these new horizons, these new areas of conquest, these new forms of engagement, in order to overcome the spirit of defeat that still infuses us too much today, and to end the politics of victimhood. We’re a winning country. We must stop giving ground, any ground, to all the doom-mongers. On the contrary, I believe in rebuilding political heroism, genuine ambition, to achieve even what’s described as impossible. If what is ruled impossible were not possible, I wouldn’t be in front of you today. (...)
(On the defence budget.)
THE PRESIDENT - The defense budget - in the order of €34 billion - is the state’s second-largest. There were €3 billion of frozen assets, of which we cancelled €850 million. No operations were blocked because of it. None of our soldiers had to suffer because of it. We merely postponed orders for materiel. It was a necessity in order to honor our commitments, and it in no way hampered our operational capability. Ultimately, for our armed forces, the budget implemented will correspond to the budget passed. Moreover, there will be a historic increase in that budget in 2018. (...)
Nevertheless, there’s concern in the armed forces...
THE PRESIDENT - No, there was a storm in a teacup, because people lost the sense of what the Fifth Republic is and how it operates. Besides, unless I’d reacted as I did, the same people would have said I was a weak head of the armed forces. Ours is a system - instigated by a man whose initial training was military - where the military authority reports to the civil and political institution, and not vice versa. That’s how our institutions are organized, and it’s the reason why the head of the armed forces is the head of state. The armed forces don’t do what they want; they’re not on autopilot.
You know, operational capability is about men and women who have chosen this demanding profession, which is often one of sacrifice. There too, I’ll be vigilant. I’m not sure French people know that those soldiers who die in combat are just contractors. We must start thinking in depth about military life. It’s especially necessary because, collectively, they have a role to play, even beyond operational activity. An exemplary role. A supervisory role too, when we’ve finalized the new system of national service.
So no regrets? Do you totally take on board the phrase: «I’m your chief?»
THE PRESIDENT - No regrets; I totally take it on board.
What’s your ambition for the French army?
THE PRESIDENT - First of all I asked the MEP Arnaud Danjean to carry out a strategic and operational review for the Armed Forces Minister, Florence Parly, which will be submitted in October and will enable us to adapt the framework of our action to the changing context and update the military estimates act for the first half of 2018.
I want our army to remain a unique military power, with a genuine deterrent capability. It will remain the leading European army and the second-largest in the free world. I’d also like to modernize it in order to address our challenges, without giving in to the voices calling to militarize international relations, which say we must spend more and more on military matters in order to be credible on diplomatic affairs - otherwise it’s an endless race. But we must have a credible army and deterrent force.
There was a period of reduction in military expenditure between 2007 and 2014. My predecessor at the time of the attacks ended that reduction, without defining a strategy for expansion. The time has come. (...)
You’re back from a European tour. What initiatives do you intend to take to revitalize Europe?
THE PRESIDENT - I believe in Europe; that’s why I’m a clear-sighted and therefore critical European. Today, Europe functions badly, sometimes even worse, because over the past 10 years we’ve lost the thread. In 2005, we saw the end of a Europe that could build itself separately from the people. And Brexit is only another expression of this phenomenon. The Europe created solely for the winners, within closed conclaves, is over. We’ll move Europe forward only through democratic adherence, only through democratic debate and by giving citizens a place. We must acknowledge this and get back on the offensive. I haven’t waited: I did it as soon as I was elected, with the twofold agenda of a Europe of protection and ambition, for which I laid down the basics. This was also the purpose of my tour of Central and Eastern Europe: to secure, before the end of the year, a new agreement reducing the possibility of abusing the posted workers system. In this regard, we’ve endorsed genuine advances which make me optimistic that an agreement can be reached before the end of the year.
To move forward, you have to go out and meet people, and harness all the goodwill existing in Europe. With one plan: Europe must rekindle the flame of sovereignty.
You’re talking about «sovereignty» - you?
THE PRESIDENT - Yes, because I believe Europe is the appropriate level for regaining our full sovereignty in areas that are no longer covered by the national field alone, because I want Europe to be a continent on the scale of the American and Chinese powers. Why do people accept an authority above them? Not so that the details of their lives can be blighted on a daily basis! Europe has specialized in bureaucratic interference; no one wants that any more. On the other hand, everyone accepts that the Leviathan should be there to protect them. Europe will be rebuilt only if we rediscover common social, fiscal and environmental standards. The battle to protect strategic investments is also essential: I championed it in June. I want us to do at European level what we’ve done at French level, i.e. in some strategic areas to be able to refuse to allow European businesses to come under foreign control. There are European sovereignty instruments, and we must be able to defend them; that’s legitimate.
We must also have a Europe that protects at commercial level, in such a way that, when a country attacks us through dumping, we can defend ourselves by imposing customs tariffs. But today Europe is doing this much less quickly and much less strongly than the United States.
A Europe that protects, finally, is a Defense Europe. The last European Council enabled genuine progress, driven a great deal by France and Germany. We defined the framework for Permanent Structured Cooperation, i.e. enhanced commitments in terms of investments, procurement and external missions. On 13 July, through unprecedented work, right here, at the Franco-German Council of Ministers, we decided what content France and Germany were giving to this enhanced cooperation.
We made commitments on coordination in terms of purchasing, capability and materiel - for example, the determination to have a fighter plane common to our two countries at least. That’s a real revolution.
We’re also making progress in terms of protecting our borders. That’s crucial amid the current migration crisis.
At the same time, we’re ambitious about digital technology and about the European Union’s new frontiers. In the final quarter I want to take some very concrete initiatives and explain the direction I propose the EU and Euro Area should take in the coming years. I’ll be talking about this after the German elections. Among other things, I’d like a Euro Area budgetary capability, and an executive and parliament to ensure its democratic control.
Since the work of Nobel laureate Robert Mundell, it’s been established that a monetary area without a genuine common budget can’t work. What would that budget consist of, in your mind?
THE PRESIDENT - It’s not about setting criteria before embarking on discussions, but in my view it will be a budget which accounts for several GDP points of the Euro Area and which signals, first of all, an ability to raise money on the markets jointly and to allocate it with sufficient firepower, because the Euro Area currently has too restrictive a budgetary policy when compared to those of China, Russia and the United States - and it’s our unemployed people who are paying the price. Creating such a budget means, first of all, establishing a minimum level of solidarity in order then to have the ability to raise money jointly, invest and absorb any economic shocks that may hit Europe. A share of today’s national taxation could gradually be committed by allocating it to this budget.
You’ve spoken out very harshly against Poland; don’t you risk dividing and weakening the Europe you intend to revitalize?
THE PRESIDENT - Let’s put some order and perspective back into things. The Polish Prime Minister - at the very time when we’re holding constructive discussions on posted workers and when I’m in Romania to talk about the issue - says it [Poland] won’t change its position one iota. I unreservedly condemn this approach and, more broadly, a very worrying policy by the Polish government, which is questioning European solidarity and even the rule of law. I’m not alone in thinking and saying this, because it’s the analysis of the Commission and our partners. The Polish President himself vetoed two judicial reforms passed by his own party. So there’s something to be worried about! My approach is clear: I talk to each of our partners, and no French president has talked so much to the Polish authorities, and in such a short time: I’ve had three conversations with President Duda and I’ve met the Prime Minister. But I say things as they are, in public and in private: you can’t build Europe by undermining its core principles. Europe grows weaker, in the world and in the eyes of its citizens, if it doesn’t proudly uphold its values. How can we create adherence to a project if we allow it to be trampled on? And this has nothing to do with playing off one bloc against another, East against West. On the contrary, my tour demonstrates the interest France has today in the Central and Eastern European partners, and my full respect for my counterparts. The Polish government isn’t the spokesperson for Eastern Europe. Besides, we owe this commitment to European values to the Polish people, who are fundamentally pro-European. I’ll continue this approach of talking to everyone and being frank about things.
FRANCE’S ROLE IN THE WORLD
Internationally, you seem to want to question Valéry Giscard d’Estaing’s vision. According to him, France had to decide to become a «medium power».
THE PRESIDENT - France must become a great power again. That’s a necessity. Look at the state of the world. It’s being dislocated. The multilateral structures created in the world of 1945 are even being called into question by a great power, the United States, which had previously been their guarantor. We’re experiencing a crisis of the West. But multilateralism was nurtured by the Western spirit. The West has got lost in an untimely moral interventionism in the Middle East and North Africa over the past 10 years. It’s allowed authoritarian regimes to emerge which it didn’t see coming: Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Russia, Iran, etc. China is emerging as a power by trying to salvage multilateralism and pull it towards itself. The world order is being deeply shaken by this. Our security, interests and values haven’t been challenged this much for decades. France is no longer in a situation, as it was in the mid-1970s, where it could say: I’m a medium power, protected and supported by major powers that share the same values.
Are we alone?
THE PRESIDENT - No, but we have unprecedented responsibility. It’s up to us especially, as Europeans, to defend the public goods of the free world, namely democracy, peace and the climate. France must allow Europe to become the leader of the free world. I make no apology for talking about greatness, because it’s commensurate with the time we’re living in. We can’t claim to play this role unless we give ourselves the means. Without an economic and social transformation, let’s forget greatness. It will be done in a European framework. And pragmatically, because in order to exist we must talk to everyone. We must put an end to the undigested conservatism that leads us to interfere in the domestic politics of others, only to find ourselves isolated afterwards. In Libya and Syria, it’s led us to cruel failures.
What’s the greatest risk for France today? North Korea? Libya? Algeria?
THE PRESIDENT - The balance of terror is a classic geopolitical fact. With North Korea, we’re getting back to a very traditional logic of deterrence. We’ll have to find the terms of an equilibrium with that country. The issue represents a test for China. If it looks only at its regional interests, it won’t be up to the challenges.
The most important thing for France is its neighborhood policy: in Africa, the Maghreb and the Middle East. In Iraq and Syria we have a challenge, which will be decreasingly a military one - even though we must carry through this mission - and become increasingly political. We must now win the peace. That’s as great a challenge as a military victory over jihadism. Unless we manage to find inclusive political solutions in the region, we’ll create the conditions for an endless resurgence of terrorism. We’ll have to reduce the huge gap between the Shia world and the Sunni world, this civil war of the Muslim world that is being exported into our societies and fueling terrorism. But our future is also being played out beyond our neighborhood, in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
The writer Kamel Daoud condemns the hypocrisy of the West, which declares war on terrorism while being indulgent towards Saudi Arabia - «a Daesh [so-called ISIL] which succeeded», in his words. Are you going to review our relations with the kingdom?
THE PRESIDENT - I have great admiration for Kamel Daoud, because he’s brave, and he’s a great novelist with a unique vision, but I don’t entirely agree with him reducing Saudi Arabia to a Daesh that has succeeded. The country is more complex than that. However, it is fair to say that we mustn’t conduct policies that aren’t perfectly consistent with our main goal of combating terrorism. I’ve established extremely frank relations with all the Gulf powers. In my dialogue with the Emiratis, Saudis and Qataris, I broach the issue of terrorism finance. Qatar and Saudi Arabia have funded groupings which haven’t been the same but which have in fact contributed to terrorism. The priority of our international policy must be our security. We can’t have a trade or diplomatic policy that doesn’t take this security into account. For example, that’s the whole purpose of my commitment to Libya. We must first restore political stability there, in the knowledge that Libya has always achieved its stability through compromises between tribes and has no democratic tradition.
After your speech to Americans criticizing Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement on the climate, a Canadian editorialist wrote that you aspired to take over Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s role as the coolest guy on the international stage. Is that true?
THE PRESIDENT - There’s nothing very «cool» about the international stage, you know.
THE PRESIDENT - I’m also the one who is obliged to talk to Erdogan every 10 days.
How does one talk to Trump and Putin?
THE PRESIDENT - I talk to everyone. Very directly, frankly, at a time when the custom was not to talk about prickly issues. Talking about them in private first enables me to discuss them in public afterwards. I try to identify the absolute disagreements, the points of convergence and the areas where we can find a common path. On Ukraine, we have an absolute difference of opinion with Vladimir Putin. I confirm it. France won’t cut him any slack. But despite everything, we’ve established dialogue between our civil societies, the Trianon Dialogue, which we’re going to implement. And we also have agreements, particularly on climate policy. He’s ready to follow us. And we also have routes for progress on Syria. On this issue, I don’t make the removal of Bashar al-Assad a precondition for everything, but I have two red lines: chemical weapons and humanitarian agreements. If Vladimir Putin helps me move forward on those issues, we’ll have points of convergence. We’ve made progress on chemical weapons. My feeling is that the Russian position has changed since our conversation in Versailles. That’s my strategy: to speak truthfully and pragmatically. I accept that security should be the priority of our diplomacy. Sometimes that leads to pragmatism. You can reconcile this realism with upholding our values.
The power relations between states depend increasingly on technological mastery: artificial intelligence, quantum [technology], etc. Silicon Valley is a long way ahead. Where are France and Europe on this?
THE PRESIDENT - We have many talented people and businesses in Silicon Valley. We must keep the link, and bring some of them back. We then need massive public and private investment in these areas. The battle is being played out now; it’s going to transform energy, medicine and every activity. Finally, we need a European strategy to invest in research, developing start-ups, and defining the standards we want to develop. This will be a significant aspect of the initiative I want to take for Europe. (...)