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Official speeches and statements - March 20, 2019

Published on March 20, 2019

1. Libya - Statement to the press by Mr. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, following his meeting with Mr. Fayez Sarraj, Prime Minister of Libya (Tripoli - March 18, 2019)

I’m especially pleased to be with you in Tripoli today for the fourth time. I had an in-depth discussion with the Chairman of the Presidential Council, Mr Sarraj. And I’ll be continuing those talks with the United Nations Secretary-General’s [Special] Representative, Mr Salamé, and Marshal Haftar.

I bring a message of friendship to the Libyan people as a whole, as well as a message of support. Indeed, I’m back in Libya at an important time which is also a time of hope for Libyans, who would like to regain stability, strengthen their sovereignty and take back control of their destiny.

On 27 February an understanding was reached in Abu Dhabi between Prime Minister Sarraj and Marshal Haftar, under the auspices of Mr Salamé. This understanding provides for the formation of a transitional government tasked with restoring basic services to the population and preparing to hold elections before the end of the year.

It is totally in line with the goals the Libyan players set themselves under the eyes of the international community, both in Paris last May and in Palermo in November. And it’s part of the UN Special Representative’s road map. France supports this determination and would like this understanding to be implemented swiftly in a spirit of national harmony and cooperation.

It comes at a time when significant progress has been made in the south of the country against terrorist groups, criminal organizations and foreign armed groups which have, for too long, been fuelling instability in the region.

Both previously in Sirte, where the Al-Bunyan Al-Marsous forces of Misrata led the fight against Daesh [so-called ISIL], and currently in Fezzan, where the Libyan National Army is waging a resolute battle against the groups established there, France supports all the Libyan forces combating terrorism throughout the country.

This battle against an enemy that has plunged our two countries into mourning is a shared battle, and we’ll go on fighting it together. Alongside the people of Fezzan in their diversity, France will continue supporting their aspirations to regain security and access to economic development. We’re therefore delighted that the Al-Sharara and Al-Fil oilfields have been handed over to the National Oil Corporation (NOC), and this has enabled the state of force majeure to be lifted and production to be resumed.

Libya’s natural resources are the common good of the Libyan nation; they must be exploited by the legitimate national institutions for the benefit of all Libyans.

At the same time, the necessary economic reforms must be pursued in a spirit of fairness and probity. I’m thinking in particular of the work started, with the United Nations’ help, on the central bank.

And in this decisive period, Libya must be able to rely on its neighbors, its friends and all the regional organizations. In particular it can count on France’s resolute support. This support will take very concrete form in the reopening of a permanent embassy in Tripoli as soon as the material and security conditions allow it.

Thank you for listening.

2. Brexit - Reply by Mr. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to a question in the National Assembly (Paris - March 20, 2019)

The House of Commons has held three contradictory votes, and the only certainty we can have today is that the British Prime Minister has just issued a request for a three-month extension of the negotiation period stipulated in Article 50 - that is, until 30 June 2019. That’s Mrs May’s request.

In this context, our position is to send the British a clear and simple message. As Theresa May has said herself several times, there are only two options for leaving the European Union: ratify the withdrawal agreement or leave without a deal.

In the event of a vote in favor of the withdrawal agreement, we will of course be open to a technical extension of a few weeks so that the British institutions can finalize ratification of the text.

However, in the absence of a vote approving the withdrawal agreement, the central scenario is departure without a deal. We’re ready for that.

And so in examining this request for an extension and the dates, we’ll be looking after the EU’s interests in particular. This requires three things: firstly, that the purpose of an extension is to finalize the ratification of the negotiated withdrawal agreement. Secondly, that the UK is very clear that the withdrawal agreement approved in November won’t be renegotiated and its integrity will be preserved. And thirdly, that the UK doesn’t take part in the forthcoming European elections.

A situation in which Mrs May isn’t able to give the European Council sufficient guarantees about the credibility of her strategy will therefore lead to the request for an extension being turned down and preference given to leaving without a deal.

3. Brexit - Statement to the press by Ms. Nathalie Loiseau, Minister for European Affairs, on her arrival at the General Affairs Council (excerpts) (Brussels - March 19, 2019)

Ms. Loiseau spoke in French and English.

THE MINISTER - At the moment, Brexit is in deadlock; we’re waiting for a gesture, decision, proposal, strategy from London. This can come only from London.

Q. - Just before, Michael Roth [German Minister of State for Europe] said the clock is ticking and people are exhausted. Do you share this feeling?

THE MINISTER - Exhaustion isn’t part of politicians’ lives, but the clock is certainly ticking and what we’re waiting for is a decision. A decision from the British, telling us what they want, what they propose to end the deadlock in which they find themselves through their own decision. We’re showing goodwill, but we’ve also got other issues to deal with and we’ve got fellow citizens and businesses for which the uncertainty is intolerable. (...)

If the UK asks for a delay, we must be told why. There must be a credible initiative behind it, and for the time being we don’t know what it is. A short delay to finalize the ratification of the withdrawal agreement would obviously be granted. But we don’t even know whether this withdrawal agreement can presented again as it stands. It’s not for us to say, we aren’t lawyers in British parliamentary law. The best way of ending the deadlock is this withdrawal agreement; it protects everyone’s interests, it allows for a transition period. If the UK wants to rethink the future relationship, we’re ready to discuss this, but the initiative really needs to come from them. Delaying for the sake of delaying - it isn’t time that we need. (...)

Q. - Will you grant an extension if it is asked for or will President Macron insist on really strict conditions?

THE MINISTER - It is not a question of really strict conditions, we need an initiative, we need something new, because it is an extension to remain in the same deadlock where we are; how we get out of this deadlock? This is a question for the British authorities. They have to come with an initiative, a clear one, a purpose, credible and supported by a majority.

Q. - Without it, is France prepared to block an extension?

THE MINISTER - It’s a discussion we’ll have at 27, we are discussing it right now with a number of our partners, but as you know it’s a decision that has to be taken unanimously.(...)

Q. - How high is the possibility of a no deal?

THE MINISTER - It can very well happen, it’s not what we would like to happen but the best possible solution is already written in the 500 and some pages, it’s the withdrawal agreement. It grants us with a transition period to work on the future relationship. But we are ready for a no deal, we have prepared everything we had to, we passed a law, we passed decrees and it’s a choice to be made by the United Kingdom. They have said no to a no deal and they have said no to a realistic deal. They have to change their mind on one of the two options.

Q. - How would you describe the mood among your colleagues, are they fed up? Or are they willing to grant an extension?

THE MINISTER - Grant an extension, what for? It’s always the question. I mean, time is not a solution; it’s a method. (...) We need a decision, as I was saying, our businesses, our citizens have been living with uncertainty for quite a while, and we have to protect their interest.

Q. - And if there’s no decision from the British? If nothing is proposed, what’s France going to propose on Thursday?

THE MINISTER - It’s a choice, the British choose. If there’s no decision, the date of 29 March applies. And at that point, it’s no deal. No decision from the British means deciding no deal.