Official speeches and statements - February 27, 2020
In Idlib, a new humanitarian disaster is playing out, one of the worst in the Syrian crisis that, in nearly a decade, has caused too many such disasters to even count.
The Syrian regime continues its strategy of military reconquest of the country at any cost, regardless of the consequences for Syrian civilians. Since December, its operations in the north-west have grown in intensity, with support from Russian aircraft.
The unremitting air strikes and dropping of barrel bombs have forced nearly one million Syrians to flee in just a few weeks.
Relief structures are saturated. Hundreds of thousands of people - mostly women and children - are seeking shelter in makeshift camps, and are subjected to cold, hunger and epidemics.
In defiance of international humanitarian law, the strikes deliberately targeted hospitals and health centers - 79 were forced to shut down -, schools and shelters. A total of 298 civilians have been killed in Idlib since January 1, based on data from the OHCHR.
It is perfectly clear to us there are radical groups in Idlib. We would never take terrorism lightly. We are fighting terrorism with determination and are on the front lines of the fight against Daesh [so-called ISIL]. But fighting terrorism cannot and must not justify massive violations of international humanitarian law, which we are witnessing every day in north-west Syria.
The United Nations has warned of the risk of an unprecedented humanitarian crisis if the current offensive continues.
We call on the Syrian regime and its supporters to end this offensive and resume the ceasefire established in 2018. We call on them to immediately end hostilities and honor their obligations under international humanitarian law, including the protection of humanitarian workers and medical personnel, many of whom have lost their lives because of their commitment to civilian populations in Idlib.
We also call on Russia to continue negotiations with Turkey in order to de-escalate the dire situation in Idlib and contribute to a political solution.
Beyond the urgency of a truce in Idlib, we call on Russia not to block the Security Council in the coming months from renewing the mechanism allowing for desperately needed cross-border humanitarian aid to be transported to north-west Syria; a mechanism it has already shut down in the north-east, where we now need to identify alternatives to the Al Yaroubiyah crossing.
Who can currently claim the Syrian regime of its own accord will allow aid to reach those in need, when it bears the greatest responsibility for their situation?
Finally, it is important to remember that only a politically negotiated end to the conflict can serve as a durable conclusion to the Syrian crisis. Political normalization cannot happen before a genuine, irreversible political process is firmly under way.
Focused on its military strategy, the regime seeks to undermine any type of inclusive political process, by blocking all constitutional discussions planned in Geneva under the aegis of UN Special Envoy Geir Pedersen. But the reconquest under way is an illusion and the same causes will produce the same effects: radicalization, instability in Syria and in the region, and exile, in a country where more than half the population is displaced or living as refugees.
We have to acknowledge the tremendous efforts Syria’s neighbors are undertaking, to provide shelter to these Syrians who had to leave their homes.
In the face of the tragedy unfolding, Europeans too are shouldering their responsibilities. From a humanitarian standpoint, the European Union and its member states are the largest donors in support of the Syrian population. We will sustain and expand these collective efforts in reaction to the developing crisis.
Europe continues to apply pressure on the regime to genuinely engage in the political process.
On February 17, Europeans adopted fresh sanctions that target, on an individual basis, Syrian businesspersons who are fueling the regime’s war efforts and benefiting from its impact.
It is also our responsibility to fight impunity with regard to the crimes committed in Syria. It is a matter of principle and justice.
It is also a necessary condition for sustainable peace in a Syrian society that has been torn apart by nearly 10 years of conflict.
We intend to continue to support the mechanisms to fight impunity that have been established by the United Nations: the Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic and the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism.
These collect proof that will be vital in the preparation of future proceedings against those who are responsible for the most serious crimes.
We will also continue our work to refer cases to the International Criminal Court.
We will maintain our commitment, including within the framework of our national jurisdictions, to ensure crimes committed in Syria do not go unpunished. These include the use of chemical weapons, breaching most fundamental norms of international law.
We need to establish responsibilities and we need accountability. And we need clarity on what happened to the many detainees and missing persons.
2. Foreign trade - Trade relations - Interview given by Mr. Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, Minister of State attached to the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to France 24 (excerpt) (Paris - February 22, 2020)
BREXIT / FRANCE / EU
Q. - What’s the impact of Brexit on France’s finances in terms of trade? Historically, there have been special relations between the two countries. So Brexit will necessarily have significant consequences. Let’s find out the state of play from Axelle Simon [reporter]: "France will pay a high price for Brexit. Of the 27 EU countries, it could suffer up to 20% of the loss of earnings, due to its geographical position in relation to Britain and its long-standing trade links. In 2018 the United Kingdom was France’s sixth-largest customer, with €32 billion of exports across the Channel. It was also its seventh-largest supplier, with €20 billion of imports to France. The three export sectors most affected by Brexit will be machine tools, chemicals and agrifoods, and particularly fisheries. In the 2016-2018 period alone, Brexit already caused losses of €6 billion for French exporters. In total, according to studies, the annual Brexit bill for France will stand at between €4 and €8 billion. That’s 0.2% of GDP. In addition to that, there are the sums already paid out: an extra 700 customs officers have been recruited between 2018 and 2020. As for the port of Calais, it’s already invested €6 million to get customs control zones up and running." In the immediate term, this Brexit, which is quite difficult and painful, means a big loss of earnings in this case, both for trade and for France’s overall portfolio.
THE MINISTER - The relationship between France and the UK is of course very close, and your presentation showed the figures; in other words, the UK accounts for France’s largest trade surplus, in the order of €12 or €13 billion, so it’s significant! Now, you have to distinguish two things. 2020 is a transitional period where nothing changes. However, from January 2021 onwards, the future relationship will apply, and we have indeed begun this race against the clock, along with Michel Barnier, the European negotiator, to define that future relationship. Of course, it’s desirable for everyone if trade is as smooth as possible, but this mustn’t all be done in any old way. There’s a good way of summing things up: there can be zero quotas and zero customs duties only if there’s zero dumping. Conversely, if there are significant divergences at regulatory level, on state aid etc., then by definition there will be quotas, there will be customs duties, but we can’t act as if the UK is like Canada or Japan. We’re a few dozen or hundred kilometers apart, it’s completely different, and so we must ensure, in every case, that the divergence between us remains managed and acceptable.
You really embody the feelings of Europeans who would like the UK to pledge, in a future relationship, to respect the same rules as the European Union, and even adapt to them over time in many significant areas: the environment, competition, taxation and labor rights, to avoid distortions and dumping. For its part, the UK intends to negotiate a free trade agreement with Brussels on equal terms - I’m obviously quoting David Frost, Britain’s Brexit negotiator: "We won’t agree to the European Union contravening our freedom to set our own rules".
Once again, there’s British sovereignty, there are national sovereignties and there’s European sovereignty. There will be this discussion, but what I want to say is that we can’t act as if geography didn’t exist. There’s a closeness. What’s going to change in January 2021 is that there will be checks on products, because we must ensure that European consumers are protected and products entering Europe’s territory comply with its standards. We also remember where a number of outbreaks linked to BSE etc. came from.
When they say, "We don’t want that, we want an agreement in the style of Canada or Japan" - which are obviously much further away -, is that acceptable to us?
That’s just it: as you know, with Canada, for example, there are mechanisms for talks on the regulatory and normative aspects, etc. So I think the Canada agreement shows there can be dialogue from that point of view.
But the UK is different from Canada and it’s different from Japan. There’s a shared history, and so it’s important, at any rate, for us to diverge but not to diverge to such an extent that it prevents any agreement. I also note that when the British signed the EU-UK joint statement on the future relationship, in the spirit it was mentioned that the parties would strive, in any case, to maintain a relatively homogeneous regulatory environment. And in the statement by Prime Minister Boris Johnson a few days ago...
Yes, things really hotted up! Did you sense the change?
I wouldn’t say that. I’d merely say he said things that are contrary to the British signature on that statement of a few months ago. Moreover, that’s so true that when I hear the Northern Ireland Secretary saying there won’t be any checks, etc., it contradicts what was signed, namely that checks would indeed be carried out.
So we can clearly see that the British sometimes have a tendency to unsay things, or say things which aren’t the same as what they signed a few months ago.
US / EU / TRADE
It’s not only the British, there’s also a certain Donald Trump, across the Atlantic in this case, who is threatening a 25% tax on European cars and has condemned the much-talked-about trade deficit favoring the European Union. He doesn’t like the digital tax championed by France either. Can we negotiate with the United States, or do we always have a gun to our heads? Is it more a trade war than negotiation?
As we’ve said, between allies there are some things you don’t do. Saying, for example, that steel and aluminium are threats to national security, or that European cars are threats to American national security...
...or French wines.
...is hard to understand. I think Donald Trump sees international trade through the lenses of a gentleman from the 1970s, because he focuses above all on trade surpluses and deficits. I’ve focused on the issue because it’s my daily work: France, for example, does have a trade deficit - which is in decline, incidentally; we had some very good results in 2019; for the first time since 2015 our trade deficit fell -, admittedly there is this trade deficit, but alongside this trade deficit there’s also a French presence in the world, thanks to subsidiaries all over the world which themselves enable higher dividends and wealth in France to invest, to the tune of €70 billion.
So you can’t look at a country’s international presence solely in the light of exports and imports.
And what about those who say, "ultimately it’s succeeding for him, as a policy of permanent economic confrontation"?
I’m not sure that’s the decisive factor in America’s economic success at the moment; rather, it’s a very aggressive tax reform, together with a massive cut in rates. It’s not so much these trade successes, because in reality, look: he got into a power struggle with China and yet his trade deficit with that country hasn’t decreased.
So I think, on the contrary, that we must reach out. We’re in favour of dialogue. For example, we French, Europeans, constantly say that on the issue of aerospace subsidies we should instead agree on disciplines to avoid fighting at the WTO for years, because while we’re fighting at the WTO, China is arriving on the aerospace market. So let’s find good agreements to provide discipline rather than entering into bad trade wars.
3. European Union - Opening of negotiations to establish a new partnership between the European Union and the United Kingdom - Hearing of Ms. Amélie de Montchalin, Minister of State for European Affairs, attached to the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, before the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defense and Armed Forces Committee and Senate European Affairs Committee - excerpts (Paris - February 19, 2020)
Let’s be clear: the situation post-Brexit won’t be as it was before. Third-country status can’t be as advantageous as that of EU member state. Things won’t stay as they have been: the United Kingdom will no longer benefit from the Cohesion Policy, the CAP or Eurojust etc. We must make our businesses and our partners aware of this new reality.
Let’s not be divided on the priorities and let’s maintain a united front. This has been our strength these past three years.
On February 3, Michel Barnier presented a draft mandate whose principles must reflect the EU’s interests. The mandate is due to be approved on Tuesday during the General Affairs Council of Ministers, so that the negotiations can be launched in the first week of March. The points on which we’ll be absolutely vigilant concern the situation of citizens, farmers, fishermen and businesses.
The partnership we’re going to build is unprecedented in its scope and depth. Beyond thematic issues, there are issues concerning governance, dispute settlement and sanctions. Boris Johnson doesn’t want the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) to have that power. But we’ve got to monitor compliance with the commitments made and punish deviations! Let’s avoid repeating what has been done with Switzerland, [i.e.] gradually and without a common governance framework. Cross-cutting mechanisms must be established.
As far as competition conditions are concerned, we can’t propose zero tariffs and zero quotas to the UK unless there’s zero dumping. Whatever agreement is reached, there will be border checks: free trade - even maximum free trade - doesn’t mean no checks.
As regards fisheries, we’re pursuing three objectives: access to [UK] waters, resource management and the maintenance of current distribution keys.
These four subjects - governance, a trade agreement, a level playing field and fisheries - will be linked in the negotiation: we won’t agree on anything unless we’ve agreed on everything. This puts us in a position of strength.
For fisheries, the chosen date of 1 July is linked to the demands of the industry, which needs a bit of a clear idea of the way ahead, but there won’t be a separate fisheries agreement. The broad lines could be decided on by July.
Financial services, which are an important issue for the UK, aren’t part of the agreement. The EU decides unilaterally on granting financial equivalence to third countries: such a decision isn’t negotiable or permanent. The same goes for the flow of personal data.
As regards security and defense, we’re seeking to establish a close partnership with two pillars: internal security and foreign policy. The UK is now a third state. Certain programs are open to third states, others aren’t, and we’ll make no exceptions.
We’re particularly mindful of national parliaments’ prerogatives and of keeping them informed and involved. Without yet knowing the content of the agreement, we can’t make any assumptions about whether or not it will be mixed. So it was decided that the issue is still unresolved. What is put before national parliaments will therefore depend on the content of the agreement.
We’re prepared for every scenario; the EU’s credibility depends on this. Infrastructure is in place in Normandy’s and Brittany’s ports, in Calais and Boulogne, etc.; certain provisions of the ordinances will have to be renewed; mechanisms remain in abeyance, but we’ll be able to activate them when the time comes.
In conclusion, I want to repeat, in a spirit of great friendship with the UK, that you can’t have one foot in and one foot out. We aren’t in a position of weakness up against the UK, we aren’t going cap in hand and our principles are clear and firm. (...)
4. Russia - Hearing of Mr. Pierre Vimont, the French President’s special envoy for the architecture of security and trust with Russia, before the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defense and Armed Forces Committee (Paris - February 19, 2020)
MR. VIMONT - Mr. Chair, thank you for inviting me. It’s a great honor for me to be able to explain to you in greater detail the purpose of this mission, an initiative the French President promoted in order to build on all his thinking about the European enterprise and, in particular, European sovereignty, as he talked about in his Sorbonne speech in 2017 in particular.
Insofar as Europe wants to play a role on the international stage again, it’s becoming essential to assert our bilateral relations more effectively, particularly with China and the United States, and embark once again on a more expanded dialogue with Russia, which is obviously a player which can’t be ignored. Such an approach would be a way of encouraging our European partners to imitate us in an area where Europe has been conspicuously absent, maintaining a status quo after implementing a policy of firmness and sanctions. And this would enable us to reactivate the process in this area.
Through this dialogue of security and trust with Russia we want, first of all, to flesh out our bilateral exchanges, which have proven to be less frequent than many of our European partners’. The latter were also surprised when the French President decided to reactivate the "2+2" dialogue, which hadn’t taken place since 2012, between the French foreign and defense ministers and their Russian counterparts.
In this effort to flesh out our dialogue with Russia, we want to move forward in a whole series of areas. The most habitual ones are security and strategic stability in Europe. On the arms control you rightly mentioned, Mr. Chair, we can have dialogue with Russia, but without any stipulations for others, or in the NATO framework in line with our American partners. In the French President’s view, solidarity within the Atlantic Alliance or the European Union mustn’t prevent us engaging in our own dialogue and upholding our interests in terms of security, strategic and nuclear weaponry, conventional forces or the Open Skies Treaty, whose future the Americans are pondering.
We also want to set up contacts between chiefs of staff, which sparked strong interest from our Russian partners, and create "deconfliction" or "de-escalation" channels in every area where this can be useful, notwithstanding possible disputes with our Russian interlocutors: cyber attacks, the environment, Arctic exploration, cooperation in the space and nuclear industries, human rights, contacts between civil societies by virtue of the Trianon Dialogue started in 2017, and conflicts currently under way in Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, between Armenia and Azerbaijan, in Syria, in Libya and [elsewhere] in Africa.
The situation in the Central African Republic is pitting us against the Russians, who are also developing a more or less discreet presence in West Africa and the south of the continent. So it seems wise - in order not to find ourselves up against faits accomplis as has often been the case in the past - to establish dialogue with our counterparts in the framework of international institutions like the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and UN.
We also want to make this dialogue more ambitious, particularly in Libya’s case, by including in it not only diplomacy but also security and intelligence, thanks to platforms bringing together representatives of the various Russian and French administrations.
Finally, our goal is to make this dialogue a little more creative and innovative, thanks to discussions with the new generation of Russian officials who are moving up the ranks.
Those are the guidelines we presented to our Russian partners after Mr. Putin accepted Mr. Macron’s proposal of dialogue. What’s the current state of play?
We’ve proposed a program of work based on five major themes: technological and strategic challenges; bilateral cooperation on security and defense; cooperation at European level on these issues; the principles and values of the Trianon Dialogue, human rights and the role of women in conflicts and their prevention; and finally, major conflicts in various regions of the world.
Our Russian partners have replied to us, also developing five key areas of cooperation, but presented differently and focusing more on military and security issues. The Russians have picked up on many of our ideas, but we’ve had to reiterate to them our desire to discuss the Arctic, civilian nuclear energy, space and human rights.
Now that we’ve shown our Russian interlocutors our priorities, and vice versa, we should bring those two points of view together as operationally as possible, by setting up a few working groups to start making progress on these issues. In the coming weeks I’ll be meeting my Russian counterpart, Ambassador Yuri Ushakov, who is Vladimir Putin’s diplomatic adviser, to agree on those working groups.
Although I’ve been tasked with coordinating this mission, the dialogue channels are still there: the Foreign Ministry’s political director has contacts with his Russian interlocutors on the nuclear agreement with Iran and other current issues; the same goes for the President’s special envoy on Syria, the ambassador responsible for the Libya issue, and the director-general of international relations and strategy, attached to the Ministry for the Armed Forces, who recently took part in a meeting with her counterpart at the Russian Defense Ministry.
So things are moving forward, and no one’s waiting for me to give the green light before taking action. However, meetings are being organized with a desire to be more ambitious, more dynamic and more innovative, as the President wanted.
The second aspect of the state of play concerns our European partners.
Twice in Brussels I’ve met the ambassadors of the European Union member countries at the Political and Security Committee and at NATO’s [North Atlantic] Council. Moreover, I’ve started visiting Poland and Finland, and I’ll soon be going to the Baltic countries and Romania. Finally, I’ve met a lot of ambassadors from our partner countries in Paris.
I’ll be continuing this mission, which is essentially a job of explaining and informing in the face of some very varied stances. As you’ve emphasized, Mr. Chair, the general feeling at the outset was quite critical of an initiative that was regarded as an individual bilateral approach whose goal, according to some, was to undermine solidarity among Europeans.
We’ve had to reassure people and dispel misunderstandings by explaining that we’re in no way challenging the positions adopted, the sanctions decided on, or the five major principles established in 2016 regarding relations between the European Union and Russia.
While of course we remain supportive of all the decisions that have been adopted unanimously, they don’t in themselves constitute a policy, a strategy. Consequently, under status quo that has existed since the Ukraine crisis of 2014, we’ve been waiting while Russia has been advancing in Syria, Libya and [elsewhere in] Africa. Hence the President’s feeling, which we may have passed on to our European partners, that we must get moving and take some initiatives.
Some of our European partners remain cautious, while others are much more constructive about the fact that France is trying its luck. We understand these reservations, but we retain the hope that our partners will agree to follow us in this new momentum of bilateral re-engagement. The situation is gradually changing, because European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy Josep Borrell and the new European Council President, Charles Michel, have expressed a wish to restart talks with Russia. Mr. Borrell wants to include this point on the agenda of the informal meeting of foreign ministers - the Gymnich - in March; Mr. Michel is opting instead for a European Council in the second half of the year, because Germany, which will hold the European Union presidency, would like to discuss one of the five principles of 2016: selective engagement on issues of common interest. This parallel progression is quite interesting to observe.
To conclude, I’ll mention the next steps.
First of all, the President’s approach covers the long term, and we must be patient. This mission only began at the end of November, when I took office in Paris. To imagine we’re going to secure a turnaround by the Russian side in three months, by a stroke of magic, would be unrealistic! We actually have to find the right levers to get our Russian interlocutors to change, and those exist among our proposals, such as cooperation on the basis of technologies the Europeans have in the environmental and climate fields.
Moreover, European investments may be useful to the Russian economy - with due respect for the sanctions imposed, of course. On the Syria issue, our Russian interlocutors are making discreet invitations to involve the European partners in rebuilding the country; the capital necessary will be huge, and expertise - which Europe has - will be necessary. I could continue the list. In any case, it’s a long-term job requiring patience.
Finally, let’s not fool ourselves, either: we face tough interlocutors who are imposing a power relationship. We must be demanding and apply the right doses of firmness and dialogue. That’s the direction we intend to move forward in over the coming months, and in this regard the first test case is undoubtedly the Ukraine issue. France and Germany will have to ensure commitments are honored, on the Russian and Ukrainian sides.
(Statements by parliamentarians)
I’ll begin by pointing out that many of these issues can be summed up in the following way: does Russia regard France as an attractive partner? Two different answers spring to mind.
First of all, slightly cynically, Russia is interested in France because this relationship could divide the Europeans. The idea of one country detaching itself from the others to forge an ambitious bilateral dialogue with Russia could be regarded as a way of undermining European unity. However, that’s not our goal, as I’ve told our European friends. I’ve also informed my Russian interlocutors that I’m keeping our NATO partners and European counterparts regularly informed. The one doesn’t exclude the other.
Secondly, in the Russians’ eyes, what’s currently happening in Europe deserves to be closely observed: the establishment of a new European leadership, the many discussions on European defense and security, accompanied by payments into a European Defense Fund and enhanced structural cooperation, France’s actions in the Sahel with growing support from its European partners, and the increased maritime presence off Libya to monitor the arms embargo. France is spearheading the effort on these issues, and the Russians are interested in the role our country is playing in strengthening the European Union. The issue regularly crops up: France is putting its ideas forward, and for the Russians it’s important to understand properly and hold dialogue. The same goes when it comes to Africa, for example, where France is an important player and where Russia wants to have a greater presence. In Syria, Lebanon, Libya, on the Iran issue etc., we’re also an important player. Finally, that’s also the case with regard to space technology. So we’re an important partner for the Russians, even though it’s not at the same level as the United States, with which they’d like to have strategic dialogue. We must gauge our role and play it accordingly.
The Russians would like to understand better what the European Union is trying to do, because we’re neighbors. The blunders made on the Eastern Partnership have been mentioned, and I regret them; other risks of the same order may emerge with regard to Ukraine, in Georgia or in the Western Balkans. So we have an interest in finding a path to coexistence with them and in identifying a way of explaining to them what we’re currently doing.
Lastly, in terms of finance and trade, we mustn’t believe we’ve been sidelined. Admittedly, Russia may have thought the European Union is in decline, with the migration crisis, the euro crisis and the Greek debt crisis. Today, however, we’re in a new phase, and the Russians have developed a genuine interest in what the European Union is doing. We must take advantage of this.
As regards a Helsinki 2 conference, Mr. del Picchia, we’re thinking about it more clearly than people sometimes think. The Helsinki principles were included in the Charter of Paris, which will be 30 years old this year. The event could provide us with an opportunity to modernize those principles, which we also saw violated at the time of the Ukraine crisis. It’s an important element, in liaison with our colleagues in the OSCE, an organization which itself was created out of the Helsinki Accords. How do you put this into practice and start a discussion, in order to add a stone to the edifice of this new European order we want to build?
In the 1970s and 1980s, we were able to find a kind of dialogue with the Soviet Union, which nevertheless spoke of "limited sovereignty" with regard to the Eastern and Central European states. Despite this, thanks to the Ostpolitik implemented by Willy Brandt and then the Helsinki Accords with the "three baskets", we managed to find ways to hold dialogue. Today, paradoxically, we can no longer achieve this. Despite our real disagreements with Russia, despite the criticisms we make of it, despite the cyber attacks we suffer, we must find ways to hold dialogue again. So on this issue, one idea would be to enter into the spirit of the Helsinki Accords and the Charter of Paris.
You ask me whether Crimea should stay Russian. Let’s be clear: despite what we hear from the Russians, including from the mouths of fervent opponents of the regime, we must remain firm for reasons of principle and in accordance with international law. What happened in Crimea, like what’s happening in eastern Ukraine, is unacceptable; that’s why we imposed those sanctions in 2014, and we’ve been renewing them since.
Regarding the sanctions, you liken them to America’s extraterritorial sanctions. However, we must distinguish the two: our sanctions are not extraterritorial. Let’s remember that, on the Iran nuclear agreement, for example, we adopted a position of principle opposed to that of the United States, which took the decision to impose extraterritorial sanctions: we intend to enforce the agreement signed in 2015 and protect it. However, it’s difficult to enforce our position in the face of extraterritorial sanctions, because Europe hasn’t managed to equip itself with the necessary resources. This requires patience and very lengthy work to give the euro more strength and power on the financial markets in order to get away from obligatory use of the dollar. It’s a commercial and financial problem: we must make the European capital markets attractive so that a lot of businesses would rather work in euros than in dollars. Slow progress is being made, but we’re working on it. The previous Commission led by Mr. Juncker made proposals we could draw inspiration from: why, for example, is the trade in Airbus planes today conducted in dollars?
Is Germany cautious about dialogue with Russia? I’m not sure about that. Admittedly, it didn’t appreciate the way France launched this initiative, and it would have liked us to work on it jointly, but in talking to the Germans I’ve noticed that basically they’re on the same wavelength as us: they’d like to find ways to hold substantive dialogue with the Russian side. Germany has also included the issue on the agenda of its [EU] presidency in the second half of the year, a sign that Berlin would like to make progress on the issue and find ways to work with us, like the European institutions, which tell me they’ll learn lessons from the French experience. So we can all work closely together.
Regarding conflict prevention, you mention the example of Russia and Turkey’s roles in Syria. In my view, Syria, like Libya, is an example not of conflict prevention but of its failure. In future, we must take action in order not to let conflicts escalate through interventions by neighboring countries that bring power relationships into the mix. We must resume diplomatic and security work in order to overcome deadlock, in liaison with United Nations representatives. Preventing conflicts is about ones in danger of emerging, in Africa and elsewhere. To that end, we must talk to Russia about at-risk territories that haven’t yet flared up. We must use all the cards available, including clear-sighted and demanding dialogue with Russia.
On multilateralism, for the past few years we’ve sensed an incipient mistrust on Russia’s part. In particular, the Russians aren’t much interested in the WTO’s current difficulties: they’re quite happy letting us untangle ourselves from them... Rather than upholding the multilateral system, Russia favors transactional approaches - a bit like the current American administration -, as we’re seeing in Syria and Libya, where the processes it’s begun seem to ignore the United Nations’ efforts. I’m thinking, for example, of the very difficult discussions we had with the Russians at the UN about crossing points in Syria. Through dialogue that is both demanding and calm, we want to bring Russia back to stronger support for the multilateral system.
Several senators have highlighted the Baltic and Central European states’ lack of appetite for our strategic dialogue with Russia. I don’t deny that those countries are cautious at least and even hostile; their attitude is clearly linked to their history and geography, facts which won’t be erased. However, they appreciate us explaining our approach and listening to them. When I meet my contacts in those countries, I ask them: given Russia’s increased presence in conflict zones, should we do nothing? They recognize there’s a problem, but think our approach won’t be of any use. I say to them: let us try... In any case, we agree about protecting European countries’ unity.
Don’t the sanctions we imposed on Russia make fools of us? Certainly the European countries are suffering from them in terms of trade, while Russia’s trade with the United States moves ahead. Moreover, Russia has taken advantage of the situation to develop its agriculture - even to the point of becoming an exporter in the area - and forge closer ties with China, which has become its privileged partner when it comes to new technologies. So there’s a dark side to our sanctions policy.
In the Ukraine crisis, however, it was one of our few weapons. And since then, despite sometimes very tough opposition, the European countries have always ended up agreeing on the renewal of sanctions, because they express Europe’s unity. It’s for the Russian side to make sufficient overtures to get us to change our position.
CHRISTIAN CAMBON, CHAIR OF THE COMMITTEE - What kind of overtures would you regard as sufficiently decisive to justify a change on the Europeans’ part?
MR. VIMONT - In Paris, in mid-December, Russia made specific security and political commitments as regards, for example, the organizing of local elections in eastern Ukraine, which implies a withdrawal of Russian forces from the region. We expect the Russians to gradually implement these commitments. Of course we’d like more to be achieved on the ground and a reduced level of violence; for the moment, unfortunately, the situation isn’t moving in that direction...
As regards the alleged contradictions with our NATO membership which M. Laurent talked about, our initiative has certainly given rise to a good many recriminations within the Alliance. I’ve tried to explain our initiative, without always convincing people. We’ll carry on with our own approach, whilst preserving the bond of trust with our NATO partners.
Being a member of the Alliance and maintaining a bilateral dialogue with Russia seems even less contradictory to me because we’re witnessing the development of a direct dialogue overhead between Russians and Americans on issues concerning the security of European states - that bothers me somewhat. The Europeans must defend their own interests. So by emphasizing the need to take short-range weapons into account, the French President has stated a different position from that of the Americans, to the satisfaction of the Baltic states and Poland. We won’t hesitate to express different points of view from the Americans when the Europeans’ interest is at stake.
The Americans are interested in our initiative and would like us to keep them informed, which we’re doing. I’m not sure they’re worried about it, provided we don’t interfere in their own discussion channels regarding the reduction of strategic weapons.