Official speeches and statements - May 27, 2020
Q. - You talk about sovereignty; some believe that this pandemic marks the end of globalization and we’re now entering the era of sovereignties, of re-established borders, the era of regions, indeed nations. Do you think the world after [the crisis] will be that of the great return of nations?
THE MINISTER - I hope the world after [the crisis] will signify the great return of Europe, because in the [US-China] confrontation we’re talking about and which Pierre Haski was incidentally talking about earlier, Europe’s role must be asserted to prevent it from being simply a witness and stepping out of history. Restoring Europe’s role means ensuring that it asserts its sovereignty and regains its strategic and industrial autonomy - I’m particularly thinking of autonomy as regards health, which has been an especially sensitive issue during this crisis, but also food; that’s the challenge, and I think, when all’s said and done, after Europe getting off to a rather complicated start in terms of its involvement in the crisis, the major challenges have now been clearly identified and there have been repeated assertions over the past few days. I’m thinking, in particular, of the Franco-German initiative, which made the headlines and highlighted several points.
Firstly, the need for health autonomy - we haven’t talked enough about this point in President Macron and Ms. Merkel’s declaration -, the need for European sovereignty in the field of health, in the areas of prevention, production, research, action to ensure joint strategic stocks and the fact there’s also a shared desire to exchange practices. None of this existed before, because health didn’t fall within Europe’s area of responsibility. This is starting to happen and it’s a good thing.
Since you’re talking about this plan, the Franco-German initiative, a quick question about the protest by the so-called frugal countries - some might say the stingy club -, namely Austria and the Netherlands in particular. Do you think they can block this Franco-German initiative?
Firstly, it’s important, essential for there to be Franco-German agreement to determine the conditions for the recovery. Everyone agrees the recovery must happen, it can happen through national initiatives, but it must start through European initiatives; therefore, the President of the Commission, Ms. von der Leyen, is due to announce tomorrow the essential elements of the plan she’s proposing.
If France and Germany didn’t share a desire to be at the heart of this new situation, nothing would happen. There may be reservations from a few States, but there’s also a great deal of support which has very quickly materialized. We’re now going to enter into the discussions and personally I’m absolutely convinced that the strength of the message conveyed by the Franco-German initiative will be likely to turn things around in some way.
Are you optimistic?
I’m optimistic because that’s in everyone’s interest, including that of the so-called frugal countries, because the bulk of their market - for all of them - is inside Europe, and so what would happen if, by some chance, countries or regions most disadvantaged by the crisis weren’t ready for the recovery? It would also be a drawback for them.
So in my opinion there are a few reasons to be hopeful, and I firmly believe in both the Chancellor and the President’s ability to convince people.
(...) Can you tell us this morning what the situation is with borders inside Europe? Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal - for the Portuguese diaspora in France - have announced they’ll reopen their borders by the summer. When is France going to reopen its borders, to European nationals to begin with and then to nationals from all over the world?
Listen, in this regard we have to be not only gradual with the necessary opening-up but also cautious. We really have to recognize that for France - although it’s more or less the same thing for the neighboring countries - there are two phases to ending the lockdown. We ourselves are in the first phase. This first phase involves gradual measures and an assessment that will be made at the end of the week in order to move onto the second phase, which will begin on June 2.
In this first phase, the external borders of the European Union, the European area, are closed until June 15; in other words, French people or European nationals who want to return may do so, but they must accept a precautionary 14 days of quarantine to protect their loved ones and their environment; but they [the external borders] are closed.
Within Europe today, there are controls, restrictions on travel in the European area that are gradually easing to facilitate transit for certain categories: cross-border workers, health workers and other staff. These limitations are gradually disappearing, but we’ll have to assess the situation at the end of the week to see whether we can go beyond these openings, and above all do so after June 2, in the second phase of ending the lockdown. There’s a deadline of June 15 when I think we’ll all be very clear about not only the result of ending the lockdown but also the possibility of opening up Europe’s internal borders further. (...)
We’re going to be able to move around Europe.
...the internal area...
I’m not talking about the external borders, which are closed until June 15, it’s likely that they’ll still be closed afterwards, and on that point we’ll need thorough protection measures, because the pandemic is spreading to other countries in an extremely significant way and we’ll also have to protect ourselves.
(...) Last week Britain decided to put all those entering its territory into quarantine, including French people. You threatened to take reciprocal measures. Are you going to do that?
We’re taking reciprocal measures. We took reciprocal measures with regard to Spain when it decided to close its borders more strictly within the European area, and we’re doing the same thing with regard to the UK. (...)
2. European Union - Franco-German initiative - Interview given by Ms. Amélie de Montchalin, Minister of State for European Affairs, attached to the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to the weekly magazine Le Point (Paris - May 25, 2020)
Q. - Are we to expect a diluted version of France and Germany’s ambition?
THE MINISTER - We must see this Franco-German initiative not solely in terms of its budgetary aspect but as a "reformist" initiative for Europe. We’ve had a lot of debates about how this crisis must ensure we move beyond what we normally do when putting together the European budget. There’s no room here for disagreements and petty calculations, which would take us further away from that goal.
We’re offering a vision of Europe. Now there’s a second stage: the European Commission must be equal to the crisis and shoulder its responsibilities. The Commission has a mandate, in the treaties, to promote the European interest. The aim mustn’t be to find the median point or the lowest common denominator between member States. The Franco-German proposal is, I repeat, much more than an agreement half-way between German and French interests. It’s a vision of what Europe must be over the coming 20 or 30 years in order to remain relevant in a world where major challenges like the ecological climate transition await us. This declaration is in fact the starting point for a new Europe in the image of the Schuman Declaration of May 9, 1950. It’s the first time for a long time that France and Germany have drawn up a shared narrative which is truly European, which traces a path towards a common destiny that isn’t just the combination of their interests at one moment. This narrative marks out the need for genuine European sovereignty and solidarity.
Why is this possible now and not in 2008, when the financial crisis split Europe between North and South?
The health crisis is different in nature from the 2008 crisis. The crisis today hasn’t been created by a lack of reforms. It’s a crisis unleashed by an external factor, the spread of a virus, which requires us all to take back control of our common destiny simultaneously. Everyone has realized two things: firstly that we’re extremely dependent on the outside world, and secondly that we’re all interdependent on one another internally.
This internal market interdependence, which is the bedrock of our prosperity, can, if we don’t take full responsibility for it, become a weakness. This concept of shared sovereignty, of European sovereignty pledged by the French President emerges stronger because of the European weaknesses the coronavirus crisis has brought to light. But no country has the means to cope alone. When Chancellor Angela Merkel repeats that there’s no "strong Germany in a weak Europe", it’s an argument we’ve pushed a great deal together with the Germans, but also with all the other member States.
However, the Netherlands, Austria, Denmark and Sweden, nicknamed the "frugal four", don’t want to pay for Italy, Spain or France... What do you say to them?
The frugal countries aren’t on an island. The exporting model that makes them strong and [underpins] their narrative of "we’re strong, competitive and you only have to reform" doesn’t stand up to analysis, because whatever they say, they’re dependent on the good economic health of the other European countries.
Together with Germany, we’ve managed to make progress by understanding that this interdependence isn’t a constraint but a strength. I ask the frugal countries to realize that we must go beyond a debate about figures and financial engineering. The fact that 70% of the Netherlands’ industry is exported within the internal market is proof of that. They can put all the money they want into their national recovery plans; unless they have customers and suppliers elsewhere in Europe, it won’t work.
Another example, the Swedes: the various studies by the IMF, the Commission and the OECD predict a decline in the Swedish economy of 6% to 8% of GDP. So they won’t have a much less significant recession than other Europeans, because their customers and suppliers are in Europe... Consequently, we must ensure that this interdependence which is the source of our prosperity lives on as a strength. Germany has understood that it must shoulder its responsibilities. Chancellor Angela Merkel has clearly chosen this path.
The Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, is in a complicated situation in the Netherlands: his government includes Eurosceptic forces, his parliamentary majority is hanging by a thread and he’s facing a far right which is feeding off talk along the lines of "we’re paying for those in the south". Moreover, he has a general election next year. How can he accept the Franco-German proposal?
The negotiation isn’t over. We share the same vision of Europe’s future with the Netherlands. Put simply, their conclusion ultimately is that Europe needs loans and not budget aid. Let me repeat: the [economic] upturn in the Netherlands won’t happen without a mutually supportive European recovery, and Mark Rutte will need a pick-up in the economy again to get re-elected. Of course we need national recoveries, but that won’t be enough. Our major industrial sectors won’t pick up again, yesterday’s jobs will be weakened and tomorrow’s won’t exist unless prosperity is shared in Europe.
In the coming days, we must succeed in demonstrating that what’s at stake isn’t the national contribution of any particular country to the European budget, but the vitality of the economic project which has made us prosperous.
The Franco-German initiative is also calling for the birth of a "Health Europe"...
The Franco-German initiative is actually a Schuman Declaration for health. We’re proposing to build up medical supplies so that in the event of a crisis, no one reacts to the detriment of others. Research, medicines and medical equipment must be at least shared or, at any rate, we must know everyone’s situation so that, in the event of difficulties, it’s possible for resources to be shared quickly.
On the climate, our interdependence is obvious here too. No one will stop global warming in their own little corner. When we say we’ve got to increase our targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, we mean together. Otherwise we’re going to recreate imbalances between us which will lead to us undermining one another. If we don’t do anything in a coordinated way, one will be better on mobility, another on energy, but ultimately that doesn’t work.
Finally, the last part of the Franco-German declaration - which talks about adapting competition rules, the State-aid framework and also about social convergence - is a key element regarding our vision of the world. This crisis is probably accelerating a process which the various countries were engaging in and goes well beyond a short-term recovery plan. It’s what gives us our European identity and sovereignty when up against the rest.
I thank Estonia for this debate and welcome the participation of the President of Estonia. I would also like to thank the Secretary-General for his report, the President of the ICRC Peter Maurer and Former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for their interventions.
Civilians are the target of unacceptable violence. From Afghanistan to Libya, from South Sudan, Mali, Central African Republic, the DRC, Yemen to Iraq, tens of thousands of civilians have been killed or injured and millions forcefully displaced. COVID-19 has exacerbated the vulnerability of those most vulnerable in conflict zones, in particular refugees and displaced persons. Together with Tunisia we will continue our efforts within the UN Security Council to support the SG’s call for a cessation of hostilities, to facilitate the fight against the pandemic.
This Council has developed tools to address protection of civilians in a more systematic and effective manner.
First, the Security Council has repeatedly condemned violations committed by all parties. We regret that the Security Council has not been able to condemn violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law taking place in Myanmar or in Syria. It’s absolutely necessary that the Security Council renew the crossborder mechanism and that populations in need including in the North East be able to receive aid through the most effective and direct routes.
Second, the Security Council has mandated Peacekeeping operations to protect civilians. They are carrying their mandate in a more robust and innovative manner. MINUSCA has developed three "surge teams" composed of both police and civilian personnel specialized in protection of civilians that can be deployed in hotspots. MINUSMA has set up "temporary bases" close to the populations to strengthen social cohesion.
Protection of civilians has become key when assessing the performance of UN missions. Unfortunately, women and girls continue to be subject to appalling sexual and gender based violence and children to be recruited by armed groups. It is paramount that UN missions be given sufficient capacity and human resources to respond to their specific needs.
I will now turn to four challenges.
First, the issue of attacks on humanitarian and medical personnel is particularly worrying in the context of COVID-19. Parties to armed conflicts must respect their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect humanitarian and medical personnel and units, and to ensure humanitarian access.
The Humanitarian Call for Action presented by France and Germany last September, addresses this issue through different concrete engagements. France is planning to launch a national plan of action aiming at strengthening international humanitarian law training of state and non-state actors. We encourage all Member States to endorse the Humanitarian Call and welcome the endorsements of the Call by Chile and the Maldives, bringing the number of signatories to 45.
Second, the question of the use of weapons which is addressed in the Secretary-General’s report.
Much of the harm and destruction in current conflicts appears to be the result of violations of international humanitarian law provisions including, but not limited to, the indiscriminate and disproportionate use of explosive weapons in populated areas.
France is engaged in the ongoing negotiations towards the development of a political declaration to improve the protection of civilians. To that end, this political declaration must address the issue of the indiscriminate use of explosive weapons. But it shall not stigmatize explosive weapons themselves. It must affirm that the core challenge is to improve the implementation of international humanitarian law principles: by promoting appropriate policies and practices for the conduct of military operations in urban contexts and by encouraging States to exchange good practices.
France is also engaged in efforts to address the possible challenges associated with the development of lethal weapons systems featuring autonomy. Substantial progress has been made through the work of the dedicated governmental experts. This includes the adoption of 11 guiding principles reaffirming that international humanitarian law continues to apply fully to all weapons systems.
Third, the protection of journalists in armed conflict has to become effective. We commend the four Groups of friends on protection of journalists and their efforts to support implementation of relevant Security Council resolutions.
Finally, we must redouble our efforts to support justice for victims. The arrest in France of Félicien Kabuga, one of the high profile remaining fugitives indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda two weeks ago is a reminder that those responsible for mass atrocities can be brought to justice.
France will also continue to support fight against impunity of perpetrators of atrocities committed in Syria, through national proceedings and support to the Commission of Inquiry and the IIIM.
I thank you.