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Britain and France

Britain and France: Our Place in Europe and the World

Lecture by Gérard Errera, French Ambassador, at the London School of Economics, London, March 12, 2004. Source: French Embassy in the United Kingdom.

Before we begin, let me express our sense of revulsion at what happened yesterday in Madrid, and our solidarity with the Spanish people. Our thoughts are with the bereaved and the families of the victims. As President Chirac said yesterday: nothing ever justifies barbarity. Democracies must and will be united in the ruthless battle against it.

Dear Sir Howard, dear friends,

I am pleased, honoured and impressed to be here:

I am pleased to be speaking in front of such a distinguished audience;

I am honoured to have been invited by such a prestigious institution;

And I am impressed by your bravery at having invited a Frenchman, and I am impressed by my own temerity at having accepted the invitation.

As Julian Barnes said: "if you were God and you were trying to create a nation which would most get up the British nostril, it would probably be the French". And that was a Francophile speaking...

But, as you know this is because, in the words of Churchill: "the Almighty, in his infinite wisdom did not see fit to create Frenchmen in the image of Englishmen". Which is true, except that Churchill forgot one thing: that beyond all their differences, our two countries have one very important feature in common: the same innate sense of modesty and humility.

Which brings me to the subject of tonight’s lecture: "Britain and France: our place in Europe and the World".

The French love lecturing people. But I don't intend to give another French lecture. I intend to share with you some thoughts about the very important challenges both our countries face together and should meet together.

I say together because there is a prevailing perception that our two countries live on different planets, both in domestic terms as well as in their foreign policy. Well, this is not the case. On the contrary, we are confronted with the same issues on the domestic front as well as in the international field.

  • I – On the domestic front, there are three main challenges that our governments, our societies must tackle :

A – First, we need to reform the framework of our societies: I would like to stress three main areas:

- the role of government has already changed a lot. The State is no longer the dominant actor in the economic or industrial field. This is true in the UK as well as in France. Central government has given power back to local and regional assemblies. What we call decentralization began in the early 'eighties and is continuing; your country started a similar process with devolution.

- modernizing our public services is at the top of the agendas of both our governments: whether it is education, health, pensions, our duties are the same. We must address the same problems. We have to reconcile conflicting needs: i.e. to ensure universal provision of services – what we, in France, call equal access to services – with an increasingly diverse public demand; and to provide higher standards of quality while controlling the costs.

- another vital imperative is to put knowledge and innovation at the heart of our economies so that they can prosper and compete in a globalized world.

B – Secondly, we need to ensure the cohesion of the social fabric of our societies.

- our societies are more and more complex, more and more diverse. Therefore our task is to balance the need for openness with a strong sense of identity;

- equally, we are constantly striving to reconcile the principle of solidarity between citizens, which is at the heart of the European social philosophy, with the need to allow the market economy to work. This is all the more important as both countries have ageing populations and this has a direct impact on the financing of the pensions system and on the health system.

C - Third domestic challenge, a huge one: the declining confidence of the public in the political system.

- four examples of this: the decreasing turnout in elections, the prevailing indifference to the political debate; the growing cynicism, and the increasing absorption in one's private life at the expense of participation in public life. There is a risk of people believing that the political class is powerless to address the issues that really matter to people and, therefore, the risk of a divorce between politicians and citizens.

As you can see, France and Britain are not a world apart. They face the same domestic challenges and have an interest in comparing their experiences. This is what we have started to do and we will continue.

  • II – We do not only have to face the same domestic challenges. We also face the same external threats and international obligations.

A – First, the threats:

1 – There is, alas, terrorism:

Sadly, both France and the UK have had direct experience of terrorism on their soil long before 11 September 2001. On that day, France was chairing the Security council and put forward a significant resolution – resolution 1368 – which led to the coalition against al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan, a coalition in which our two countries, together with the US played a major role, on the ground, in the air and at sea. By the same token, we invoked, for the first time ever, Article V of the NATO treaty, i.e. the mutual defence clause. In those two highly symbolic instances, we displayed the unity which is needed to fight terrorism.

The fight against terrorism and the removal of the roots of terrorism is not exclusively, or even mainly, a matter of using force. It is a long, relentless, determined struggle which requires gathering and sharing intelligence, tracking the financial networks and police cooperation. This struggle has to take place within the bounds of international law. This is exactly what our two countries have been doing and will continue to do.

2 – Together with terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is a major threat which we must confront, because it affects not only world stability but also our own security. We have witnessed over the last years three important changes which are cause for concern:

- one: the fact that WMD which were previously possessed only by States might now be acquired by non-State actors: what happened in the Tokyo underground is proof of that;

- two: the fact that those weapons, especially nuclear weapons, which were considered deterrents are talked about by some as weapons for use.

- and three: the prospect of the combination of dictatorships, weapons of mass destruction and their acquisition by terrorists groups.

3 – Third main threat that we have to address: climate change, global warming.

- climate change is a source of conflict: one case in point is Bangladesh where global warming could lead to the sinking of agricultural land in the Bramaputra delta which in turn could lead to massive population migrations, resulting in ethnic conflicts. There are other examples, in Africa and in the Middle East where climate change could aggravate existing conflicts.

- in developed countries, climate change is already causing natural catastrophes and the deterioration of living conditions.

B. We do not only have common threats, we also have common moral as well as strategic imperatives. I would mention three of them:

One is development aid, priority being given to Africa. The last decade was a lost decade for development. We cannot leave 800 million Africans in despair. This would be morally unacceptable. It would be a political mistake, too: failed States can be an ideal breeding ground for terrorists, as we have seen in Somalia.

Two: the fight against major pandemics. SARS might be under control at the moment. But HIV/Aids and malaria keep causing terrible losses across Africa. Entire societies may be at risk of being wiped out. 600 South Africans die every day of AIDS-related illnesses. There are treatments and we have a duty to make these drugs available to those who are infected.

Three: we have a responsibility to do everything we can to avoid falling into the trap of the so-called clash of civilisations. As colonial powers, we have learned some lessons. One of them is that religions, societies, individuals want to be respected for what they are, for their identity. So we should be wary of replacing the confrontation between the blocs by a new clash between North and South, East and West, Christianity and Islam. So our two countries have a special responsibility to foster new forms of dialogue between different civilizations. As firm believers in democracy and human rights, this dialogue is both our duty and in our best interest.

  • III - Those are the challenges we face, both on the domestic and international front. To meet them, we have to take action; we cannot act alone, we have to act in accordance with a set of agreed international rules. This means three things:

- first: giving a new impetus to the multilateral system;

- second: reshaping our relationship with our allies and partners, especially the United States;

- third: building a strong responsible, and respected Europe.

These are also goals that our two countries share and are uniquely equipped to achieve.

A – Multilateralism is not an ideology. It is a pragmatic requirement. In a world which is more and more fragmented, where power cannot be equated with military might alone, where the weak can threaten the strong, where problems are too complex to be tackled by one country alone, there is one simple truth: for international decisions to be effective, they have to be legitimate. And legitimacy in turn is strengthened by the unity of the international community. This was the case when the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 1441 on resuming inspections in Iraq.

This is why we attach so much importance to the UN and to the Security Council, which, whatever its shortcomings, is the sole legitimate body vested with the power to authorize the use of force. Respecting the law is a basic principle of democracy which we have to stick to. Nobody expects dictators to abide by the rule of law, but everybody expects democracies to be true to their founding principles.

The Security Council has to be able to take action. In order not to be bypassed, it has to be able to respond to all situations where international peace and security as well as the principles of the Charter are at stake. Until recently, any attempt against the sovereignty of States was deemed unacceptable. This is no longer the case. Above the sovereignty of States, superior values are increasingly acknowledged. Action against dictatorships and massive violations of human rights has to rest on legitimacy which, once again, is the prime condition for efficiency. We need a new set of early-warning instruments, such as observers, monitoring mechanisms and even preventive interposition forces. We also need to start addressing the question of the preventive use of coercion.

The Security Council has to be able to verify disarmament and the respect of human rights. This is why France is proposing permanent international inspection bodies in these fields. Never forget that more weapons of mass destruction were destroyed in Iraq through UNSCOM inspections than during the Gulf war of 1991.

To be more efficient, the Security Council also needs to be made more representative. It must be enlarged, to comprise new members and new permanent members.

A strengthened and respected Security Council, the use of force based on international legitimacy, international rules applicable to all in every field – on trade with the World Trade Organization, on the environment with the Kyoto Protocol, on international justice with the ICC These are the basic tenets of what one could call – had the phrase not been devalued – a new international order.

Incidentally, to insist on the primacy of law is the contrary of the inherent weakness to which some would like to confine Europe. To insist on the primacy of law is a sign of firmness, and an expression of confidence in our values.

In other words, an attitude which does not fit easily with the simplistic opposition between Mars and Venus. Both France and the UK, which are major contributors to international military operations, in the Balkans, in Afghanistan or in Africa, are well placed to point out the fallacy of this theory. This theory is not only contrary to reality. It is also detrimental to a sound relationship between Europe and the United States.

B – It is often said that France and the UK are divided by opposite attitudes towards the United States. Of course, there are differences:

- differences in tone and in method: certainly, France is less shy than others about recalling, from time to time, that being allied does not mean being aligned;

- differences in status: France is not part of the integrated military structure of NATO and retains an independent nuclear deterrent;

- differences in substance: it is no secret that we have had a slight divergence on the Iraq war last year.

But let's have a closer look at some of the fundamentals:

- take NATO: both France and Britain agree that NATO remains the cornerstone of our collective defence. Both our countries are in favour of an efficient Alliance and are today making an active contribution to the modernization of the Alliance and are putting forward proposals, ideas and, most of all, providing troops. Incidentally, France is the largest contributor to the new NATO Response Force. Neither France nor Britain want to do away with NATO;

- take the fight against terrorism and the proliferation of WMD: both our countries are cooperating closely for instance in the Proliferation Security Initiative;

- take the issues on which Europe and the US have differences, here again, Britain and France stand together; they take the same view on the Kyoto Protocol, the International Criminal Court, death penalty, and trade disputes;

What these examples show is that France and Britain, each of them with their own genius, share the same concept of the need for a new, balanced partnership with the US. Both the US and the EU have changed: if we share the same risks, we must share decision-making. There should not be a divergence between our two countries on two basic points:

- one: there is no contradiction between our determination to see Europe play a global role and strengthening the transatlantic link;

- two: only a Europe capable of speaking with one voice will be a credible partner for the US and respected as such.

The relationship with the US should not stand in the way of Franco-British relations. It should on the contrary speed up the realization of the goals which both countries have in common.

C – Which leads me to Europe

Nobody would deny that historically, France and Britain have had different views on Europe. Some of these differences remain even today, in particular over some of the quote-unquote "British redlines". It is also a fact that for the time being, Britain has not joined some of the more defining European achievements, such as the Schengen Agreement or the euro. And it is also true that public opinions in our respective countries have a very different approach to Europe;

These facts should not conceal that much progress has been made in key areas:

- defence: it was the agreement between France and Britain, at Saint-Malo, in December 1998, which paved the way for the development of European defence. It was the agreement between France, Britain and Germany, last December, which led to the creation of new European capabilities for planning and conducting autonomous European operations. Indeed, there can be no Europe without European defence and no European defence without Britain;

- Foreign policy: one example: Iran. Together with Germany, working closely with our European partners, the US and Russia, our two countries have developed what we think is a sound policy to address the nuclear issue in Iran, with some results;

- competitiveness of European economies: for Europe to be strong, it needs to be competitive, to be innovative, and to foster economic growth. This is what our leaders do: bilaterally, when our two Prime Ministers met last autumn with many members of their cabinets. And together with Germany, as we saw at the recent Berlin Summit. This is also our common objective when we support together, the location, in Europe of the thermonuclear controlled fusion reactor (International Thermonuclear Energy Research), or when we achieve the creation of a European positioning system: Galileo;

- lastly, both our countries want European institutions which are efficient in an enlarged Europe: an efficient Commission, a Presidency of the Council able to provide leadership; a system of voting which allows us to take swift decisions, a European Parliament closer to the citizens. All that is provided by the draft constitution which we want to be adopted as soon as possible.

Let me be clear: we need a strong Europe. We believe that, by pooling our sovereignties, Europe increases, not reduces, each of our nation's influence. This is also true in many fields, including in justice and home affairs. If Europe were to be confined to a mere free-trade area, we would be missing an historic opportunity. Believe me, in order to exert influence on the course of history, Europe is a key asset. It is up to us to decide whether we want Europe to take its future into its own hands.

  • To conclude, I would like to share two thoughts with you:

- I am convinced that, looking back, historians will characterize the beginning of this century as a defining moment for the reshaping of international relations after the end of the Cold War. This is why all of us have a responsibility in making the right decisions. This applies even more to countries like Britain and France. Our status as nuclear powers, as permanent members of the Security Council is not a privilege but imposes upon us additional obligations. As you say in English: noblesse oblige.

- 2004 is the centenary of the Entente Cordiale. This anniversary is not designed to mark the past but to look towards the future. Our two countries are different in many ways. But at the same time, we have many similarities and complementary qualities. If we are able to join forces, we can make a real difference. This is my dearest wish./.



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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).