Speeches | 02 March 2017

Jean-Marc Ayrault's address to the Lowy Institute

On 2 March, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault addressed the Lowy Institute on France’s outlook on global, regional and bilateral challenges, and its convergence with Australia's views and actions in this region and on the international stage. Photo: Sydney Heads/Peter Morris

On 2 March, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault addressed the Lowy Institute on France’s outlook on global, regional and bilateral challenges, and its convergence with Australia's views and actions in this region and on the international stage. Photo: Sydney Heads/Peter Morris


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Dr Michael Fullilove,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Dear friends,

I would like to first warmly thank the Lowy Institute for inviting me here today. Let me acknowledge the historic interest that the Lowy Institute has shown in France and Europe and the role it has played and continues to play in the dialogue between French and Australian think tanks. Through this, it is an active participant in the strategic partnership that binds our two countries.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Australia and France are today facing an uncertain world.

The threat of terrorism which feeds on the conflicts in the Middle East is weighing on our countries and societies. It is the complex product of deadly, nihilist propaganda which is spreading through networks. This propaganda resonates with young people who lack bearings and who sometimes face difficulties in integrating that we have not addressed sufficiently. This results in an undermining of our values, our freedoms and democracy, which give way to a distorted caricature of Islam of which Muslims themselves are the first victims.

Conflicts in the Middle East and in Africa have a direct impact on our countries: they generate considerable flows of refugees fleeing war, whom we have a duty to take in.

Cyber threats are becoming reality, with direct consequences for our most vital interests. These are not only aimed at our armed forces and critical infrastructure, but also at our democratic institutions and electoral processes, through the manipulation of public opinion through social media.

The effects of climate change and environmental degradation are being felt. They lead to misery and destruction, but also prepare the terrain for future conflicts over access to food, water and other natural resources. I want to stress that these risks are not naturally occuring risks. They are the result of human activities.

These are not the only threats weighing on our societies and our future. We are also confronted with populism which, in the United States, Europe and elsewhere, is pushing for isolationism and undermining of our values. Those who present themselves as critics of the "system" are actually attacking democratic institutions. Those who propose to build walls and close borders do not have any solution for the security of our nations and are threatening their prosperity. For by preaching isolationism, populists are mistaken on both the diagnosis and the remedy.

The difficulties we need to address require greater collective action, greater international cooperation, and greater multilateralism. We are stronger together than if each of us acts alone.

It is therefore up to diplomacy to take action. And it is France's aim to act with its partners to foster the emergence of a safer world, with governance capable of finding collective solutions to the shared challenges we need to address together. France is therefore prepared to get involved in the world's business. For we deeply believe that our destiny is linked to that of the rest of mankind. That is how the world is, and that is our conviction, in accordance with the universalist values that are France's heritage.

That heritage can now be of great help to us. The arrival of a new American administration, which is showing a desire to break with the past and gives the impression of returning to a certain isolationist tradition, means we should step up our efforts. Efforts to convince our new partners that our world requires joint mobilisation. Efforts to stress that its complexity cannot boil down to a series of "deals", to the detriment of the absolute need for an overall vision, given how interdependent the various challenges and solutions to them are. Efforts to recall the achievement represented by the solidarity that is born of history and our commitment to defend freedom in the two World Wars that fashioned the international order that we work hard to adapt to the world's development.'

Europe itself needs to address the challenge of Brexit. We regret this choice by the British people, but we respect it. It is now up to us to organise the orderly exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union. These negotiations, which will begin as soon as the United Kingdom activates the procedure under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union, will have to respect a number of principles. In particular, I would like to stress that EU membership involves a package of advantages and obligations. You cannot have one without the other, and there cannot be any "cherry picking".

The European Union, meanwhile, will continue on its way, reforming itself and strengthening its unity. That is how it will remain the world's greatest economic and trading power, one of the largest areas of freedom and democracy, a zone of stability and a benchmark for the rest of the world. France and Germany will ensure that, identifying compromises that will advance the European project. For our political determination remains total, regardless of election timetables, in both our countries.

Some seem to welcome the advent of a post-Western world, built on the ruins of the European Union and in the vacuum left by an isolationist America. But firstly, they are burying our institutions rather too soon. The crises facing us are serious, but we have already weathered others, and we are far from having said our last words! But above all, the artifice is too visible: this so-called Western world is, of course, the free and democratic one. It is the world founded on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and those who hope to see it fall are the authoritarian regimes, in league to defend their interests against those of their own people and seeking to project the image of a clash of cultures and civilisations. We have had enough propaganda. We have long considered that the world is post-Western, just as it is — thankfully — post-colonial. The aim is not to defend a so-called Westem model, but to defend a universal model of rights, freedoms and democracy.

In the face of these issues, France wants to act in close liaison with all its allies: those who share its values, who support multilateralism and the rule of law, and who work for a safer world built on inclusive global governance.

Australia has become a strategic partner for France. Our two countries share the same vision of a world open for human, economic, commercial and intellectual exchanges. Our ties are all the more solid because this community of values is bolstered by our geographical and historical proximity. Not one of the threats that I just mentioned, not one of these challenges, is not shared by both our countries.

The ties between our peoples were born in the trenches and on the battlefields during the Great War. We are commemorating that episode of our common history at this very moment. After the double visit of the Governor-General in 2016, we will be commemorating, in 2017, the Battles of Bullecourt, and inaugurating the Villers-Bretonneux interpretation centre in 2018, which will enable visitors to better understand the history of the site.

Australia once again flew to France's aid during the Second World War and I will have the pleasure, during this visit, of decorating veterans with the highest French distinction: the Legion of Honour.

These historical ties are the foundations of the mutual confidence that has led Australia to choose France for the renewal of its fleet of oceanic submarines. France, meanwhile, has made the political choice to offer Australia technology transfers in areas essential to the national security of both our countries. This common choice of France and Australia means committing to a programme that will, for the next fifty years, contribute to building a sovereign, sustainable Australian industry and to binding our destinies together.

France believes it is in its interests to dialogue with a strong Australia that contributes to the stability of a region where it is present. A strong Australia that shoulders growing responsibilities at international level. A strong Australia with which we share views on most issues. Of course, there is sometimes debate between us, which indeed reflects the debate within our own democratic societies, such as on the fight against climate change or how to humanely manage the difficult issue of refugees and migrants.

But today, we are together facing the same threats and the same challenges. France and Australia are fighting side-by-side in the Middle East within the coalition against Daesh, in a brotherhood of arms mirroring that which sealed our alliance a century ago. More generally, our intelligence cooperation is currently at an unprecedented level, with a shared concern regarding the processes of radicalisation, the issue of returning foreign fighters, and the financing of terrorism.

The aim for our enhanced partnership is to develop it in all areas.

Our economic and commercial exchanges are doing well. French companies are present in all sectors in Australia, where they employ more than 60,000 people. We can do better, including by attracting more Australian investment to France — and indeed, I have come accompanied by a delegation of French companies. We are going to step up our scientific and technological cooperation and our exchanges of young researchers in key fields for the society and industry of the future: digital technology, artificial intelligence, leading-edge engineering; biodiversity, healthcare, space and agro-environmental research.

We also want to see greater cultural exchanges and human exchanges between our peoples.

That does not mean starting from scratch, as more than 20,000 young French people visit Australia every year under the working holiday programme, and a further 4,000 others study in Australia. Meanwhile, France receives more than 1.2 million Australian tourists every year. But we have the ambition to do even better.

Another fundamental aspect of our relationship is our geographic proximity. Many of you know that we are neighbours in the Pacific Ocean. Fewer of you, no doubt, that we are also neighbours in the Indian Ocean. As you know, France has a considerable overseas presence, which is an essential part of its identity and culture. The Pacific and Indian Oceans are home to more than 1.6 million of my fellow citizens.

In these two highly strategic regions through which most global trade passes, both France and Australia are committed to combatting trafficking; guaranteeing sustainable, environmentally friendly development and ecosystems that are precious for island States and territories; ensuring freedom of navigation; and promoting peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with international law.

We share all these principles, and they are guiding our cooperation as it becomes stronger and stronger. Like Australia, France will continue to sail its ships and fly its aircraft everywhere where operational needs command and where international law allows.

I know that France has not always had good press in Oceania. But this perception is beginning to change. Firstly, because France has made strong gestures that show its respect for the self-determination of peoples. The referendum on the self-determination of New Caledonia will thus be held in 2018. Secondly, because we have committed to the environment, to marine biodiversity and to the climate, which are vital issues for island States and territories that are so vulnerable in this part of the world.

France also participates actively in development efforts in the Pacific, both bilaterally and as a founding member of the Pacific Community and essential contributor to the European Development Fund.

540,000 French people live in Oceania, in New Caledonia, in French Polynesia, and in Wallis and Futuna. Nouméa and Papeete now enjoy very large autonomy, enabling them to make decisions in most areas excluding monetary policy and defence. Foreign affairs are a shared competence with the French Government, which supports and encourages these territories in their regional integration efforts.

The development of ties between these territories and their immediate environment is fundamental. It saw great success during the most recent Pacific Islands Forum in September 2016, which welcomed in New Caledonia and French Polynesia as full members. That was a long-standing aspiration that could not have come about without Australia's support.

Through their history and the eminent role the original populations conserve or have recovered in the management of their business, these two archipelagos have an exceptional position between Europe and Melanesia, between Europe and Polynesia. They both have the desire to play a greater role in coming years in the relationship between the European Union and the Pacific. They also hope to further develop their regional economic relationships, including with Australia of course. France will continue to support them to realise that ambition.

It is also in our own interests to strengthen our ties in the Indian Ocean, where France has two Departments, Mayotte and La Réunion, which are home to more than a million people. France has been a member of the Indian Ocean Commission since 1986, and is also a Dialogue Partner of the Indian Ocean Rim Association, which it hopes to join.

Dear friends,

These are not times for naivety or for burying our heads in the sand. But we would make a grave, collective mistake if we were to give in to the rise of extreme politics by forgetting what those who saw — and sought to stop the repetition of — the atrocities of the 20th century have taught us. This is a time for alliance, to defend an open and dynamic world view. This alliance has to be clear-sighted and determined. It needs to be based on the conviction that our security cannot be guaranteed by isolationism, but only by an effort to provide a framework for the international community that will strengthen collective security, ensuring that global trade is of benefit to everyone and combatting climate change and environmental degradation. That is what France and Australia want to do. That is how we will leave a world of hope, a world of peace, security, freedom and progress, to future generations. Thank you.