Lundi 22 Avril 2019  

N°124 - Quatrième trimestre 2018

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Diplomatie & Défense
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  S.E. / H.E. Sir John Eaton HOLMES

The Entente Cordiale: Symbol of a Strong and Lasting Partnership

Despite their divergences, Great Britain and France have managed to maintain a strong and friendly relationship, as attested by their joint action in Africa and dynamic economic ties. As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Entente Cordiale, His Excellency Sir John Holmes, Her Majesty’s Ambassador to France, discusses the importance of Franco-British co-operation in light of the new challenges on the world  stage.

The Diplomatic Letter: Mr. Ambassador: While a shared past and strong economic and human ties have forged a deep bond between our countries, Great Britain and France have not always seen eye to eye on foreign policy issues, as witnessed once again in Iraq. How would you describe current  bilateral relations in the wake of the 26th Franco-British Summit held in London on 24 November 2003? How does Her Majesty’s government approach its relationship with France?

H.E. Sir John Holmes: It is true that the UK and France do not always agree on all foreign policy issues. We had some serious divergences over Iraq. But the ability to air and manage differences of opinion is an essential part of a strong relationship. We were able to prevent problems over Iraq poisoning the rest of the relationship. And the bottom line is that, as President Chirac and Prime Minister Blair agreed at the Le Touquet summit in February 2003, "what unites us is more important than what divides us".
Twenty British and French ministers attended the London summit on 24 September 2003, the largest number ever. The summit's achievements include the reinforcement of co-operation on Africa and defence; implementation of the agreements signed at the Le Touquet summit on illegal immigration and education; and the launch of new initiatives on the fight against cancer and protection of the environment.
On defence, the United Kingdom and France have together been in the forefront of the development of the European Security and Defence Policy (ESPD) since the St Malo Summit of 1998.  The separate declaration at the London summit on strengthening ESDP welcomed the considerable progress that has been made, including the success of two military ESDP operations and one civilian ESDP operation, and our desire to carry this progress further. So I am optimistic about the future of our relationship, and the continuing expansion of our co-operation, even if problems between old rivals and neighbours like us are always likely to enliven an Ambassador’s life.

T.D.L.: As Britain and France get ready to celebrate the centenary of the Entente Cordiale,  is the spirit of the treaty still alive and well? Could you tell our readers how  London and the rest of the UK are preparing for this important milestone, and outline some of the key events that will be taking place in both Great Britain and France?

H.E.S.J.H.: The official celebrations to mark the centenary of the Entente Cordiale will begin with a State visit by Her Majesty the Queen to France from 5 to 7 April 2004 and will culminate in a return visit to the UK by President Chirac in the Autumn.  There will be all kinds of diplomatic and military exchanges. But we want the celebrations to go well beyond these official visits. With the help of commercial partners, there will be a wide-ranging programme of events open to the public such as concerts, sporting events and art exhibitions. We intend these events to have a lasting benefit by raising money for the fight against cancer – which is a key issue for both countries – with funds to be channelled through charitable organisations. We also invite people throughout both countries to organise their own events with friends and partners across the Channel. There is a website – – for those who wish to find out more about the Entente Cordiale celebrations. We want to accentuate the positive – of which there is plenty – and counteract the myths and stereotypes which have long bedevilled comment on Franco-British links.

T.D.L.: As France’s second client (behind Germany) and fourth supplier, Great Britain remains a key trading partner. Which sectors offer the best opportunities for boosting bilateral trade? EDF has moved into the UK energy market, while the France Telecom-Orange partnership continues to gain ground. Are other cross-Channel investments helping to forge even stronger Franco-British trade ties?

H.E.S.J.H.: France and the UK are indeed strong trading partners. Visible trade between our two countries was about 30 billion euros in the first six months of 2003 and was roughly in balance. While France’s main exports to the UK in that period in value terms were motorcars, it is not widely known that France also  imported nearly 600 million euros worth of cars from the UK, including the Peugeot 206 which is manufactured there. Sectors such as biotechnology offer opportunities both for British exporters and also for joint Anglo/French ventures. And traditional sectors where we both have long experience of selling to each other, such a food & drink, will continue to offer opportunities. Ethnic foods and ready meals from the UK are in demand in French supermarkets, while we still very much enjoy our French wines. The opening up of the energy market in both our countries will continue to create opportunities for co-operation, be that merger, acquisition or investment all of which have the potential for economic and commercial benefit. And there are continuing opportunities on both sides of the Channel in telecommunications.

T.D.L.: With unemployment down to 5.1%, the experts are calling the employment situation in your country relatively good. There have been sharp rises in public spending on civil administration and in the health and education sectors. Couldn’t this send the budget soaring out of control? The UK continues to lose 10,000 manufacturing jobs every month. What is the government doing to combat the decline of the manufacturing sector? Could you summarize the government’s “welfare to work” policies, and describe the headway achieved thus far?

H.E.S.J.H.: UK unemployment is at its lowest level since 1975 and since 1997 employment has grown by over 1 and a half million. The UK now has the highest employment rate at 74.6%, and the lowest unemployment rate, at 5%, of the G7 group of major industrialised countries.  We have achieved this by putting in place a macroeconomic framework for stability and growth, combined with policies to tackle the barriers that can prevent some individuals from finding work
It is true that the largest increase in jobs over the past year has been in public administration. This reflects an increased investment in education and health as part of the Government’s commitment to improve public service delivery.  But all increases in public spending comply with the Government’s prudent fiscal rules.  The average current budget is comfortably in surplus since 1999-2000, and public sector net debt is low and stable throughout the next five years, stabilising at just 34% of GDP.
As in other European countries, UK jobs in manufacturing are declining – there has for example been a fall of 3.3% in the last year – but other sectors are expanding e.g. in finance and business services. We are confident that a buoyant economy and a flexible labour market will ensure that employers are able to remain competitive and create and retain jobs across all sectors.  
The Government’s aim is to deliver full employment so that everyone who can work has the opportunity to do so wherever they live. Getting people into, or back into, work is the highest priority.
The Government’s welfare to work policies are based on the fundamental idea that receipt of benefit must be strongly linked to the search for work. The body which delivers unemployment benefit and the public employment service were merged into one some years ago to underline this link between rights and responsibilities.  The Government is currently putting in place a new network of local  “Jobcentreplus” offices which will deliver a better service to jobseekers and bring delivery of even more social benefits under the same roof.  
The “New Deal” active labour market programmes meanwhile give targeted groups of jobseekers individually tailored advice and guidance on the steps they need to take to find work. We also have a range of policies in place to make sure that people are financially better off in work than when claiming unemployment or other benefits. These include tax credits for families and low earners and a national minimum wage. Flexibility in our labour market is achieved through low regulatory burdens on business and diversity of working arrangements.

T.D.L.:  Differences between the main players have once again derailed the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, signed 10 April 1998. Where does the Northern Ireland peace process stand at this time?

H.E.S.J.H.: The Agreement remains the only viable political framework that is capable of securing the support of both communities in Northern Ireland.  Life has improved immeasurably since the Agreement was reached and implemented. A majority of the people who voted in the recent elections voted for pro-Agreement parties, even though the Democrat Unionist Party of Dr Paisley, which did well, has strong reservations about some aspects of the Agreement.  The Government’s aim is to go on implementing the Agreement as far as possible, working with the Irish Government, and to ensure that there is no return to violence and conflict. I am confident that this will be the case, though we may face a period of political stalemate in the immediate future.

T.D.L.: The opening of the Inter-Governmental Conference (IGC) on 4 October 2003 gave the British government an opportunity to outline its position on the future of European institutions.  Where does the UK stand on the main issues being addressed by the IGC, such as the constitutional treaty (length of the commission’s term, and number of commissioners)? Will London fight to keep both of its commissioners? When does it hope to see the IGC finish its work? Where does Britain stand on voting rights, and on the role of the future European Foreign Affairs Minister?

H.E.S.J.H.: The British Government published a White Paper on this subject on 9 September, before the formal opening of the IGC. We made clear throughout that in general we supported the institutional framework proposed by the Convention. For example, we very much welcome the idea of the elected chair of the European Council, a better streamlined Presidency system and the double-hatted European Foreign Minister.
Unfortunately the IGC has not so far been able to reach agreement on all the outstanding points. We much regret that proved to be so difficult in the end. We will clearly need to come back to this soon. We need to resolve all these problems to make a Europe of 25 work as it should.

T.D.L.: Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government advocates building even stronger ties with the EU. Should we expect to see the UK begin working more closely with Europe? Where does your government stand on structured co-operation, and on co-operation between “pioneer groups” in the defence arena and other areas of joint activity? In light of recent statements in the press by UK Minister for Europe Denis MacShane, who called the EU more of a gathering of nations than burgeoning “United States of Europe”, how exactly does the British government view the European construction process?

H.E.S.J.H.: One of the ways in which the British Government has shown its commitment to the EU is through its tireless engagement in the Convention and then IGC process. The Prime Minister understood early on how important this new process would be, and invested a lot of time in making sure that the Government was fully involved. As he said in a speech in Warsaw 3 years ago, his vision is of a European “superpower, not a superstate”, and it is for this that we have been working in the IGC.
The EU also is a means of achieving objectives which would be impossible on our own, for example in the areas of fighting international drugs and crime, improving our environment, punching our weight on the international scene. Pooling our efforts also helps to make the most of our contribution to improving conditions for the developing world, for example by promoting developing countries in the WTO framework or by maximising the impact of aid programmes.
Increasingly, our own prosperity depends on the extent to which our economies are interlinked, and how we can withstand together the challenges of globalisation and international competition. To bolster these efforts, we have been pushing hard for the EU to meet its objective of becoming the most dynamic knowledge-based economy by 2010, the so-called “Lisbon strategy”. Progress in the areas of services and industrial liberalisation, innovation, enterprise, education and employment is necessary to give us all in Europe a chance of meeting the objective, especially in the current difficult economic climate. We must also take better account of the demands of sustainable development, investing in environmentally-friendly technologies for the future.
The question of enhanced or structured co-operation comes up during every IGC. In fact, it has been possible in some areas since 1998, but has not been used. The current draft Constitution makes it possible in many more. We have no problem with this as long as the criteria for participation are open. British reservations in the past have centred on concerns that such cooperation might be exclusive, that is, that their membership would be fixed from the outset and that others wishing to join at a later date would be prevented. Defence was a particular worry, but following intensive discussion with our French and German colleagues, and others, we are confident that the modified terms of defence co-operation are a reasonable basis for moving forward.

T.D.L.: With British public opinion still opposed to the euro, the UK’s refusal to adopt the European currency was bolstered in June 2003 when it failed to meet the five tests for joining the EMU.  How do you explain this rejection of one of the European Union’s cardinal institutions? Will the government put the matter back on the table in 2004, or wait until after the 2006 elections? Is the Eurosceptic movement gaining ground in your country? Do British authorities still favor holding a referendum to ratify the new Treaty?

H.E.S.J.H.: In June 2003 the British Government published its assessment of the five economic tests for joining the European Monetary Union. The assessment sets out the real benefits to Britain of membership of the single currency.  It shows that with the achievement of sustainable convergence and flexibility all five tests can be met, and lays down the concrete and practical steps which the Government will follow towards that goal.  
To achieve sustainable and durable convergence to meet the five tests, the Government has undertaken a major programme of reform  – including a new inflation target, reforms to housing, planning and to promote flexibility in the economy, and consultation on a new fiscal regime.  The Government believes that there is a realistic prospect of making significant progress over the next year and Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, has committed to report on progress in his Spring 2004 Budget.  At that time a decision will be taken on the extent of progress and that will determine whether a further Treasury assessment of the five tests is appropriate.  If positive that would allow the Government to put the issue before the British people in a referendum.
As far as public opinion is concerned, there are hesitations about some aspects of European integration. But the Government has no doubt that an enlarged Europe pursuing – like Britain – economic reform, and – like Britain – modernising monetary and fiscal policies, will be conducive to British stability, growth and employment.  Around this a modern, long-term, and deep-seated pro-European consensus in Britain about Britain’s role in Europe and Europe’s role in the world can and will be built.
As far as the results of the IGC are concerned, the government have made clear they do not envisage a referendum, since these are reserved for issues of major constitutional significance only.

T.D.L.: After rejecting plans to create a European planning staff that would operate independently from NATO, Prime Minister Blair acknowledged that EU military operations carried out without NATO involvement or support must be planned and conducted in a more effective manner. Where does Britain stand on other European defence initiatives such as the European Defence Capabilities Agency? Could you give us a brief overview of Franco-British defence co-operation?

H.E.S.J.H.: It is certainly true that Britain and France have had their disagreements over the specific question of planning. However, this needs to be seen in context.
Firstly, we have now reached an agreement with France and Germany about the extent to which the EU needs to strengthen its collective capacity to plan and conduct ESDP operations, and this has been endorsed by the rest of the EU membership. This makes clear that we will not be building a standing HQ and that this collective capacity is only one of several options for the command of an EU operation.
NATO of course remains the vehicle that we Europeans would use if operating alongside our US allies. If we are operating alone, then NATO assets, including the highly capable headquarters at SHAPE in Belgium, remain available for the EU. These assets are in a large part European and so it makes sense for us to make full use of them. Then for autonomous operations, we have a number of national HQs available to the EU. Britain’s PJHQ has been extensively modified in recent years to make it suitable for use as an HQ for ESDP operations; France’s national HQ has already been used, for the operation in Bunia, and countries such as Germany, Spain, Italy and Greece are all developing facilities. The EU facility that is now being discussed gives us another option, should we choose to use it.
Secondly, and more importantly, ESDP has never been just about HQs. Far more important is the development of capabilities and operations.
Whether they are used in NATO, ESDP or national operations, we are all faced with the challenge of adapting our armed forces to make them more relevant to a changed strategic environment. They need to be adaptable, flexible, interoperable and capable of operating far from home for long periods of time. This requires a major programme of investment and reform across Europe. Here Britain and France are leading the way, not just with the first increases in defence spending since the end of the Cold War, but in the way in which they are restructuring their forces.  The European Defence Capabilities Agency, on which we have co-operated closely, will be a key tool for driving forward this capabilities agenda. Britain and France also have very similar ambitions for the next Headline Goal.
As far as operations are concerned, 2003 was actually a good year for ESDP, with the first two military operations launched and successfully completed. France and Britain worked closely together on these missions, both of which were led by French forces, and we will be doing so again as the EU prepares to take over from NATO forces in Bosnia, probably in 2005. The UK is ready to lead this mission, which will represent a major challenge for ESDP.  We are also working with France to take forward plans to have a core of EU forces ready to support the UN in Africa at very short notice.
Working with our partners at 25, Britain and France will continue to try to develop ESDP. While we may not always agree about exactly how ESDP and NATO should interrelate, our two countries remain vital to the success of both organisations – and we both need them to be effective. That was the basic understanding at St Malo and it remains the underpinning of our approach.

T.D.L.: Nearly a year after it erupted, the Iraq crisis continues to spark heated debate between Paris and London. How does Britain feel about the situation inside Iraq right now, with the number of casualties continuing to climb despite Saddam Hussein’s arrest? Given the present circumstances, do you think Washington’s timetable for drafting a provisional constitution and forming a transitional assembly is viable? Are you pleased with the results of the Madrid Donors’ Conference? What role do you hope to see France play in this matter, after the adoption of UN resolution 1511 on 16 October 2003?

H.E.S.J.H.: Let me take your last question first.  Whatever the differences that nations, and individuals, have had – quite legitimately – over Iraq, it is high time we left aside the rights and wrongs of the conflict and agreed on the need to support stability and renewal in a country that has suffered so greatly over 25 years under Saddam’s regime.  I hope France will be able to play a greater part than hitherto.  We have a shared interest in seeing Iraq succeed.
On the political front, we have started to come together again.  We were delighted that France decided to vote along with all other members of the UN Security Council in favour of UN Resolution 1511.  Its unanimous adoption sent a clear signal that we are all of us committed to Iraq’s rapid political and economic reconstruction.  The 15 November agreement between the  Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) and the Coalition was another major step forward.  It made clear that there will be a transitional Iraqi government by June 2004, at which point the formal role of the Coalition will come to an end.  This change was made in response to requests from the IGC.  The new plan will provide a broader degree of representation than in the current IGC.  It is consistent with our long-stated aim of handing over power to the Iraqis as quickly as possible.  But this does not signify any reduction in our commitment.  We remain committed to a stable, free Iraq.  It is likely that multi-national forces will stay on in some form to support the embryonic Iraqi security organisations, at the request of the new authorities.  We want to hand over responsibility in a responsible way, so that those who assume power can be assured that arrangements are in place for adequate security.
There remain huge challenges ahead on the security front. We should not forget that, numerous and repellent as the attacks have been on international personnel, most of those killed by opponents of the Coalition’s presence have been Iraqis.  We are dealing here with a relatively small rump of Saddam supporters aided and abetted by foreign terrorists, as well as with broader problems in the so-called Sunni triangle. Those fanatics perpetrating these attacks are desperate to stop reconstruction in its tracks. It is precisely for this reason that we must succeed. This must be a task for the whole of the international community.  
It was heartening at the Madrid Conference so see such a strong response from over 60 countries and all the major multilateral donors, pooling their resources to help the people of Iraq.   It raised USD 13 billion, on top of the USD 19 billion voted in aid by the Americans, and agreed that Iraq’s oil money should be channelled into a transparent account under the supervision of the IMF and the UN.
Already there is much more progress on the ground than one would think from a quick scan of the French or British press.  For the first time in 40 years there is a semblance of broad-based government in Iraq.  Food distribution is working.  Electricity supply is well above pre-conflict levels.  Power and water supplies are being re-built.  Nearly all schools and universities are open.  Attendance is above pre-conflict levels.  The same with the health sector.  Almost all of Iraq’s 240 hospitals are open.  They are receiving medicine and supplies depending on need, not on membership of the Ba’ath party.   The press is free.  170 newspapers are on sale in the streets.  The ban on satellite TV has been lifted.  Iraqis can listen to now Al-Jazeera and make up their own minds whether they have been liberated or occupied.  In practice, Iraqis are already doing much for themselves – but they need more assistance if they are to tackle the problems of a deliberately neglected infrastructure and weak public institutions.  We all share an interest in working for the Iraqis we all say we want to help, both in rebuilding their country and in defeating the terrorists.  It is now that they need our help the most, which is why I hope that many countries around the world, France included, will heed their call.
Furthermore, as the british Prime Minister said, Saddam’s arrest is more than a cause for rejoicing. It is also a moment to reach out and reconcile. That is why he reminded all groups in Iraq, including those who were forced to be members of Saddam’s party, that there will be a place for them to play a full part in the new democratic Iraq. In the timetable established, power will be handed over to Iraqis to run Iraq. And it is to this goal, that the Coalition of thirty countries and many brave Iraqis, is working.
We know that the challenges in Iraq remain very great and that Saddam’s capture does not solve all the problems, particularly on the security front.  But it is a new opportunity to make progress and for the international community to unite to help the process of Iraqi reconstruction.  The first few months of 2004 will be absolutely crucial in this respect.

T.D.L.:  The UK and the US continue to have excellent relations, as confirmed by the frequent high-level meetings between your two countries. That said, haven’t the Farm Bill, steel tariffs, the Tokyo Convention, and the US stance on the International Criminal Court put a damper on the UK-US relationship?

H.E.S.J.H.: The UK-US relationship is broad, deep, but also complex. There are a number of areas, such as intelligence co-operation and military inter-operability, where the relationship has been close for many years. The economic relationship is also very close, with the UK far some margin the largest EU investor in the US, and the US the largest non-EU investor in the UK.
But of course we do not always agree. In all three examples that you cite, we do disagree with them, as part of a wider EU position, which of course is stronger than any individual national position. Interestingly if you look at the last few Inter Governmental Conferences, the UK has been one of those countries pushing for more majority voting in these areas. Ironically we have done so because we felt that it was important to strengthen the EU’s hand, while France has been more cautious, fearing that her position within the EU might be weakened.
So we are not afraid of acknowledging our differences with the US, or strengthening the EU if this means we can better make our voice be heard. However, what we do say is that no matter how frustrating our relations with the US may be on particular issues, it is important not to lose sight of the big picture. Overall North America and Europe remain intimately connected through their shared security concerns, through a vast and growing level of trade, through centuries of human links, and through shared values.
So we intend to try to maintain the closeness of our links with the US, especially where it matters most on security issues, at the same time as pushing for the development of a stronger Europe, capable of offering the US a genuine strategic partnership.

T.D.L.: France and Britain have expressed time and again a shared desire to expand bilateral co-operation in Africa. Bolstered by the forum in Paris on 10 November 2003, could NEPAD spark new forms of joint co-operation in Africa? What can our two countries do to fight the spread of HIV/AIDS?

H.E.S.J.H.: Past differences between the UK and France towards the region were an inevitable result of  blockages and set-backs in the DRC peace process. But enormous progress has been made in the DRC over the last year. South Africa played a pivotal role in this, but cooperation between Britain and France was also key, in particular the joint visit by Foreign Ministers Straw and Védrine in January 2002, our joint participation in Operation Artemis in Ituri this summer, our continuing co-operation as members of the “Comité International d’Accompagnement à la Transition (CIAT)”, and our joint efforts to address Rwanda’s security concerns and to encourage the countries of the region to keep working towards peace. DRC now has a government of transition which is truly inclusive. Preparations are underway for a regional conference bringing together DRC and her neighbours to look at how to establish long-term stability in the region. There are major challenges ahead, but the outlook is more positive than for some time.
More broadly, support for African peace-building capacity is a common element to both our Africa policies and was a  key part of the Africa declaration at the bilateral summit in London on 24 November. In it Britain and France confirmed their support for the establishment of the Africa Union’s Peace and Security Council and a conflict prevention and management mechanism. We also intend to reinforce our efforts to help the Africa Union and African regional organisations implement the joint African/G8 plan for the reinforcement of African peacekeeping capacity, adopted at Evian. And we support the use of the European Development Fund to establish a peace facility for Africa.
On the ground we already provide military experts to ECOWAS HQ in Abuja, and will be cooperating closely on the peacekeeping training exercise RECAMP IV organized by France in Ghana and Benin in 2004. We also stand ready to support future EU peace support operations in Africa.
Support to NEPAD is meanwhile a clear priority for both Britain and France and an area where we have worked closely together since NEPAD was launched. The Africa Partners Forum, which met for the first time in Paris on 10 November, was established to broaden political support for NEPAD beyond the G8 to a wider group of international donors and also to substantially increase African participation. It will allow wider high level political dialogue with African countries on the implementation of NEPAD. The four priority areas identified at the APF meeting (conflict, health, education and economic growth) are issues which the UK wishes to take forward ahead of its Presidency of the G8 in 2005. France will be a key partner for this, as it is in all for a where African development is on the agenda. We also aim to increase the coherence of our development policies in Africa, starting by concerting in a more systematic way our two development programmes.
The fight against HIV/AIDS is another top priority for both France and the UK. Both countries are major contributors to the Global Fund and have substantial bilateral country-based programmes. The Call for Action published by the UK Government on 1 December includes stronger political direction, improved funding and improved donor coordination and better programmes as means to reach the key international targets (3 million people – 2 million of them in Africa – receiving treatment by the end of 2005; 25% fewer young people infected by 2005; slowing the progress of HIV/AIDS by 2015). These are issues on which France and the UK will work jointly.
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