Minister lists foreign policy priorities for year ahead

Ambassadors’ Week – Closing speech by M. Jean-Marc Ayrault, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development

Semaine des ambassadeurs
Semaine des ambassadeurs
Photo La Mure / MAEDI
Semaine des Ambassadeurs
Semaine des Ambassadeurs
Photo La Mure / MAEDI
Semaine des Ambassadeurs
Semaine des Ambassadeurs
Photo La Mure / MAEDI

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Paris, 2 September 2016

Members of Parliament,
Ladies and gentlemen,

As we wrap up the 2016 edition of Ambassadors’ Week, I want to review its main lessons. I hope you found the variety and depth of our discussions to be illuminating, and that they gave you the information you need to convey the message that France sees the state of the world with clarity and is actively seeking solutions to the major challenges we face. I would like to thank this week’s organizers, beginning with Secretary-General Christian Masset, Hervé Dejean de La Batie, his entire staff, and all the staff members who worked on this event.

Foreign policy

When President Hollande put me in charge of our diplomacy last February, I was very mindful of the difficult time we were going through. 2016 brought its share of tragedy and exposed our country to the devastating effects of terrorism. Of course, our thoughts – like yours – go out to all the victims, and to all their family members who are living with the emotional and sometimes physical consequences of this tragedy. The past year has also driven home the deep-seated turmoil in our world, at a time of mushrooming crises. I will not go into each one, as President Hollande has already elaborated on how France is coming to grips with them.

What I will note is their diversity and the variety of their origins. Some are deeply rooted in the societies and political systems of various nations; others stem from social tensions against a backdrop of economic problems and the abrupt adjustments they generate, raising the spectre of downward mobility. Globalization is overturning traditional structures and exacerbating ethnic concerns. Populist movements in Europe, the United States and elsewhere are feeding off of this and posing a challenge to our representative democracies. Traditional geopolitical conflicts are reawakening; they sometimes offer the nostalgic illusion of regained power. Yet power relationships have deeply changed, with state power weakening and the emergence of actors that seek to undermine regional orders – think Boko Haram – or constitute a more global threat, like Daesh [so-called ISIL]. And technology offers them a more effective way of spreading their message.

Shifting power relationships are generating confusion and blurring the usual points of reference. The rise of emerging countries is less linear than might have been imagined a few years ago; it is not filling the vacuum left by the US withdrawal from the scene, particularly in the Middle East.

Our traditional mainstays of support have been undermined, making the world a more unstable, less predictable place. The appeal of European integration has been tarnished by doubts coming from the Europeans themselves, and the BRICS – some of which are in crisis – are not really managing to unite. In the United States, a presidential candidate is proposing radical shifts that are troubling to the entire world.

Human rights

The norms and institutions on which the international order is based are being weakened by unprecedented protests. Collective security mechanisms no longer play a sufficiently protective role – this is tragically the case in Syria. The universality of human rights is being called into question, populist trends foster authoritarian and even autocratic abuses, as well as a form of legitimacy by plebiscite, leaving little room for opposition. They promote an absolute concept of sovereignty.

Finally, our world is a world of inequalities. In Europe and in the United States, the pursuit of an economic model that increasingly rewards capital over labour is expanding the gap between rich and poor. Combined with a digital revolution that creates few jobs, this development is hurting the middle class and the poor, who are left vulnerable to the temptation of extremes.

In emerging countries, the slowdown in growth is hindering the process of political modernization and social transformation. While continuing to deal with the dual challenges of inequality and poverty, Africa has an economic model that is still too dependent on the export of its raw materials. All these aspects add up to an uncertain world, but in the face of uncertainty, there is no room for discouragement or resignation. Never giving up, even in the most difficult circumstances, is France’s true strength. As you know, it is precisely for this reason that our country is relied upon and respected. It is because France’s relationship with the world is characterized by solidarity that when France itself is struck in the heart by the despicable barbarity of terrorism there is a global wave of sympathy for our country.

Your mission, ladies and gentlemen, is to be true to our country’s commitment to peace; to be true to its commitment to rebuild a more just and compassionate world, giving all nations the opportunity to embark on the path of sustainable development; to be true to our country’s commitment to the universal values of freedom that, despite a trend towards relativism, remain as meaningful as ever. This was the spirit in which, a few days ago, you received guidelines on strengthening our efforts to promote human rights, something that is in no way incompatible with defending our interests, including our economic interests.

For I’m convinced that our identity is strongly tied to the Enlightenment values that are also the values of our Republic. Throughout the world, many have adopted the three words of our national motto – liberty, equality, fraternity – which are a beacon of progress. Remembering this, in our internal discussions, is a sign of responsibility. Some of you have witnessed the devastating impact that our political excesses have had abroad. Restoring a degree of calm is a matter of urgency. I am calling for a return to reason and good behaviour. That is how we will get back to basics and engage in a discussion of ideas. Instituting bans can create stigmas that end in rejection. That is not France. When France rejects others, it does not solve any problems, particularly the problem of integration. It is no longer in sync with its own values.

European Union


In an uncertain world, our values are of great help, as I just noted. They are our strength, and they inspire us to move forward with a great initiative: Europe.

Over the past few years, Europe has been confronted by a “polycrisis,” to use Jean-Claude Juncker’s term, that has put it to the test: a financial crisis, an economic crisis, a security crisis, a refugee crisis and a humanitarian crisis. It has always found a response, although what with last-minute summits, the process has sometimes obscured the result.

Likewise, its decision-making abilities have considerably improved. Who would have guessed that an agreement would be reached in less than six months on the creation of a European Border Guard Corps, a subject that was first broached, particularly by France, 10 years ago?

But there’s still a long way to go. Implementation must become a real political priority, because for all too long Europe has made decisions without a concrete impact, giving the impression of collective impotence. So it’s not surprising that over time, people’s confidence has been eroded.


The British referendum revealed the magnitude of this loss of confidence. The British people’s decision is a grave one. In view of our historic friendship with the United Kingdom, France would have preferred to continue building Europe with the UK, but the British people have spoken and their decision must be respected. Nothing would be worse for Europe and for our democracies than to let uncertainty drag on. That’s why the British authorities must accept the consequences of this vote by activating the process provided by the treaty to initiate the UK’s orderly exit from the European Union.

In this way, in a manner characterized by clarity and mutual respect, Europe will overcome a difficulty that is weighing first and foremost on the UK. Naturally, we must look at how to preserve, in a new configuration, the contribution of our two countries to Europe’s place and role in the world. This is a task that France is preparing for.

By the same token, as I told the German ambassadors in Berlin last Monday, I don’t think our analysis of the EU’s status must be overdetermined by the result of the British referendum – first, because for many, this vote hinges on factors specific to the UK and its domestic politics. And second, because, despite the prognostics, this decision wasn’t accompanied by a rejection of the idea of Europe, but on the contrary, made many Europeans aware of their fundamental attachment to Europe. It would therefore be a mistake for the EU to overestimate the impact of the UK’s departure, and it would be in its interest to stand firm on its principles, and to revive the desire for a common ambition. For Europe, the main challenge in fact is making sure that the 27-member EU is stronger than when it had 28 members minus one.

Even before the British referendum, my work with my German colleague Frank-Walter Steinmeier was motivated by the need to reinvigorate the European project, and that issue is indeed at the heart of the discussions that got under way and will give rise, on 16 September, to the adoption of clear guidelines at the Bratislava summit. That’s another thing we’re working on. President Hollande spelled out our objectives: to protect the EU’s external borders; monitor European territory in the face of threats; give a new impetus to a European defence system; doubling the Juncker plan, making it a model of growth based on investment in the industries of the future; strengthen social justice and tax fairness; implement programmes fostering mobility and youth employment.

By focusing on these priorities, Europe will meet the aspirations of its citizens and will regain their trust. In that way, Europeans will once again fully realize that our continent’s integration is a unique historic experience that will continue to safeguard peace and prosperity.

I deeply believe that changes in the world, the threat of terrorism, the fear of decline, call for building “a Europe that protects.” I know that’s not a new slogan, but these aren’t just pious words, nor should they translate into a desire to turn inwards. We must now show that they go hand in hand with our continent’s ongoing unification, and – most important – we must take action.

Europe must first protect its citizens by giving itself the means to guarantee its security, to retake control of its external borders, and respond to turmoil in the world. That doesn’t mean closing the borders and questioning Schengen. It’s a historic achievement in the building of Europe. We are well aware that, on the contrary, our common counter-terrorism effort requires strengthening cooperation with our partners.

The EU has just adopted a comprehensive security strategy. It is up to us to implement it, through our capacity to conduct operations and institute mechanisms for that purpose, through the investments of member states in their defence systems, and by expanding our industries. But most important, we need a Europe whose political will is strong enough to help resolve the conflicts that threaten it. That is how we will build a true security and defence union.

Transatlantic partnership

The “Europe that protects” is also a Europe capable of promoting its social model, and thus its interests. To expand internationally, our companies need rules deriving from a multilateral framework, or trade agreements negotiated with third countries. They must be solidified, but Europe cannot pay the price alone. A transatlantic partnership can therefore be conceived only if it is based on balanced concessions and full reciprocity, otherwise there will be no treaty with the United States. The example of the treaty with Canada shows that when we give ourselves the means, it is possible.

Within the EU, the free movement of workers can and must be compatible with the fight against social dumping. As Prime Minister Valls reminded us yesterday, this issue lies at the heart of current negotiations on the posting of workers. We must move forward on all these issues. With Germany first, because our two counties transcended their pasts to bring about the integration of our continent, and they retain their strong momentum. And with our other partners as well, because Europe needs unity, and we have everything to gain by strengthening our dialogue with all Europeans. Harlem Désir and I are counting on you to contribute to this effort, whether you are posted in an EU member state or in a third country.

Fight against terrorism/Daesh

In an uncertain world, our commitment to peace is our compass. As a permanent member of the Security Council, France contributes to this aim through its ability to speak to everyone. That is of course the case in North Africa and the Middle East, whose proximity makes turmoil there as existential for France as for Europe.

Let’s face it: security in that region is our security, and this security is being threatened by Daesh, which prospers in areas of instability and frustration. We will win the war that Daesh has declared on us, and not only because we are part of a coalition with close, robust allies. But if France is a particular target and has paid such a heavy toll, it is precisely because it is France, because it embodies a certain idea of tolerance, dialogue, and coexistence. We will never renounce these values of which we are so proud, and which are the opposite of that organization’s deadly obscurantism.

With Daesh losing ground, the challenge is also to prepare ourselves to win the peace. We will succeed not by military means alone, but by seeking political solutions and negotiation. This is particularly the case in Syria, Libya, and between Israel and Palestine.


In a devastated Syria where Daesh and Bashar al-Assad’s regime rival one another in horror, weapons will not resolve this conflict. No one will win this war, and whatever happens, after five years of atrocities and more than 300,000 dead, the Syrian regime will not be able to survive this tragedy. Bashar al-Assad will no longer be able to govern the country in peace because, despite the glimmer of hope elicited by the announcement of a cessation of hostilities, the regime and its backers are locked in a spiral of violence that prevents the ceasefire and hinders the delivery of humanitarian aid.

Russia and Iran are fuelling this effort, which will lead to a dead end. This already complex civil war is about to take on a new Kurdish dimension. The sacrifice of the people of Aleppo is a tragedy that shocks consciences and must at all costs be stopped.

Let’s be consistent, persistent and determined.

The UN report on the use of chemical weapons requires us all to face up to our responsibilities and to return to a political solution. Let us give peace a chance; that is what France wants to achieve at the Security Council. We want these crimes to be strongly condemned within the framework of a resolution under Chapter VII which would impose sanctions on the perpetrators.


In Libya, the terrorist threat and the proliferation of trafficking also pose pressing challenges. Despite the scepticism, the Government of National Accord has been established under the leadership of Fayez Sarraj, whose courage I applaud once again.

In order to eradicate Daesh, it must now take control of all institutions and the entire territory. But it must reach a compromise with its Parliament in Tobruk and General Haftar. France is ready to support its efforts, notably in conjunction with the regional powers, starting with Egypt.


In the Middle East, some believe that the situation between Israel and Palestine, which continues to deteriorate every day, is not the current priority; this is a mistake because there can be no peace in the region without resolving the conflict that is fuelling the violence and propaganda of radicals on all sides. We have a duty not to give up. We therefore had to take the initiative. And the fact that 30 or so of our partners came to Paris on 3 June proved we were right. Of course, there is still a very long way to go. The most difficult thing – bringing the Palestinians and the Israelis together around the same table – remains to be done. But France has already managed to put the peace process back on the agenda. Thanks to its efforts, it has managed to mobilize the international community once again, and the initiatives of some partners – at times modest but real – like the United States, Egypt and Russia, bear witness to this. France will not give up and will do everything possible to achieve the goal of holding a conference with the parties by the end of the year.

I want to say once again to our Israeli and Palestinian friends: if you really believe that the two-state solution is the only possible solution, dare to implement it, take the risk of peace. It’s a difficult choice that involves painful compromises. There are no other alternatives, France and the international community will stand alongside you.


There are many other conflicts to discuss, notably the tensions in eastern Ukraine which Germany and France are trying to resolve within the framework of the Normandy format. In this respect, the ceasefire agreement reached at the end of the summer must be upheld and could serve as a basis for making progress towards implementing the political component of the Minsk agreement.

In the Donbass region and elsewhere, our ability to establish dialogue with Russia is at stake; Russia is a partner of France and a major country that has legitimate aspirations to play a role on the international stage. We want to ensure that our efforts are in line with each other and when that’s not the case we should not shy away from accepting our differences in order to work more effectively towards reconciling our points of view. There is no alternative, especially if we want to find a solution in Syria. But we have to be aware that forming an alliance with Moscow is not enough to bring about a miracle. We also want sanctions to be lifted; this can only be achieved if Russia implements the commitments it made within the framework of the Minsk agreements.

And I would like us to pursue the major partnerships that we’ve developed over the last few years on the American and Asian continents. With the long-term interests of France in mind, the economic and political emergence of these regions may appear to be constrained by a slowdown in growth and the slow pace of change in the areas of democracy and human rights, but I remain convinced that the economic opportunities and the political role that Asia and Latin America are destined to play at the global level justify our efforts to continue developing solid partnerships with these two regions over the long term.


Lastly, a few words about Africa, which is a region that is witnessing growth, innovation and an expanding middle class, but which is also frequently undermined by demographics that put a strain on the economy and society; on top of this the continent has some chronically weak states. Terrorist groups are taking advantage of this in the Lake Chad Basin, in the Sahel and in the Horn of Africa. In Mali and the Central African Republic, France has assumed its responsibilities. It has done so in many other countries, as was recently the case in Burundi, by playing its full role at the Security Council.

Our efforts to demonstrate that there can be no development without security are beginning to bear fruit, especially at the EU level. However, beyond that, I believe that the fates of Africa and Europe are inextricably linked. Europe will not succeed if Africa fails. We must therefore support our African partners in achieving their aspirations: aspirations for democracy and respect for human rights; aspirations to catch up economically and to create opportunities that will make it unnecessary for their young people to follow the migrant routes in order to leave their countries; aspirations to benefit from globalization and, in general, kick-start economic and social development.

This shows the importance of relaunching our development policy, which is underpinned by the historic success of the summit on sustainable development goals and COP21. Our diplomatic corps did its utmost in this respect; it must remain fully mobilized. Last year, President Hollande called for funding for the French Development Agency’s operations to be increased by a further €4 billion per year between now and 2020, half of which will be allocated for the climate. At the same time, in order to give substance to our priority to support the most vulnerable, he decided to allocate €400 million in additional funding per year over the same period in the form of grants.

André Vallini and I are happy to confirm that we have started to implement these commitments. Thanks to the reform of the AFD, implemented under the energetic leadership of its CEO, and thanks also to €85 million in additional funding for official development assistance, which I achieved through the 2017 finance bill. I believe these changes fully justify, as announced by President Hollande, a new meeting of the Interministerial Committee on International Cooperation and Development (CICID).

Foreign Ministry reforms


World developments and the resulting challenges to our diplomatic policy have a direct impact on the women and men who support it. These challenges are changing the work of diplomats, require the development of new skills, and demand ongoing commitment. I know, and as you see every day in your interactions, at headquarters as well as within the diplomatic network, that this commitment is shared by all members of our ministry and is based on a sense of dedication, professionalism and passion.

Over the last few years, the Ministry has undergone major reforms in order to adapt to new challenges, modernize the civil service and contribute to the efforts to control public spending. More than half of the measures identified within the framework of the MAEDI 21 project have, for example, been implemented under the leadership of the Secretary-General. Our agencies have been reformed in order to ensure greater coherence and increased effectiveness. The critical importance of transparency will be reaffirmed at the Open Government Partnership Global Summit, which France is due to host at the end of the year.

The Ministry will be strengthened by all of these reforms. The expansion of its scope will provide us for the first time with the whole range of instruments of external action. And the proposals that arose from the White Paper on partnerships with regional authorities are aimed at enhancing the coherence of France’s international action beyond the role of the state. The fact that our interlocutors – and companies in particular – recognize the impact of these changes is also a source of satisfaction.

Economic diplomacy

Economic diplomacy remains the priority, as you know, since you devote 40% of your time to it on average.

The second session of meetings with entrepreneurs provided another opportunity to build direct relations with SMEs, very small businesses and mid-caps; I hope these will lead to business opportunities, contracts and jobs.

Despite a relatively unfavourable economic environment, marked by a slowdown in the global economy, the stabilization of the euro and rising oil prices, our foreign trade is recovering. It was worth €75 billion in 2011, and our deficit fell to €45 billion in 2015. This is the result of the reforms initiated in 2012 which helped improve the competitiveness of French industry. It is also the result of our efforts to restructure our industrial sectors and take positive action to promote exports.

Matthias Fekl is leading efforts to ensure that Business France facilitates the internationalization of SMEs and mid-caps by simplifying our support mechanisms and making them more understandable, in close collaboration with all stakeholders, chambers of commerce and industry and foreign trade advisors. More companies should therefore receive support for their projects allowing more of them to enter the export market. 117,000 firms exported goods and services in 2011, and 125,000 firms did so in 2015. I am counting on you to enthusiastically pursue all of the efforts that have been initiated.


As we all know, the sector that has suffered the most as a result of the attacks is tourism in particular. After 2015, when the number of tourists exceeded 85 million, 2016 will undoubtedly be marked by a drop in the number of international visitors. This is also due to a combination of factors, including the downturn in the economy of several countries of origin. But does that mean we should stop trying to attract 100 million tourists per year by 2020? I believe otherwise. First of all because our country is demonstrating exemplary resilience, with broadly stable results at the regional level, despite the attack in Nice. And because the level of French and European visitors remained stable in many places, some overseas markets grew and some activities were extremely successful. The best response is therefore to mobilize our efforts.

And in order to address the worrying situation in Paris, I established an emergency economic committee on tourism which I will reconvene in the next few days. Together with the Mayor of Paris and the region, I launched a campaign to promote the destination of Paris, which has just been extended to other regions and allocated additional funding. Our ambitious efforts to streamline this sector will continue beyond the emergency phase and at the second annual tourism conference which I will chair in the autumn alongside tourism professionals.

Your role is obviously essential. Thanks to your networks you have the ability – in collaboration with Atout France – to prevent a distorted image of reality in our country from being spread abroad. I am counting on your dynamism and your enthusiasm. France’s commitment to addressing the great challenges of civilization is essential in a world facing fanaticism and violence. President Hollande mentioned the international conference in Abu Dhabi on the protection of endangered heritage, whose success you will help ensure.

External action/culture

Our soft power helps to promote dialogue among cultures on a daily basis. Our external cultural action has undergone considerable changes, especially over the last few years. In the face of competition, we have developed a comprehensive approach that is part of a new vision of the correlation between cultural, scientific and economic challenges. The remit of our departments and institutes has been expanded to include creative industry exports, gourmet cooking, sports diplomacy and the promotion France’s appeal to students in collaboration with CampusFrance. Like the conductor of an orchestra your role was to make sure all of our efforts abroad are in harmony.

I want to resolutely continue to promote the values of tolerance, humanism and openness within this remarkable cultural network which includes the schools managed by the Agency for French Education Abroad (AEFE). The success of a large number of initiatives within our network and in Paris aimed at promoting the discussion of ideas reflects the vitality of international intellectual dialogue. I therefore urge you to invite intellectuals, researchers, artists and engaged citizens, French citizens and French speakers all over the world to take part in the second Night of Ideas organized by the Institut français on 26 January. Culture is key to promoting France’s influence and raising its profile. You can count on my total commitment.

Cultural reaffirmation also contributes to the fight against radicalization. The Ministry has a responsibility to contribute to this effort, and this is the goal of the international strategy that we just presented and which must now be implemented. We can take pride in the fact that a female diplomat is playing a key role in this area.

Given the expansion of international collaboration, I would like to task an ambassador with coordinating our efforts to combat terrorism and to represent France in the meetings devoted to this issue.

In each of your countries, you must therefore provide feedback on all experiences that we might be able to draw on and, conversely, you must explain our best practices.

Foreign Ministry/resources/reforms

Ambassadors, before I conclude I would like to talk about our resources.

I am aware of the efforts that our ministry has made in order to help – as is reasonable – control public spending. Further savings will be required in 2017 but at a level consistent with the streamlining, modernization and sound management initiatives already introduced. My main goal with respect to the budget process was to not to exceed the job cuts that we had already approved within the framework of the three-year budget period, and I succeeded. This will notably help avoid – as the Secretary-General announced – another round of personnel changes in our embassies.

Furthermore, I secured an additional €62 million in funding for security. This will be used to ensure the security of our networks abroad, including our schools and lycées, the security of French communities and will contribute to the fight against terrorism. It will lead to the creation of 67 jobs.

For the first time in many years, the funds managed by the Security and Defence Cooperation Directorate will increase. The resources of the crisis and support centre – which, thanks to its recognized expertise, has been tasked with managing the Interministerial Victim Support Unit, which is activated in the event of an attack – will also be strengthened. Giving priority to security is in my view justified: the Department of Diplomatic Security will become a full-scale directorate. I will ask the Secretary-General and the Administration and Modernization Director-General to start working on this immediately. All in all, for the first time in several years, the increase in funding for security and official development assistance will allow the Ministry to increase its budget.


It just remains for me to express my appreciation for the work you and your teams do every day, on every front, sometimes in difficult conditions. You deserve the nation’s gratitude.

In the face of turmoil and the complexity of the world, you have an increasingly difficult task. The best way to tackle this is by setting a good example. This is a collective imperative first of all, because that’s what the members of this ministry expect: our working methods must evolve further, notably with a view towards achieving a better work-life balance. Significant progress has been made and I am particularly delighted to note that our heads of mission now include 48 female ambassadors, i.e. twice as many as five years ago. We must keep working tirelessly to combat all forms of discrimination, all outdated notions, whatever they may be.

Leading by example is also an individual imperative because we represent France and embody its values. This must go hand in hand with an attitude of openness to society which will help us gain a better understanding of who we are and what we do. This will help our compatriots understand the incredible work that all personnel members of this ministry do day after day in the service of France. Because what unites us is our love of France, this sense of pride in what our country stands for, this passion to serve it wherever you represent it. Long live the Republic and long live France!./.

Last modified on 21/09/2016

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