NEWS

The crisis has ‘rejuvenated’ the European Union, says the French ambassador

At the G8 summit in Evian earlier this week, France was host to the first major international forum since the war in Iraq, which it had opposed, and provided an opportunity for leaders of the world’s powerful nations to seek means of reconciliation. French Ambassador in Athens Jean-Maurice Ripert spoke to Kathimerini on the eve of the summit about the challenges of the future and the need to avoid letting the events of recent months overshadow the major problems the world is facing today, particularly in the poorer countries. For France, was the summit an opportunity to improve relations with the US that had deteriorated due to the Iraq crisis? I would not say that French-US relations had deteriorated. Naturally there had been disagreement. On France’s part, the disagreement was no cause for relations to deteriorate. In the US there are certain government officials, members of Congress or journalists who think in this way. But not everyone. …It is important to assure our friends the Americans that we are partners, allies, that we trust each other and can work together. We belong to the same side. We claim the right to disagree, we have adopted a conciliatory approach, but we can’t go back to talking about what each one has done. We reacted according to our principles and, after all, everyone acts according to his convictions. Was the fact that you voted for the US-British plan on postwar Iraq at the UN a kind of sacrifice aimed at placating the US? No, it wasn’t. It was a real compromise in which, I must say, the British played a positive role. The Americans made a very great effort which was of fundamental importance as far as we are concerned, since they agreed to bringing the United Nations back into the process of reconstruction in Iraq and verifying its disarmament. We ourselves recognized what was a fait accompli – that is the supremacy of the forces in charge of Iraq at this time. The Security Council’s resolution recognizes and legitimizes the occupation of Iraq. What, for France, was not a legitimate war has miraculously led to a legitimate occupation. Isn’t that rather strange? Not at all. If you look at international law and all international treaties that refer to war, you will observe that the concept of an occupation force and its obligations are clearly set out. It would be illogical if we did not recognize the objective reality that the British-US alliance is in charge, today, in Iraq. This recognition means that the US and British forces, according to international law, have specific obligations. In short, the occupation is not legal, the Security Council does not say that. What it does say is that there are occupation forces there that have specific obligations. Defense policy The European Union has emerged from the Iraq crisis deeply divided and wounded. What solution is there, in your view, particularly regarding the EU’s foreign and defense policy? I agree that the EU did not emerge from this crisis unscathed, but I would also say it emerged rejuvenated. Something good came out of the crisis; the realization that the Union has to be in a position to make decisions, because if it doesn’t, others will make them in their place. The Greek presidency has been very efficient in this sector. This brings up the question of joint defense. A major step forward was the fact that the last European Council meeting commissioned (foreign policy chief Javier) Solana to work out a comprehensive strategy for European defense. I emphasize, however, that in no way do we want European defense to weaken the Atlantic alliance. We want a European defense (force) that is compatible with the needs of the alliance, but which is also capable of undertaking independent action wherever and whenever that is deemed necessary. Some of our American friends see things in the light of exclusivity. We do not see it that way. Perhaps we Europeans have particular sensibilities; we have a big heart that can hold both Europe and the US at the same time. Some people like Mr (Robert) Kagan (a prominent representative of the neo-conservative movement) think that this is a way for us Europeans to theorize our weakness. I would say that it is a way to theorize a vision of the world based on dialogue and cooperation. You have contributed personally to the Franco-British defense cooperation agreement of St Malo. Do you believe that initiatives such as those by the «four» (France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg) can lead to a truly European defense, without the participation of Britain? No, but that was not our purpose. The initiative is open to all and raises questions for debate. On the other hand, we cannot accept what some people are saying, that it is «either all 15 or none at all.» If we took that as a general principle, we would not make any progress, for example on the Common Agricultural Policy. The question is to speed things up, because people are experiencing a period of great instability. Even on the European continent itself, instability is not over. There is a line of thought which says that all security problems, always and everywhere, should be solved by NATO and the US. But if we want Europe to assume its responsibilities, today in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, tomorrow in Bosnia-Herzegovina, then we will have to possess the means to do so. Valery Giscard d’Estaing’s European draft constitution has been interpreted as the death of any federal future for Europe and has strengthened smaller countries’ fears of an informal directorate of the larger members. What kind of solution do you foresee? All of Europe’s problems contain conflicting elements. With each instance one has to satisfy the smaller countries’ legitimate needs and sensitivities, but to make Europe’s functioning effective and more democratic. Democracy is not simply a question of relations between member states. It also has to do with the role of citizens and Europeans’ socioeconomic reality. Democracy is not just majority rule, but safeguarding the rights of the minority. From this point of view, we need a balance between «federal» elements in the direction of European integration – and this is where the European Commission and Parliament come in – and in the effective decision-making process within the framework of the European Council.