Press conference by François Hollande after the European Council - 24/10/13
Regulation/economic policy/Eastern Partnership/immigration/Syria/United States/NSA – Excerpts from the press conference given by M. François Hollande, President of the Republic
Brussels, 25 October 2013
THE PRESIDENT – Ladies and gentlemen, four major subjects were discussed this morning. The first was simplification. The intentions behind the word may not always be the same, but what was endorsed by the European Council reflects France’s goals. Why?
We’d like European regulations to be a source of speed and efficiency. So we’re in favour of anything that will enable us to ease what’s already been embarked on, vote, decide and at the same time have this same mindset for all new regulations. Provided the goals of protecting consumers, workers and the environment are guaranteed and under those conditions, we’re fully mobilized to ensure this radical simplification takes place Europe-wide. And that’s what was decided this morning.
There are often contradictions in different people’s demands. The same people who demand easing are the first to demand new regulations. Now, what we should do for each regulation is find the system that enables the goal to be achieved as cheaply, quickly and simply as possible. That is France’s position. And there can be no compensation principle where every time a regulation is adopted another has to be removed. There are regulations that are no longer in use or no longer serve any purpose or are no longer relevant; well, let’s remove them, but let’s not take a mathematical approach. That would be so mechanical, anyway, that it would have no effect.
So to go back to what was decided, yes: act simply, act quickly, allow new regulations to achieve their goals and regularly assess Europe’s output, in the sense of output of legislation. And on those foundations, I believe that what was decided today by the Council is a step in the right direction. (…)
Second subject: employment and company financing. (…)
Third subject: the Eastern Partnership. (…)
The fourth subject was the Lampedusa tragedy and what it means, and I and others – Italy, Malta, Spain, many other Mediterranean countries – called for it to be discussed at this European Council and for a working method to be defined with goals.
First of all, [it’s] a human tragedy which isn’t the first and unfortunately isn’t the last. Even today, reports are reaching us and arousing strong feelings and solidarity. These are legitimate with regard to the disaster and to these human situations, but they also raise a question! Won’t there be an influx of refugees in the coming weeks and months? From Syria, because nothing has been resolved in terms of preparations for peace? From Libya, because that country, in the conditions it’s experiencing, is unable to guarantee the security of the borders and therefore of transit that may leave Libya for southern Europe? And particularly of people coming from Eritrea and Somalia, countries which are themselves in chaos? So we must both deal with the emergency and think ahead. I haven’t forgotten, either, that there’s the issue of refugees coming from south-east Europe, via Turkey.
The European Council – and I made proposals – adopted three principles for action and defined a method.
The first principle for action was to work on the countries of origin and transit, which means strengthening the capabilities of a number of neighbours on the other side of the Mediterranean, and I’m thinking particularly of Libya. That’s become the urgent thing. We must do everything to ensure Libya can get back security capabilities, action capabilities, and ensure that refugees crowding in there can be taken in. But I’m not thinking only about Libya. The very source of the difficulties must also be dealt with! I mentioned Eritrea. And when there are refugee issues – one thinks of everything happening in Syria – the neighbouring countries – Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey – must be helped to take in those refugees in such a way that they’re not led to leave the camps to come to us. And when they do come, [we must] be able to take them in properly. So that’s the challenge of this cooperation with the countries of origin and transit.
The second principle for action is to monitor the borders just off the coastline. And that’s the role of Frontex and Eurosur, so that there can be interventions, mechanisms enabling us to prevent people finding themselves on those very ships of fortune or misfortune. And to be aware of their fate, whereby they’re in an extremely destitute state when they reach their destination and necessarily pose difficulties for the countries taking them in. So to do everything to ensure that Europe’s monitoring and action can be as effective as possible.
The third principle for action is to combat trafficking and traffickers. And judicial, police cooperation is essential there. Considerable sums are at stake. And methods that are a disgrace, whereby the traffickers sink boats to force the border countries to come and rescue the refugees before it’s too late! That’s what we’re talking about. And there too, we must act.
So Europe identified an apporoach; a group was set up, a so-called task force for the Mediterranean, under the Commission’s authority.
The Commission began making proposals, and this will be examined and discussed at the European Council in December. (…) Next, must the legal procedures be changed? They exist, they were reaffirmed in the so-called Dublin Regulation; so we must implement those provisions.
It’s a major issue for Europe because its ability to act is at stake.
Is Europe finally capable of responding? To what challenge? The challenge of growth and employment? That’s what we embarked on 18 months ago.
Is Europe capable of ensuring stability and solidarity in the Euro Area? That’s what we’ve put in place, which, stage by stage – today, banking union – will enable us to achieve that goal.
And the third challenge: are we capable of controlling migration, population movements?
Can we monitor our borders and treat with dignity those who claim the right to asylum?
In France, as you know, we’re going to do everything to speed up procedures on asylum, so that we can reduce delays and respond to people who have the right to this constitutional procedure, and of course reject those who don’t have the right. That’s what I wanted to take away from this European Council.
Current events often prevail over long-established agendas. This doesn’t mean the agenda wasn’t dealt with: the digital economy, banking union, employment, financing procedures and the Eastern Partnership. But when there are subjects that demand Europe’s intervention, as well as Europe’s integration – namely its own security vis-à-vis monitoring and the issue of its borders – Europe must step up to the plate.
I’ll take two or three questions.
Q. – The mayor of Lampedusa is here; she’s made appeals; she says she has 6,000 inhabitants on her island and can’t take in thousands of refugees. Do you think the three principles for action will reassure her? Because there isn’t anything really concrete. Why can’t we conduct an operation at European level, as we’ve done with the pirates off Africa and in the Indian Ocean – namely lend assistance to people in danger and at the same time monitor the mafias?
THE PRESIDENT – That’s already been started and it will be strengthened at the European Council in December: providing more patrol boats – even in addition to Frontex, some countries are going to do it – being able to fight mafias and therefore dismantle rings, working directly on the countries of origin or the transit countries, in this case Libya. And so the mayor of Lampedusa has every right to demand responses. And the issue doesn’t arise just for Italy, either: it would be an illusion to think the refugees stop in Lampedusa or in Italy, because afterwards they head off all over Europe. So this can’t be simply about one territory or one country: it’s a European issue and must be put forward and dealt with at that level. But the resources given to Frontex and Eurosur must be increased. We must put in more resources and make it more effective. It’s about both saving human beings and preventing the traffickers from making them come.
Q. – This applies particularly to Syria too, because, as we know, there are around 5,000 Syrians leaving the country every day. We also know that the countries in the surrounding area, as you said, are no longer capable of accepting hundreds of thousands, indeed millions of people who have already left. Now you’re announcing, the European Council is announcing measures which will be decided in December, so they’ll then have to be translated into action etc. – that’s going to take a number of weeks, if not months. But the emergency is probably going to come before! It’s expected, all the NGOs are sounding the alarm. Do you anticipate a plan B at European level? What do we do if, now, before the December meeting, a huge number of Syrians arrive to take refuge among us in Europe?
THE PRESIDENT – On Syria, France wasted no time in raising the alarm. France was the first to say that if we don’t deal with the Syria issue on the political, diplomatic, even military fronts, we’ll have an influx of refugees. This has happened!
About two million already. I’m not talking about displaced people. These refugees have been taken in by neighbouring countries – Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. In Lebanon, a quarter of the population is of Syrian origin today – of course, thought should have been given to the fact that, past a certain level, these refugees were also going to want to travel further than just the border countries. This is what’s happening and what could well continue to happen. So what are the answers?
Firstly: go on taking action at the diplomatic and political levels to bring about a solution in Syria. We come back to the Geneva conference. Secondly: it can meet only if there’s a solution; it’s pointless setting a date if nothing is likely to be possible between the regime and the opposition. So we’ve got to make active efforts. Thirdly: ensure that we can, with the United Nations’ special organization for refugees, help the countries which are today taking in Syrians. We’ve got to have far more resources for Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. For Lebanon, an initiative has been taken by the United Nations Secretary-General – which France supports – which is to appeal for solidarity too, because Lebanon is directly affected.
So, secondly: support the border countries.
Thirdly: share some of the burden – if I can put it like that –, and France hasn’t shirked responsibility, because I’ve announced that there’ll be more Syrians, I said 500, when the UNHCR approached me, under conditions to be specified. We know where the refugees are coming from, so we mustn’t wait for them to come, but act before they come. Resolve the problems at source and, secondly, help the neighbouring countries take them in.
Q. – Every day [there are] new revelations: about the surveillance of the Guardian yesterday, about the 35 leaders who have reportedly been put under surveillance by the NSA. And then by Le Monde today, about a meeting between senior intelligence officers following a cyber attack on the Presidency. What concrete action vis-à-vis the Americans are you going to take with Angela Merkel?
THE PRESIDENT – There are two questions. The first is, when did we know there was an attempted cyber attack on the Elysée? Because that’s the report by Le Monde. We knew as soon as I took office. It had been identified just before then. So what did we do? We conducted full investigations to find out the perpetrators of that cyber attack. Hence the contacts made by our services, particularly with the NSA. Of course we also reacted, by stepping up security even further and also blocking the results of this attack.
Finally, let me remind you that, in the military estimates bill, cyber security has been included as a priority. Chancellor Angela Merkel and I, supported by the European Council, took the initiative of creating a common framework of cooperation with the United States to ensure these types of practices and surveillance mechanisms would no longer exist. We set a deadline: by the end of the year. Moreover, Europe had already set up a working group to find out exactly what had happened. And we’re asking for that working group to be able to speed up its procedures, because of course we have a duty to find out everything before the press reveals it to us almost on a daily basis, as it were. There you are! Finding out what’s happened, setting a framework for relations for the future, and eliminating surveillance mechanisms that are out of control. And for the Europeans, having a rule of conduct between the services. (…)
Q. – To come back to the subject of immigration, and particularly the much-talked-about Dublin II Regulation, which a lot has been written about: should asylum seekers really be sent back to the countries through which they transit – i.e. always Greece, Italy and the southern countries? These countries are asking for the burden to be shared – do you agree? Do you think it’s the right approach? Is a reform of Dublin II possible?
THE PRESIDENT – What does the Dublin system say? That the host country has a responsibility. It doesn’t mean that country necessarily has to take all the refugees who turn up there. But it bears responsibility because it’s a matter of border security. We must help the countries facing this situation. I must point out that France takes in the second-highest number of refugees in Europe, so there has already been sharing. We must act together and not imply that there might be contradictions between us. We’re all affected.
Q. – I’m going to return once again to the eavesdropping issue. I know my colleague asked you about Edward Snowden yesterday evening. If you’re really angry – because you’re clearly angry with the Americans – why wouldn’t France, which is sovereign and the master of its reception and asylum policy, take in Edward Snowden as a political refugee?
What’s preventing you from doing so, in order to tell Obama clearly that you really are unhappy and that what you’ve been saying since yesterday evening, for a few days, isn’t just a song and dance to reassure the public?
(…) There’s no question of our reopening the legal immigration channels: that largely explains why we have illegal immigration channels and people arriving via Lampedusa and drowning in the Mediterranean every day. So the European Union’s policy is to keep them where they are, prevent them sinking off Lampedusa, get them to sink off Libya instead and leave the burden to the countries nearby. It seems to me that’s how your policy can be summed up. Is that fair or not?
THE PRESIDENT – No, what you say isn’t fair from any viewpoint. First of all, the debate isn’t about whether Mr Snowden asked for asylum in France: he didn’t ask for it. The issue doesn’t arise. The real subject all our fellow citizens are interested in – even outside France in [the rest of] Europe, and outside Europe – is the protection of personal data.
As regards sovereign countries, it’s their own security; with the Americans we have dialogue that both concerns the past – what’s been done – and must, above all, resolve the present and future, because we can’t tolerate this surveillance being organized, and its goal isn’t only political, either. As I was saying yesterday, economic issues arise above all. We want it to be possible to define a code of good conduct, practices and a common framework.
We’re going to do so with our German friends, other countries will be able to get involved and we’re going to ensure we can develop this rule by the end of the year. That’s what will count. The pressure on the Americans is strong. The answer we’re being given is that it was the past and that there’s now a desire to organize things differently. Let’s go for it! That’s my goal; it’s not simply about passing judgment on the past.
The Americans nevertheless have a duty to provide information, but above all to cooperate in a way that is undeniable and effective, because let’s not forget that the services’ goal is security and the fight against terrorism. We mustn’t forget, because of a quite understandable emotion, that the services must have a mission, namely to protect us. I wouldn’t like us – the French services, for which I am in a way responsible – to waste this opportunity to cooperate well with our allies.
On the question you asked me about border control, it’s not about legal or illegal immigration. The people who come are either fleeing conflicts or in a destitute situation that leads them to use any vessels. What’s our duty? It’s to ensure they can have another destiny in their country, and it’s still possible to work on the causes. It’s not to welcome anyone who chooses to turn up in Europe: that would be an illusion that would, as you can imagine, create tensions that are already real in our countries. It’s to ensure we can work with the countries of origin and above all work on the transit countries.
Q. – To come back to the Lampedusa issue: you explained that a number of countries are ready to do more. Is France ready to do more in terms of naval capabilities, for example?
THE PRESIDENT – Yes, France will have to make commitments in what will be presented in December. It can add its capabilities to those of Frontex and ensure that we can be effective. We’re ready to act, but it’s Europe that has to specify the relevant capabilities and resources.
Q. – A question, if you’ll allow me, about the spying affair concerning the Elysée. You said you’d sought to identify the perpetrators of this operation. Have you identified them? Le Monde mentions a lead: the Israeli secret services.
THE PRESIDENT – Le Monde mentions several leads, based on the documents it has available. We, too, have several leads.
Q. – A question about the security of your own communications. You’ve said tonight that this security was stepped up when you took office. I wanted to know if you could confirm to us, give us a few details of this. Are you absolutely certain today that your mobile phone, for example, isn’t being tapped?
THE PRESIDENT – We’re very careful about all essential communication, which is therefore secure, because what are important aren’t just the breaches of privacy which everyone may well worry about. As I’ve said, protecting privacy doesn’t mean simply protecting leaders who have mobiles like anyone else, it means protecting all citizens. No one here should fear that one day he or she will discover that his or her personal data has been used. This applies to you, it applies to everyone with responsibilities, leaders. It’s a question of protecting personal data, which has to be guaranteed in Europe and demanded vis-à-vis the surveillance services.
Secondly, there’s the security of leaders communicating with their administration, or with other heads of state, and who have to be protected. I can assure you that, particularly for the most sensitive matters, everything is secure. Is it impenetrable? It’s what I call cyber security, we’ve got to step up the level of technology all the time because we get attacks.
I was talking about the cyber attack which occurred at the Elysée between the two rounds of the presidential election – since that’s roughly the time when France identified the attack; it was thwarted. It didn’t lead to anything, there’s nothing to worry about. At the same time, this demands further improvement of our protection and our security. There’s a technology race. We’ve got to devote resources to it. Hence the priority we’ve given in the estimates bill, but not only for telephones I might have to use: for all our government departments and our businesses. That’s something I stress.
The stakes are essentially economic. The secrets are also economic: for the markets, for prices, for mergers and acquisitions. That’s where surveillance can have the most consequences, including on employment. Let’s not think we’re in a virtual world and it’s not translated into life: I’m not talking about personal data, I’m talking about economic life, real life. Being protected – and this is true of all economic life – is also very important in terms of our sovereignty and our capacity for investment, innovation and employment. That’s also why, with the large French companies but also with the technological companies, we’re establishing a programme to ensure there’s protection. Let’s not take an old-fashioned view of what espionage is, even if it creates a stir. Espionage today is industrial and economic. (…)./.