|Discours prononcé par Luis Vassy, Ambassadeur de France aux Pays-Bas
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I am glad to have you all here for the The Hague edition of a broader initiative “La Fabrique Défense”, which aims at bringing the debate and reflection on defence issues to a younger audience. It is great that we were able to gather such panel and I have to thank each of our participants.
But of course I would like, if you know me, to convey my special thanks to my dear colleague Muriel Domenach, which I think is the only one coming from outside of the city, from Brussels, and she just arrived a few minutes ago straight from Brussels. It is a great pleasure to have you joining us here.
We have decided to go today for a very simple, and at the same time a very essential question : “Can Europe defend itself ?” It is a question that is at the core, as many of you might know, of France’s views and actions in the international stage. There has been a lot of debate about president Macron’s interview in The Economist in the fall. I would invite you, for those of you that did not do that already, to read this interview in detail. It is really about Europe, its future as a sovereign actor in the international arena.
The question upon us, as expressed by our foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, is really “Are we going to be a player in the international field, or are we going to become the playing field of others ?” Are we going to retain our sovereignty ?
To remain sovereign, Europe needs to be able to defend itself. Defend itself is by the way not only a military concept. In that sense, the Dutch prime minister, Mr Rutte, has expressed pretty strong views including when he speaks about imposing on others a level playing field in the economic sector, where they abide by the rules of fair competition. That is actually Europe defending itself. And it is a state of mind that needs to be developed. Europe might have to be less naive.
Of course, today we are going to discuss more about defence and I do not want to void the debate from the beginning, but yes, Europe can take action to defend itself and its interests.
In a few weeks, France and The Netherlands will launch a naval mission in the Gulf, as it has already been announced. That is a region where our interests are significant. And we want to bring all actors in that region to have logic of de-escalation. In the Sahel, we have been relying, and still rely, on the support of many of our European partners. And we hope to be able to welcome such support in the new phase our president has announced yesterday with his G5 counterparts from the region.
In the eastern part of Europe, and within the context of NATO, France participates every year in the Enhanced Forward Presence operations. So the “can” in terms of capacity is there, in my sense.
Is the “can” in terms of willingness also there ? I would like to invoke here, as a conclusion of my experience working at the defence ministry in 2015 during the Bataclan attacks. Only a few days later, on the 17th of November 2015, France summoned the solidarity clause of the EU Treaty, article 42.7 of the Treaty, during a defence ministers’ meeting. In the context of the terrible attacks on France, I have seen that willingness to participate in our collective defence materialize, and multiple expressions of support, that became very concrete in the following weeks.
So the willingness also is there most of the time. Our wonderful speakers will of course enter into more details about the conditions for this to work and I would like to thank them again for coming and stress, as a conclusion, how glad we are that we have been able to gather such a nice audience for them, that I am sure will have of course great pertinent and to the point questions.
Let the debate begin. Thank you very much.