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PM hosts Anglo-French Summit


PM hosts Anglo-French Summit


Prime Minister Tony Blair and the French President, Jacques Chirac, have given a joint press conference on 24 November following talks at the Anglo-French Summit in London.

Among the issues they discussed were Iraq, international terrorism, European defence policy, EU enlargement and climate change.

Read a transcript of the joint press conference below.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you all very much indeed for attending this press conference at the conclusion of the Anglo-French Summit. I would like to give a very warm welcome to President Chirac, to Prime Minister Raffarin and to all their colleagues for having given us such a productive and good summit which we have just had, and discussing many things. This takes place before next year's celebrations of the Entente Cordiale Centenary, the centenary celebrations. We will mark them in a variety of ways. They will be an excellent opportunity to show the strength of the relations between our two countries. They will also be marked by visits by the Queen to France and by the President to Great Britain. I am also delighted to say that the President has kindly invited Her Majesty the Queen and myself to participate in the commemorations of the 60th anniversary of D-Day next year as well, in June. That will be another opportunity to demonstrate our common history and our common values. Let me go through very briefly for you, the topics that we have covered Obviously you will have the communiqué on the general things we have discussed: on defence and on other areas of cooperation as well.

I would like to give the President my special thanks for this - we began by talking about the situation of terrorism in the world today. I thank the President for his warm sentiments of solidarity in the light of what took place in Turkey last week, and his condolences at the British casualties. We agreed that it is important that we do everything we can, at every level we can, to combat this menace in our world. We obviously have discussed issues to do with Iraq and the Middle East peace process. You will see from the communiqué on defence that the cooperation that we began at St Malo some five and a half years ago now, in respect of European Defence, continues with our agreeing to cooperate, and how we build the capabilities of European Defence, and how we make sure that we get the right result at the Inter-Governmental Conference that allows us to have the capabilities we need as Europe and allow European Defence to develop in a way that is fully consistent with the NATO alliance.

We also discussed, of course, the Inter-Governmental Conference. Those discussions will continue, but on many of the key issues we are on the same lines as one another. In respect of economic growth, in particular the exchanges that we can have on science and technology, again you will find something in the communiqué on these subjects. We agree that we should do everything we can to stimulate economic growth in Europe.

We discussed the issues to do with climate change and Kyoto. We are both very strongly in favour of the Kyoto protocol and agreement and hope that all countries will ratify it. We also have agreed to take forward further work on how we move at some point beyond Kyoto, recognising the enormous danger that climate change poses, and the need for us to take further action on it.

We discussed our common commitment in respect of Africa. We paid tribute to the work that our Foreign Ministers, along with the German Foreign Minister, did, in relation to Iran. It was an important diplomatic exercise, aimed at making our world a safer place. I would like to end my opening remarks by paying tribute particularly to the cooperation we have had with France over the closure of Sangatte, and the management of the issue of illegal immigration into the UK. This has meant a huge difference to the way that we have been able to regulate the situation. One of the reasons why asylum applications have fallen by about a half in Britain in the last few months is precisely because of the cooperation we have had from the French authorities. That is very important. We agreed ways in which we can take that forward.

I think back to a couple of years ago - there were issues to do with beef at the time and Sangatte, and other difficulties between us - but thanks to the cooperation of Prime Minister Raffarin and the French Government, there has been considerable progress. I am delighted with that. Once again, Jacques, welcome here. We are delighted to have you here. There is every possibility of a spectacular celebration of the Entente Cordiale next year. Certainly, for our part, we will be delighted to join in that celebration.

PRESIDENT CHIRAC:

First of all, I would like to express my deepest gratitude to the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, for the very congenial hospitality that he has extended to us. Once again I would like to tell him how much we have found this enjoyable. Let me revert very briefly to what he said, and let me state once again the absolute horror of the appalling acts of terrorism in Istanbul. I pointed out to the British Prime Minister how struck I was by the very considerable emotion and the spontaneous solidarity that emerged in French public opinion following these terrorist attacks: emotion and solidarity, which was clearly reflected by all the media in France. There was a very instantaneous and considerable movement of moral and physical solidarity, to express solidarity and compassion following the appalling acts of terrorism against British interests. On another score, I also expressed to the Prime Minister my very sincere congratulations, and France's very warm congratulations, for the brilliant victory of the English team in the Rugby World Cup. Believe me, I say this with no reservation whatsoever. It is with great sincerity we expressed this feeling, in recognising the unmatched superiority of the English in this respect.

The third point I would like to make concerns the Entente Cordiale. I will not go into detail on the other subjects that the Prime Minister has referred to and on which, even though there may be one or two disagreements, there is a very wide measure of agreement between our two Governments and our two countries. The Entente Cordiale, 100 years ago now, was a tremendous initiative in which wisdom won out over passion. Let us not forget the context of the times. History may very well have gone another way. There may very well have been war between France and England, over Africa, for instance. A number of men and women were wise enough, forward-looking enough, to put any idea of war behind them and to promote the idea of this Entente. This is an example that we should keep in mind today. 100 years ago today, of course the context is not the same, but I think one can still draw the same conclusions. Today Europe is being built.

Europe is enlarging. This is a very considerable effort that is being made. That effort requires determination, imagination and it is an effort which is justified by what binds us together, by the essential issues. An effort to ensure that democracy and peace take route once and for all in Europe: that is what justifies the enlargement. The rest, of course, will follow: economic progress, social progress, that one can expect because of a greater development of a united Europe. But that is on top of it.

What is absolutely essential is to make sure that democracy and peace are rooted in our continent. With the enlargement, more than ever, the role and the importance of the UK are absolutely decisive. It is not possible to imagine a Europe in which Great Britain would not have an imminent role to play. It would be a Europe which would be missing something. Without talking about any spirit of leadership - that would be contrary to our idea of Europe - that means, however, that the relations and links among a number of countries that have been the founders of this adventure, and who have more experience and more faith in these areas, must and should agree together. That is why the Entente, particularly between our two countries, but not excluding any countries small or large, it presupposes that the Entente between the UK and France be strengthened. To strength that Entente, there has to be a strengthening of mutual trust.

Of course, that trust already exists between our two countries, but it is never enough. It has to be developed and nurtured. That is the spirit in which we, on the occasion of the ceremonies that will commemorate the Entente Cordiale, wish to bring it up to date, to modernise the spirit and to make 2004 the year, not only of the Entente Cordiale, but of the Confidence[?] Cordiale between France and the UK. That is possible today. We are in reach of it. The Prime Minister referred to issues of defence, and we are making good progress on that. We have cooperation on arms, on our common vision of the Europe of tomorrow, the reform of its institutions. We did, of course, realise that we still have a number of differences on Iraq, for instance, as we always have had. But we have an identical approach on other essential issues. The Middle East: the conflict between Israel and Palestine, where France unreservedly supports the efforts made by the UK to bring peace back into the frame. It is true for Iran where, because of our initiatives with Germany, we have taken an initiative which I very much hope will lead to the settlement of an issue which could have become very dangerous otherwise. It is true also in Afghanistan, where we are working together, hand in hand. It is true in Africa where cooperation between France and the UK in many areas is exemplary. It is also true throughout Africa, where there are, quite clearly, some crises. This is manifested by the British and French presence, under the Artemis[?] operation in Ituria. All these issues justify renewed, cordial and strengthened trust between our two countries. That is our goal. That is basically the issue today for France and the UK. I shall be leaving for Paris later on this afternoon and I shall have a very warm memory of the meeting we have had here in the UK with the Prime Minister and with his Ministers. I would like to thank him once again.

PRIME MINISTER:

We will do three questions each and then I have one other question as well.

QUESTION:

Since I understand there has been another round of diplomacy or giftmanship of one kind or another, I wonder whether Monsieur Le President could say that development in Iraq, under coalition occupation, particular the date for a handover of power, will make it easier for the Prime Minister to explain to his son Leo why Britain went to war?

PRESIDENT CHIRAC:

Well thank you for having mentioned Leo. Leo is a very appealing child who I love very much. We were talking about something completely different this morning. The Prime Minister gave me a photograph signed by Leo himself. He gave it to me and it was dedicated to me. That was a very friendly gesture that I appreciated fully. I cannot pre-judge what the Prime Minister will say to his son when he wants to tell him these things, nor what his son will ask him. However, what I can say is that the situation is not easy. That is certainly true. The new policy direction that our American friends seem to be taking, which is basically a policy of transferring sovereignty and responsibility to the Iraqi people, I believe it is the right way to go. That being said, you have asked me what I think about it, I believe, to be quite frank and honest with you, that I think it is extending over somewhat too long a period. It does seem to me to be a somewhat incomplete policy. I believe that what is important in ensuring that the Iraqis accept this, is the role of the United Nations. The role of the United Nations is not as clearly specified as it should be. I believe that the direction is correct, but I do not believe it has gone far enough, or is going far enough at this stage. That is my feeling.

QUESTION:

There will be a state visit to London and a state visit by the Queen to Paris, and it will be a good opportunity for you to have good Burgundy and Bordeaux wines in Buckingham Palace that apparently President Bush was not interested in last week. My question is: do you believe, President, that the British taxpayers will really need to spend millions of pounds to prevent you from hearing what the British public have to say, just as millions of pounds were spent last week to isolate the American President from the local environment? Given the Entente Cordiale and the events in Iraq, perhaps you would like the people of Britain to say something rather different?

PRESIDENT CHIRAC:

I very much welcome the visits of the Prime Minister and the Queen, and my visit to this country, to mark the ceremonies of the Entente Cordiale. As to the ways in which these visits will be organised on both sides of the Channel, both in London, in Paris and for the D-Day celebrations, each Government will shoulder its responsibilities in this respect. That is why those governments have been elected in a very democratic way. I have no further comment therefore to make on that.

QUESTION:

Monsieur Le President, why is it so hard, apparently, for France to declare in the new European Constitution that NATO has primacy on the issue of European Defence? Could you both reflect on whether any of the discussions on European Defence would do a single thing to prevent precisely the split between Britain and France that we have witnessed over the past 12 months?

PRIME MINISTER:

First of all, if I can bring you up to date with what has happened in European Defence. In the five and a half years since we began this process at St Malo, we had a long period of time where we were trying to make sure that Europe and NATO could come together in proper arrangements that suited both. Although that was very difficult to achieve, we have achieved it.

But European Defence today is actually undertaking a mission in Macedonia where NATO is not wanting to be engaged. That is of vital importance to peace in the Balkan region. There has also been the mission in Africa as well, led by France. It makes complete sense to me - and I am, as you know a passionate supporter of the Transatlantic Alliance - it makes complete sense in circumstances where NATO is not engaged, for Europe to have the capability and the power to act in the interests of Europe and the wider world.

Ever since we began this process people have been telling me that it is somehow inconsistent or incompatible with NATO. I do not accept that. It is important that we maintain the transatlantic alliance in a strong way, as I certainly have been doing as British Prime Minister, but at the same time, that we are clear that where NATO is not engaged, Europe has the capability and the power to act. We have an example in Macedonia now of where that makes practical sense. It is important to deal with this in this sensible, practical way. Not as a matter of ideology, that somehow we have to choose between Europe and America. We do not, and I will not.

QUESTION:

I have two questions for the President and one for the Prime Minister. President, what are you going to do in the Middle East? You said that you have discussed the Middle East and that you will pay tribute to the British efforts in the peace process. But nothing is happening in terms of the peace process at the moment. Prime Minister, you met with President Bush. Did you really understand what his objectives are concerning Syria? Is he going to implement the Syrian accountability act, or is he going to use his waiver? What is your position on Syria? Is it really logical to have this big pressure now on Syria?

PRIME MINISTER:

Obviously the issue of Syria is one that has been discussed. The Americans did not form particularly a big part of the discussion we had last week. A decision on the accountability question is a decision for the American President. I am not going to get into that. We have had an engagement with Syria which has been an attempt by us to make sure that they play as constructive and positive a role as possible in the Middle East. That is what we want to see happening, together with an end to any support of any nature to any groups that are causing terrorist acts or difficulties in the Middle East. That is what we should carry on doing. It is important in the context of the Middle East peace process that we recognise, in the end, that it will have to move forward on all tracks, not just on one.

PRESIDENT CHIRAC:

First of all, a word about Syria: we do of course hope that Syria will assume its rightful place, which is an important place, in the international community. In that respect, we are actively supporting the negotiations which I hope are nearly concluded concerning the association agreement between the European Union and Syria. I very much hope that those negotiations will soon be finalised. We are doing what we can to ensure that they are finalised and the agreement can be signed, in Brussels, before the end of this year, or at the very beginning of next year.

As far as the peace process in the Middle East is concerned, more generally, I have nothing further to add to what the Prime Minister has just said. We believe that one should never despair of the process however difficult the process is. We realise how difficult it is. That means that within the existing framework we need to take further initiatives, for instance, by convening a meeting of the international conference. That was supposed to take place at the beginning of the second phase, by the instructions that were given. We very much sympathise and support what the UK is doing to facilitate further initiatives in the Middle East which will come in peace discussions around the table.

QUESTION:

Does France have any problem with the issue of the primacy of NATO? More generally, can I ask about the Constitution and whether you both feel that it is effectively now a done deal? Is it something that you are sure will be agreed? How serious would it be for Europe if you were not able to agree it?

PRIME MINISTER:

In relation to the Constitution, of course it is important that we get a deal. We will work all out to try and achieve that. Our position is set out very clearly, it has been set out many times, as has the position of France. We will work closely together in trying to make this things work. In respect of NATO, I just think it is important to realise, the whole time, that there is nobody I know in Europe who wants to see European Defence go forward at the expense of NATO. NATO will remain the cornerstone of our defence. It is also important to realise also, because this is often misunderstood, that European Defence applies to the limited peacekeeping and humanitarian tasks, but we are actually doing European Defence today in Macedonia and also in Africa. It is important that we keep the ability to do that. It is absolutely clear that people do not want this to operate in a way that is inconsistent with NATO. On the contrary, they want it to go forward in a way that is complementary.

PRESIDENT CHIRAC:

I thoroughly agree with what Tony Blair has just said. Let me just say that France does not have a problem with NATO. We have our status, which is as it is. We are totally involved in all the changes which have occurred recently. When it was a question of creating the NATO Response Force, we asked to be involved and we were involved. We were the leading contributor to that force. France does not have a problem with NATO. No problem. Obviously, as long as we are respected, there is no problem whatsoever.

Our view of European Defence is a view which is in no way contradictory to NATO. Let that be very clear. Neither the Germans, nor the French, wish in the slightest way to take any initiative which would be in contradiction with NATO. As the Prime Minister has just said a few moments ago, it is the mainstay of European Defence. No problem.

However, we believe that there are a number of operations which can be carried out. We have talked about Macedonia, Africa, and, more generally speaking, the Balkans. There are operations which need to be carried out by us. It has to be properly prepared, properly led and properly operated. There are national Chiefs of Staff, but we want our defence to be as effective and efficient as possible. We want there to be an organisation, a harmonisation. We do not want overlapping. At the moment, we are discussing with our British friends a system which is totally consistent with NATO. It is in no way likely to create or to weaken NATO. But it gives extra efficiency and extra character to the European Union. That is all there is to it.

QUESTION:

Mr President, you talked about making the European Response Force very effective. Does it need a headquarters and where do you want those headquarters to be? This force, should it inform NATO beforehand of its future operations?

You say you agree with the theory of this Rapid Reaction Force, but is there not a problem on the British side about where it would have its headquarters? Also, do you think that this Rapid Reaction Force should inform NATO beforehand of what it is planning?

PRIME MINISTER:

First of all, a word in relation to the way in which any European Defence force works. The way it works now is in fulltransparency and openness with NATO. There is no difficulty about that at all. The important thing is to realise what the concept is here. The concept is in circumstances where NATO, as a whole, does not want to be engaged, that Europe has the capability to act. If not, that means a situation like Macedonia or something in the Balkans, could happen and we would be powerless to act, even if it was in the interests of Europe. With all the various difficult spots in the world, it is important to have that capability.

In respect of all these other issues, it is important, in terms of the practicality, to make sure that what we have as the practical operation of European Defence does not conflict with NATO. That is what we are discussing, and we will get there. People told me five and a half years ago, at St Malo, that if I agreed to St Malo it would mean that Britain would never be able again to act with the United States or NATO. People were saying exactly this at the time of St Malo. Since St Malo, we have done Kosovo with NATO, we have done Afghanistan through the United Nations and in a coalition of the willing, we have just done Iraq - whatever the differences between us - with America, and we have done Sierra Leone on our own. I do not that in order to list the number of military conflicts we have been engaged in. I say it simply in order to emphasise the fact that nobody is going to give away the NATO alliance. Nobody is going to dislodge that as the cornerstone of our defence. However, it makes perfect sense for us to be able to act where NATO does not wish to act. That is the issue. All these other questions can be resolved as practical questions. I have found the most difficult thing, as Prime Minister over the last few years, is in trying to say to people that there is no choice between our transatlantic American relationship and the strength of our position in Europe. A sensible country in the early 21st century with the advantages of Britain would keep and nurture both because both are important to us. That is what we are going to carry on doing. I ask people, when we come to the final agreements on European Defence, look at what they actually are. People will then see that they are, in a way, fully complementary with NATO.

PRESIDENT CHIRAC:

I have nothing to add. You have raised a number of minor points, which are, of course, important. We will find an agreement on those with our British friends. There is absolutely no doubt about that, for a very simple reason. If we try to work together as partners but do not trust each other then we are likely to fail. When we do trust each other we find a solution. It is as simple as that. We are absolutely determined today to show that there is confidence, and to rid ourselves of mistrust. That is what makes me think that we will find a solution.

QUESTION:

A question, Prime Minister, on Northern Ireland: given the level of support that we have seen for anti-agreement parties in Northern Ireland during this election campaign, how confident are you that after the election results are all in, that it will be possible to renegotiate the establishment of the Northern Ireland power-sharing government?

PRIME MINISTER:

This election will be a very big moment for the people in Northern Ireland. We are now at the point, in the politics of Northern Ireland, where I cannot make any more decisions. I cannot renegotiate agreements. I cannot rewrite those things that have already been agreed. The decision now is for the people of Northern Ireland, and they are going to have to decide in a fundamental way, whether Northern Ireland today is a better place than it was up to 10 years ago. If it is, they are going to have to come and vote for it. This is something that the politicians cannot do on their own. The people have got to play their part now. I just hope that people bear in mind, whatever frustrations and difficulties there are, that Northern Ireland as everybody really knows is in far better shape than it was a decade ago. That is only because people had the courage to come together and to make an agreement. That is what I say to people. If people vote on Election Day in Northern Ireland, they make a choice. If they do not vote, they make a choice. I hope people choose the future and not the past, but that is a decision for them.

Thank you all very much indeed.


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