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President Sarkozy speech on France, European Defence and NATO, 11 March 2009



I want to begin by thanking Bruno Racine for taking the initiative for this conference. Because it's astonishing, whether you are a supporter of NATO, opponent or have some reservations, there's one thing we should share: the concern to inform the public and debate the issues. What are those political leaders doing, the ones affirming what are extremely legitimate convictions - whatever they may be - without debate? What's illegitimate is not carrying the argument to its logical conclusion and not informing the French about the reality of NATO and France's actual participation in NATO. This is something everyone has to be informed about.

And what I discovered, with the Prime Minister and government, is that whilst we are in NATO - since we are in it - very few people know this.

So are there activities in it which are so secret that we have to refrain from explaining to the French what we are doing? There's often been talk of "a break with the past": if there has indeed been one, it's been made by this government in the transparency of the decisions it takes. I'll come back to this.

This is a debate which has to be held and so, Mr Chairman, you were right.

And secondly, you have got us together in the Amphithéâtre Foch, which is wholly symbolic: he was the first commander in chief of the European and US Allied forces during the First World War. The concept of ally and friend doesn't date from the beginning of my five-year term. At times, I get the feeling it's totally new. So you've made my task easier in the Amphithéâtre Foch.

Bruno Racine has done a good job of presenting the conclusions of your debate, with his matchless ability to sum up with courtesy, reflecting both the different sensitivities and virulence of the clashes of opinion.

As Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces and so guarantor of the defence of France's vital interests and security, I bear responsibility for the nation's strategic choices. I'd like to state my first belief: our strategic thinking can't remain frozen in a world where the conditions of our security have radically changed. Saying this isn't insulting anyone it's calling on all those in positions of responsibility to give thought to it. A strategic concept is pertinent only when it's tailored not to the situation our country is experiencing, but the one it's going to experience. Since not only must we not lag behind when it comes to defining a strategic concept, but, preferably, be ahead.

18 months ago, I called for the launch of a clear-sighted, calm and transparent debate, involving our key political and military people, parliamentarians and researchers. This led to a new "White paper on defence and national security" 14 years after the one in 1994 - and here we must pay tribute to Edouard Balladur who took the initiative for this back then.

We had to look again at our certainties and - which was harder - our habits. Since I note that we've got habits which don't necessarily tally with our certainties and at times we turn a blind eye to things. It isn't enough to question our certainties, we have to look again at the things we've been turning a blind eye to and our habits, and this is often what's hardest in France.

Today France is no longer threatened by a military invasion, perhaps for the first time in her history.

Other threats have taken its place, these are linked to globalization, terrorism, proliferation and attacks against space systems and the IT systems our technological societies are heavily dependent on.

The crises hitting the world affect our values, our interests and the security of the French.

Competition for access to water, energy and raw materials, the deterioration of the environment, pandemics and uncontrolled migrations, are fraught with consequences for our security.

And tomorrow, a totally unexpected strategic development can literally wreak havoc on the conditions of our security. The global financial crisis clearly illustrates the degree to which the world can radically change, and not necessarily for the better.

These threats can seem remote. But let's make no mistake here: our national territory can be hit tomorrow, as can that of our Allies. The distinction we used to rely on between internal and external security could be said to be fading altogether. And France's defence is decided now as much on our territory as thousands of kilometres away, in space or on IT networks.

To address them, we need three things: strong diplomacy, strong defence and a strong Europe. And, I might add, reliable allies.

Strong diplomacy, this means a France accepting the consequences of what she is and commiting herself. In the world of "relative powers", no State can on its own impose its point of view. None. And cooperation and solidarity are the cornerstones of its action. A single State, a nation on its own is a nation with no influence at all. And if we want to carry weight, we have to know how to get allies to join us and forge friendships. We've seen this very clearly in Europe.

France gets involved, France talks to everyone, France shifts entrenched positions, France proposes and France innovates. She does so taking pride in being what she is, a free democracy, European democracy and Western democracy. France wants peace, France wants freedom. And France knows too who her allies and her friends are: and I'm not afraid of saying that our allies and our friends are first and foremost the family of Western nations.

I don't believe that the role of a major responsible power like France is to be halfway between everyone else, since that means France is nowhere. I readily accept that this point is controversial, but I think her independence depends first of all on knowing where her family is and that her family has no doubts about you.

Secondly, strong defence: modern armed and security forces, tailored to the current threats. Listen, for so many years in France we've been preparing for yesterday's war. Here too, I'm not criticizing anyone, but, well, history has examples of this.

Our armed forces must have the long-term certainty of possessing capabilities commensurate with our ambition. Despite the present crisis, the Prime Minister, Defence Minister and I have maintained France's defence effort: €377 billion for defence between now and 2020.

We have asked for the reform of the armed forces. It will be completed. The armed forces' mission, I want to say this in front of a lot of parliamentarians here today, is security. It isn't town and country planning (regional development). So let's go on trying to do both and our armed forces won't achieve anything in the field of town and country planning (regional development) or be in any state to ensure our country's security. The strength of our defence is no longer measured by its manpower.

Here too, I shall do precisely what I have said.

To be strong, our defence has to be independent: so we will equip ourselves with autonomous intelligence and early-warning capabilities, cyber defence capabilities and projection forces whose equipment doesn't date, as is sometimes the case, from the '80s, not to say the '70s.

We have to have a strong Europe. Building Defence and Security Europe is an absolute priority. Europe has to assert herself as it did last summer in the Georgia crisis. To those who defend national independence - and I'm among them - I'd like to compare what Europe did in the case of Georgia and what happened a few years ago, in Europe, in that of Bosnia. Secretary-General, I'm not insulting anyone at all by saying that the Bosnian problem was in the first place resolved by the American forces and that the Georgia problem was in the first place resolved by Europe's policy. And, to my mind, this counts.

In Munich, I said that it was a test for Europe: Europe is faced with a very simple choice: does Europe want to be left in peace or does Europe want peace? The choice is clear and we know what becomes of continents and countries whose sole ambition is to be left in peace: one day, they see the return of war. And France has had bitter experience of the "leave us in peace" maxim.

And, it seems to me, history tells us that we can't adopt this strategy.

Since what is a major economic power without the military capabilities to defend its interests? And how can we speak of a European voice if it remains silent when weapons talk?

Europeans have to be able to act on their own if necessary, and with their allies if they so decide. I know that we agree with our American allies on our need to strengthen European military capabilities. And the Americans have perfectly understood that there's no point in having weak allies.

But we can, all the same, ask ourselves one thing: why is the concept of Defence Europe making such slow progress, as if everything were fine in the best of all worlds. And why hasn't it been developed? I have a clear idea about the reason for this.

In 1995, after the 1994 White Paper, Jacques Chirac had courageously embarked on a first modernization of our defence policy. At the time he took on board the consequences of the end of the Cold War, the Gulf War and Bosnia.

Major decisions were taken: the move to wholly career armed forces, development of projection capabilities, modernization of our deterrent and the desire for full participation in NATO's structures. I wasn't in the government at the time, but I approved of that choice. As everyone knows, the procedure Jacques Chirac set in train to reintegrate NATO wasn't completed because our American allies didn't agree to a more equitable sharing of responsibilities in the military structure of the time. What I'm saying isn't a value judgement, it's a truth disputed by no one.

Now in 2009 we have to take on board the consequences of EU developments, new threats and new strategic priorities. But with the same historic objective: to ensure France's security and influence, with due regard for our national independence and strategic autonomy.

What would an isolated inward-looking French defence policy be? A new Maginot Line against the challenges of the modern world.

Our defence has two pillars: the European Union and the Atlantic Alliance.

A word on France's ambition - and here I'm going to be a bit controversial because we have to inform the public. The French ambition for European defence has long aroused suspicion in the United States and in Europe, in both. In many people's eyes, in both Europe and the United States, France - by pushing Defence Europe - was seeking to weaken the transatlantic link and the Alliance. Unproductive anti-Americanism too often strengthened that perception.

Since the Saint Malo agreement, instigated by Jacques Chirac, between France and the United Kingdom in 1998, European defence has seen substantial progress. The European Union has developed instruments and procedures, a capability. It has conducted over 20 civilian and military operations to ensure in-depth stabilization of the regions in crisis.

And yet, ladies and gentlemen, in 2007 I discovered a totally hamstrung situation. Sometimes we hear people say this was because of some country or other, hostile in principle to Europe, a fierce supporter of an out-and-out Atlanticism. That's wrong. The situation was hamstrung first of all because of France who, through her "no" in the 2005 referendum, had contributed to plunging Europe into gridlock. This is why our first initiative, with the government, was to get it moving again because, frankly, after the referendum we weren't capable of rallying the whole of Europe around us. Europe was at a standstill, but France wasn't in a position to lead the way out of the gridlock. Here Bernard Kouchner and François Fillon will correct me if I'm wrong, we went to great lengths to get things moving again.

With the Lisbon Treaty, we will have a coherent framework for our defence. When it comes into force, the ESDP's institutional framework will be strengthened for many years to come. And that's very good.

The treaty will create an obligation of mutual assistance in the event of armed aggression and an obligation of solidarity in the event of a terrorist attack. But it wasn't the "Atlanticists" who rejected the Lisbon Treaty, it was Ireland, a neutral country! And some people in France who accuse me of giving up the European ambition opposed the Lisbon Treaty! That's the truth.

But we have to face the fact that despite the institutional progress, the military reality isn't yet as it should be. Who disputes this? Not me at any rate. The absolute priority, as I said last June, on the eve of the French EU presidency, is to build modern, robust and interoperable capabilities in Europe. It's far harder than developing institutions and procedures or taking on civil servants.

If we don't develop these capabilities, Defence Europe will be a paper tiger. And everyone one will lose out, Europe first of all, but also our allies in NATO.

This objective was at the heart of the French EU presidency. I thank all our partners because they understood how much we needed a genuine boost to European defence, this time focused on something concrete.

So what are these commitments?

We are going to set new sights for our operations. The aim will be to be able to tailor them to different crisis situations, within the overall goal of the deployment of 60,000 troops.

We will have a stronger planning capability, combining military and civilian aspects - which the European Union alone knows how to do today. We are counting on Javier Solana to set this up, in a reinvigorated spirit.

We are going to strengthen our military capabilities: projects have been approved, and opened up to those wishing to join them, for force projection and protection, intelligence gathering, space-based intelligence and interoperability.

We have put it on record that national frameworks are no longer sufficient to build these capabilities: we need new methods, to pool projects, share costs and equipment, specialize.

We are going to create a military "Erasmus" for the joint training of European officers.

We have put on record the need to restructure the defence industrial base in order to form global-scale groups. We shall develop the key capabilities in Europe to strengthen our security of supply. We are going to faciliate intra-European transfers and the access to public procurement: I welcome the European Parliament's adoption of the two directives which had been under discussion for far too long.

We are going to stimulate the defence research effort, on which the very future of our industry depends, collectively aiming to spend 2% of our defence budgets and set up a fund to finance the projects. Wherever possible, we will seek synergies between civilian and military technologies.

Finally, the EU is going to get involved in the most urgent areas of our security: plans have been adopted for the fight against terrorism, proliferation, strengthening space security, disarmament and so on.

This is the plan for the future. But last year's events have shown the urgent need for immediate action.

Faced with the crisis in Georgia, we have deployed a civilian observation operation which is consolidating the cessation of hostilities. And Bernard Kouchner and I were very happy to be in a position to propose it.

Against the pirates in the Gulf of Aden attacking our ships, we launched the "Atalante" operation, the first EU naval operation, the first operation defending purely European interests and, what's more, the first EU military operation commanded by the United Kingdom.

So we're seeing, bit by bit, the ending of the taboos and things getting moving again.

We owe this result to the efforts everyone has been making, but also, let's be straight about it and look at the actual situation, we owe it to the new spirit which has been coursing through Europe since France announced she was going to resume her full role in NATO. This bolsters national independence. Our proclaimed but unrealized distancing from NATO limits our national independence and our room for manoeuvre.

I'd said last year that before we could make this move towards the Alliance, new momentum had to be given to European defence. Who can dispute that this has been done?

So this brings me to NATO. I knew perfectly well that we were going to trigger a debate in France. What could be more normal in a great democracy?

But there must be a debate based on the facts. Because if it isn't based on the facts, M. Racine, it's no longer a debate, it's a verbal battle.

Your conference has drawn attention to facts which have too often gone unrecognized. Everything is going on as if we were keeping the facts from the French - facts I had highlighted during the presidential campaign, I'm not taking anyone by surprise. I've always thought deep down that it was in France's national interest for us to take this step.

But let's go back over the facts for the French who don't know them because they've been deliberately kept from them. We are founding members of the Atlantic Alliance, born 60 years ago. Founding members, and we have never left the Atlantic Alliance. It is and remains a key component of our defence and security policy, with a fundamental commitment: mutual assistance in the event of an aggression, and the French certainly aren't going to be worried about having an agreement with the United States of America should we be attacked, given that our American friends twice came to help us, save us.

So let those who want a verbal battle carry it through to its logical conclusion. If they no longer want an alliance with the United States of America, in the event of an aggression, let them say so! At any rate, I - who am responsible for the nation's higher interests - tell you that it would be madness.

The Atlantic Alliance is also the symbol of the community of transatlantic values and interests. General de Gaulle himself defined our Alliance in 1966 as "that of the free peoples of the West".

But the Alliance is also, and this is never said, a treaty of alliance between the European nations themselves. 21 of the 27 EU Member States are members of the Alliance. And people were expecting me to wait for the French presidency to announce, in a great surge of European solidarity, that we had no interest in NATO. 21 European democracies out of 27 are in NATO.

Since 1966, France has moved closer to NATO step by step, more often than not without saying so.

Agreements were immediately signed to coordinate the use of our forces.

In the Euromissile crisis in June 1983, François Mitterrand was President of the Republic. The Atlantic Council met in Paris for the first time since the French withdrawal. At the end of the 1980s, with François Mitterrand the president, when the Cold War was about to end, we had achieved an unprecedented level of consistency with the NATO set-up in Europe.

Since 1992 - when François Mitterrand was president -, drawn to do so because of the new world situation, we went with NATO into Bosnia then into Kosovo, after subduing Miloševic's Serbia, and finally with NATO we went to Afghanistan. At that time we, France, became one of the main contributors of troops to Atlantic Alliance operations. No one knows this in France; the time has come to tell the truth. In 1993, under President François Mitterrand, we began again attending Military Committee meetings, and in 1996, under President Jacques Chirac, we resumed our full place on it.

Since the 1999 strategic concept, we have supported and taken part in the transformation of the Alliance, which led in 2002 to some major changes. In particular, we participate in NATO's Rapid Reaction Force.

In 2004, under President Jacques Chirac, breaking with the 1966 taboo, we began to place French military personnel in the integrated structure. Since then, Secretary-General, the French flag has once again been flying in front of the NATO HQ. You want symbols, I've given you one. And we've already got three French headquarters in Lille, Lyon and Toulon, certified for Allied operations.

As for weapons standards, the entire European industry, including ours, has long been complying with the standards the Allies defined together.

So this has been a continuous process throughout all the successive left- and right-wing governments; a process, ladies and gentlemen, which has never gone into reverse. So it's been our collective choice, and I approve the decisions of the then-President Mitterrand and President Jacques Chirac, we were right to make it.

Despite all this, we are outside the military structure. Why? I admit I haven't heard any convincing arguments to justify this.

On the other hand, the disadvantages are obvious. Indeed, they were so obvious that they led Jacques Chirac and Alain Juppé to try and move France closer to NATO in 1995-1996.

The disadvantages are first and foremost the following: our Allies don't understand our position. Our inability publicly to shoulder the responsibilities of our position in the Alliance casts doubt on our objectives. The result: we've got an Alliance that isn't European enough, Secretary-General, and a Defence Europe that isn't progressing as we had hoped.

If we present Defence Europe as an alternative to the Alliance with the United States we are sure to kill off the idea of Defence Europe. If we present Defence Europe as an action complementary to the Alliance with the United States we will push Defence Europe forward.

The second disadvantage is that we have no "flag posts". We think it right to send our soldiers into the field, but feel it is too great a commitment to put our generals on the military committees. We don't get to have our say when the Allies define the military objectives and capabilities for the operations! We send our soldiers into the field, we risk our soldiers' lives, but we don't participate in the committee which defines NATO's objectives. Who can understand such a policy?

And all this is of our own doing, because we have excluded ourselves. NATO is therefore the only international organization in the world in which France doesn't seek to be present and influential! There are no other examples. Generally, founding members of an international organization seek to be present and influential. NATO until now: we are present in the field, we deploy our soldiers, but - excuse us - we don't want to be influential, so we don't want to be present.

So the time has come to put an end to this situation, since this is in France and Europe's interest.

By concluding this long process, France will be stronger, France will have greater influence. Why? Because the absent are always wrong. Because France must be involved in making the decisions rather than just carrying out those of others. This is my idea of France.

Because we have to be where decisions and standards are formulated, rather than waiting outside to be notified of them. I'm in favour of national independence, but my idea of national independence doesn't mean France waiting at the door to be notified of standards because she didn't want to contribute to framing them, because she didn't want to sit in the seat offered to her. Because, once inside, we will have our full place in the major allied commands.

Because, at a time when the Alliance is going to redefine its role and missions, we want France to carry her full weight in this reform. We must stop deluding ourselves that by putting our heads in the sand we are protecting ourselves from anything.

Europe itself will be stronger in the Alliance. People say that NATO is dominated by the United States. But how can Europeans play their full role in it if France stays out of the loop? What an odd argument. We must strengthen Europe's weight within NATO but stop France from getting closer to NATO. Who can understand that?

If France shoulders all her responsibilities in NATO, Europe will have more influence in NATO. And so NATO will not be an exclusively US-dominated organization.

The Lisbon Treaty itself establishes the link between European defence and the Atlantic Alliance. It stipulates that the Allies' collective defence will be conducted in the Alliance framework. And this link, I would remind you, was formally noted in 2003, by the Convention on the Future of Europe, and then by the foreign affairs ministers at the Intergovernmental Conference. I wasn't president of the Republic at the time.

Finally, European defence will be stronger. Because, by ending ambiguity as to our goals, we are creating the necessary trust to develop a strong and autonomous European defence. I believe more than ever in European defence. Do you think that without the movement I set in train, our European partners would have supported us during the French presidency? I think not. And do you think that the United States would have lent us its support as George Bush did in Bucharest and as Barack Obama is doing today? Never.

If this choice is a break with the past, it isn't so much as regards its substance, which is the result of a long maturation process. It's as regards the method.

I could, as has been done at other times, have taken a solitary decision and then announced it at a press conference. I could have consulted neither parliamentarians nor our major partners and engaged in secret diplomacy. It's the President's preserve.

I did the opposite, with the Prime Minister, I chose transparency and debate.

With the opening-up of the White Paper Commission to people of all shades of opinion, a White Paper which validated, after much substantive debate, the move back to NATO's integrated structure. With the questions we have asked over the last 18 months. With the dialogue which has been established not only between the government and the National Assembly and Senate, but also within the ruling majority itself. I would like to thank the commission chairmen, because it wasn't so easy. Everyone did their bit.

But now the time has come to draw a conclusion, I must shoulder my responsibilities as Head of State and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, for the good of our country and its security.

That said, I have listened to the concerns which have been expressed. Leaving aside the polemical arguments, one key issue was highlighted: our national independence.

On this point, I'd like to come back to the reasons General de Gaulle gave in 1966, in the context of the Atlantic Alliance as it was at the time, for taking his decision. The aim was to "make our armed forces fully national again", in line with the grounds he gave in 1954 for opposing the creation of a European Defence Community. I'm told that I'm betraying General de Gaulle's heritage, when he opposed the European Defence Community. Today, I'm arguing in favour of Defence Europe. Are we betraying the Gaullist ideal by arguing for Defence Europe whereas he was against the EDC? Things have changed. In 1966, the decision he took was to have no more foreign troops in France and no French troops under Allied command.

Today our armed forces are and will remain national because our armed forces are the ultimate expression of our sovereignty. Our armed forces won't be integrated in any supranational army over which we have no control. And to be frank, nobody wants that. That's really living in a fantasy world because after countless visits, countless meetings I haven't found a single government which wants a supranational army. I haven't seen a single government at the European Council table asking for unanimity not to be a requirement on decisions to engage national troops, it's obvious that it's in France's interest to be at the heart of a tightly-knit network of solidarity and alliances.

Naturally we are going to keep our independent nuclear deterrent.

We will keep our freedom to decide whether or not to deploy our troops.

And we will not put a standing contingent under Allied command in peacetime.

I have adopted these principles laid down by the White Paper. Nothing in today's NATO contradicts them.

Our strategic independence is recognized by the Allies in the 1999 Strategic Concept. No one imagines the United States or United Kingdom ever placing their nuclear weapons under the orders of a committee. That's a joke, frankly if that's the only threat we have to confront, we can sleep soundly. We can talk about deterrence, we have to talk about disarmament, but the decision on the use of our nuclear weapons can't be shared.

No NATO decision-making process can force us to do something against our will. None. All North Atlantic Council decisions are taken unanimously and that will remain the case. In Bucharest in 2008, France and Germany said "no" to speeding up the accession of Ukraine and Georgia. Frankly, we were right. The United States supported speeding up the accession applications. Germany and France said "no", and so the answer was no.

And if further proof of our independence were needed, the revision of the Constitution has given unprecedented powers to Parliament on deploying our troops in operations.

I solemnly declare that those claiming that our independence is at stake are deceiving the French people. I'd add that by saying this they are insulting and shocking our European partners, our allies, by implying that they're not independent. Felipe Gonzalez, a great European, who brought Spain into NATO, said this in no uncertain terms a few days ago.

Legitimately, others are asking what NATO will be tomorrow, when we're playing our full role in it.

On 4 February, Angela Merkel and I proposed a Franco-German approach. We are asking our Allies to start working on a new Strategic Concept, ten years after the 1999 one. Let me ask you something: what would be the logic in a France requesting a new Strategic Concept for an alliance she's a founding member of and not playing her full part in formulating it? Decide on the new Strategic Concept all by yourselves, we'll go along with it if we like it. Honestly, is that a way for governments to work in 2009?

We want the Alliance to adapt to the new threats. For it to be a true forum for debate between Allies.

We want NATO to have a faster response capability and be more efficient.

We want NATO both to ensure our collective defence, Article 5, and the missions which we conduct worldwide to further our security and peace, in accordance with the United Nations Charter.

We want to strengthen the strategic partnership between the European Union and NATO.

We want an Alliance open to the Euro-Atlantic area. But our Alliance isn't an inn: entry means sharing our values, being able to shoulder its responsibilities and contribute effectively to the Allies' security and continent's stability.

We also want to build, I should say rebuild, a partnership relationship with Russia, if Russia so wishes, and discuss our continent's security with her. Another argument, Prime Minister, for fully reintegrating NATO. We aren't going to let the United States and Russia calmly discuss the security conditions on our continent just between themselves!

Some people tell me this choice would be a betrayal of General de Gaulle. An "alignment with Washington". That it would undermine our dialogue with Russia and the Southern countries. Or even go as far as saying that France would be engaging in a "war of civilizations", against Muslims. And that had we been in the integrated command we'd have been forced to participate in the war against Iraq in 2003! Lies! Untruths! You don't inform a great democratic nation by telling lies.

Who can claim to know what General de Gaulle would do today? Do you think that when General de Gaulle did what he did in 1966 he was basing his decision on the policy of 1923?

Yes, we are the United States' allies, we are friends, but friends making their own decisions, independent allies and free partners.

And I maintain that in the modern world we have to be able to change decisions made almost 50 years ago. In the name of the Gaullist heritage, should we renounce the Non-Proliferation Treaty which General de Gaulle rejected? Because General de Gaulle rejected the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Should we refuse to let our German friends station a regiment in France, as Hervé Morin asked Angela Merkel? Should we not modify anything in our defence agreements with Africa and keep wholly obsolete bases there?

We pursue dialogue with every country in the world, in each case in line with our interests. France is doing so with Russia, and I've gathered, cher Bernard Kouchner, that when we were talking last summer in Moscow, that wasn't exactly what the United States wanted us to do. And when, Prime Minister, we invited Syria, thus reviving our dialogue with her, was France proving her independence? And I'm interested to see that the United States is today following in France's footsteps. And what about Libya? And what about Iran? And what about Venezuela? And what about Cuba? Is France independent? Sometimes the same people who are against the return to NATO accuse me of "supping with dictators".

Frankly, if France were only to talk to democracies, my carbon footprint would be substantially smaller.

As for the Atlantic Alliance, it isn't waging a "war of civilizations". NATO flew to the rescue of the Muslims of Bosnia and Kosovo - that's a fact, a historical fact, anyone can check it - against attacks by Miloševic. It's NATO which is defending the Afghan people against the return of the Taliban and al-Qaida. We can, cher Pierre Lellouche, go on for ever debating whether the strategy is right or wrong. Should it be modified? Yes, it must be. But who is it defending?

The war in Iraq has nothing to do with NATO. Even before France did so, Germany opposed it. Spain and Italy participated and then left when they decided to. Turkey, a member of NATO, refused to allow the American troops to go through its country. And countries which aren't NATO members followed the Americans there. Saying that France's reintegration of NATO would have led the French army into Iraq is a shameful lie which doesn't enhance the reputation of those uttering it. You can hold any beliefs you want and be perfectly entitled to defend them, but lies have no place in a democracy.

Next week on 17 March our national debate is going to be concluded in Parliament.

The upgrading of our relations with NATO isn't an isolated issue. It's one component, among others, of a foreign and European policy and a defence and security policy.

I would like our Parliament to express its view on the choices made since spring 2007. This is why this morning the Council of Ministers authorized the Prime Minister to make the vote a vote of confidence on our whole foreign policy. Because, as you have clearly understood, this process of rejoining NATO's integrated command is just one component of a more wide-ranging process designed to consolidate and develop the nation's independence.

Our Allies and our European partners will be following this very closely. I am convinced that this debate will be worthy of our country and commensurate with our vital defence objectives, as was the one on the White Paper last June. And I have every confidence in the Prime Minister, François Fillon's ability to uphold the different strands of France's foreign policy.

After learning the result of the debate, I will write to our Allies to inform them of my decision. We will then meet in Strasbourg and Kehl, on the Rhine. The Rhine was for a long time a symbol of confrontation; it will be a symbol of Franco-German reconciliation. Angela Merkel and I will be hosting the 60th anniversary summit of our Alliance.

It will, I am sure, be a great moment for Franco-German friendship, European unity and the transatlantic partnership. Many people ask me what the Franco-German partnership really means, they ask me to defend the Franco-German friendship. Well, let me tell you that France's reintegration of NATO will, believe me, be very important for the Franco-German friendship, and our German partners, friends and allies are delighted with this move which is going to strengthen Europe.

France, because it's in her interest and is her choice, will play her full role in this transatlantic partnership. A free, wholly supportive, independent and committed ally.

Ladies and gentlemen, as I hope you've understood, this decision will be the culmination of a process and I am very proud of the French diplomacy carried out by Bernard Kouchner, the action of the Defence Minister, Hervé Morin, and the Minister of State for European Affairs, Bruno Le Maire, and through this process we'll be doing something else as well: better informing the French. And finally, the Prime Minister and I went to such great lengths on this issue not because we had any doubts, but because we had to address huge education and information gaps. Democracy demands one thing: the truth. It was time to tell the French the truth about our relations with the Atlantic Alliance.

Thank you./.


Source: French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, www.diplomatie.fr.

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