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Hélène Conway-Mouret

Hélène Conway-Mouret

Sénatrice des Français de l’étranger

Mon déplacement à Dublin pour la 14ème conférence annuelle de l’Association des études franco-irlandaises

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Les 28 et 29 octobre derniers, je me suis rendue à Dublin à l’occasion de la 14ème conférence annuelle de l’Association des études franco-irlandaises (Association of Franco-Irish Studies) de l’université technologique de Dublin. Conviée à intervenir sur un sujet qui m’est cher par Eamon Maher, collègue et ami depuis si longtemps, il m’était impossible de refuser son invitation. 

 

Cette année, la conférence avait pour thème « De nouveaux départs d’un point de vue franco-irlandais » (« New beginnings from a Franco-Irish perspective ») et je suis intervenue lors de la table ronde « La France, l’Allemagne et l’Irlande dans une future Union européenne » (« France, Germany and Ireland in a future European Union ») aux côtés du politologue et ancien diplomate allemand Eckhard Lübkemeyer et de l’ancien diplomate irlandais Rory Montgomery, ambassadeur d’Irlande en France. Vous trouverez le texte de mon intervention à la suite de ce compte-rendu. 

Au cours de cette conférence annuelle, plusieurs autres panels se sont succédés, sur des sujets très variés tels que « Tourisme, publicité et entreprise : croissance soutenable ? » ou encore « Perspectives historiques : marquer les liens », permettant de rappeler les défis communs et les liens qui unissent la France et l’Irlande. La politologue irlandaise et directrice du Centre Robert Schuman pour les études avancées à l’Institut universitaire européen, Brigid Laffan, a d’ailleurs prononcé un brillant discours soulignant la proximité entre nos deux pays.

 

La journée du 29 octobre était consacrée à diverses séquences organisées par notre ambassade à Dublin. Je me suis d’abord rendue à l’Alliance française où j’ai échangé avec la directrice, Fabienne Clérot, et la conseillère des Français de l’étranger, Saïda Ait El Hadj, sur de nombreux sujets : la gouvernance de l’Alliance, les défis après 18 mois de fermeture, le positionnement de nos Alliances françaises dans le paysage culturel local et européen. Deux projets – un podcast autour des figures marquantes de l’Alliance française en Irlande et la constitution d’un réseau des alumni – témoignent du dynamisme de notre réseau d’ Alliances Françaises en Irlande.

 

Après cette séquence culturelle, j’ai participé à une séquence consulaire avec la chargée d’affaires Marianne Barkan-Cowdy, la conseillère des Français de l’étranger Saïda Ait El Hadj ainsi que les consuls honoraires Catherine Gagneux (Galway), Loïc Guyon (Limerick) et Josselin Le Gall (Cork). Nous avons discuté de la situation des Français en Irlande, des compétences des consuls honoraires, de l’enregistrement de Français et de la numérisation des services de l’administration. 

 

Je me suis ensuite entretenue avec M. Ciaran Murphy, secrétaire adjoint chargé des affaires internationales et de la législation au ministère de la Défense irlandais, afin d’échanger sur les relations bilatérales en matière de défense. Nous avons évoqué entre autres les répercussions possibles du rapport que la commission des Affaires étrangères et de la Défense du Parlement irlandais rendra en janvier sur les orientations stratégiques de l’armée, la vision française de la boussole stratégique, les conséquences des attaques informatiques du système de santé irlandais par des Russes, la participation de l’armée irlandaise à la MINUSMA ou encore la position de l’Irlande dans l’hypothèse d’une implantation de la société paramilitaire russe Wagner au Mali.

Mon séjour s’est terminé par une rencontre avec les conseillers du commerce extérieur de la France (Stella Clarke (présidente de la section), Augustin Blanc, Mathieu Gorge) et la directrice de la Chambre de commerce, Mme Cliona MacGowan, en présence du chef du service économique de l’ambassade, M. Paul De Vos et du directeur du bureau régional à Londres de Business France, M. Arnaud Leretour. Nous avons discuté des sujets intéressant la communauté d’affaires et des actualités économiques, notamment l’impact du télétravail sur la culture d’entreprise, les crédits d’impôts, le rôle des banques pour terminer par une présentation du city working group French Tech. 

 

 

Ci-dessous le texte de mon intervention lors de la table ronde intitulée « La France, l’Allemagne et l’Irlande dans une future Union européenne »: 

 

I would like to congratulate the organisers of this conference and the Association of Franco-Irish Studies of the Technological University Dublin for organizing such an exciting programme for this 2-day conference, mixing local and global issues and for giving me the opportunity to meet so many friends and know faces to discuss the interactions between France, Germany and Ireland, three countries close to my heart.

 

I will first approach this subject from the personal point of view of a French citizen who spent half of her life in Ireland and spoke German as a child thanks to her grandmother. Thus, the European citizenship is not an abstract concept to me but, on the contrary, a strong sense of belonging to a continent. Therefore, even if I don’t have dual or triple citizenship as some do, I am completely aware of the chance the European Union (EU) represents for Europeans and I greatly benefited from the freedom to study, work and live where I chose, all made possible by the peace and prosperity that we managed to build and maintain over the past 70 years.

Indeed, I would like to shortly underline the tremendous progress that the EU embodies regarding our common history. The Irish people, more than any other, know the human and economic cost of a civil war. After two bloody and deadly world wars that stemmed from acute tensions between European countries, the European integration brought a lasting peace. To me, the most striking example is this well-known photography of French president François Mitterrand and German chancellor Helmut Kohl holding hands during the commemoration of the beginning of World War I in Verdun in 1984.

 

Having said that, I will now get to the heart of the subject by developing two parts: the first will be based on my point of view as a member of the executive committee of the Jean Monnet Foundation based in Lausanne and whose president is Pat Cox; the second part will draw upon my experience as Secretary of the Committee of Foreign Affairs, Defence and Armed Forces of the French Senate. 

 

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As you all perfectly know, France, Germany and Ireland are among the countries that are the most engaged in the European integration. France and West Germany are among the founding members and Ireland joined the European construction in 1973 during the first enlargement of the European Communities. I would like to argue that these three countries’ choices and commitments illustrate Jean Monnet’s vision of Europe. 

 

As a founding father of the European integration, Jean Monnet presented « solidarity » as a fundamental European value. He is indeed the architect of the plan for deeper cooperation between France and West Germany in the field of coal and steel industries that French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman presented on 9th May 1950 in the “Schuman Declaration”. The goal of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was to secure lasting peace on the continent thanks to the development of a production-based dependency between France and Germany in a strategic sector, making any armed conflict between the two countries impossible.

Here is the origin of the strong relationship between France and Germany, often considered as the engine of the European integration. Since the creation of the ECSC, the two countries have continually deepened Jean Monnet’s vision, particularly by signing the Elysée Treaty on 22nd January 1963 – establishing new foundations for Franco-German relations after centuries of rivalry – and, more recently, by signing the Treaty of Aachen on 22nd January 2019. This treaty is interesting because it not only adapts the cooperation between the two countries to the key issues of the 21st century, but it also aims at strengthening the European project, thus clearly placing the Franco-German relationship within the broader framework of the European integration for the sake of the European project. 

 

However, the reality of the expression of European solidarity has been questioned for the past few years, for instance during the migrant crisis – Germany acting unilaterally with Angela Merkel’s “Wir schaffen das” in 2015, whereas some East European countries refused to welcome migrants on their soil. However, economic solidarity does exist.

Greece, Ireland and other countries benefited from a programme of financial support to help them recover from the 2008 banking and financial crisis. Another very recent example is the 750 billion euros recovery package, called Next Generation EU, agreed in July 2020 by EU leaders to fight the economic and social consequences of the pandemic. This package represents a substantial progress compared with the management of the 2008 crisis. We moved from individual assistance to a collective effort from which all EU countries benefit. Of course, European solidarity is much more developed in the economic field – the EU being initially strictly an economic project – than in the political, geopolitical and social fields. I think one task of our three pro-European countries in the years ahead is to endeavour to extend this solidarity to other fields and beyond our borders. The pandemic has already forced us to help each other within the Union but also to play a role with Covax in the world-wide vaccination scheme, which is the proof that Europe can act as one when it choses to do so. The Brexit negotiations provide another good example.  

 

To end that part, I would like to stress again the fact that the European project is unique in the world and above all that it is perpetually in motion, adapting to the evolution of the political, geopolitical and economic context. Member states change their positions because they face new challenges. France rejected the European Defence Community (ECD) in 1954, it is now the most enthusiastic advocate of European strategic autonomy, particularly in the defence field. Germany refused the French proposal of creating euro bonds after the 2008 financial crisis, in 2020 it agreed to a common debt to fight the consequences of Covid-19. Ireland recently agreed to a minimal taxation of 15% on multinational firms in the framework of the OECD, putting an end to years of refusing any change to its tax policy. There will be no end to the European project. It will remain a project in the making because the world in which we live is not static. As Jean Monnet put it: “L’Europe se fera dans les crises et elle sera la somme des solutions apportées à ces crises. » 

 

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After this short historical reminder, I will now attempt to tackle the future. What can France, Germany and Ireland do as part of the future EU? Always important to know where one comes from to know where one is going. 

 

On the international scene I think the European approach should be articulated around four concepts, the so-called “4D”: diplomacy, defence, development and disarmament. The chaotic withdrawal of the United States from Afghanistan once again illustrates the failure of approaches that are solely based on the military component. Europe has the means to contribute to peace in the world and, for that purpose, can of course rely on France, Germany and Ireland. France is deeply engaged on these three levels: it has the third biggest diplomatic network after the US and China, its military spending amounts to 40 billion euros, it is the fifth largest provider of development assistance.

As for Ireland, it is the only country in the world that has contributed to the UN peacekeeping operations since 1958 without interruption. Moreover, it plans to increase its official development assistance from 0,4% of GNP currently (869 million euros) to 0,7% in 2030. Its military spending is however very low owing to its position of neutrality. This policy, that has been implemented since the 1930s, explains why Ireland didn’t take part in the Second World War, has never entered NATO and ratified on 6th August 2020 the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. It contributes to the objective of disarmament and proves that it is not incompatible to invest in an army for pacifist purposes. This is the case of Switzerland and other neutral countries. Likewise, Germany has a complex relation with the military for historical reasons. But there is a growing recognition of the necessity for the country to play a bigger part in the geopolitical field. Besides, it is the second largest provider of official development assistance.

Thus, with the commitment of these three countries and of the rest of the member states, Europe has undeniably the resources to be a key geopolitical actor. 

 

Nevertheless, to preserve its influence in the world and the attractivity of its model, Europe must be strong, credible and respected. It should also remember that it is a land of welcome (from an etymological point of view, “Europe” means “looking far ahead”, which reflects this idea of being open).  In the future it will still need to accept a sustained immigration, otherwise its population will decrease by the end of the century because of population ageing and its lower fertility rate. Indeed, according to Eurostat, without immigration, the population of the EU will decline by 108 million inhabitants by 2080. From this perspective, denying that immigration is a positive phenomenon is a nonsense. The trends of nationalism that we observe in some European countries are particularly worrying as they stigmatize immigration. 

 

In order to be strong internationally, the EU must first and foremost invest in its own research and development. The pandemic has highlighted our weaknesses and our dependence on other countries in strategic fields such as the health sector. Scientific progress will be a key element of geopolitical rivalries in the future given the growing complexity of our world. If we do not want to fall behind, we must significantly increase our investments in education, research and innovation. In his writings, Jean Monnet emphasized education, supporting the idea that it should be at the heart of the European construction. As you know, I’m a great supporter of the European Universities initiative, which consists in strengthening strategic partnerships across the EU between higher education institutions to enhance the international competitiveness of European universities and ultimately build a European education area. It is up to us to create an “ever closer union among the peoples of Europe”, notably by relying on education. We cannot be strong on the international stage if we are not united, and we should rapidly act to this end if we do not want to lag behind other powers.  

 

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To conclude, I would like to stress that the EU is at a crossroads that will determine the role we, Europeans, will play in a rapidly changing world. To start with, we must not forget that without the European rule of law, there is no union. Protecting our values is essential to the safeguard of our interests and to ensure the continued existence of the European project. For my part, as a pro European citizen, I will in any case do my best to contribute to this effort. Most issues such as the pandemic, climate change, mass migration, future water shortage, are all bigger than us and cannot be faced or resolved by individual countries. We all have a part to play. Our meeting today goes in the direction of attempting to act collectively to provide the best responses.

 


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