1 July 2008
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York



“The United Nations is essential for the world, and the European Union is essential for the United Nations,” the Permanent Representative of France said today at a Headquarters press conference.

Briefing correspondents on France’s priorities when it assumed the Presidency of the European Union in July, Jean-Marie Ripert said Europe was a global partner of the United Nations.  Although many denounced the European Union, Europe was more than the sum of its members; it was also a great economic power.  It was also one of the main pillars of United Nations peacekeeping.  At 38.5 per cent, the European Union was the largest contributor to the Organization’s regular budget, and four of its members -- Germany, the United Kingdom, France and Italy ‑- were among the six major contributors.

He said the European Union was also a top contributor to United Nations peacekeeping, accounting for 40.5 per cent of the peacekeeping budget, with some 11,000 staff devoted to peacekeeping operations, excluding those operations that the Union undertook under the United Nations mandate.  The Union was also the number one contributor to public development aid, at 60 per cent, and private investment flows to developing countries, at 50 per cent.

Europe was the fundamental partner for United Nations discussions on the Millennium Development Goals; financing for development; climate change; rule of law; promotion of human rights; and food security, he said.  In the General Assembly, the statements made on behalf of the Union were on behalf of 27 Member States and 13 associated countries, or a total of 40 nations, which often voted as a bloc.  There were between two and five Union members present in the Security Council, where two thirds of the texts adopted were of French or British origin.  Seventy to eighty per cent of the texts on Africa were of European origin.

According to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the priorities for the French European Union Presidency concerned the challenges of climate change, the food crisis, migration and European security, he noted.  Europe wanted to convince all partners, in particular the emerging countries, to implement the Kyoto Protocol.  Before the end of the year, its Presidency would like to provide a “well-defined and ambitious” plan for reducing carbon gas emissions and for developing renewable energies.  It would also prepare, among other things, the 2009 Copenhagen meeting.  Additionally, it wished to strengthen the energy independence of the European continent.

As for the food challenge, he said Europe had already profoundly reformed its agricultural policy, but more had to be done.  There was a need to meet food requirements, to protect the environment, fight desertification, adjust global imbalances and ensure sustainable development.  Europe had been criticized for food surpluses that destabilized local markets.  In light of today’s world food crisis, one should be more modest about the realities of the food situation.  There was no prosperity in the world unless the right to food was ensured, and there was no real independence without food security.  Europe would be an important partner in events following the meeting of the Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome.

Addressing the issues of migration and asylum, Mr. Ripert said that Europe, with its 450 million inhabitants, was under heavy demographic and economic pressure.  It was essential to coordinate measures among member States in that area, but that should be done in a spirit of solidarity in favour of an immigration that was selective and ensured the right of asylum.  Europe also wanted to fight effectively against illegal immigration.

He said that, today, European Union States spent too little on their defence and security:  less than half of what the United States spent.  Europe was not able to meet its needs as its partners required.  Regarding external interventions, the objective was to ensure a deployment capacity of 60,000 troops, inclusive their equipment and support, for one year.  Not all criticisms of United Nations specialists regarding European Union participation in peacekeeping operations would be solved during the French Presidency.  Practical solutions had to be found to increase the military and civilian capacity of European States.  The intention was to increase industrial military capacity and operational effectiveness, and establish a command structure that would allow for a more proactive European force.  That would include, hopefully by the end of the year, adoption of a new European security strategy, which took into account the new challenges including terrorism, proliferation, arms trafficking and Internet crime.

Another priority of the French Presidency concerned the European-Mediterranean area.  The Mediterranean region was of vital strategic importance to the Union, whose Presidency team in New York, under the leadership of Philippe de la Croix, would work with the General Assembly and its committees in a “modest, ambitious and proactive” way.  Although consensus was mentioned often, the Union’s proactive approach would be in favour of compromise.

Asked about a European seat on the Security Council, Mr. Ripert answered, “Why not?”  Council reform was on the table again, and France supported Council expansion with permanent seats for Japan, Brazil, India and an African country to be determined by Africa.  An interim solution was possible.  For a European Union seat, however, there must first be a joint European foreign policy.

When asked about the return of the Iran issue to the Security Council and that country’s refusal to accept the “incentives package” and halt the uranium enrichment process, Mr. Ripert, in his national capacity, said that a group of countries was negotiating with Iran, adding that the European members of that group were careful to stay within the European Union positions.  Mr. Solana, responsible for the Union’s political and security concerns, had gone to Teheran.  Those discussions had not yielded the desired results.  Iran had refused the offered “strengthened cooperation package”, which was still on the table.  There was a two-track approach, consisting of pressure and dialogue.  No one disputed Iran’s right of access to nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.  If Iran continued to refuse negotiations of substance on its nuclear processes, however, pressure must be increased and the issue would return to the Security Council.

Asked in that regard about the perception that Europe was taking a backseat position, he said Europe did not think in terms of backseat position, but in terms of effectiveness.  It took initiatives, as it had done when it had proposed the abolition of the death sentence, at the United Nations.  After months of negotiations, a compromise had been found, namely a moratorium on the death sentence.  European values progressed in dialogue and compromise.

The European Union’s priorities during the General Assembly session could include:  human rights, including women’s and children’s rights; and extreme poverty, he continued.  December would be the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, signed in Paris.  There would be a reaffirmation of the validity and universality of human rights.  The Union would also strive for more reform in human resources management, as a top contributor.  Although the scale of contributions would come up next year, preparatory work for revision of the scale would arise in the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) this session.  Development and the Millennium Development Goals were also a priority of the Union.

There was an easy and a more complicated answer to the question of Turkey’s ascendancy to the Union, he said in response to a query in that regard.  The easy answer was that Union expansion was off the table until the ratification procedure was concluded.  In addition to the no-vote of Ireland [on the Lisbon Treaty], Poland had decided to suspend its ratification.  That was not a disaster.  The popular will had to be respected and the issue would be addressed in October.  The ratification procedure would be continued.

However, European Union expansion was still on the agenda, with three candidate countries, he added.  There were also several countries that were in the stage of the “association and stabilization pact”, including Balkan countries, in particular Serbia.  He hoped, speaking in his national capacity, that Kosovo would join later.  That process was continuing, and there was no question of interrupting discussions, in particular with Turkey, which was a major partner of the European Union and would be a major partner in the “ Barcelona process”, regarding the Mediterranean.

The French Presidency intended to participate actively in the Quartet ( European Union, Russian Federation, United Nations and United States), he said in response to another question.  The Quartet’s position was very clear.  The European Union would support the Americans, and it still believed in the 2008 deadline for a viable, peaceful, democratic Palestinian State living side by side with Israel, which would enhance Israel’s security.  He welcomed the Gaza ceasefire and had made several proposals regarding Gaza.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record