Chicago Public Radio : Interview with Ambassador Pierre Vimont
Worldview : Interview by Jerome McDonnell with Ambassador Pierre Vimont on October 21, 2008
JM : You’re listening to Worldview from Chicago Public Radio I’m Jerome McDonnell and France assumed the presidency of the European Union in July since then they have had to contend with several crises including Russia’s invasion of Georgia and the global economic downturn. Europe has approached their financial crisis under French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s leadership has differed from that of the United States Sarkozy thinks that it is time for global transformation to take place, he and other European leaders are calling for a new Bretton Woods conference on the organisation on the Global economy, it should happen within a month or so. The first Bretton Woods conference held in 1944 lead to the creation of the International Monetary Fund and eventually the World Bank. Sarkozy’s comments about the global economy have been in stark contrast with President Bush’s. Sarkozy has said things like “Self-regulation to solve all problems, its finished laissez-faire, its finished, all powerful market to that is always right, it’s finished.” He also said “Self regulation is sometimes insufficient, the market is sometimes wrong ; competition is sometimes ineffective or disloyal, it is necessary then for the state to intervene.” Meanwhile President Bush then says things like “It is essential that we preserve the foundation of democratic capitalism, we need to commit to free markets, free enterprise, and free trade.”
Pierre Vimont is the French Ambassador to the United States and I asked him if these two minds could meet when they start talking about the global regulations for the financial industry.
PV : I think they can meet because you have to understand what President Sarkozy is trying to say. He is not trying to say that we have to get rid of democratic capitalism ; he thinks just like President Bush that we have to preserve it. But in order to preserve it we must take the necessary steps to prevent a new crisis after the ones that we have seen just a few weeks ago or the ones that we have seen at the end of the 90’s or a few years ago with the internet system that was going all over the place. We have to prevent those crises from coming back so we need maybe more regulation, maybe not even more regulation but better regulation you know more complete regulations, this is what it is all about. So to some extent what the French authorities are trying to say is that we want to save and preserve democratic capitalism but precisely we have to take the lessons from the past where after those crises we didn’t do anything and didn’t do any reform, this time we have to find the right reform and put them into practice.
JM : If the Europeans want a global banking regulator with teeth is that something that the U.S. is going to sit still for ? It just isn’t going to take an institution that has real power over its national market, the U.S. might sit still for co-ordination and things of that nature but it doesn’t want anybody that has real regulatory teeth against it.
PV : Well we have to talk about all this, but we are not looking necessary for some huge big new institution with a lot of bureaucracy we totally agree with you. If in the end we could agree on something that would be better co-ordination and one institution of having the lead and getting the mission of leading the others, why not ? In fact that is what we are doing at the moment in Europe. At the last European Council last week we decided to have better co-ordination among the member states because at the moment most of those surveillance missions or control missions are being looked at by each member state and not by Europe as such. So what we are trying to do is get better co-ordination, better management of this financial crisis and so we ask each national institution to be in touch with the others, to be connected with the others and to try to co-ordinate on what could be some sort of small crisis centre or something of that sort. We are not looking for a new world institution necessarily, we have to discuss that, if we find another way, a lighter way of doing things then let’s do it, but we have to do something, if we get out of that crisis we can’t just say “Oh good we are out of it let’s go back to our usual habits.”
JM : But saying a new Breton Woods type of institution, these are grand gestures ; these are bold strokes that you are proposing, that President Sarkozy is proposing.
PV : I think that what we are saying through those commitments and those statements is really that we want to bring back confidence in the markets and among our public opinion because this is what it is really about. And because you have to be aware that behind this finical crisis what we are finding slowing emerging there is a very difficult economic slow down and we have to take care of that one also and to show to our public opinions, in each of our countries, that we are trying to manage that situation in the best way possible. And that we are not just staying aloof, far away to the difficult problems that every one of our citizens is facing.
JM : You’re listening to Worldview from Chicago Public Radio, I’m Jerome McDonnell speaking with Pierre Vimont he is the French Ambassador to the United States and we are talking about a couple of the issues that have faced the global community while France has been the head of the E.U.
Russia and Georgia has this little fracas and President Sarkozy had to get involved and negotiate a cease fire agreement, now there are E.U. monitors just getting stared in Georgia. This is a tough situation, it almost seems like a no win situation for the E.U. to have these monitors there, both sides are already accusing the other of breaking the cease fire, your monitors seem to have very little power in that situation, they are strictly guys without guns, how do you win in Georgia ?
PV : Well you see it is a difficult situation and a very difficult diplomatic situation, political situation and even maybe military situation, but we had the choice between doing nothing and just staying comfortably at home and just watching what was going on, on the ground there, or taking an initiative and trying to stop violence first of all. This is what President Sarkozy did with his first trip to Moscow and Tbilisi and the agreement he reached on the 12th of August and then there was this idea about getting, after the cease fire, getting the troops, the Russian troops to withdrawal and that was the second agreement reached on the 8th of September. Now we are in the process of monitoring that withdrawal and this has been going on I think in the proper way so far and getting those European monitors to watch, of course you are right they have no guns, but they are there to watch and to observe, this is what it is all about. Now we have a third step also started which is to start the political negotiations, the diplomatic negotiations and discussions that have started in Geneva, this will take time, it is a long term process without any doubt. But it is precisely to look at the more long term and substantial problems that we are facing there. The fact that Russia has recognised … where as we have not, we the Europeans, America also and most of the international community has refused to recognise and sticks to the point that we want to preserve and protect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia. So you are right we are facing a very difficult issue, one on which we hope we will be able to work and discuss and have negotiations rather than having the arms, weapons and military people taking over once again and starting again violence we want to prevent that as much as possible.
JM : How can you play an honest broker role the EU if you basically aren’t going to agree with the Russian point of view, if you are basically going to say “Ok we don’t recognise these states and we recognise the territorial integrity of Georgia” right there the Russians aren’t with you at all, how do you manage to stay there ?
PV : You know we’ve seen situations like that in the past we know that we always found solutions think about Cyprus which is another example of this kind of situation like this where the region is recognised by one country and not by the others. The important thing is to go on discussing, to go on and try to find solutions, to launch a negotiating process that will offer everybody to speak to tell us what are their positions and what they want and to try step by step to find a solution it make take time let’s have no doubt about it. When we started that discussion in Geneva, last week neither Russia nor Georgia in the end went into the negotiation itself, we had bilateral contacts with them but they refused to sit around the same table. Its understandable, its difficult for them they have questions of principles that have to be solved before that. But we are going to take our time, the necessary time to find ways of getting this negotiation on and getting everybody to be on board.
JM : Is NATO membership a good idea now for Georgia and Ukraine ?
PV : Well you know the positions that have been taken by several European countries among them Germany and France. We said that at the Bouras summit the NATO Bouras summit last April that we could agree for the principle of membership for Georgia and Ukraine later on but at this time the timing didn’t seem to us to be the right one. And we don’t think that when foreign ministers will meet in December in Brussels to look again at that issue that it is the time to decide on starting the first step which is you know allocating what we call a sort of road map for the Georgians and the Ukrainians. We think this is not the right time to do it so we think we have to take the right time to do this in order to avoid any controversial moves that would bring back tension and difficulties on the ground.
JM : Was it a mistake not to recognise Georgia the last time around when the U.S. was pushing it but Europe didn’t want it then either ?
PV : Well of course we were not in favour of that so we think that it was not a mistake and we think that just think for one second if we were in last August with this military situation with Russia fighting against Georgia and Georgia having its map, this program with NATO being adopted before the summit NATO could lose a lot of its credibility if it didn’t do anything as was the case this time. So our impression is on the contrary the decision that we took, not to take any decision in fact, the fact that we took no decision at the time was rather a good thing because it showed that time was not right for Georgia nor for Ukraine by the way. Our whole point is that it hasn’t to do with the fact that Russia could be angry about such a decision, it the whole question of whether those countries are stable enough to start the process of becoming members of NATO. This is what we usually do also with countries who ask for membership inside the European Union they have first of all to respect certain principles ; they have to be in a situation of real stability in order to allow for the negotiations to go on in a proper way. We thought at that time and we still think that neither Georgia nor Ukraine, just look at what is happening at the moment with domestic politics in Ukraine ; we think that those two countries are still not in the right situation to start negotiation about their membership
JM : Does NATO have any credibility now in the first place, it’s a defence pact that operates in Afghanistan, but only some countries fight when they want to and it seems like such a broad mandate that NATO has that it doesn’t defend Georgia but it works in Afghanistan ?
PV : I think NATO it still relevant and it is still efficient if you just look at the military power that NATO represents its still very impressive, I mean it is still very impressive and efficient military institution. The problem is how to improve that efficiency and in Afghanistan you are quite right one of the problems were facing is greater co-ordination between the different national contributions there and this is what we are looking at the moment you know with regards to Afghanistan we all more or less agree that we need to assess the situation at it is and to look at the different dimensions of our global strategy there. Not only the military dimension but also the political dimension that with regard to the influence and authority of the … government to look at what we are doing in terms of assistance of the economic and social development of Afghanistan. The whole question of the poppy crop the whole question of the relationship with Pakistan and all this has to be looked at and assessed in the proper way and improved as much as possible.
JM : France has had the presidency of the E.U. during these two blow ups that we are talking about. I imagine this wasn’t exactly what was on your agenda ; did you have ideas about things you wanted to move forward as the presidency of the E.U. that you kind of didn’t get around to because of all this ?
PV : The fascinating thing about every presidency is that you prepare for two years in ahead and you have your priorities right and you stick to those priorities and you prepare that in the best way possible. We had climate change, energy policy, agriculture, immigration, external relations, and we are still going on with those but suddenly right at the start of our presidency we discovered new issues that we forecasted at all. The Irish vote on the Lisbon treaty first of all, then the Georgian crisis, then the financial crisis, and what I find fascinating is that if in the end people will remember something about the French presidency of the second semester of 2008 it will be those issues and not the ones that we had prepared a long time ago.
JM : Are you worried that people will remember it as a time when things fell apart because, I mean all these things are tremendously negative, be it Georgia or the Lisbon treaty could be the death knell of forward movement for the European Union ?
PV : I hope people will remember and I think this is a fact so far is that Europe has played a major part with the Georgian crisis and the with financial crisis and has showed that it could speak with one voice and that it could bring a valuable contribution to try to solve those issues. There is still a lot of work ahead but who could have expected that Europe would be there with the Georgian crisis take the initiative and be in the forefront of the diplomatic action and that was very interesting. And to the same is true with the financial crisis, its Europe with its different countries, Britain, France, Germany, who came up with the clear proposals, complete proposals to try to solve the problem with this idea of first let’s take immediate action then afterwards let’s look for the reform of the international financial system. I think all this was rather new when you look at Europe, Europe was not silent, Europe in full action and that was interesting was and I hope that will go on.
JM : Ambassador Vimont thanks for joining us.
PV : Thank you for welcoming me thank you very much.
JM : Pierre Vimont is the French Ambassador to the United States ; France has held the presidency of the E.U. for the second half of this year.