Journalists from U.S. website Politico and France Inter public radio also participated in the interview, though the following is the only full transcript of the interview:
After your talk with Xi Jinping, what can we expect from China on Ukraine?
I believe that China shares the same observation as us, which is that today's situation is a military one. The Ukrainians are resisting and we are supporting them. It's not the time for negotiations, even though we are preparing for them and, if necessary, laying the groundwork. That's the purpose of this dialogue with China: to consolidate common approaches.
First, supporting the principles of the United Nations Charter. Second, a clear reminder about nuclear issues — and it's up to China to draw the consequences of President Putin's deployment of nuclear weapons in Belarus, just days after committing not to do so. Third, a very clear reminder about humanitarian law and the protection of children. And fourth, the desire for a negotiated and lasting peace.
President Xi Jinping spoke of a European security architecture. But there can be no European security architecture as long as there are invaded countries in Europe, or frozen conflicts. So, a common matrix emerges from all this. Is Ukraine a priority for Chinese diplomacy? Perhaps not. But this dialogue helps to moderate the comments that have been made about China's alleged complacency towards Russia.
Since the Chinese are obsessed with their confrontation with the United States, especially on the issue of Taiwan, don't they tend to see Europe as a pawn between the two blocs?
As Europeans, our concern is our unity. This has always been my concern. We show China that we are united, and that is the meaning of this joint visit with Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. The Chinese are also concerned about their unity and Taiwan, from their point of view, is a component of it. It is important to grasp their reasoning.
Is it in our interest to accelerate on the Taiwan issue?
The question Europeans need to answer is the following: is it in our interest to accelerate on the Taiwan issue? No. The worse thing would be to think that we Europeans must become followers on this topic and take our cue from the U.S. agenda and a Chinese overreaction.
Why should we go at a pace chosen by others? At some point, we have to ask ourselves what is in our interest. What is the pace that China itself wants to go at? Does it want to have an offensive and aggressive approach? The risk is that of a self-fulfilling strategy by the U.S. and China. We Europeans must wake up. Our priority is not to adapt to the agenda of others in all regions of the world.
The trap for Europe would be that, at a time when it is achieving a clarification of its strategic position, when it is more strategically autonomous than before COVID, it would be tangled up in world destabilization, or crises that aren’t Europe’s. If the tensions between the two superpowers heat up, we will not have the time or the means to finance our strategic autonomy and will become vassals, whereas we could become a third superpower if we have a few years to build it.
As an increasing number of European countries turn more than ever to the United States to ensure their security, does European strategic autonomy still make sense?
Certainly! But that's the great paradox of the current situation. Since the Sorbonne speech on this topic five years ago, nearly everything has been done. We have won the ideological battle, from a Gramscian point of view if I may say so. Five years ago, some said that European sovereignty did not exist.
When I mentioned the subject of telecommunications components, not many people cared about it. At the time, we were already telling countries outside Europe that we considered this to be a major issue of sovereignty and that we would adopt texts to regulate this, which we did in 2018. The market share of non-European telecom equipment suppliers in France has been significantly reduced, which is not the case for all our neighbors.
We have also introduced the idea of European defense, of a more united Europe that issues debt together during the COVID pandemic. Five years ago, strategic autonomy was a pipe dream. Today, everyone is talking about it. This is a major change. We have equipped ourselves with instruments on defense and industrial policy.
There have been many advances: the Chips Act, the Net Zero Industry Act and the Critical Raw Material Act. These European texts are the building blocks of our strategic autonomy. We have begun to set up factories for batteries, hydrogen components and electronics. And we have equipped ourselves with defensive instruments that were completely contrary to European ideology just three or four years ago! We now have very effective protective instruments.
The issue on which we must be particularly vigilant is that the war in Ukraine is accelerating the demand for defense equipment. However, the European defense industry does not meet all needs and remains very fragmented, which leads some countries to turn to American or even Asian suppliers on a temporary basis. Faced with this reality, we need to step up our game.
Strategic autonomy must be Europe's priority. We do not want to depend on others for critical issues. The day you no longer have a choice on energy, self-defense, social networks, or artificial intelligence because you lack the infrastructure on these issues, you will be out of history for a moment.
Some could argue today in Europe that there is more emphasis on Franco-German relations and less focus on Poland...
I would not say that. We have created a European fund for missiles and ammunition with a budget of two billion euros, and it is strictly European and closed. However, it is clear that we need a European industry that produces faster. Our capacities are saturated. The pace of history is accelerating, and Europe's war economy should follow the same logic. We are not producing fast enough.
In fact, look at what is happening to address the current situation in an emergency: the Poles are going to buy equipment from South Korea ...
But from a doctrinal, legal and political point of view, I think that there has never been such an acceleration of the Europe-power. We laid the groundwork before the crisis and there was tremendous Franco-German leverage during the pandemic, with very strong advances in financial and budgetary solidarity. And we have reactivated the Weimar format with Germany and Poland. Today, we need to accelerate implementation on the military, technological, energy and financial levels to speed up our effective autonomy.
The paradox is that the American hold on Europe is now stronger than ever ...
We have certainly increased our dependence on the United States in the energy field, but with a view to diversification, because we were far too dependent on Russian gas. Today, we are more dependent on the United States, Qatar and others. But this diversification was necessary.
We are facing the consequences of what we failed to do over the past two decades.
Besides, we must consider the lingering effects. Europe has neglected building the strategic autonomy that I am advocating for, for far too long. Today, the ideological battle is won and the groundwork is laid. It comes with a cost, and that's normal.
It's akin to the reindustrialization of France: we have won the ideological battle, implemented necessary reforms which have been challenging, and we are beginning to see the results. However, we are also facing the consequences of what we failed to do over the past two decades. That's the reality of politics! It requires persistence and endurance. But it is through this commitment that mindsets can change.
But still, the United States is pursuing a policy with the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) that you have even described as aggressive...
When I went to Washington last December, I took the initiative, even though some criticized me for doing so aggressively. But Europe responded, and before the end of the first quarter of 2023, in just three months, we had a European response with three texts. We will have our European IRA. Acting with such speed is a small revolution.
The key to becoming less dependent on the Americans is to strengthen our defense industry, to agree on common standards. We are all putting in a lot of money, but we cannot have ten times the standards of the Americans! Then, we must accelerate the battle for nuclear and renewable energy in Europe. Our continent does not produce fossil fuels. There is a coherence between reindustrialization, climate and sovereignty. It is the same battle. It is the battle of nuclear power, of renewable energy and of European energy sobriety. It will be the battle of the next ten to fifteen years.
Strategic autonomy means having convergent views with the United States, but whether it is on Ukraine, the relationship with China or sanctions, we have a European strategy. We do not want to enter into “block-to-block” logic. On the contrary, we must "deristify" our model, not depend on others, while maintaining a strong integration of our value chains wherever possible.
The paradox would be that, overcome with panic, at the very moment when we are putting in place the elements of a true European strategic autonomy, we believe we are just America’s followers. On the contrary, the battles to be waged today consist on the one hand of accelerating our strategic autonomy and on the other hand of ensuring the financing of our economies. I would like to take this opportunity to emphasize one point: we must not depend on the extraterritoriality of the dollar.
Is Biden just a more polite Donald Trump?
He is committed to democracy, fundamental principles, international logic, and he knows and loves Europe, all of which is essential. However, he follows an American bipartisan logic that defines American interests as priority #1 and China as priority #2. The rest is less important. Is this questionable? No. But we must take it into account.
Isn't China the power that substitutes us wherever Europe retreats, in Africa, in the Middle East, and so on?
I don't think so. There has been a setback for about twenty years. I decided three years ago to increase our official development assistance, but only after fifteen years of retreat. When Europe disengages, we should not be surprised that others move forward. When the United States turns more towards itself, as it has done since the 2010s, or towards the Pacific, and Europe suffers a financial crisis, China naturally steps forward.
This is why it is important to ensure that it remains within a common framework, that it participates in the reform of the World Bank, that it engages with us as it intends to do at the next Summit for a New Global Financial Pact in Paris in June, on the financing of developing economies.