Jean-Yves Le Drian and Heiko Maas: “No, multilateralism is not outdated!”

12.11.2019 - Article

Joint article by Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, and Heiko Maas, German Minister for Foreign Affairs, published in the french newspaper Le Figaro

A year ago, when the first Paris Peace Forum was launched, Europe was celebrating the centenary of the 1918 Armistice. Today we are participating together in the start of the second Forum, right after the commemorations of the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

These two events are historically linked in a striking way. The former ended the first of the 20th century’s two major catastrophes, which were played out mainly on European soil. The latter allowed us at last to hope, 70 years later, for the reconciliation of our continent and the possibility of forging our common destiny together.

The resonance between these two anniversaries reminds us that Europe has always managed to overcome its most bitter divisions and rise from its ruins. It vindicates the European Union, that unprecedented achievement which ensured democracy and brought peace between countries which had so dreadfully torn one another apart. It alone explains why we Europeans will always be at the forefront in defending the values which are at the heart of the multilateral system. Multilateralism is not just a way of regulating world affairs through cooperation between states. It is also a certain idea of the world order and of mankind, based on the legacy of the Enlightenment, rationality, adherence to the rule of law and the search for shared progress. It is in the name of these principles that we invite our partners worldwide to join us in opposing the dramatic undermining of multilateralism and the organization which symbolizes it: the United Nations.

In a world plagued by violence and inequality, a state of environmental emergency and facing an unprecedented technological revolution, there is a seemingly surprising paradox because, quite obviously, common challenges call for common responses. But we no longer have time to be astonished. We must act.

We have started laying the groundwork for a renewed multilateralism, more inclusive and open to all the players who matter today: states, stakeholders in the global economy and civil society representatives. That is the ambition of the Alliance for Multilateralism.

The success of the Alliance for Multilateralism’s first ministerial meeting, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in September, showed that many of us think multilateralism is not just a modus operandi but a common good to be protected. More than 50 foreign ministers from every continent now stand by us.

It is not a new international organization but a flexible network of foreign ministers from every region of the world, determined to strengthen global governance and provide concrete responses on issues where we have common interests and values to defend: human rights and international humanitarian law, collective security, reducing inequalities, technologies of the future, and global public goods – first and foremost, of course, the climate.

Today, at the Paris Peace Forum, the Alliance for Multilateralism will meet to discuss a major challenge: regulating the digital space. Without appropriate rules, that borderless space risks becoming a lawless zone unprecedented in nature and on an as-yet-unmatched scale. Unless we want to see an increase in violations of individuals’ private lives, attacks on vital infrastructure, industrial espionage practices, the manipulation of information, or online hate speech, we must consult one another to devise the principles and tools of the 21st century. States, major groups in the sector, international organizations, journalists and civil society – we all have a role to play to ensure the digital revolution honours the promises of freedom, exchanges and prosperity that it heralds.

Our Alliance, which meets in various formats and configurations, will subsequently gather in Berlin on 10 December, international Human Rights Day. It will then meet again on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference.

To give up on multilateralism because some disengage and others exploit international organizations for their own ends would be to agree to live in a world with no safety net. We – France, Germany and more broadly we Europeans, whom history has taught the cost of division – cannot resign ourselves to this backward step. Neither can our partners. We are still by far the most numerous.


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