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Joint news conference by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault (27.11.12)

Jean-Marc Ayrault (via interpreter): Mr Prime Minister, once again I want to say in front of the press that I’m pleased, and not only myself but our entire Government is pleased that you have arrived on the occasion of the 17th session of our intergovernmental workshop. This was our first meeting and the first time our governments met in this format. I can say that our work and the contribution of the Government members accompanying you, and the members of our Government… This work is very fruitful. But in addition, last night we had an exchange of personal views. I think that all this and the current work only strengthen the cooperation between France and Russia. Of course, these relations were established more than a century ago, and our countries have supported precisely such relations. Of course, history has played a role here. But today a new stage begins, and I think that both countries want to see our partnership grow deeper. We have relations built on trust, and jointly we have outlined prospects for the coming years.

As for the political dimension, I can say that our relations are very strong. Mr Putin visited Paris last June. Moreover, bilateral cooperation has been progressing rapidly lately. The meetings of Russian-French Security Council and the Council for Economic, Financial, Industrial and Commercial Matters held in November are milestones which will help us properly prepare the French President's visit to Russia in the first half of 2013.

With regard to economic issues, we are prepared to use the full potential of our relations. I believe this confirms once again our global role, I mean Russia's accession to the WTO and Russia’s role as the G20 chair beginning December, then the G8 in 2013 and so on. I believe all of this is based on a very symbolic foundation. I have in mind the agreement between Renault and AvtoVAZ, the gas agreement between Total and NOVATEK, and the agreement on locomotives between Alstom and TMH (Transmashholding). So, I think that our countries are building genuine industrial cooperation.

In addition, I believe that investments by our businesses, including small- and medium-sized businesses, can help Russia as it embarks on the path of modernisation. Prime Minister Medvedev, I’m aware that this is one of your top priorities. In the course of our work, you have shown us how well-versed you are on all these matters. The fact that we were able to sign an agreement on energy efficiency between French and Russian investors as part of the intergovernmental commission indicates that we are prepared to take our relations to a new level. In addition, Russian Railways is investing in GEFCO PSA. This shows that we are eager to welcome Russian investors, since this helps support employment in our country. This is not a one-way street, but rather balanced and mutually beneficial cooperation. We have an excellent track record of cooperation spanning many years.

We are planning to open a joint exhibition about the role of intellectuals in our two countries at the National School of Fine Arts. I believe it fits perfectly into the cross France-Russia year, the Year of Literature and Language. Our ministers of culture signed a declaration in this spirit that opens up new prospects for cooperation in the field of cinema, theatre, plastic arts and so on. To sum up, I can say that this forum will allow us to express our will to continue on the path of even closer cooperation between France and Russia. We enjoy fairly intensive cooperation in many areas: the Minister of Foreign Affairs has appointed Mr Jean-Pierre Chevenement as France’s representative in Russia in order for us to able to carry out this cooperation effort, and I’m grateful to Mr Chevenement for having accepted this offer. So, we will work closely with you and we will have a close relationship between France and Russia.

Dmitry Medvedev: Mr Prime Minister, ladies and gentlemen and members of the media, I would, of course, like to begin with thanking my colleague for the great atmosphere that the Russian delegation and I have enjoyed since last night. Yesterday, we had an opportunity to talk informally and to get to know each other. As you are aware, personal contacts are as important in international relations as documents and traditions. Since we have established such a good personal contact, I believe that relations between our governments will be good as well.

This is our first meeting since the parliamentary and presidential elections in Russia and France. Our main task is simple. Or maybe not. It is to provide continuity in the privileged partnership that underlies relations between Russia and France. I believe that we took a major step in this direction today.

Things look favourable in our trade, economic and investment relations. The amount of investments last year was quite decent. Our bilateral trade came to $30 billion. We ran into certain difficulties this year, but nevertheless the trade volume will still be fairly significant, which reflects our desire to further promote our trade relations.

We have discussed our investment cooperation and noted a few things, such as the fact that it’s doing well, that there are major and very important projects that will shape our cooperation in the coming years and that we still have much to accomplish. For example, French investments (I mean direct investments) in the Russian economy amount to over 9 billion roubles, whereas Russian investments in the economy of France are much smaller at about 130 million roubles. Therefore, we should do everything in order to level out these figures and make investments mutually beneficial. We have noted that we are making good progress in certain areas. This, of course, includes the fuel and energy sector, automotive, pharmaceutical and food processing industries and agriculture in general. We should keep going at this pace. We are cooperating in the area of high technology, which we have mentioned on many occasions. I am glad that in the two years that have passed since my last official visit to France, we were able to promote the relationship between Skolkovo and the French technology park Sophia Antipolis. Today, we can already speak of active cooperation between them. We have new forms of cooperation, such as creating a tourism cluster in the North Caucasus and several other areas, which we believe are genuine breakthrough developments.

We hope that all the agreements that we just signed will be implemented for the benefit of our countries. At the same time, we should not forget about the human aspect of our cooperation, namely its cultural component. Very important cultural events occurred in 2010: the Year of Russia in France and the Year of France in Russia. This year, we had seasons of the Russian language and literature in France and seasons of the French language and literature in Russia. The exhibition, Writers and Intellectuals Between Russia and France: A Journey Through the Archives of the 20th Century, mentioned by my French colleague, will close this series of cultural events. Such a journey is invariably a fascinating event. Together we are going to launch a new project involving theatre and film seasons based on an existing agreement. Our countries are increasingly focusing on this area of cooperation, which has its roots in our shared history and the mutual sympathy of our peoples.

We exchanged views on various issues. Last night, we discussed the international situation including, of course, all complicated political issues. We noted that the European Union is faced with major challenges. I said that Russia hopes that our partners from the European Union and France restore economic stability in the European Union and stabilise the situation in the euro zone, because it’s in the interests of Russia, which has close relations with the EU economy and $400 billion in annual turnover. This is an unprecedented figure that is important for Russia and all EU economies. Therefore, we will participate in drafting collective decisions based on proposals of the International Monetary Fund, the G20, the G8 and other forums open to Russia and France. We are confident that we will continue to advance our cooperation in the future. This year, the Russian President visited France. We are here now. We are looking forward to the visit of the French President to Russia next year, and I am sure that our colleagues will maintain the dialogue that we started today.

Once again, I would like to thank my colleague for the excellent organisation of our visit. Thank you very much.

Question: If I may, I have a question for the Russian Prime Minister. Mr Medvedev, did you discuss in detail the situation in the eurozone in your talks? Are you satisfied with what you heard from your French colleagues with respect to the steps that are being taken to deal with the crisis, concerning the future of the euro? And in view of this: does the Russian Government have any plans to reduce its euro reserves? And in general, have you changed your assessment of the strength of the Russian economy against the backdrop of the crisis? Thank you.

Dmitry Medvedev: Yes, of course, we discussed the situation in the eurozone and the EU economy, we discussed the overall international and economic situation. I would like to thank my colleague, Mr Jean-Marc Ayrault, for telling me in detail what is going on, what the challenges and problems are. Today we had some good tidings on the settlement of the situation (yet again, it's true) around the Greek debt. We hope that this is a complete and final settlement, although life is very complex. From the very beginning, when the Prime Minister and I sat down by the fire to discuss our views, I said that Russia, the Russian Government, wishes every success to the European Union, to the eurozone nations, in stabilising the situation, because we are truly very close partners.

I have just cited our trade figures, and you mentioned our euro reserves – indeed, about 42% of our currency reserves are in euros. This is a huge sum, because Russia's currency reserves are quite large. But we are not going to review anything because we believe in the strength of the absolute majority of economies in the eurozone. Yes, there are problems that need to be solved, and this needs to be done as soon as possible. But on the whole (I basically said this four years ago when the crisis of 2008 began), it is very good that the world faced its next crisis (and crises are known to be cyclical in nature), in a situation in which we have not only the US dollar, but also a very powerful reserve currency – the euro. We cannot loose this because if we are challenged again with new crises while relying only on one or two reserve currencies, this will threaten the strength of the whole economic structure, the whole economic world order. Therefore we are not changing our plans and we wish our EU colleagues luck in coping with these problems as soon as possible.

Question (via interpreter): A question for the Russian Prime Minister. Mr Prime Minister, regarding Syria, we are aware of a deep divergence of opinion between France and Russia. Is Russia ready to offer political asylum to President Assad in order to stimulate a political transition period? Is Russia prepared to receive him? And an economic question: since you have many reserves in Russia, are you going to play any part in the settlement of the ArcelorMittal problem? And is Russia ready to invest in Florange?

And a question for the French Prime Minister: as for this steel works – do you think a solution will be found?

Dmitry Medvedev: It is true, we discussed the situation around Syria. Under the Russian Constitution and under the French Constitution, the President controls foreign policy. I have been working on this policy for four years and I know that this task is far from being simple; however I will answer your question.

I have said this repeatedly in the past, and I will say it again: Russia has no special relationship with President Assad. The relationship that existed between the Soviet Union and his father is no more, and Russia does not have any kind of similar relationship with the current President; however we have had normal working relations. Our objectives do not include supporting such regimes whatever the cost. We are guided by the concept that the Syrian people themselves should resolve their problems – this is the source of our contention, or the main distinction between the Russian position and the positions of a number of our partners, including France. We do not think it right to interfere in the internal affairs of such sovereign states, even if we have concerns over human rights. Naturally we can address our concerns both to President Assad and the opposition, because both have blood on their hands and they bear equal responsibility for what is happening there. Our objective is to bring them to talks and make them reach an agreement, not for the sake of the future President Assad, but for the sake of the future of the Syrian people, whose ethnic and religious structure is very complex. We do not wish to see bloodshed between all these faiths in this ancient land.

Now a more peaceful subject: investment. You know, today we discussed in general terms the need to strengthen efforts on Russian investment in the French economy. I cited these figures specifically. France, in the form of private businesses, directly invested about $10 billion in Russia, and we invested just over $100 million. Yes, currently there are several projects: Mr Yakunin has just signed a very large deal, but all the same, the total amount Russia has invested in France is about 10-12 times less than the other way round. Therefore, if our businesses, primarily private businesses, become interested in purchasing anything in France, we will have a favourable attitude to this. But it is necessary that the French Government should have a similar position, because investment is a two-way street. We are counting on this.

Jean-Marc Ayrault (via interpreter): Thank you, Prime Minister.

I just want to comment on what has been said about the euro. It is true that yesterday evening we summed up our opinions on the situation in Europe. We considered ways to strengthen global growth, first of all in Europe, on the continent. Of course, developments in the eurozone also interest Russia, and very much so. You told me, you mentioned more than once how important a strong European currency is, not just the US dollar. It is very important that you mentioned it yesterday. I told you about our efforts to improve the situation in the country. We are helping our partners get beyond the dead-end of the crisis. We needed to find a solution for Greece, and this was a very important decision. Our goal is to stabilise the eurozone. It is essential to revitalise growth in Europe. We are a top economic power, and by “we” I mean all of Europe. If there is stagnation and depression, it is very difficult. Besides, our interests are interconnected, and it is good that we have brought this up.

Now to your question about Mittal. This is a very large group of companies, with 20,000 workers in France alone, which is why we pay considerable attention to this issue in as far as it concerns all industrial facilities in our regions. As for its steel plant in Florange, you know the situation. It is very important that our discussions with the group and its chief executive be maximally open. It goes without saying that the French authorities must ensure their compliance with commitments. The French President will meet with a Mittal delegation and its chief executive this evening. I hope that the issue will get off the ground. I believe that the most important thing is not simply to outline what we want, but to find a practical solution and think about the future. In other words, I will no longer press on, because the discussion is proceeding quite well. But let’s consider the issue openly and calmly and work for success, because France has been challenged and we must bounce back – I am referring to the situation in industry, the economic situation. Our parliament will soon approve the necessary steps to implement a national stability pact. Wed hope to succeed in this sphere.

Question: I want to ask you if you talked about the construction of the Russian culture centre in France, in Paris, during your discussions. In 2010 the Russian Federation paid a handsome sum for a land plot on Quai Branly near the Eiffel Tower. An open design competition [for the centre] was held and a winner was announced. But after that the Paris Mayor and prefecture refused to issue a permit to build the centre. Russia reportedly abandoned the plan last week. Can you explain what’s going on with this and whether there are objective reasons behind the French authorities’ refusal to endorse this rather large cultural project in Paris? Thank you.

Dmitry Medvedev: Who is the question for?

Question: My first question most likely concerns the Prime Minister of France. And this is what I want to ask you Mr Medvedev: What is the current situation and Russia’s stance on this issue? Will we continue the effort to build this culture centre? Thank you.

Jean-Marc Ayrault (via interpreter): Prime Minister Medvedev will provide his point of view, but as I see it, he strongly insists on the implementation of this project. You seem to be aware of this. As for France, we are determined to resolve the issue. We wanted this Culture and Orthodox Worship Centre to be built on a land plot that belongs to Russia. The land plot is on Quai Branly. Of course, France will insist on the implementation of this project, but it is very difficult to build in Paris, especially on a cultural heritage site, because we have a very precise architectural procedure and heritage protection rules and so on. This is why we had to review the matter. We did it to find a solution, and I am confident that we will find it. There have been several meetings between Russian and French authorities and representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church. In short, I believe that we are moving in the right direction. We needed to amend the design and remove some obstacles. Politically, as to what we are ready to support, you know that France is determined to implement this project. I know that Russia insists on it as well. I believe that it is symbolic of our strengthening relationship.

Dmitry Medvedev: I’d like to add a few words or else it’ll look as if I’m forcing my colleague to answer all the questions. But you can see from what he said that we did discuss the issue. I can say frankly that we really want this project to go forward, because it is a symbol of our friendship and cooperation. By the way, it is not just the citizens of our two countries who support this project. According to the latest poll – I don’t know how representative it is because it was held by Le Figaro - but 75% of Parisians support the idea of building an Orthodox church on the chosen site, maybe because they worry that something else will be built there.

As for the future, I will tell you that we have always believed in the importance of continuity in the implementation of the decisions previously taken by our partner – in this case, France. Therefore, we can review technical elements and discuss different designs. But what is the main point? The main point is that decisions taken must be implemented, as my colleague, the Prime Minister of France, has said.

Question: Two questions for Mr Medvedev. Regarding industry: Russia holds a stake in EADS. Do you plan to review your cooperation with the EADS Group (The European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company)? My second question concerns Severstal. Would it be interested in the plant in Florange?

Dmitry Medvedev: We have a stake in EADS indeed, and we believe that this is good although we do not get direct dividends from it. This is an issue that could be discussed.

But it would be necessary for the Russian Federation or the Russian business community to see the need to expand their stake in the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS). Additionally, we’d need to understand how we would operate in this market and as part of a consortium. As for the Severstal stance, it would be appropriate to address this question to Mr Mordashov (Alexei Mordashov, Director General of Severstal PLC). I’m not involved in drafting his business plan. But Severstal Group is a major group of companies, which is usually interested in investment opprtunities. Of course, this should be discussed with the shareholders of the group and with those making the decisions.

Question: I’d like to direct my question to Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault. Mr Prime Minister, your counterpart Dmitry Medvedev once suggested holding a conference with various countries to discuss internet regulation issues. What is your opinion about this?

And I’d also like to ask Mr Medvedev a question. You are the Prime Minister of Russia, but also the leader of the ruling party, which has recently passed repressive legislation with regard to the internet. The Google web search engine has been switched off twice in Russia over the past month. The YouTube video site was also cut off once and then reactivated the next day. This was explained as a technical problem. Mr Prime Minister, perhaps it’s high time to ask you in some way to call on your party to pass more precise internet legislation? Thank you.

Dmitry Medvedev: I can answer this, if necessary, although your first question was addressed to Prime Minister Ayrault. As for current bills or laws, or current legislation, to be more exact, you know, I agree that some of them are probably imperfect, and that it is high time to assess their practical enforcement. I will not argue with this because internet regulation is a rather difficult process. On the whole, society is still deciding what issues are subject to regulation, and which are not. But this legislation should not be referred to as repressive because not a single online source has been blocked or cut off during the enforcement of this legislation. To the best of my knowledge, the authorities promptly corrected those problems. I hope that this will be the rule in the future. Regarding your question, I continue to insist that the international community should consider parameters to regulate the operation of the internet on the national or international level. This does not mean that we should resort to excessive regulation in every aspect, that runs completely counter to the spirit of the internet, but obviously there are problems which have to be solved. By the way, this is a concern for other countries, not for Russia. In my opinion, it would be better if we started addressing this issue as soon as possible. This does not mean that we should act rashly. But in any case there should be a set of international guidelines. When I raised this issue at the G20 summit, most of my colleagues agreed that they also considered it necessary to work out some civilised approaches, but the situation remains unchanged.

I would like to remind you that the internet does not just provide the opportunity for public political activity, it also serves as a platform for the opposition to the Government and the President. All this is probably good, but in reality the internet, is also a sum total of various copyright issues. The situation with copyright issues is not good, and we have to clarify this. We must find out whether copyright issues are being violated during the use of online resources, or whether we should disregard this and admit that it’s a new copyright model which should be less regulated. By the way, I agree with this approach, but this meets with resistance on the part of various associations, which are copyright owners, and which still believe that online resources should be covered by the provisions of the Geneva and Vienna conventions. These conventions are over a hundred years and about 70 years old, respectively. The world has changed, and we must face these challenges. The Russian Government will also decide what issues should be regulated. If necessary, United Russia will consider the issue.


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