Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

France reaches out for Kiwi friendship

Twenty-five years after the last visit by a French prime minister, Manuel Valls tells political editor Audrey Young that Paris wants much closer co-operation with New Zealand in several areas.
His Excellency Manuel Valls (Centre), Prime Minister of France arrives on Sunday afternoon at Auckland Airport for the first visit by a French Prime Minister since 1991. Photo / Greg Bowker
His Excellency Manuel Valls (Centre), Prime Minister of France arrives on Sunday afternoon at Auckland Airport for the first visit by a French Prime Minister since 1991. Photo / Greg Bowker

Why are you visiting New Zealand and why has it been so long since a French Prime Minister visited?

It has been, indeed, 25 years since Michel Rocard came to New Zealand. This is not enough official visits from French leaders and not reflective of the relationships existing between our two countries. These are excellent. I am here as the representative of a friend of New Zealand. I also come as a neighbour, as France is also a nation of the Pacific! Over half a million French people live in this region. Thus, I am coming here with the presidents of the governments of New Caledonia and French Polynesia. Lastly, this visit coincides with the development of our economic relations: there is a renewed interest of our businesses for the New Zealand market. The presence of a young, dynamic French community also clearly demonstrates the enthusiasm of my compatriots for New Zealand.

In what areas do you envisage France and NZ co-operating more closely in the future and what will you be doing here?

There are many opportunities for co-operation. I think of peace and international security issues, the fight against terrorism and religious extremism as well as climate change. The latter challenge we also share with the Pacific small island states, and I will propose to the New Zealand Government that we reinforce our co-operation to better protect the populations against natural disasters, through the CREWS initiative. I also hope that New Zealand will continue to support the integration of the French territories in the Pacific within their geographical and political environment. In a broader sense, I believe France has a lot to learn from New Zealand and from her economic stakeholders: I will therefore meet a number of Kiwi chief executives to hear their thoughts on reforms my Government is implementing, to make the French economy more competitive and attractive. Their opinion is important to me. The recent visit of 30 French business leaders in Auckland is testimony to this potential, and the future free trade agreement with the European Union will contribute to this. I am convinced we can go even further in the fields of creativity as well as academic and research co-operation. And, on the topic of creativity, it will be my pleasure to award to Sir Peter Jackson and Fiona Pardington, the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres for their superb contribution to raising internationally the profile of New Zealand, which, in part thanks to them, has become a dream destination for French people.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls says French people have been deeply moved by New Zealand's support over the Isis-related terror attacks. Photo / AP
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls says French people have been deeply moved by New Zealand's support over the Isis-related terror attacks. Photo / AP

Do you envisage a time when agriculture in France survives without subsidies and how will you address your farmers' resistance to a high-quality free trade agreement between Europe and NZ?

Our countries face the same challenges: ensuring food quality for our consumers, maintaining farming and rural communities as a key element of our way of living, combining agriculture and protection of the environment. In France and in Europe, our agriculture sector is facing additional challenges with a decrease in commodity prices, especially in living stocks and dairy sectors. Europe has built a strong Common Agriculture Policy which is consistently updated: for example, the suppression of export subsidies and the disappearance of dairy quotas.

France favours free trade, providing concessions are mutual, trade agreements are fair and balanced and tariff barriers effectively lifted. France is looking forward to the negotiation of a free trade agreement between Europe and New Zealand.

How important was international solidarity with France after the Isis-related terrorist attacks and what lasting effects has it had on your people and your politics?

What was targeted was our way of life, that of a democratic, open society, respectful of each and everyone's beliefs and convictions. French people were deeply moved by the expressions of solidarity demonstrated throughout the whole world, and especially in New Zealand. Everyone everywhere has understood that targeting France meant targeting our conception of humanity and universal values shared throughout the world. Islamist terrorism strikes everywhere, in Europe, in Africa, in Asia. No territory is immune. The fight, the war against terrorism is a global issue. New Zealand fulfils entirely its responsibilities as member of the Security Council. I salute the brave decision taken by Prime Minister John Key to take part in the training of Iraqi soldiers. France knows New Zealand stands by her side to end this terrible human tragedy in Syria.

Do you agree that the refugee crisis is testing the concept of a united Europe?

The refugee crisis is unprecedented. It puts the European Union to the test. The member countries must co-ordinate their action. The first imperative is to regain full control of our external borders. Then, the solidarity measures must be efficient. France confirmed last February her commitment to welcome 30,000 refugees. We also support the countries in the region such as Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey which help refugees to ensure that they are received in the most decent possible conditions. But let's not forget the only sustainable solution consists in ending the conflict which has hit the Syrian people.

You were just 22 when French agents sank the Rainbow Warrior. How would you reflect on those events nearly 31 years later?

France committed a serious error, which tainted the friendship uniting our peoples. But as Michel Rocard said in 1991: "Today, without forgetting the past, we must look to the future". It is precisely the objective of my visit: to ensure our two countries look, together, towards the future.

France is looking forward to the negotiation of a free trade agreement between Europe and NZ.

About 12,000 New Zealanders were killed in France and Belgium during World War I which gives many Kiwis a strong emotional link to France. Is that reciprocated?

Yes. It is a very intense bond. France holds an eternal debt towards New Zealand: a large number of her children sacrificed their lives for freedom during both world wars. The commemoration of the centenary of the fights in the trenches has given rise to numerous projects, cultural and academic between France and New Zealand. The programme "Shared Histories" for example, passes this memory on to students of our two countries. Next September, on the commemorations of the Battle of the Somme, France will invite 10 young ambassadors from New Zealand, aged between 17 and 18, to take part in visits on the battlefields over the course of two weeks. This commemoration of our shared history is also taking place in New Zealand, as France will inaugurate in 2018 a memorial within the Pukeahu National War Memorial Park in Wellington. The architectural competition was just launched on Anzac Day in New Zealand. The conception of this memorial is a bridge between our two countries: I invite all New Zealand architects and artists to partner up with their French counterparts to respond to this. Beyond the commemorations, there is a growing interest and attachment from French people to New Zealand: more than 8000 of our young citizens travel to your country each year, attracted by the beauty of the landscapes, by the quality of life in your country and curious of the promises she bears. They are the ones who keep the relationship alive between France and New Zealand - just like the 10,000 French people who already live here, and just like the New Zealanders who come to our country - I think here of course of Dan Carter playing for Paris. I know that the French team remains an opponent respected by Kiwis. And the next time, les Bleus will be ready!

What does France think about Helen Clark's candidacy for the UN Secretary-General's job? How can the Security Council complement France's efforts to get the Middle East peace process back on track?

The position of United Nations Secretary-General is a very demanding responsibility. Helen Clark is a candidate of high quality, whose experience as Prime Minister and at the head of the United Nations Development Programme for the last seven years is impressive. We are still at the start of the selection process and we will examine carefully all applications. For each of those, France will take into consideration political authority, management and linguistic skills. Peacekeeping is at the heart of the United Nations' action and we will be attentive to the proposals made by each and every applicant. As for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, we will organise on May 30 a ministerial conference in Paris to mobilise the international community and encourage the parties to resume negotiations, with only one possible outcome: the two-state solution. For a long time we have advocated for the Security Council to play its role on this issue. For now, our energy is focused on carrying out this initiative and I know that we can count on the support of New Zealand.

Is there any message you would like to give New Zealanders?

"Des confins les plus recules de la terre/From the uttermost ends of the Earth": this inscription on the New Zealand memorial in Longueval is, to me, the perfect illustration of how our friendship, forged during difficult times, has been a long journey for the promotion of our shared values and aspirations. I wish we continue this journey together and for our friendship to grow stronger.

Manuel Valls

• Born in Barcelona, Spain. Age 53. Married with four children

• Former Interior Minister

• Became Prime Minister April 1, 2014

- NZ Herald

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