29th Feb 2024

France distances itself from Kouchner human rights remarks

The French EU presidency has distanced itself from controversial remarks on human rights by French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner, while defending France's foreign policy record at the EU helm.

"There's a permanent contradiction between human rights and the foreign policy of a country, even of France," Mr Kouchner told French daily Le Parisien on Wednesday (10 December).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Get the EU news that really matters

Instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

"One cannot direct the foreign policy of a country based only on human rights. To govern a country one obviously forgoes a certain saintliness."

He also said that he had made "a mistake" in creating a special French secretary of state for human rights in 2007.

However, a spokesperson for the EU presidency, currently held by France, suggested the comments could be put down to the fact that the foreign minister was a human rights campaigner himself once.

"It's a personal question for him [Mr Kouchner]. He was a humanitarian activist before he became foreign minister. Maybe he thought he could have the same policies as foreign minister," French presidency spokeswoman Marine de Carne told EUobserver on Wednesday (10 December).

"It's also a problem in his ministry. He's saying the problem is to have a separate office for human rights," she added. "There's no 'Mr or Mrs for human rights' in the EU."

Mr Kouchner worked as a doctor for the Red Cross during the Nigerian civil war in 1968 and co-founded the charity Medecins Sans Frontieres in 1971 before taking up his current post last year.

But his remarks - coming on the 60th anniversary of the UN's Universal Declaration on Human Rights - caused disappointment in the NGO community.

"Kouchner saying this on this very day is a faux pas. He should rather have spoken out on the urgent need to protect people in danger around the world," Human Rights Watch campaigner Veronika Szente Goldston said.

"I disagree there is a 'permanent contradiction' - it's a false dichotomy. Human rights must form an integral part of foreign policy and these interests often go hand-in-hand. If you pursue human rights goals abroad this helps to create lasting stability and security."

Values audit

France has had a mixed record in its foreign policy ethics during the time it has held the six-month chairmanship of the EU.

President Nicolas Sarkozy annoyed trade giant China by meeting the Dalai Lama, Tibet's leader-in-exile on 6 December, but had earlier snubbed him in the run up to the Beijing Olympics and attended the opening of the games despite China's violent crackdown on Tibet protestors.

Mr Sarkozy and Mr Kouchner pushed for the re-opening of EU-Russia partnership talks in November even though Russia remains in violation of a French-brokered ceasefire in Georgia.

The French presidency, together with French career diplomat and the EU's envoy to central Asia, Pierre Morel, advocated closer EU relations with hardline governments in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan for the sake of energy security and supply corridors to NATO in Afghanistan.

France also backed the launch of a new EU trade deal with its historic ally, Serbia, which was vetoed by the Netherlands due to Belgrade's non-compliance with the Hague in its efforts to round up those accused of war crimes.

"It's a question of balance - you have to be firm, but obviously you need to keep the door open to dialogue, so that countries don't feel excluded. I don't think we changed the balance in terms of [EU] relations with certain countries," France's Ms de Carne said.

EU adolescence

Analysts say French impact on EU foreign policy is hard to gauge, as the 27 member states still handle most of their external relations bilaterally, despite ideas on creating a European army and European diplomatic service at some point in the future.

"[EU foreign policy] needs a big success before we can definitively say that it has reached some sort of maturity," the International Institute of Strategic Studies' Raffaello Pantucci told this website.

"Kouchner is the French foreign minister and I am sure that not everyone in Europe would agree with him."

"The challenge - which the EU has not yet resolved - is to find a way of calibrating these different interests and concerns [national priorities and common values] in a way that is effective and consistent," the European Council on Foreign Relations' Anthony Dworkin said.

Russian oligarchs failed to get off EU blacklist

Hungary failed to get three Russian and three Chinese names deleted, as the EU approved its 13th package of sanctions ahead of an anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.


Only Palestinians paying thousands of dollars leave Gaza

Despite the high risk of dying from war, starvation or disease, Gazans are still not allowed to enter Egypt. Except those who bribe the authorities. And the EU mission EUBAM Rafah cannot be deployed due to security reasons.


For Ukraine's sake, pass the EU due diligence directive

The EU Commission's 2022 CSDDD proposal did not include provisions incorporating "conflict due diligence", they were added, after the Russian invasion, by the European Parliament and Council into the final directive text — for Ukraine's sake, vote for it.

Latest News

  1. Podcast: Hyperlocal meets supranational
  2. Von der Leyen appeals for 'new EU defence mindset'
  3. EU supply chain law fails, with 14 states failing to back it
  4. Joined-up EU defence procurement on the horizon?
  5. Macron on Western boots in Ukraine: What he really meant
  6. Amazon lobbyists banned from EU Parliament
  7. MEPs adopt new transparency rules for political ads
  8. EU nature restoration law approved after massive backlash

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic Food Systems Takeover at COP28
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersHow women and men are affected differently by climate policy
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersArtist Jessie Kleemann at Nordic pavilion during UN climate summit COP28
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP28: Gathering Nordic and global experts to put food and health on the agenda
  5. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  6. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsThis autumn Europalia arts festival is all about GEORGIA!
  2. UNOPSFostering health system resilience in fragile and conflict-affected countries
  3. European Citizen's InitiativeThe European Commission launches the ‘ImagineEU’ competition for secondary school students in the EU.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region is stepping up its efforts to reduce food waste
  5. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  6. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA

Join EUobserver

EU news that matters

Join us