Success at Geneva 2 in 'Russian hands' – former French PM de Villepin

Dominique de Villepin, the former French FM who came to prominence after opposing the 2003 invasion of Iraq, sat down with RT to discuss how Syria’s fate hinges on cooperation between Russia and the West, France’s struggle with austerity and more.

RT:The Gaidar Forum is taking place in Moscow, and the main focus this year is sustainable development, what are your ideas on this global international issue?

Dominique de Villepin: Well I do believe that we are in a very important moment and the Gaidar Forum has shown the willingness of Russia to open up more of its economy and to pursue on the path of reform. And I think it is very important and good news. We need more cooperation. We see that today we have a world which is divided in debtor countries, which are mainly the Western world, the US and Europe, and you have important creditor countries like Asian countries, and mainly China, who are playing a bigger role in the in the international system, international markets.

So I believe for Russia, who needs more investment to come in the country, because you have very important and big projects, mainly for infrastructure, it is important to find finance. And I believe an organization like Universal Credit Rating Group can play a role in reforming financial system and having the opportunity to have the money flow where it is needed.

I think it is important for Russia to gain more liquidities, more financial possibilities in order to finance its own system and the old traditional credit rating system has not been adopted to the world because it is mainly focusing on Western economies, Western eye, and the three big rating agencies they have this twist of looking at the world economy through the Western eye.

So I think we must assess the fact that the economy is changing, the world is more and more focused towards the emerging countries, the BRICS, and China is playing a very important role. That is why we should have all these people working together and at this moment, when Russia is going to take the chair of the G8, I think it is important to have more cooperation between every country.

RT:France will cut 50 million euros in budget spending in the next 2 years. Do you think this will indeed boost the country’s economy?

DV: I think yes, the challenge is very important. Of course the question is feasibility, because we have been talking here in France about reducing the public spending for many years. Now we have to do it. So it is a challenge for the President Francois Hollande, it is the challenge for the government and we do hope that they might be able to do so.

But of course this needs an important reform of the state, reform of the way France is organized in terms of regional organization. We have too much regions, too much different levels of administration. So it is a huge challenge but I really do believe, do hope that we might be able to do so.

Also we not only need to reduce public spending but we need to reduce the cost of labor. The cost of labor is too much in the hand of the companies and it is too heavy burden for them. So we need to lower the cost of labor for the companies and then the competiveness of the country and the private companies might be bigger. So it is important to face these two challenges at the same time.

RT:The austerity has led to a massive public unrest in some countries across the bloc. Did you see the same in France?

DV: Well there is a risk, not only in France but all over Europe and I believe that the policy of austerity is important but it must be gradual, it must not be too strong. And today the burden on our economy is very high, so I believe that the Europeans should take some measures in order to take a slower path towards austerity, because one of the risks of austerity is deflation.

We have the risk in Europe to have no growth at all. And we should try to implement the growth. So if we want more growth, we have to go lower in terms of austerity policy and in a very collective way. So I believe that the cooperation between Europe, the European countries is very important and we have to decide not to kill the growth and we have to work under control to try to work out stronger growth in Europe.

France’s austerity is part of its agreement with Brussels. Do you think this will play in the hands of the Eurosceptic parties, like Marine Le Pen’s National Front?

DV: Well the difficulty of the French economy and the consequences on society are of course an element which has been increasing populism, and increasing far right of Marie Le Penn. So we should be aware of this risk and we should try to access as much as we can the current situation and try to solve the problem of unemployment.

A protester wearing a Guy Fawkes mask holds up a placard during a demonstration by health care professionals against the government's austerity reforms in Paris June 15, 2013.(Reuters / Gonzalo Fuentes)

Unemployment is a great problem for our country, we have more than 10 percent unemployed in France – a lot of young people, a lot of older people, and it is important to try to solve this question, of course by more public jobs. But publics jobs is not the answer in the long run. That is why we have to have growth and to have the public sector be able to employ more people in our country.

But competitiveness is also one important key, and thorough lowering the cost of work in our country, the competitiveness will be increased. That is why reform, an economic reform is a very important matter on the agenda.

RT:What are the chances that a diplomatic solution would be reached at the upcoming Geneva 2 talks?

DV: I believe that a chance for a diplomatic solution is very much in the Russian hands and it will depend on the quality of cooperation between the US, the EU and Russia. Russia has made important moves in the last month and I believe that chemical disarmament is a very important step. But of course we should not be satisfied with only such a result, we need to have a political settlement. On the way to such a political settlement where Russia will play an important role, I think we should really be focusing on the humanitarian situation. Stop the killings. Have a ceasefire, even if it a partial ceasefire.

So I believe that the discussions that are ongoing today between Russia and the US, the Geneva 2 talks are very important because if we can have such a partial ceasefire, for example in the region of Allepo, that will be the first step and I believe then we might have the strength to go forward.

So I think we should be obsessed by the idea that we have to stop the killings, find some kind of political solution and we should not focus on the problem of Assad. Of course there is this question of who should be directing Syria, but the main question is how to stop the killings and we should not have any preview condition before starting these political discussions.

RT:France said that the opposition should take part in this peace conference but also added it would respect any decision. Don’t you think that without the opposition the talks would be rendered meaningless?

DV: Well I believe we have two problems today, one is we need of course the opposition to take part in this discussion, because how can we have any settlement without having everybody around the table.

Syrian rebel fighters hold their weapons as they walk along a street in Aleppo's Salaheddine neighbourhood January 10, 2014. REUTERS/Hosam Katan

But also we have within the opposition a very strong fight between the two parts. The political opposition and the jihadists are fighting very strongly on the ground. I think we should reinforce the political opposition, take away the jihadists, all the people that are behind al-Qaeda and of course encourage the opposition to have talks and settlement.

And I think the message we should convey to the opposition, to political opposition which is respectful of the situation, is stopping the killings, having a political settlement, and we should really be focusing on this because the Syrian people are suffering today. They have been suffering so much in the last month, the last years, that that should be our obsession.

RT:Don’t you think France should be pushing a bit harder like the US and UK threating to withdraw their support for moderates?

DV: Well I believe that Western countries have globally the same approach which is a political settlement. Of course they might have nuance in the way they are dealing with the opposition, but I believe that is part of the different role that we should have.

At the end of the day what is important is to have a settlement, to have a political settlement. So I believe each of us should employ its different means, should convey the message, but at the end of the day the objective is the same, should be the same, a political settlement, having the opposition around the table and try to really go forward in order to settle the matter which has been ongoing for too long.

The reactor building at the Russian-built Bushehr nuclear power plant, 1200 kms south of Tehran.(AFP Photo / Majid Asgaripour)

RT:Iran joining the talks has been a controversial issue, with France speaking against it. Do you think Iran should be present at the talks?

DV: Personally I believe that Iran should be as much as possible part of the talks because Iran is a very regionally important player. I believe that the dialogue that the international community is having with Iran on a nuclear question is a very important one. We should try to go forward and settle and if we can have Iran onboard in discussing the crisis of the region, we will be much more efficient. How can we solve the Iraqi crisis without Iran? How can we solve the Syrian crisis without Iran? That is why I really believe that the dialogue with this country is important and we should really take into account the fact that there’s no solution in the Middle East without having Iran on board. Of course Iran must show its willingness to be positive, to look for settlements. I think on both sides we need to go forward.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.