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23 September 2009 - General Assembly - Speech delivered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy

(translation of statement made in French)

Speaking to you in France’s name today, I am well aware that in the circumstances we find ourselves today we all have a historic responsibility.

We are right in the middle of an unprecedented financial, economic and social crisis; we are on the verge of a global ecological disaster; we must now invent a new world where the follies of yesterday will no longer be possible. This is the responsibility incumbent on us.

Now we all know towards what disasters our stubborn attempts to resolve the problems of the twenty-first century with twentieth-century instruments and ideas may lead us.

From now on, not a single one of us will be able to claim he or she didn’t know.

There is universal recognition that the path the world has taken over the last few decades is a dead end. This recognition is taking place against a background of hardship, suffering and fear. Ladies and gentlemen, heads of State and government, we are politically and morally accountable for this accumulated suffering on the planet. Tens of millions of men and women have lost their jobs and their homes. A billion human beings are suffering from hunger, hundreds of millions have no access to water or energy, and haven’t minimum healthcare. It’s up to us, heads of State and government, and no one else, to give back hope to these hundreds of millions of the world’s inhabitants. Those paying for the consequences of the crisis are in no way responsible for them.

To everyone outraged by the behaviour of those, in the financial sector, who led us to the brink of the chaos and would like to go on getting rich unscrupulously, we owe an answer.

To those still dying in absurd wars from another age, at a time when mankind has so many challenges to meet, we owe an answer. And France’s unambiguous answer: everything can no longer go on as before. We have to change, we can’t accept everything starting again and another disaster occurring tomorrow.

After such a condemnation of our usual thinking, our prejudices, basically, the task which rests on our shoulders is exactly the same as the one resting on the men of goodwill who here, just after the Second World War, laid the foundations of a new global political, economic and monetary world order. The generation preceding us lived up to its responsibilities; the question facing us today: will we, ourselves, find the way to live up to this same responsibility?

The world is going to change. It cannot be otherwise.

Is the world going to change because we will find the way to show wisdom, intelligence and courage, or is it going to change because new crises will arise if we aren’t wise enough to take the path of radical change?

The truth is that we have already waited too long to regulate globalization, to fight global warming and impede nuclear proliferation. And I want solemnly to tell the Iranian leaders that they would be making a tragic mistake if they relied on the passive response of the international community in order to pursue their military nuclear programme.

We have waited too long to restore peace to the Middle East by giving the Palestinian people the State to which they are entitled in the name of the law and justice. And we have also waited too long to guarantee the people of Israel the right to live in security, which the tragedies of history have made so necessary for them.

We know what we still have to do: increase the number of permanent and non-permanent members of the Security Council. I say this in France’s name: it’s unacceptable for Africa not to have a permanent member of the Security Council; it’s unacceptable because it’s unfair. It’s unacceptable for South America, with such a great power as Brazil, for India with her billion inhabitants, for Japan or Germany to be excluded from the Security Council’s permanent members. It’s unacceptable and I say this here, the UN’s legitimacy is at stake. Either the UN reforms and it will be more legitimate, or the UN chooses immobilism and the major decisions, alas, will be taken outside it.

We have to reform the IMF and the World Bank. It’s a necessity. Voting rights need to be more equitably distributed between countries. And the missions of both the IMF and World Bank must be redefined. Keeping the IMF, limiting its role to upholding an orthodoxy which the crisis has so severely undermined would be a tragic error.

We have to overhaul the international monetary system; we can’t have a politically multipolar world based on just one currency. It’s not acceptable and it isn’t possible.

We have radically to reform financial capitalism. France won’t give up on this, because a system where the real prices of risk or rare resources aren’t paid is a suicidal one.

We have to eliminate tax havens, since we mustn’t tolerate places where money derived from speculation, crime and fraud is hidden. It’s up to us to do this; no one in the world would understand us compromising on this goal.

We need to limit the commodity price fluctuations subjected to excessive speculation, starting with oil; this instability is intolerable. We have to pay countries with commodities a fair price for them and mustn’t accept speculation destabilizing the world on these commodity rates.

In Copenhagen, we must commit to numerical targets for greenhouse gas emissions; we can’t put this off any longer.

We have to set up a world environment organization. We have to recognize the legitimacy of the principle of a border carbon tax, so that nobody can profit - that would be the last straw - from environmental dumping.

We can’t let trade law be the only law. I believe in free trade, but fundamental standards exist. We are members of the World Health Organization, on what grounds and what right do we have to flout the right to health of those who have nothing? We are members of the International Labour Organization which has defined eight fundamental labour standards, why accept these standards being flouted? The right to health, the right to a minimum respect of social rights. Environmental law is as important as trade law, none of these rights is superior to the others.

But we can’t ask the developing countries and poor countries to comply with these standards without we ourselves, the rich countries, assisting them in their efforts. We all belong to the same human race and we all live on the same planet. We all face the same challenges. So yes, we need to be able to share our technology. This applies to France, and France is ready to do this, as are the world’s other rich countries. Yes, we will need to come up with new resources for development assistance, for together meeting the ecological challenge and, if necessary - I have no qualms about saying this -, we will find these resources by taxing excessive speculative gains and unearned income. There’s no cause to seek resources from anywhere else, they exist there.

I issue an appeal to all States, all international organizations, to have the recommendations made by the commission headed by Joseph Stiglitz implemented everywhere. We are currently working on the basis of incorrect criteria and ways of calculating growth indicators. The task is a huge one, and it’s only just starting, so all the more reason for starting now and fast. We have run out of time. Each of us needs to realize what would happen if we had to go home and explain to our fellow citizens that we had been incapable of reaching an agreement, of devising new solutions, when they are suffering so much from the consequences of the crisis. I want very simply to warn that nothing would be worse than mediocre compromises in Pittsburgh and in Copenhagen. World opinion and current circumstances demand that we find a real solution to these problems and forbid us just to go through the motions.

Ladies and gentlemen,

My dear colleagues,

The risks of the gravest crises, if we sit on our hands, aren’t behind us, but ahead of us. We are at one of those moments in history when political decisions have a profound and lasting impact on the future. We have no choice; we must take risks, because the greatest risk today would be to do nothing, to let ourselves be carried along by the force of habit, to think we’ve got time.

Ladies and gentlemen, I want 2009 to the year of the founding of a radical new fairer, more efficient world order, which each and every one of you see as your own. Thank you./.



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Organisation des Nations Unies Présidence de la République France Diplomatie La France à l'Office des Nations Unies à Genève Union Européenne Première réunion de l'ONU