A DEEPER LOOK AT FRANCE'S ROLE IN THE PACIFIC

Analysis

NOUMÉA, New Caledonia (Oceania Flash, March 29) - On June 26, 2006, in Paris, French President Jacques Chirac chaired the second France-Oceania summit with most of the Pacific's heads of governments and regional organizations also taking part.

The meeting was also regarded as a milestone in the thawing of previously tense and lukewarm relations between France, the Pacific islands and two of its largest countries, Australia and New Zealand.

"FRANZ" alliance: "no problem and no limit"

The increase in collaborative and pooled cooperation between the three countries is now regarded as a sort of tripod on which further development assistance can rely.

The first practical application of this approach was initiated back in the early 1990s when France, Australia and New Zealand agreed to form a "FRANZ" pact to jointly bring relief to cyclone-stricken South Pacific neighbors.

Apart from a FRANZ-engineered fishing surveillance set-up heralded last year, the three partners are also mooting a new chapter, this time specifically aimed at "improving vigilance, responses, planning and alert systems for natural disasters ... and reinforce impact reduction and alert systems for tsunamis".

The new, pragmatic approach was also regarded as a precondition to a better acceptance of France in the Pacific region, French President Chirac admitted last year at a post-summit press conference and in presence of 16 Pacific Forum heads of member States and governments, plus the three heads of executives of France's Pacific countries and territories (New Caledonia, French Polynesia, Wallis and Futuna).

Asked by Oceania Flash whether the improvement of relations with Australia and New Zealand has been a determining factor in the fresh acceptance of France's role in the Pacific region, President Chirac said it was "plain obvious."

"First, Australia and New Zealand are two essential powers of the region. They have had a policy of cooperation and solidarity with the whole of the Pacific, for a very long time. And nothing can be done without the participation of the three entities (France, Australia and New Zealand). Therefore, France, which is also present in the region, also has interests and concerns, like global warming, fisheries, development, and inter-regional trade. Hence the natural character of a perfect cooperation between France, Australia and New Zealand for all matters that regard this region. And I can tell you that this cooperation has gradually grown and at present knows no problem and no limit."

The new pledges also mark a significant push for a better integration of the Pacific region, on at least three levels: first, the overall integration of the Pacific as a "block," second the integration of France's countries and territories this ensemble and third a better integration of the European Union in the Pacific, through France's dependencies.

During the June 2006 summit in Paris, Chirac also stressed France's will for an enhanced "political dialogue" and "cooperation" with the Pacific region.

Through France, Chirac added, Europe was also a part of the Pacific.

"Europe cannot remain indifferent to the future of a region that covers a third of the world's surface and also harbors invaluable natural treasures. Europe wants to help you build an ecologically preserved Pacifica, a Pacific of harmony and stability. A Pacific of prosperity that finds its place in a new global economy", he told Pacific leaders.

Papua New Guinea Prime minister Sir Michael Somare, as chairman of the Pacific Islands Forum, told reporters at the time that France's standing and attitude within the Pacific region had completely changed over the past ten years.

"France has always had an interest in the Pacific ... There is a good sense of honesty in how France now deals with the Pacific... Indications are that this relationship is on a progressive path. This time, there is a real commitment to help us", he told journalists.

Support to developing island states

The France-Oceania joint declaration reflects new areas of interest on the part of France and what is regarded as its increased and long term engagement in the Pacific region.

The final declaration, which is also in line with the Pacific Plan of reforms that the Pacific Islands Forum leaders endorsed in October, 2005, at their summit in Port Moresby (Papua New Guinea) stressed the importance of strengthening multilateral cooperation on three main issues: sustainable economic development, environment and biodiversity protection and conservation and political stability for the Pacific region which, it was stressed, represents about one third of the world's surface.

It pledged to "support developing small island states".

Another facet of challenges facing the Pacific region, the so-called "digital divide", was also added in the final declaration that now mentioned the need for a real "digital strategy" for the whole region.

The aim was to overcome what experts have often described as the "tyranny of distance" and allow the Pacific region to fully benefit from technological advances in terms of information and communication technologies.

 

Second France-Oceania Summit Declaration adopted on 26 June 2006 in Paris

Below is the full declaration made by participants of the second France-Oceania summit, held on June 26, 2006 in the French capital under the chairmanship of French President Jacques Chirac.

(As translated by the French Head of state office)

"Heads of States and Governments and their representatives of Australia, the Cook Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, France, Kiribati, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu met in Paris on 26 June 2006, at the invitation of France, for the Second France-Oceania Summit which was also attended by the Secretariats of the Pacific Islands Forum, the Pacific Community, and the Pacific Regional Environment Programme respectively, the Commissioner of the European Union for Development and Humanitarian Aid, the French Overseas Territories of the Pacific, New Caledonia, French Polynesia and Wallis and Futuna.

The Summit discussed mainly subjects of common interest in respect of strengthening French-Pacific relations and regional cooperation.

They stressed their belief that the Pacific Region should be a region of peace, harmony, security and economic prosperity, based on the values of democracy and respect for, and promotion of, human rights and good governance.

They determined to work together to support the objectives of the Pacific Plan adopted by the Pacific Island Forum Leaders at their meeting in Port Moresby in October 2005 and of the Millennium Development Goals.

They emphasized the need to enhance economic growth, promote sustainable development and ensure good governance and security in the region.

They noted the major economic, political and environmental challenges faced by Pacific island countries and their vulnerability to external shocks and emphasized the need, in particular to address the main environmental threats presenting huge challenges for the future of Small Island Developing States.

They also recognized the importance of encouraging broad-based sustainable economic growth, so as to alleviate poverty and generate prosperity.

Noting recent events in the region, they recalled the Biketawa Declaration of 2000, in which Pacific Leaders made a commitment to act collectively in response to requests for assistance in times of crisis.

Based on respect for the sovereignty of each State, they have agreed to:

Pursue and expand their cooperation to enhance stability in the Pacific region and support Small Island Developing States; strengthen regional consultation and cooperation among Pacific island countries and territories and also coordination among regional institutions, primarily through the implementation of the Pacific Plan and the promotion of inclusive regionalism.

They welcomed the regional cooperation implemented by the French Overseas Territories of the Pacific, notably through the Pacific Economic, Social and Cultural Fund.

They also stressed the importance of harmonization of support among development partners, including the European Union;

Boost sustainable, mutually beneficial economic growth by strengthening integration between Pacific Island Forum Countries and the French Overseas Countries and Territories (OCT), and ensure this proceeds in a manner supportive of strategic and beneficial integration into the world economy.

They also agreed that Pacific island countries should be supported in their efforts to pursue access to global markets, particularly the European Union.

In this connection, they stressed the importance of achieving an Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union, which addresses the development and trade needs of, and serves as an effective tool for development in, the Pacific region;

Promote sustainable development and continue to improve disaster management in particular through adherence to the Pacific Regional Framework for Action for Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disaster 2005-2015;

Intensify efforts to address climate change and in particular consider adaptation measures, by taking account of the challenges raised by the latest scientific surveys, in particular assessment reports produced by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) and through adherence to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Pacific Climate Change Framework 2006-2015;

Recognize the need for more efficient environmental activities in the United Nations system, with enhanced coordination, improved policy advice and guidance, strengthened scientific knowledge, assessment and cooperation, better treaty compliance, while respecting the legal autonomy of the treaties, and better integration of environmental activities in the broader sustainable development framework at the operational level, including through capacity building; and

Support the efforts in the United Nations to explore the possibility of a more coherent institutional framework to address this need, including a more integrated structure, building on existing institutions and internationally agreed instruments, as well as the treaty bodies and specialized agencies;

Conserve and manage the resources and fish stocks of the Pacific region so as to ensure the ecologically sustainable utilizations of these resources for the benefit of the region.

In this respect, they welcomed cooperation between Australia, France and New Zealand in the fight against illegal fishing, which will benefit the region as a whole;

Enhance sustainable management of agriculture and forestry resources in the region given their scarcity and vulnerability in many Pacific island countries through existing and new forms of cooperation;

Strengthen regional security and stability through collective responses to security challenges and promote good governance through transparent, effective and accountable management of regional resources and institutions; and

Pursue and establish or expand cooperation to enhance digital and electronic communication in the Pacific island countries, given the vast geographical distances and difficulty of communication.

In the same spirit, they attach special importance to supporting and promoting cooperation projects, which will benefit the Pacific region as a whole, in partnership with Pacific regional agencies, notably as regards:

Health care: support the development of an overarching health strategy for the Pacific region that identifies health priorities affecting Pacific island countries and territories, and a Pacific Health Fund to combat the many regional health challenges the Pacific faces;

Continue the fight against the spread of endemic, communicable and non-communicable diseases in the region, in particular HIV/AIDS through the HIV/AIDS Regional Strategy;

Improve preparedness for epidemics through extension of the Pacific Regional Endeavor for an Appropriate Response to Epidemics (PREPARE) project; and

Support health training institutions in the region such as the Fiji School of Medicine and the University of Papua New Guinea Faculty of Medicine;

Environmental protection:

Promote and implement the Coral Reef Initiative for the South Pacific (CRISP) focused on the protection and management of coral reefs;

Facilitate and improve the French-Oceanic networks dedicated to the protection and management of coral reefs;

Promote and support waste management policies and programs in Pacific island countries; and

Support the European program aimed at "Reducing the Vulnerability of Pacific Island States;" and

Support the development of renewable, yet affordable energies;

Agriculture and forestry:

Enhance skills and technology transfer in agriculture and promote sustainable forest management practices including forest certification;

Disaster risk management:

Continue to develop awareness, responses, planning and early warning systems for natural disasters, including through the France, Australia and New Zealand (FRANZ) agreement; and

Strengthen the Pacific Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System and related national efforts;

Security:

Enhance regional air and maritime security in the Pacific;

Develop cooperation on the illegal movement of peoples; and

Strengthen the fight against terrorism including through such initiatives as the Pacific Island Forum's Working Group on Counter-Terrorism and Exercise READY PASIFIKA;

Training-related cooperation and development: will remain a priority for development partners in the areas of education, university cooperation and research, including through expanding technical and vocational education training (TVET) programs; and

Using the Pacific Regional Initiatives for the Delivery of basic Education (PRIDE) supported by the European Union, where appropriate, as a model for basic education assistance, and implemented by the University of South Pacific; fisheries:

Implement the Australia-France-New Zealand Declaration of Cooperation on Maritime Surveillance and Combating Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing in the Pacific Islands region, European programs PROCFISH (ACP and OCT Pacific Regional and Coastal Fisheries Development Programme) and DEVFISH (Development of Tuna Fisheries in the Pacific ACP) and continue to develop the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organisation (RFMO);

Reinforce and complement the existing surveillance capabilities of the exclusive economic zones in the Pacific, including through satellite means;

Conservation of species and their habitats:

Consider measures to promote the conservation of endangered marine species, such as through the establishment of protected areas;

Economic and trade cooperation:

Support regional infrastructure development and enhance and promote regional tourism and investment; communication:

Support the Digital Strategy under the Pacific Plan and efforts to address the huge communication challenge facing Pacific island countries and territories and Pacific regional organizations; and

Culture:

Enhance Oceanic identity, support the implementation of the regional cultural strategy to be developed under the Pacific Plan and call for an international initiative to help States in the region protect, preserve and promote their traditional knowledge and expressions of culture, including their monumental sites, in consultation with UNESCO.

The parties to the Summit agreed to put in place an ongoing consultation process to continue to develop the co-operation agenda outlined in the present Declaration and to further develop and enhance the relationship between the Forum, France and the French Pacific territories.

They welcomed the applications and interest by New Caledonia and French Polynesia to associate membership, and Wallis and Futuna to observer status in the Pacific Islands Forum, to be considered by Forum Leaders in October 2006."

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