Paris Peace Forum: How to ‘Ride out the Multicrisis’?
In this Briefing, Jan Młynarczyk, an LLB Bachelor of Laws student, currently on a year abroad at Sciences Po, reports on his experience attending the 5th Paris Peace Forum. This article was edited by Malou van Draanen Glismann (Managing Editor).
Between the 11th and 12th of November 2022, the fifth edition of the yearly Paris Peace Forum took place at the historical Parisian stock exchange – the Palais Brongniart.
The event, founded in 2018 by Justin Vaïsse, then Director for Public Planning at the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, aims to fill the gap left by the other two major political conferences – World Economic Forum in Davos and Munich Security Conference – and deal with the issues of global governance. As Vaïsse, now Director General of the Forum, explained: ‘a badly governed world will quickly become a world at war’. The idea was first hinted at by Emmanuel Macron at the Conference of Ambassadors on 29 August 2017, during which the French President warned that, in light of the crises in Syria and Ukraine, peace should not be taken for granted. He called for more multilateralism in international relations – echoing France’s long-standing foreign policy objective of trying to balance the bilateral world order dominated by the struggle of two opposing powers: the United States and China (which has now replaced the old Cold War rival – the Soviet Union).
This year’s edition of the Forum, under the motto of ‘Riding Out the Multicrisis’, focused on addressing the cascading crises of recent years: climate change, global pandemic, war, food shortages, and erosion of human rights. It hosted 80 panels and roundtable discussions, 32 heads of state, government, and international organisations (among them the likes of Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan, Colombian President Gustavo Petro, Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern, and the host himself – President Macron), and the total of 4800 participants. Furthermore, the event was a platform for showcases of 70 social projects, out of which 10 were chosen to receive non-financial support in the form of expert know-how and advice as part of the Forum’s Scale-up Program.
A Call for Multilateralism
In addition to its official mission of developing ‘coordination, rules, and capacities that answer global problems’, the Paris Peace Forum, like any other conference of this kind, is a useful soft-power tool. The 2022 edition helped strengthen the image of President Macron and his entourage as champions of multilateralism and re-affirm Élysée’s line of foreign policy – albeit voices of criticism were also raised.
The French strategy of tackling the bipolar US-China dynamic was not only affirmed but also presented as the official policy of the European Union by Josep Borrell Fontelles, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Such an endorsement from the chief EU diplomat is undoubtedly a significant win for the Élysée, positioning France at the forefront of the Union’s foreign policy. Borell further stressed the importance of co-operation, in addition to the ‘natural competition’, with the PRC. He reinforced his stance with the argument that China uses as much coal as the rest of the world combined, so it would be unrealistic to try and tackle climate change without having Xi Jinping on board. The significance of global collaboration irrespective of contemporary differences was reaffirmed by Mathias Cormann, OECD Secretary-General, who contended that short-term pressures such as the energy crisis should not eclipse long-term goals like sustainable energy transition.
A multilateral approach was also promoted with regard to solving the food crisis. Rebeca Grynspan, Secretary General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, named the Black Sea Grain Initiative as an example of successful multilateralism. She cited World Bank’s estimates that, until the Russian Federation pulled out of it, the initiative had saved as many as 100 million people from falling into extreme poverty. She added that it was also key to open up exports of crucial fertilisers from Russia, as failure to do so would result in food prices skyrocketing, endangering the food security of some 2 billion people worldwide. Ms Grynspan´s point was supported by David Beasley, Executive Director of the World Food Programme, who observed that, according to WFP’s data, when he assumed office in 2017, some 80 million people faced starvation, with this number rising to 345 million today. The Argentinian President Alberto Ángel Fernández reminded of the need to hold this discussion in a global context, bringing attention to the fact that the Russian aggression against Ukraine disrupts food delivery chains worldwide, not only in Europe. Particularly vulnerable is the post-pandemic Latin America, threatened by soaring inequalities and even famine.
Voices of praise for the host, like that of Professor Kishore Mahbubani (National University of Singapore), who hailed President Macron as ‘the last hope for multilateralism’, dominated the conference. However, some panellists were not quite as enthusiastic. Comfort Ero, President and CEO of the think tank Crisis Group, challenged the very premise of the Forum, accusing it of being focused too strongly on abstract ideals like multilateralism and universalism. She argued that that, given the strong representation of the Global South countries at the conference, the French President was ‘preaching to the choir’, as these states were born out of these principles – as opposed to imperialism. Ero subsequently appealed for more attention to addressing the actual practicalities of solving pressing humanitarian issues – and not only in Ukraine. President of Guinea-Bissau, Umaro Sissoco Embaló, followed suit, denouncing the Global North for forgetting about other ongoing wars, such as in Mali or Burkina Faso. This sentiment was also echoed by Dubai Abulhoul, CEO of the Fiker Institute, a think tank, who critiqued that, from the perspective of the West, a crisis in the Middle East is ‘a daily headline’ - however, if it occurs closer to Europe, it suddenly becomes ‘an international crisis and a priority’.
The accusations were not limited to mere points of principle – concrete examples were also provided. The Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama argued that Western Europe, including France, ignored the Balkans during the pandemic, which forced the region to turn to countries like Turkey, China, and Russia for sourcing Covid-19 vaccines. In that vein, Marisol Touraine, Chair of the Unitaid Executive Board, stressed the importance of equitable access to pandemic response systems such as vaccines, calling for patent waivers during this and future pandemics. To the West’s defence, Catharina Boehme, WHO Chef de Cabinet, praised the joint efforts on producing vaccinations, including the creation of licensed production sites in Asia and Africa.
A notable moment of the Forum was the presentation of the progress report on the creation of the Observatory on Information and Democracy – a body called by its proponents the ‘IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) of information space’, purporting to act as a ‘rating agency’ for information transparency and democracy. Ángel Gurria, Co-Chair of the Observatory’s Steering Committee, announced that the organisation’s first report is planned for 2024. Edi Rama, Prime Minister of Albania, announced his country’s accession to the Observatory as the 50th state to do so (notably, the US was 49th). Subsequently, the Albanian Ambassador to France, Dritan Tola, handed the note of accession to Laurence Boone, Secretary of State for European Affairs of France, one of the Observatory’s founding Member States. It was a symbolic gesture, certainly very much desired by the Paris Peace Forum’s organisers, furthering France’s ambition to position itself as the facilitator of a multilateral world order.
The fifth edition of the Paris Peace Forum is likely to bring considerable PR benefits to its host country. The strong representation of the Global South in the agenda reaffirmed France’s commitment to multilateral co-operation. Even though some accusations of hypocrisy and whitewashing were raised, President Macron was generally praised for providing a high-profile platform for the voices of emerging countries’ leaders and civil society actors.
However, it was not the attendees who made the strongest statement. It was the absentees. The inaugural 2018 edition saw Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin sitting on the same panel. Last year, the Forum hosted US Vice President Kamala Harris. In 2022, the highest-ranking representative of the United States was Anne Neuberger, Deputy National Security Advisor at the White House, and there were no Russian representatives present whatsoever. While the non-attendance of Kremlin officials is fully understandable, the organisers did not secure the attendance of even anti-Putin civil society actors from Russia. To the Forum’s defence, China’s high-profile presence was maintained with Chen Zhu, Vice Chairman of the National People’s Congress, attending. That said, the conspicuous absence of other key players in current world conflicts puts into question the Forum’s (and, consequently, France’s) claim to be a crucial platform for multilateral co-operation on global problems and the event’s eponymous striving for peace. While the inclusion of a diverse set of voices is welcome and laudable, there can be no talk of effectively ‘Riding Out the Multicrisis’ without all hands on deck.