Exclusive Interview with ambassador of France - VIDEO

For Kitabistan
article about 'Exclusive Interview with ambassador of France - VIDEO' and 'For Kitabistan'

Kitabistan continues to study the experiences of the developed countries of the world and present their development models.

France is one of the countries we research in Kitabistan. University education in France began in the 12th century. This nation has not only produced many great thinkers but has also contributed significantly to the development of new ideas in the world. It is no coincidence that France received the most Nobel Prizes in Literature to this day.

France managed to play an active role in establishing the new world order after both the First and Second World Wars. It also played a significant role in setting up the European Union and became one of its founding members. How did France do that? 

As we continued to study and gather more insights, we decided to approach Madam Anne Boillon, the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of France to Azerbaijan, to answer some of our questions. We received a positive response to our interview proposal. Madam Ambassador welcomed us kindly and answered our questions comprehensively.

We present to you the interview of Mrs. Anne Boillon, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of France to Azerbaijan:

- Dear Madam Ambassador, before starting our conversation I would like to express my thanks for accepting our interview offer. This interview is important also because Kitabistan incorporated France's national motto in its concept.

France holds a significant role among the countries we study in Kitabistan, and its development model remains a primary focus of our research.

Probably many do not know that the blue colour on the flag of France is associated with St. Martin, who generously cut his cloak in half with his sword and shared it with a man who was poorly clothed on a chilly winter day. France loves to share. In 2022, France became the 4th largest donor country to the Development Assistance Committee by allocating 0.56% of its gross national income - around $15.1 billion - to developing countries for aid, development and poverty reduction. Why is sharing so important to France?

- First, thank you. Thank you for your interest and thank you to all the team of Kitabistan for giving me the opportunity of this interview. Of course, since the Republic of France is based on secularism I'm not going to talk too much about the religious figures but I think, of course, some values are universal and what is important is solidarity. Because when it comes to global challenges, if you want to have an impact on global diplomacy, and when I say global diplomacy I am talking about diplomacy that aims to address global challenges such as global health issues, climate change, inequalities at the global level, you need also a component of solidarity. Because you cannot ask the least developed countries to commit to addressing those global challenges without having an element of solidarity in your diplomacy.  And that's why, yes, you're right, we try to increase significantly in recent years the amount of our overseas development aid with the aim of getting closer to the OECD target which is normally is of 0.7% of national income. We really trust the importance of global institutions, UN institution. For example, during the pandemic, France was at the forefront of the access to vaccines for the most vulnerable and least developed countries. So, we contributed to the COVAX initiative. Also when it comes to climate change, we are really supportive of all the initiatives in global finance to help developing and least-developed countries to reach their targets and also to find way to mitigate and to adapt to climate change. Because of course you have very very vulnerable countries. Before coming to Azerbaijan I was posted in Australia and it's very well known that all the islands in the Pacific are very vulnerable to the rise of the sea levels because it creates some big vulnerability even to their existence. I don't know if you remember the picture, it was the prime minister of I don't know which island but he was in the water and he was speaking about the challenges that his country was facing. So, on this, I think we have to take responsibility and be more committed to helping those countries.

- Today, ensuring gender equality is one of the main priorities of the French government, and therefore 75% of the projects financed by the French Development Agency (FDA) are aimed at improving gender equality. How did France start ensuring gender equality and what progress has been made in achieving this today?

- I think it's important we were talking about solidarity policy. So, as you mentioned, it's true that since 2018 we have started to put more emphasis on gender equality in all our projects that are financed by France's overseas development aids with such target to have 75% of projects with a gender equality component and to have at least, I think, 20% of those projects which are focusing on gender equality. It's very important because sometimes it was an element that was missed. For example, there is a very well-known example. I mean, you can spend money building schools in some countries and you think it's enough to guarantee access to education for girls. But then if you don't think about building at the same time toilets for the girls then you have families, because of some barriers and habits and sometimes religious or social constraints, they won't send their girls to school if they're not sure they can have access to some girl-only toilets and those kind of things. So, you have to factor in always gender equality and sometimes also the cultural obstacles that exist and remain a barrier to equal opportunities for women. Overall, when we are talking about development it's always important not to forget half of humanity. Because it's more efficient to have also participation of women in all political life, in economic life. And since they are the first we are also educating the future generation, the values and the principles they are transmitting to the children are of utmost importance for the future.

- The tradition of university education in France dates back to the 12th century when the University of Paris was established, where notable thinkers such as Denis Diderot and Voltaire studied. Progressive ideas were able to spread worldwide during the times of stagnation thanks to France's great thinkers. In 2023, France was ranked 5th in the Global Education Index. What do you think are the main differences and advantages of French education?

- Well, I think it can be a debate. Education is a source of a big debate in France because it's a very very important element of public life. But for foreign students, I would say that first and foremost France is a European country. So, when you study in, when you choose France for higher education or part of your higher education you are benefiting from this European-wide system of what we call LMD (licence-master-doctorat), bachelor, master and doctorate. So, you can start in France, you can continue in Germany, then in Italy or in Spain, or in Iceland or in Poland. It's a very well-integrated system. In France, it's also a very international environment because I think that most of the PhDs that are completed every year in France, and I think it's more than 10,000, are done by also foreign students. I think it's 40%. So, we have a lot of also foreign researchers in France. The research that is published in France is always with international collaboration, European and North American, South American and even now Asian too. So, it's also a wide exposure to international cooperation. I would add that studying in France is not very expensive because the quality is the same but the system remains strongly subsidized by the French government even for foreign students. So, I would say like a year of Bachelor's is less than 3,000 euros. So, it's much less expensive than what you would find in some equivalent countries. And last but not least, of course, there is also a matter I think in the end also of employability. As you know France also hosts the headquarters of a lot of French companies which are multinationals. Loreal, Total, Airbus and many others. So, I think also studying in France increases employability all over the world because all those French companies have a large footprint overseas in Asia and Europe, in North America, South America and Australia. So, studying in France also I think increases the employability of students. So, I think it's a good bet.

- When discussing France, it's important to talk about competitive equality of opportunity and combating corruption. In 2016, the France Anti-Corruption Agency was established to prevent bribery, extortion by public officials, and the misuse of public funds. At the same time, by adopting "France's Anti-Corruption Strategy in Its Cooperation Action 2021-2030", the government demonstrated its commitment to ensuring transparency both domestically and internationally. How do these actions taken by the government in the fight against corruption contribute to fair competition?

- Good question. First, I would say that, I think the fight against corruption which is not an issue that only France faces didn't start in 2016, fortunately, I think it started a long time ago and it's a whole process about more control about the financing of political parties, the obligation for all public institutions to go through open tender and open procurement and those kind of things. But it's true that recently the understanding of the need to fight  corruption even more I think was triggered by two elements. First, I think it's a matter of the future and the ability for democracy to thrive. Because of course if there is corruption then I think you lose the confidence of the public in the political system and also in the elites. And if you lose this confidence then you go quickly from democracy to populism and this is something that is better to avoid. And also, of course, better ranking in terms of fighting against corruption is also important for businesses because if you want to attract more foreign investment, remain competitive you have to be able to show that this business can operate in a predictable and transparent environment. So, it's true that a lot of steps were taken recently for especially new obligations for elected officials but also public servants. And there are now independent authorities. So, for example, when you are elected, when you are appointed as a minister, even when you are appointed in some civil servant positions you have to be transparent about your assets - I mean your real estate, your cars, your income - the day you take the position and the day you leave your position. So, it's under the supervision of an independent authority and it's just to make sure that you didn't use your position to get richer and by not authorized ways. So, this was a strong step in terms of control and transparency. There are also rules that are quite strict for civil servants. I mean if you are a civil servant and then you want to move to the private sector then you have also to get some specific authorization who are independent committee to make sure that you are not hired by a company for whom you could have an influence in your previous position. What we call a conflict of interest. So, it's to prevent like a conflict of interest. So, now it's true that the whole system is more complex with stricter rules and more and more independent authorities to control and prevent the risk of corruption.

- Under The National Low-Carbon Strategy, France has set a goal to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 and it is announced that the government will increase its climate finance to €6 billion between 2021 and 2025. What other measures does France plan to take to eliminate the consequences of climate change, the biggest global problem?

- First, as I said at the beginning of this conversation, this is not something we can do alone. It's a global challenge. So, it requires a global commitment. I hope, I think we all hope that the next COP28 which will open soon in the United Arab Emirates will bring some momentum, new momentum. But as I was mentioning that at the beginning of the conversation, I think this commitment to contribute to global finance for developing and least developed countries in the fight against climate change is really strong. And of course, there are the French financial commitments but there are also the efforts that we are doing to get together the actors. Like when in June there was a summit in Paris that was organized of the New Global Financing Pact to encourage financial institutions to think also a little bit different on how they do finance some projects and also to make the statement that of course, you shouldn't have to choose between a fight against poverty and fight against climate, it has to go together. So, this is I would say the solidarity aspect. And then of course, when it comes to our national commitment I think it is a challenge for all countries but we are developing a strategy to try first to use less energy. Because I think this is what is called sobriety. It is to try to spend less energy because the energy consumption remains the main source of emission and then of course to decarbonize our energy mix which is already quite decarbonated. Because France as a big chunk of the energy mix in force is nuclear energy and we remain a stronger supporter of nuclear energy because, of course, renewables are very very important and we are developing renewables in France. But as you know renewables don't have the stability and so you need some kind of a base in terms of electricity. You cannot have a model that is based 100 % of renewables. Because in the renewable, I mean solar, wind,  hydro you don't have the stability, you have another way of producing energy, you cannot face the peaks of in demand and etc. So, you have to have something to stabilize the greed. And so for us I mean nuclear energy remains a low carbon emission energy that we are trying to promote. Of course, it's a debate including within the European Union but I think that there is now a new interest for nuclear energy.

- It is unfortunate to see that many conflicts are currently raging around the world. In light of this, I believe it is important to highlight France's role towards promoting peace in Europe. Back in 1950, Robert Schuman, the then Foreign Minister of France, proposed a cooperation initiative that commenced with the "Schuman Declaration". This initiative played a significant role in turning the war page and initiating peace-building and integration in Europe. What can we learn from France's experience about the process of dialogue and integration leading to peace?

- I think it's not easy. It's about being patient too, of course, you pointed it rightly. After the war, because this is how the wars are ending, there is a winner and there is a loser. There is a state with the winner and there is a state with the loser. Most of the time the people from both countries are the losers because there were lost lives on both sides. But then you have to try to find ways to get out of this winner-loser equation and this zero-sum game and to find new ways of cooperation that are beneficial for both countries or for larger number of countries and to have a win-win equation. Because it's only when there is a project with a win-win equation that the countries and the people will accept to get out of the winner-loser and the zero-sum game mentality. And of course, for Europe, it was the European project that was created for this. And I think it did offer the way out for cooperation and for mutual benefits. But it took time. This year we are celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Friendship treaty between France and Germany. It only happened in 1963 which means like 18 years after the end of the Second World War. So, it also takes time. But of course, it's good to have men and women, of course, of a vision that are able to offer new projects and win-win project to get rid of the winner-loser equation that is, of course, keeping the resentment alive and resentment is always dangerous.

- Finally, I would like to address our traditional question. What book would you recommend our readers and our viewers to read?

- It's quite a big book but I think it's a very fundamental book. It is "Emile, or the Treatise on Education" by French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. I think it was quite revolutionary at the time because it's how you educate a human being and it's about liberal education. It was maybe one of the first books about liberal education at the end of the 18th century. Or how do you raise a human being so that he can also fulfill human nature and human goodness. So, at that time it was very revolutionary, it was even burnt in public places because it was too revolutionary. But for me, it's a very very interesting book. Because it's a treatise on education but at the same time of course, it's a philosophy book. Because it is about human nature and it's about thinking about what is human nature, giving humans freedom and individuality, the ability to express themselves. It is very modern. And there is a quote from Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the book that I really like is "I would rather be a man of paradoxes than a man of prejudices". So, it is about open thinking. 

- Madam Ambassador, thank you very much for taking your time and for your responses

- Thank you very much for this conversation. It was very very interesting

Malak Hajiyeva