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2004 | 2005

April - 2005

National Day


Un nouvel élan de la francophonie en Roumanie


Keen to consolidate the educational and cultural links between the two countries, as well as attracting more FDI, new French Ambassador Herve Bolot talks to Ana-Maria Smadeanu, ahead of Bucharest's international summit on Francophonie in 2006

He could have been a geographer, a player of the flute or the organ, but French Ambassador Herve Bolot has instead worked his way through most of the diplomatic roles in Paris, New York, Congo and Vienna before arriving in Bucharest this year.
“I've tried a little of everything,” Herve Bolot says, “and I think that a good ambassador must have experience of all the cultural, economic and political areas.”
Such a comprehensive education means that Bolot should be well-equipped to help undertake a mission to assist in the broad spectrum of Franco-Romanian affairs, from aiding the growth of its crops, to ensuring its borders are secure, right through to giving scholarships to its smartest maths graduates and organising a mobile library to drive around the Prahova valley, making Balzac and Camus available to any villager who feels a need to read an absurdist or naturalist in the original French.
Part of a delegation that accompanied President Chirac to Bucharest in 1997, Bolot already has experience of the country and, before coming to Romania, worked intensively with the two former ambassadors. “In general Romanians are regarded well in France, of course there are some exceptions, but a new relationship between the two countries has already begun,” he adds.
Echoing the Government's line that negotiations are over, Bolot says: “Romania's problem in joining the EU, which I think the authorities realise, is that it is no longer a political question... The problem is the number of clauses that must be satisfied.” The ambassador pays strict attention to justice and its organisation, interior affairs, competition, the quality of food production and maritime security. “In the EU we live together. We've been in crises all over Europe with some scares, such as mad cow disease, and now, when the commercial exchange between the countries is so strong, we have to be careful.”
Although he calls Romania's agriculture strong, he adds: “The country must accomplish the same standards as others in this field because if not, Romanian products will not be sold.”
This is a top to bottom priority from cultivation through to the market, including the status of farmers and the monitoring of quality. To this light, the embassy has just appointed a new technical assistant to make this team stronger, as well as an agricultural attaché.
“The EU is like an exam that must be passed so Romania has to work on all the subjects,” says the ambassador, adding that the biggest proof Romania must present is not the ability to join, but what the nation does after integration.
“Romania has to open her doors to the economy because the evolution of other states is fast and the international competition is harsh,” he adds. “Take a look at China's progress. I think that a large part of the global population has lost the taste for economic risk. We all deal with that, it's human nature. But here in Romania I see people who are willing to do a good job, the geographic position is on its side, as is a profitable agriculture and industry.
“Romanian's problems are organisational and structural, and there are also issues regarding the security of investments. In the economy, trust is the important thing and, in development, investors have to be sure about the financial conditions and the rule of law.”
Bolot calls himself an international citizen. “I was born in Casablanca and my wife is from Vietnam,” he says. “After our childhood, we both had a very intensive cosmopolitan life. Our daughter, for example, was born in Paris between two flights.”
The son of a surgeon and a violin teacher, Bolot studied music and then took a master's degree in geography, and although passionate for the spatial science, preferred to join the diplomatic service. In Greece and Turkey, he worked in French cultural services and then at the French chamber of commerce. Following this, he worked in Vienna for a NATO organisation involved in bilateral and multilateral plans for industrial development.
Africa then beckoned him back, and Bolot became ambassador for the Congo, before moving to New York to become deputy general consul in the French mission. In Paris he also worked as diplomatic consul in the French Ministry of Interior and a cabinet director in the French Government.
France represents 7.5 per cent of Romania's external commerce and its companies have invested more then 2.5 billion Euro in Romania. Giants such as Renault, France Telecom, BRD, Carrefour and Michelin have started to see returns on their huge investments in infrastructure, production and retail.
“We can say that there is a very strong presence of the French companies on the Romanian market,” says Bolot. In trade between Romania and France, Bolot points to two important factors. “Firstly external commerce, because we are the third largest trading partner with Romania and secondly the volume of investments, because French companies operate in many diverse areas, in all branches of industry and commerce. Their investment here is long-term.”
In culture and education, France has been strong in establishing itself as a firm partner with Romania, pushing against the grain of a global society which is choosing English as the preferred language of contact in many fields.
“Romanians shouldn't forget that we are branches of the same language,” says Bolot. “We can easily learn to speak Romanian and vice versa.”
In 2006 Romania will play host to a conference on Francophony, uniting sixty countries who have a common link through the French language. “We are working on greater cooperation in education and pedagogy,” says Bolot. “We have created many information centres especially in villages, where poorer people can have access to a library and books. For example we created a mobile library that drives around rural districts that people can visit, starting in the Brasov area. We will also develop closer cooperation with universities. In the last ten years in mathematical research, 64 Romanian doctors have graduated from the 'Pierre et Marie Curie' University in Paris. Also there are doctors in different specialisations that are in exchanges between France and Romania. I think this kind of cooperation exists in all types of fields and that helps develop cooperation between the two countries.”
More then five thousand Romanian students are studying in France, the most popular destination for Romanians looking to study abroad. Many universities in Romania also teach studies in French. “This is an old and strong relationship,” says Bolot.
This March, Romania and France has organised a theatrical festival 'Coup de theatre' in Bucharest, with works of art by such cross-national talents as Eugene Ionesco, as well as Moliere, Yasmina Reza and Beckett shown in Romanian and French.
Next year will see the 'The Francophony Theatre Festival' in France, where Romanian plays will be shown translated into French, the second language of preference for the majority of Romanian writers. “The first thing that I learned about Romania was from [contemporary absurdist playwright] Panait Istrati. When I was in Turkey I read 'Chira Chiralina' and Istrati, like Ionesco, wrote in French.”
Romania will be the guest of honour in the November festival of foreign literature in Paris, ‘Les belles etrangeres’. There is also a ‘Salon des livres’ (Hall of books) in France where one can find all the Romanian writers who have been published or translated in French, which is probably more than have been available in English. “And there are a lot,” says Bolot. “Most of them contemporary. It is good to read Eminescu or Hugo, but the youth are the future. This is the same rule in painting, sculpture or dance.”
Bolot reiterates that, in his country's vision, Romania has been part of Europe for such a long time. “I have a four year-old niece and I've tried to explain to her that I am leaving to Romania,” the ambassador says. “The country, for a little child, is so far away. So I showed her a book and there was a picture of the flag. She looked at it and then said: ‘Oooh, it is so nice to see the French flag with a yellow stripe instead of a white one’. So I would say that our destiny exists together, or not at all.”

In the year 1880, French geographer Onesisme Reclus invented the word 'francophonie' to define the sum of the persons and countries using the French language. While the idea of creating an international francophone network dates from 1899, when the 'Association of French Speaking Pediatricians' was founded and came up with the concept.
By 1970 this organization had branched out from conversations between child doctors and, on March 20 in Niamey (Niger) the organisation was founded that eventually, in 1998, became 'Intergovernmental Agency of Francophony' (AIF).
In February 1985 the first Francophone Summit was held in Paris and in 1997 the Main Secretariat was created, headed by Boutros Boutros-Ghali. In Bucharest 1998, the participants in the ministerial conference ratified the creation of the “International Organisation of the Francophony”
Previous summits have been held in Quebec, Mauritius and Beirut. Bucharest is the first European location for the summit outside of France.
List of member states and governments: France, Canada, Dominica, Haiti, Saint Lucia, Quebec, New Brunswick, Bulgaria, Belgian French Community, Luxembourg, Moldavia, Monaco, Romania, Kingdom of Belgium, Switzerland, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Vanuatu, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Comoros, Congo, Cote D'Ivoire, Djibouti, Egypt, Gabon, Guinea- Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Lebanon, Madagascar, Mali, Morocco, Mauritius, Mauritania, Niger, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, São Tomé and Príncipe, Senegal, Seychelles, Chad, Togo, Tunisia
Observer states: Lithuania, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Slovakia, Poland.
Associate state members: Albania, Macedonia.


Breaking down language barriers

A shared knowledge of French has allowed nations to link-up in education, science and democracy

Not just a gathering of people who speak French, Francophonie is the world's third largest organization of states and has been locally active in supporting professional training, youth programmes in Romania and election monitoring in the Republic of Moldova.
In politics, language and culture, Francophonie aims to bring together nations who feel or express a connection with the French language and other francophone cultures. It hopes to unite 175 millions speakers around the world.
Claiming to be the third largest international organization after the United Nations and the Commonwealth, the International Francophonie Organisation (OIF) aims to enhance cooperation politically and internationally.
French is the official language in 21 countries and many member nations, such as Albania, Macedonia and Romania, do not (obviously) speak French primarily. But that is not a barrier to membership, even if their first language is their own and the second fluctuates between French, English and Spanish.
In Romania five per cent of the population speaks French very well and ten per cent have some knowledge. There are 14,000 French teachers for more then 2,200,000 students from 28,000 schools, plus many courses at university level.
“During the 1990s the priority was inside the country because of the transition period, but now the question is not what the Francophonie can provide to Romania, but what Romania can contribute to the Francophonie,” says Eric-Normand Thibeault, the central and oriental Europe co-ordinator for the International Francophonie Agency (AIF), which Romania joined in 1993. “We have a great experience of peace keeping here and a very interesting democracy (still young in modern democratic terms). Also the transition is interesting: there is free dialogue between different ethnicities. In addition we also haven't suffered any internal wars for a long time.”
One reason for this could be that people have a way to talk to one another.
Romania has access to many AIF programmes such as youth mobility, the national youth strategy plan and the local support initiative. Each programme is able to gain finance of up to 40,000 Euro.
“Romania also played an important role in Africa during the years 1970-1980,” says Thibeault. More than 18,000 students from countries such as Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria studied locally in the engineering, accounting, economic and health sectors. Now these people belong to the high class of their society and are ministers and ambassadors. So Romania has a very large network of contact in those countries and is a very important international player for Africa.”
Culturally, Thibeault says the organization also supports artists. Romanian movies are played in Africa and vice versa and a common French language eases the understanding. “It also lets the rich countries contribute to the social and economical development of African nations. For example, the GDP of Romania is ten times higher than in francophone countries such as Burkina Faso, Mali and Rwanda.”
Education is also a priority and will be the major theme of the next summit in 2006 in Bucharest. “90 per cent of young people from Africa know only the information learned in the primary school,” says Thibeault. “For the countries from central and oriental Europe, we concentrate on technical and professional training.”
Building up democracies is also high on the agenda.
“Financially, we provided up to 25,000 Euro to the Moldavian election on the 6 March. We sent observers to see that human rights and the right of free expression were respected. We try to provide technical support, accounting, and election statistics,” says Thibeault.
With the Internet providing the best route of information in any lingua franca, Thibeault also says that the organization has projects worth up to 250,000 Euro to increase the quantity and the quality of the Francophone content on the internet.



Preparing for an energy boost

After fifteen years of unrealised potential, opportunities in the energy and retail sector should help bring Serbia and Montenegro closer to its eastern partner

Where the Danube narrows between two mountain ranges, on the border of Serbia and Romania, stands an impressive testament to the industrial ambition of the two Balkan nations.
A grand 1970s hydropower station 'Irongate', still functioning through state-owned companies, standing on either side of the border, buzzing with electricity.
This utopian experiment is, however, in need of repairs and faces privatisation.
And, with Serbia and Montenegro reaching a more stable environment after secessionist warfare and a change in political status, a new energy link-up is close at hand. Plans for a massive oil transport system and a smaller one in natural gas are now in the pipeline.
This, together with a new open economic agreement that has seen Serbia reaching pre-1989 levels of trade, show signs of a promise that has failed to materialise so far.
Following the break-up of the country and the civil war, trade relations fragmented. “A number of Serbian entrepreneurs, resident in Romania at that time, changed to start doing business with a third nation rather than with Serbia,” says outgoing ambassador for Serbia and Montenegro Dusan Francuski. This was because they found it hard to transport their goods to Serbian, where money was also scarce.
This breakdown coincided with Romania's increasing cooperation with the European Union, preferable at the time to its close partner.
In July last year a local visa system was introduced and now Romanians need a visa to travel to Serbia. This is a condition of joining the EU, although it did not technically need to occur until the last day before accession.
At the same time a free trade agreement is reducing customs between the countries year on year and by 2008 this will “hopefully have dropped to zero,” says Francuski.
In 2001 trade slumped to 206 million USD, with 30 million from Serbia and 175 million from Romania. But last year, with the free trade agreement coming into play, this increased to 334 million USD with 124 million USD from Serbia. Francuski expects trade figures for this year to reach the same pre-revolutionary levels of 400 million USD.
This should be good news for both countries, but Romania seems to be the greater beneficiary at present.
Serbia and Montenegro boasts a population similar in size to Bulgaria, and is seen by many Romanian firms, because of its proximity and lack of major exploitation by large multinationals, as the obvious place to expand.
Romanian furniture retailer Mobexpert is planning to open its first store in Serbia this month with a view to opening ten within the next decade. While general manager and founder of Altex, Dan Ostahie, told The Diplomat he will open his Media Galaxy brand in Serbia and Montenegro in 2006 or 2007. Ostahie says the nation is a “parallel market” to Romania and lacks the competition of Budapest or Prague. In May he aims to look for plots of land in the country for potential development.
Meanwhile Dacia-Renault's Logan was chosen as 'Car of the Year 2005' in Serbia and Montenegro over competition from Ford and Opel. After launching the Logan in Serbia Montenegro last November, Dacia-Renault has sold 1,081 of its 5,000 Euro car.
The energy sector should bring Romania closer to its Slavic neighbour. One of the largest ever pipeline projects, between Romania and Trieste, plans to take oil from the Caspian Sea regions to western Europe. An EU-sponsored feasibility study is now complete and this initiative could supply between 40 to 90 million barrels per year and satisfy around half the needs of western Europe.
Cash for Romania and Serbia could arrive through rental and maintenance costs for the pipeline, as well as any substations along the way where oil could be refined.
Further opportunities exist for Romania, as Francuski says there are currently talks concerning a natural gas pipeline between Timisoara and Mokrin in Serbia, with gas supplied to Serbia and Montenegro.
Since Iliescu's visit westward, Romanian firms have been interested in purchasing refineries in Serbia, “but so far nothing has materialised,” says Francuski. Although there are no plans to sell off the Irongate facility on the Danube, Francuski says: “It will take a long time but eventually this will be privatised.”
Political links are also being exchanged. Recently a consul opened in Vrsac in southern Serbia where there is a Romanian minority, while at present there are around 23,000 Serbs in Romania, a massive drop from around 100,000 during Tito's time.
Ideally, Serbia aims to join European Union. But Francuski says that, like Croatia, it suffers from “political obstacles” generated by the criminal activities of some of the armed forces in the 1990s war and the ongoing war crimes tribunal in The Hague. Serbia also needs to help resolve issue of Kosovan autonomy.
“The EU is open to receive us,” he says, although he admits that there is some resistance among the Serbs, who can have a “stubborn” temperament and may not see the initial benefits of joining.
But he is circumspect about the future.
“Entry should be easy,” he says.