Entente Cordiale

December 21, 2010 by J-Wire
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The French Ambassador to Australia, His Excellency Michel Filhol, has addressed the Capital Jewish Forum  on ‘A brief overview of the features of French policy and the France-Australia relationship’.

The  event opened with cocktails in the lavish surrounds and  the beautiful views from the residence. The Ambassador then gave his presentation followed by a Q&A session.

CJF founder and executive director Manny Waks commented:

Ambassador Michel Filhol and Manny Waks P. Sylvia Deutch

“CJF members were delighted to have the opportunity to hear from the senior representative of one of the five permanent UN Security Council members and influential global player, about a range of contemporary issues. There were very interesting and diverse questions, reflecting both the makeup of CJF members and the appeal this unique distinguished guest had. The event was an outstanding success.

Ambassador Filhol was a warm, generous host and we all appreciated his personable nature, sense of humour and vast knowledge. It was also a great opportunity to meet with other senior Embassy officials, including the Deputy Head of Mission, Mr Marc Trouyet, and the chief cultural and scientific official, Mr Pierre Labbe.”

Ambassador Michel Filhol is a career diplomat and has held numerous diplomatic assignments in French Missions abroad including the Czech Republic, Libya, The Netherlands and Singapore. Ambassador Filhol has also held various senior positions in the French Foreign Ministry.

Ambassador Filhol has degrees in economics, political studies and public law. He has been inducted as a Knight in the Order of the Legion of Honour, among other recognitions.

In the Q & A which followed his talk the Ambassador dealt with the following points:

Brief overview of the features of French foreign policy:

    • To understand the “deeply rooted motivations” for French foreign policy, it is necessary to understand that France believes that there are some universal values as a legacy of the French Revolution…and France tries to promote them (democracy, human rights, and respect for other cultures etc.) on a global scale as it believes it needs to deliver a global message.
    • The three pillars of French foreign policy are:
    1. national independence;
    2. “groupings of solidarity” (the European Union (EU), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization); and
    3. multilateralism.

    Some examples of the latter include the United Nations (UN), G8 and G20.

    • France is a permanent member of the UN Security Council and a prominent player in various international organisations, including in those already mentioned. From 1 January 2011 France will chair the G8 and it already chairs the G20.
    • It is important for the EU to become an assertive political player in world affairs. Currently it is considered by many as a “soft power” – meaning, it focuses on promoting issues relating to transparency in terms of governance, democracy, trade opportunities as a single market and to tackle threats such as non proliferation, terrorism etc.
    • “International community” is the cornerstone of stability.
    • Relations with the United States are very strong and of long lasting friendly nature.
    • Another area of major interest to French foreign policy is sub-Saharan Africa. There have been links for centuries through cooperation, colonial presence, exchanges etc. Unfortunately this region has been neglected by many countries. France welcomes the new Australian interest towards it.
    • It is a common misconception that France is not present in Asia. In fact, France was the first western nation to establish relations with China (in 1964), and it has ongoing, strategic partnerships with India, China, Japan. France is definitely eager to participate in the Asia-Pacific region.
    • Australia is among France’s close partners.
    • There are “no more irritants between Australia and France” – the nuclear testing episode is behind and the French presence in the region (i.e. New Caledonia, Polynesia) is no longer an issue. Australia and France have also overcome agricultural issues.
    • Especially in recent years the two countries share global responsibilities, for example, Afghanistan, Iran, terrorism, food safety and climate change.
    • There is a strong “human presence” – for example, currently there are around 50,000 people who are binational citizens (French/Australian) living in Australia and around 17,000 young French people on working visas in Australia. There was also a reference to cooperation in the cultural realm, for example, the recent exhibition of French paintings at the National Gallery of Australia.
    • Broadly, Australia and France “are working together in a new spirit of partnership and shall step ahead and be partners”.

    Regarding French-Australian relations:

    • There are “no more irritants between Australia and France” – the nuclear testing episode is behind and the French presence in the region (i.e. New Caledonia, Polynesia) is no longer an issue. Australia and France have also overcome agricultural issues.
    • Especially in recent years the two countries share global responsibilities, for example, Afghanistan, Iran, terrorism, food safety and climate change.
    • There is a strong “human presence” – for example, currently there are around 50,000 people who are binational citizens (French/Australian) living in Australia and around 17,000 young French people on working visas in Australia. There was also a reference to cooperation in the cultural realm, for example, the recent exhibition of French paintings at the National Gallery of Australia.
    • Broadly, Australia and France “are working together in a new spirit of partnership and shall step ahead and be partners”.

    Religious attire

    • Speaking about the burqa is not speaking about religion or rites. France is a secular state. All religions are welcome in France but people have to behave in a way that does not interfere with the faith or no-faith of other citizens. The cornerstone of the French system is respecting some basic rules.
    • The burqa is also a matter of respect for women and a security and public order issue (including, for example, in relation to passports).
    • France has addressed the burqa issue after a debate in the two houses of Parliament and intensive coverage.
    • It is important to note that those wearing the burqa in France are very few (around 2000) and may do so in their own privacy. There is a period of transition– first the ban will be explained and then enforced. The motivation is to prevent inequality between men and women.
    • A reference was made to the “experience of radicalisation movements” in the suburbs of France (forcing women to start wearing such clothing). There has been growing social pressure since the 1990s to wear such clothing.
    • In addition, all visible religious attire are banned from public schools for reasons of equality and to prevent external influences within the school environment. This, of course, is a very delicate subject but for France, schools are one of the cornerstones of institutions.

    European Union

    • In response to a question on the euro currency, the euro is not an artificial currency. It’s a genuine currency. It would be impossible to imagine any country in the Euro zone withdrawing or being expelled.

    WikiLeaks

    • France has a policy not to comment on any media articles. So too in this case, “no comment”.
    • Transparency/Diplomacy: in the world of diplomacy we cannot say that everything is a secret and at the same time everything is transparent. Diplomacy needs to be balanced.

    Immigration

    • On current immigration, the French government tries to control the immigration while keeping the door open – it is very complex and there are many issues to address such as poverty, culture, family etc.
    • National communities: There are similarities with Australia, but both countries start from different points. In France the identity starts from the citizen and then to have the community, whereas in Australia the community mechanism appears to be first – school/football/clubs – and the flag and citizen afterwards. It is a different approach. The French Jewish community is represented by an organisation at the national level – as too are the Muslims. However, some religions are not represented at the national level.

    Economy

    • Expression of optimism that next year the economic situation will be better. Unemployment has been reduced in France over the last two months.
    • On taxes, the government is extremely committed to keeping taxes under control. The critical question is what do you expect from the State? France is slowly shifting from an old model and people do not necessarily understand this shift. But reforms are underway in France.

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