Xavier Lapeyre de Cabanes: We Can Boost Cooperation in Energy, Science
Novinite.com is interviewing ambassadors of Bulgaria's main trading partners as well as neighboring countries. Here is the interview with the Ambassador of France to Bulgaria Xavier Lapeyre de Cabanes.
What major bilateral projects are currently in the making?
The installation of the Institut fran?ais into the building of the Alliance fran?aise is one of the greatest bilateral projects we have implemented in the last years: both France and Bulgaria have granted efforts which show the importance they attach to their relations.
With the new Institut, we now have a cooperation instrument which enables us to intensify our exchanges and to implement even more ambitious projects such as the next year exhibition about ancient Bulgaria and the Thracian culture in the Louvre museum.
Furthermore, we enjoy excellent economic relations especially in the sector of agriculture and rural development. Since October 2013, a French expert is seconded in the ministry of agriculture in Sofia and offers his experience to the minister and to his Bulgarian colleagues.
Bulgaria is currently the special guest of the Sommet de l’Elevage [“Animal Husbandry Summit”] in Clermont-Ferrand from the 1st to the 3rd of October. This event is one of the main world meetings for livestock production. It is an exceptional opportunity to highlight Bulgaria and to deepen our cooperation in this area.
What are, in your opinion, the biggest challenges in bilateral relations?
Our common EU membership entails a special density of friendship and close and regular cooperation in our relations.
However, Bulgaria, from many aspects, is still widely unrecognised in France. Every time I have the opportunity to do so, I strive to promote the assets of Bulgaria and everything that makes its attractiveness for the French people, both in Paris and in the regions.
The successful experiences of French investments and French-Bulgarian partnerships already provide an inspiring showcase to lead French companies to enter the Bulgarian market, in order to sell or to produce here.
We should also develop the exchanges between young people. They are those who will build the future of our bilateral relation and it is important that youngsters from both countries learn to appreciate each other – as much as their elders do in various areas such as economics, culture, higher education and research.
An increasing number of young French people come here to spend one or two semesters in Erasmus exchange, but there are much more Bulgarians going on the trip in the opposite way and we have to rebalance these exchanges.
As an example, I relay the Ministry of Education’s efforts in order to develop the assistantships of Bulgarian language in French universities. And I am delighted to see that they do not hesitate to take the plunge and to come to conclude cooperation agreements with their Bulgarian counterparts, motivated by their excellent results.
Do you know that France acknowledges the titles of engineer issued by the Technical University of Sofia and by the University of Chemical Technology and Metallurgy? That just shows the trust between our educational systems.
Where do you see the greatest potential for cooperation and untapped opportunities?
France and Bulgaria have many assets to assert together. I believe that we should discuss about cooperating in the energy efficiency sector, which is a priority for the Bulgarian authorities.
The energy efficiency policies are a major stake for the future. They bear upon the building sector, with the housing renovation, as well as transports, industry, or agriculture. Our two countries, as EU members, have undertaken strong commitments in order to reduce and to optimize their energy consumption.
French firms have in this regard a notorious savoir-faire and experience – some of them already present in Bulgaria since several years, as Schneider Electric, Dalkia, Alstom… Many companies in France bring innovative solutions in order to reduce the energy consumption in every area.
In a wider sense, our two countries have a common interest in strengthening their exchanges in the field of fundamental and applied research and in developing their dialogue about innovation. Both fields are critical in the building and the competitiveness of tomorrow’s Europe. I wish that a strengthened dialogue enables us to make the best use of these opportunities.
And then a few words about our police and judicial cooperation: I would like to underline the quality of the response from the Bulgarian police services when we request them, their professionalism, their reactivity and more and more their proactivity.
Things are more complicated with the judicial system which has not the effectiveness one could expect from it. Yet the bilateral stakes are real: some Bulgarian criminal groups are active in France in the areas of human trafficking, drug trafficking and money and credit card counterfeiting.
It is of course at first an internal stake for Bulgaria, but the bilateral relation will work better when the gaps of the rule of law are filled and when the Bulgarian justice is stronger.
How are Bulgaria and Bulgarians perceived by your compatriots?
Bulgaria remains quite unknown by French people compared with other countries of the region. Nevertheless, this knowledge increases and when the French people have an informed opinion about Bulgaria, it is generally a positive one. This is particularly the message I get from the French people settled here.
Every year, about thirty French-Bulgarian marriages are celebrated and result in roughly the same number of births. These numbers are steadily increasing. My three sons, by the way, are also your fellow countrymen.
Bulgaria will have the place of honor in France during a whole year. The Louvre exhibition about ancient Bulgaria will be an important step for the promotion of Bulgaria in France. This will be an event with a considerable media coverage which makes Bulgaria visible throughout the French territory.
From this month [October], a first delegation of French journalists will visit Bulgaria and prepare publications. In the longer term, the Bulgarian authorities are now preparing a major campaign in France to promote their country – focused on its touristic assets. Even if it is primarily their mission, they can count on me to support any initiative to promote a country which I am very attached to.
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