JEAN LOUP KUHN-DELFORGE : BULGARIA HAS ALMOST NO IMAGE IN FRANCE

Novinite Insider » INTERVIEW | April 5, 2002, Friday // 00:00| Views: | Comments: 0
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H.E Jean Loup Kuhn-Delforge has been France's ambassador to Bulgaria since September 2001. He has substantial diplomatic experience. Before coming to Bulgaria, he was director in The French Abroad service ("Consular Affaires" directorate.)

H.E Jean Loup Kuhn-Delforge met Martina Iovcheva - Editor-in-Chief of novinite.com and The News.

Q: Very soon both parliamentary and presidential elections will be held in France. The first round of the presidential elections comes in less than a month. Do French people show big interest in the latest developments? Do you expect high electoral turnout?

A: In some elections there is not much interest like local elections or European elections because there are no concrete consequences for the people. But for us, the presidential elections are the main rendezvous of the political life. The interest is big but I do not know yet whether there will be this time a high electoral turnout. However, I feel from the information that I have that there could be some kind of scepticism because some have the impression that there is no real debate between the two main candidates. At the first round, the voters have the right to choose among candidates representing the whole political spectrum and at the second round, the votes are mixing themselves and aggregating because only two candidates remain.

Q: What are your forecasts, do you expect surprises? Is it possible the candidates that will run at the second round not to be Lionel Jospin and Jacques Chirac?

A: The people knew from before the campaign that the two main rivals will be the current president and the prime minister. So there is no surprise at all. Since the one is the prime minister and the other the president, there is no newcomer and as far as we can forecast it, no surprise to expect. The French people know for seven years their president and for five years the prime minister. So, they know how they will rule the country, what they will say. According to the polls, the new president will be the current prime minister or the current president.

Many people see both rivals as directly looking for the second round, and consider that the two programs very similar. It is not true because it is not only a question of program but also the way you deal with it and also the spirit you do it. The main topics are for the time being internal security, the authority of the state and also unemployment and reform of the pensions. Foreign policy will be the same as before the presidential elections, European policies are also not an issue too.

Q: What are the results of the latest polls?

A: The last polls are for the second round fifty fifty for M. Chirac and M. Jospin. Nobody could say who will win.

Q: France very recently accepted the euro as its national currency. Are French people nostalgic about the franc? Do you consider the introduction of the euro to be a success?

A: There was big enthusiasm in France. The introduction of the euro took place in the night of January 1. It was more or less an attraction. People queued to get the new notes from the bank machines. People were happy about the change and were not nostalgic although we knew the franc since the fourteenth century. My explanation for the positive reaction is that the conversion was very well prepared, explained, organised, presented. For months, we had special media editions, explaining everything in details from the point of view of everybody. The introduction of the euro makes European integration very concrete for the people. It is fascinating to buy your morning bread in Paris with "Greek" or "Spanish" euro coin.

Q: Will France support a possible attack against Iraq, proposed by US?

A: The problem with Iraq is being discussed. We all agree on the aim, which is Iraq to collaborate to the UN, especially on the question of inspectors who are responsible for the observation of massive destruction weapons. Anyway, it is the UN to decide of the principle of any "attack" against Iraq.

Q: Yesterday*, U.S. prosecutors said they would seek the death penalty for Zacarias Moussaoui, accusing the French citizen of actions that resulted in some 3,000 deaths from the Sept. 11 hijacked aircraft attacks on the United States. What is France's stand on this decision of the United States?

A: We have banned death penalty, both internally and through European conventions. About Moussaoui, who is detained in the United States, we will collaborate with the American justice authorities but we have to regret very much that death penalty was requested against him.

Q: Do you think that internal tensions within the ruling movement or scandals like the one with Crown Agents that lately shook the country will have influence on Bulgaria' s joining NATO?

A: The fact that a secret document, discussed by a Council of Ministers was published in a newspaper is something unthinkable. It is not something good of course. But it is only a detail, which is not that important for Bulgaria's chances to enter NATO. What is more important is that the last American voices concerning Bulgaria's bid for NATO are much closer to France's stand on the issue: France has said from the very beginning of the process - it's not a technical problem, it is not a military problem, it is a political one. The applicant country has to show solidarity and stability and to share common values with the NATO member states. These are the reasons why France totally supports Bulgaria's candidature and clearly voices its candidature.

Q: When will a decision on whether Bulgaria will join NATO will be taken?

A: In the preparation process of the Prague summit, of course. But it could be possible to have in Prague a two-stage decision: a political invitation in Prague and then a period of time for preparation (completion of the reform of the army etc.). Anyway we are very much in favour of Bulgaria's entry in the Alliance. It is important that Bulgaria will be the first Balkan state (with Romania) to join the Alliance. Bulgaria has borders with Macedonia and Yugoslavia - two countries essential for Europe's stability. It's why Bulgaria's accession is very important for the stability in the region, and for the image of the country itself.

However, I would like to stress that nothing will change in the everyday life of the ordinary Bulgarians with the NATO accession, which is the big difference with EU membership and has already become to be effective with the accession process.

Q: Is it possible Bulgaria to join EU with the first wave of applicant countries?

A: I doubt. Anyway, Bulgaria is not ready. Bulgaria itself has spoken of 2007 for EU entry. What France has said through Mr. Vedrine in November last year was "We must stick to the principle of differentiation, we must not prejudge the result before it happened." Mr. Vedrine's statement was a reaction against papers and declarations about ten countries that are about to enter the union. We said: "What ten countries?" The decision, which countries will join, EU should be made next autumn. Next autumn it will be decided which countries are more advanced. We must not in advance prejudge of 10+2. We didn't say we "want" Bulgaria in EU next year. That won't be possible, for many reasons, some of which are also technical like for example the legal and judiciary reform, the protection of the consumer and the level of agriculture.

Q: What are the biggest problems Bulgaria faces today?

A: Many people speak of justice and corruption. It is obvious that the EU taxpayers are reluctant to give money to any country where there is corruption. Besides corruption and justice, there are other difficulties. One of them is the protection of the consumer. Western Europeans are very sensitive about the protection of public health and fraud. And the second problem is the current inability in Bulgaria for regional development and for managing the structural funds, which implies creating local partnerships: it is urgent to reform the local government in Bulgaria so that you could build local partnerships. Now you have a mayor (of a given town or village) on the one end and the state on the other end. There is something lacking in the middle that will allow creating local partnerships. The reform of the local government is urgent.

Q: Do you know of French companies interested in key sell-offs in Bulgaria?

A: What I can say is that France does not have a good investment position in Bulgaria. It is quite strange to be tenth in terms in investment in Bulgaria, while in Romania we are number one investor and we are close to number one in other Central European countries. Many people say corruption and lack of transparency are the reasons for that. Yes, that might be true but it is also true that these same factors exist for other foreign investors who chose to invest in Bulgaria - from Italy, Austria, and Germany etc. One of the reasons for the small amount of French investments in Bulgaria is due to the fact that Bulgaria and its strong points are not enough known in France for many reasons - historical, cultural etc. However, I think that things are changing because of the success of the former government (inflation, debt etc.) Another factor was the stepping in office of the Simeon government, which has created bigger curiosity and interest about Bulgaria, than ever before abroad, and in France specially.

Q: What is Bulgaria's image in France?

A: I can't say that Bulgaria has bad image in France. Bulgaria has not much image, which is worse. We must work for the good and positive image of Bulgaria. The fact that Bulgaria is not well known in France has many consequences, not only for investors but also for example for cooperation between students, teachers and universities and in all spheres of life. However, things are changing as I already told you. Last November we had two French ministers- European Affairs and Defence Minister - visiting Bulgaria (it was the first time in the bilateral relations that we had a French Defence minister coming to Sofia). In ten days* we expect the French Minister of Interior to visit Bulgaria, in spite of the fact that the presidential elections will take place ten days after his visit to Bulgaria. After the presidential and general elections end, we hope to have visits in both countries of other officials of higher ranks. And we already see the development of ties between the two "civil societies".

Q: Do you find any similarities between the Bulgarian and French people?

A: We have some common things. First of all, in historical terms we have lived through difficult times, with periods of occupation, moments of war. Now France has the best friendship with Germany and founded with Germany and others within the EU. Bulgaria will know the same evolution through membership in NATO and EU and by developing good relations with its neighbours. This is a parallel, which can be made and of course there are other parallels. Wine, for example. Another common thing is the importance of the agriculture. Bulgarians are like Frenchmen very much attached to the land, the country. And I should also point out the fact that francophony is a real fact in Bulgaria, more than in many other countries of this region. We share common values.

Q: Could you describe Bulgaria in three words?

A: I would answer with impressions: white, green and red.
White - like frozen glass of rakiya or snow on Vitosha. Red - like glass of Mavrut or martenitza. And green - for hope in the future (in France green is the colour of hope) of Bulgaria. Even though Bulgaria has social problems, like demography, Roma minority, etc., and so many reforms to manage at the same time, there is hope because of the young, educated Bulgarians.

* The interview was taken on March 29
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