Ræða sendiherrans á aðalfundi Fransk-íslenska viðskiptaráðsins [fr]
Dear Baldvin, thank you for inviting me to attend the general assembly of the French-Icelandic Chamber of Commerce and many thanks to Prime Minister Benediktsson for sharing his thoughts on domestic and bilateral issues.
I arrived exactly two weeks ago, in due time to celebrate the historic qualification of Iceland to the World Cup (before Moscow, I still need to improve my command of the “thunder clapping”), and to welcome Ségolène Royal, former French Minister and candidate to the presidency, who took part in the Arctic Circle meeting.
I have been posted before on four continents (Cameroon, Germany, Japan and the United States) and assumed different positions as political Counsellor or Consul general. My last posting was in Paris where I was in charge of managing the real estate and properties of the French Foreign ministry in France and abroad. I am very glad to represent France in Iceland, a fascinating country which is quite fashionable these days.
When I presented my credentials to President Johannesson on the 10th of October, we both agreed that there is no disagreement, issues or controversies between France and Iceland. We do have an historic, friendly and cooperative multifaceted relationship. Does it mean there is nothing much to do and that we can just relax and rely on this sound and solid base?
My answer is clearly no, and for several reasons:
- First, because Iceland and France are confronted with new risks and challenges. The world is today more global but also more unstable and unpredictable that it ever was. Just look back at what we have faced in the last years in Europe: a major economic and financial crisis, a migration crisis, open warfare and display of force on the European soil, a series of murderous terrorist attacks, the rise of nationalist and populist movements, and, last but not least, the British decision to leave the EU…
If you look beyond Europe, the world is still confronted with persistent tensions in the Middle East, instability and poverty in Africa, but also with new challenges such as global warming, competition regarding access to resources of the oceans, airspace, outer space and cyberspace, gradual assertiveness of emerging powers and, in the same time, US disengagement from world affairs not to speak about disruptive changes in the field of artificial intelligence, robotics and biotechnology which will have a tremendous impact on our lives and the lives of our children.
In this fast changing world, you have to adjust and evolve. Under the leadership of President Macron, France is trying to transform itself. But this process is not taking place isolation and there is a need to look beyond our borders in order to assess what is working and what is not. The spectacular economic recovery of Iceland gives us a strong incentive to expand and deepen our dialogue and relationship.
- France like Iceland is a country which respects and attaches great importance to literature, language, music, and all form of arts. We should continue to build on those commonalities and on the mutual interest towards each other culture. I will do my best to promote further student and cultural exchanges because it contributes to a better understanding between people and it paves the way for other projects, including in the economic field. As you know, the French Embassy has proposed grants to study in France for more than 50 years. Former President Vigdis Finnbogadottir may be the most well-known of our grantees. Although it may sound immodest, French education system is excellent and offers a lot of possibilities, including more and more courses in English. Please spread the word about it! We also have many partnerships in the scientific field, with a common grant program called PHC-Jules Verne. My goal is to make use of these instruments to foster our relationship.
- Trade, economic exchanges and cross investment remain among the most effective tools to develop further our bilateral relation. We need to do more in trying to capitalize on our respective strengths but also in taking advantage of our complementarities and expertise in areas such as tourism or renewable energy. Another interesting example is the meeting recently organized by my predecessor between Amundi and Icelandic investors to promote the Paris financial center. It will be important to ensure the follow up of this initiative. I also know that a lot has also been done with the chamber, and especially thanks to the involvement of Baldwin, to develop and strengthen our cooperation in the field of geothermal energy, as reflected in the bilateral agreement which was signed in July 2015 between the French and Icelandic geothermal clusters. I wish to pursue this work with your help and support.
- This leads to my last point, which is an appeal to you because, as members of the French-Icelandic Chamber of Commerce, you have a very important role to play in our bilateral relation. You are already doing personally and collectively a lot to promote economic exchanges between our two countries, but I would like you to know that I count on you and that you can count on me to develop further this very unique relationship.
As a first suggestion, I would like to propose that we work together on Innovation, which is an overarching and unifying theme that describes accurately the comparative advantages of countries like Iceland and France. I know that FRIS organized a conference in Paris at the National Assembly in April 2014 on this very subject. I would like, with your support, to set-up a similar event here, in Reykjavik. I leave you with that “food for thought” and thank you very much for your attention.