The history of creating of diplomatic relations between Azerbaijan and France is about 30 years. During this period, successful cooperation has been established between the two countries in various fields.
Bilateral relations are developing gradually, Ambassador of France to Azerbaijan Aurelia Bouchez said in the interview with Kaspi.
Opportunities for joint activities
- Ms. Ambassador, what innovations are expected in the recent years between Azerbaijan and France?
- French-Azerbaijani relations are strong and high-quality, and in recent years, these ties have been intensifying. Meetings between the presidents and ministries of our countries are regularly held, and political dialogue is at the highest level of the state. As you know, First Vice President of Azerbaijan Mehriban Aliyeva visited Paris on March 11-13 at the invitation of Prime Minister Édouard Philippe. During her visit, Mrs Mehriban Aliyeva met with the Prime Minister, first lady of France Brigitte Macron, Culture Minister Franck Riester during her personal visit to the Orsay Museum, Minister for the Economy and Finance Bruno Lemaire, President of the National Assembly Richard Ferrand and President of the French Senate Gerard Larcher. Mrs Mehriban Aliyeva also met with former French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Mrs Mehriban Aliyeva and her delegation held meetings with heads of several French companies.
I would like to recall President Ilham Aliyev's visit to Paris on July 19-20, 2018, as the most important aspect of our bilateral relations. At that time the first meeting of the Presidents of France and Azerbaijan took place, and this meeting gave an opportunity to talk about a number of bilateral and regional issues. As a co-chair of the Minsk Group, France remains committed to the political settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
We have successfully developed our cultural and educational cooperation along with all of the topics, particularly including terrorism threats, as well as confident and open political dialogue and high-tech economic relations, including regional and international issues. We also support the cooperation between France and Azerbaijan that allows exchanges in the fields of economy, education and tourism. I would particularly like to emphasize how active and dynamic academic exchanges are. Many French universities cooperate with Azerbaijani universities such as Universities of Strasbourg and Rennes 1, University of Montpellier 3, University of Toulouse 1 Capitole, Sorbonne University, INALCO and Paris School of Management and Marketing, French American business school in Lyon (CEFAM), higher education schools like EDHEC Business School in Lille and so on. Alumni network is also rich! We highly appreciate the support of our partners from Azerbaijan for this cooperation, which allows us to work together for the future of the country's younger generation. Our goal is to work for peace, prosperity and progress.
Dynamic, sustainable and balanced economic growth
- As you know, our country attaches special importance to the non-oil sector's agricultural sector while implementing economic reforms. Considering the activities of a number of French companies in our country, which are of great importance in the Azerbaijani economy, what are the French government's intentions to push for this development?
- Azerbaijan is our main economic partner in the South Caucasus. The French companies are engaged not only in the field of energy (TOTAL and SCHNEIDER ELECTRIC), but also in the fields such as rapidly developing transport (ALSTOM, THALES, IVECO, SYSTRA), agriculture and food industry (LACTALIS, DANONE), hotel industry (ACCOR), environment (SUEZ, CNIM), aeronautics and space (AIRBUS, THALES) and investment bank (SOCIETE GENERALE). Thus, French companies are contributing to the successful diversification of the Azerbaijani economy.
I would like to note that after the meeting of Mrs Mehriban Aliyeva with Prime Minister Édouard Philippe in Paris, four agreements were signed between the Ministry of Finance of the Republic of Azerbaijan and the French Development Agency on modernization of the North-South railway line (Baku-Yalama), the Baku Metro and Thales company on implementation of alarm and telecommunications system of the Khojasan warehouse and establishment of the Operation Control Center, as well as the Strategic Partnership Agreements were signed between the Central Bank of Azerbaijan and Rothschild & Co.
France is an important trade partner for Azerbaijan and one of the top ten foreign investors in the country: our investments are mainly concentrated in hydrocarbons and less waste disposal areas (Baku Solid Waste Incineration Plant). France is also a carrier of high technologies, which is essential for the diversification of the economy. For example, I am delighted to see the contribution of Alstom's locomotives on the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars corridor, and Thales radars in all airports in your country as a coordinating center for Azerbaijan in the region.
You know that there is a great partnership between SOCAR and TOTAL on exploitation of Absheron gas in the gas industry. TOTAL is interested in the future exploitation of new gas fields. We are happy to participate in the future of Azerbaijan's gas production and we also support the Southern Gas Corridor, which is a major energy security and diversification supply for Europe. Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between the Ministry of Energy of the Republic of Azerbaijan and Total Eren for the development of renewable energy in February.
Also, I would like to stress that after the economic reforms started by President Ilham Aliyev, more and more small and medium-sized French companies are interested in the opportunities of the Azerbaijani market, and in this regard, improving the business environment is an important factor.
There are many small and medium-sized enterprises in France that offer services and products adapted to the specific needs of the developing economy, particularly to the agricultural sector. France has international experience in many areas such as agriculture and food. Azerbaijani Minister of Agriculture Inam Karimov attended the 56th International Agricultural Show in Paris and met with companies and cooperatives in Lyon.
I am confident that continuation of economic reforms initiated by President Ilham Aliyev will promote foreign investment in the non-oil sector and will give Azerbaijan the best opportunities for dynamic, sustainable and balanced economic growth.
Cooperation in education
- Does the teaching of Azerbaijani language at the Institute of Oriental Languages (Inalco), the activities of the Baku French Lyceum and the Azerbaijan-French University (UFAZ), the cooperation between Strasbourg University and Azerbaijan University of Languages allow us to talk about the development of educational relations between our countries?
- Our bilateral partnership in education is successful and exemplary. Our partnership contributes to the emergence of descendants of polyglot and high-ranking Azerbaijani graduates, which is necessary for the success of the country's economy diversification. These young boys and girls are future engineers and other cadres of Azerbaijani companies.
In September 2017, the opening ceremony of the new building of the Azerbaijani-French University (UFAZ) was held with the participation of Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, Secretary of State to the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs and Mikail Jabbarov, Azerbaijani Minister of Education of that time. UFAZ offers double diplomas and now more than 400 students are studying there. High level of knowledge has allowed the students to succeed in international tournaments. The foundation of the UFAZ was officially announced by the presidents of Azerbaijan and France in May 2014. The university was established from the partnership of the Universities of Strasbourg and Rennes and the Baku State Oil and Industrial University. Chemistry, Geophysics, Computer and Petroleum Engineering courses are taught at UFAZ, where students are awarded diplomas recognized by both countries. Several companies such as Thales, Baku Metro, Schneider Electric, and Schlumberger now support a number of UFAZ teaching activities, and this shows the growing interest of economic circles to education.
The Baku French Lyceum (LFB), which was opened in 2014 by the presidents of the two countries, is the result of a partnership between the French Secular Mission and SOCAR. Mainly French teachers educate at the lyceum, certified by the French Ministry of National Education. The lyceum provides high-quality education in French to the children of Azerbaijani and foreign families according to the French national curriculum.
The French education system in Azerbaijan is designed to give students the opportunity to offer maximum choice. This allows for the continued education in Azerbaijan's higher education system (including the UFAZ) or in France, in a French-speaking country or in Anglo-Saxon countries: 500 French lyceums in the world, including the Baku French Lyceum, are prestigious institutions with a high degree of proficiency in many foreign languages. The French Lyceum has a good reputation in the education system of Azerbaijan, and the number of students is constantly growing.
It is also necessary to underline the activity of the French Institute in Azerbaijan (IFA), the goal of which is to develop the French language, organize events between Azerbaijan and France, and implement cultural exchanges. IFA is the leading organization in French language teaching in Azerbaijan. It is also the only organization that tests the French language (DELF, DALF, TCF).
These events create opportunities to explore each other
- Various projects are being carried out in the direction of development of cultural relations between France and Azerbaijan. The French Embassy and the French Institute in Azerbaijan are actively involved in celebrating the Francophonie event every year. How do you emphasize the importance of the International Francophonie Day?
- The French Embassy and the French Institute, which is our cultural center in Azerbaijan, are carrying out a number of initiatives to introduce our culture and language more closely and to promote France as a tourist country to the Azerbaijani people.
International Francophonie Day is held every year on 5 continents and for 220 million francophones (French-speaking people). These events organized by the embassies of observer and member states of the International Organization of Francophonie are held in early April in Azerbaijan. More than 20 events (concerts, exhibitions, conferences, film presentations) were presented to the Azerbaijani public by 14 participating embassies from March 30 to April 15 this year.
Every year we celebrate the International Music Festival in Azerbaijan in June. This initiative of French origin, popular on a worldwide scale is already on the list of important cultural events in Baku. All these events create opportunities to discover each other, and we are more than happy to see more people watching these events.