A Year Set to Last

The French Embassy in Russia

Jean de Gliniasty became France's ambassador to Russia in January 2009 and since his arrival the Year of France in Russia has figured highly in his priorities. Cultural events have dominated thus far, but with President Sarkozy's visit to St. Petersburg for the annual economic forum, he explains how this year is helping develop business ties between the two countries.

This year is the Year of France in Russia and Russia in France. What do you hope this will accomplish for French-Russian relations? What are some of the major events being held in connection with it?

The main aim of the Year of France in Russia and Russia in France is to enhance our bilateral relations for the coming decade. It provides the framework for an ambitious upgrade in our relations. It will provide Russia with an updated knowledge of France, allowing our countries to develop the vast potential of our cooperation, with an emphasis on the economic sphere.

Numerous business events will be held, such as the Sochi Economic Forum, a French convention in Moscow featuring as many as 150 French companies, as well as a small-business forum. On the political scene, high-level visits are planned, with the Russian Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, set to pay a visit to France in order to open the Russian national exhibition on June 12. A return visit of his counterpart, Francois Fillon, is scheduled for December, to coincide with the annual intergovernmental forum.

As guests of honor at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum this summer, what do French businesses and the French government hope to achieve through the event?

All the largest French companies will be represented at this forum. We hope it will help build new partnerships. The goal of the event is to use the potential of our business relations to their full extent. For example, there is a growing interest in Russian markets in France. However, much still needs to be done in order to attract more Russian investors to France. We would like to show our Russian friends that there are opportunities for them in France — one of the most favorable places in the world for investment.

Creating a dense network of small and medium-sized business links with Russia is very important, because it will allow our two countries to be interdependent.

To what extent do the notorious problems of bureaucracy and corruption remain roadblocks to foreign investment in Russia? And what role should politicians have in fostering investment in foreign economies?

It is not my duty to meddle in the internal affairs of the Russian government. However, I have noticed the Russian government displaying remarkable efforts to tackle these issues. Every step taken toward the creation of a stable and reliable business environment undoubtedly attracts more investors, or at least raises their interest in the country, and this is certainly true for French investors.

As for the role of politicians, sometimes they may have a more accurate or comprehensive knowledge of a specific market. Thus, it might be useful for them to accompany businessmen in their exploration of new markets, especially when companies have only a crude knowledge of how a country's administrative and business structures work. Our economic mission, at the embassy, does exactly that: It helps businessmen interested in doing business in Russia confidently plan their entry into the Russian market.

You mention updating the images of France and Russia in the minds of each country's citizens. How do you envisage changing those images, and what exactly do you hope to accomplish by doing so?

The changes we want to bring about are to develop how France and Russia perceive each other. There are still blatant discrepancies between the reality of our countries and the way they are perceived, mostly because of representations inherited from the past. For example, we try to remind our Russian partners as often as possible that France is one of the leading economies of the world. In the cultural sphere, there is a lot beyond the classical French cultural tradition: We have very active and creative contemporary artists.

Conversely, a significant part of the French population still sees Russia as it was 10, 20 or even 30 years ago. We intend to reduce these misconceptions by strengthening the ties between institutions, companies, artists, scientists, students, and our peoples overall. The more they know about each other, the better.

You have in the past discussed the challenge of convincing small and medium-sized French businesses to enter the Russian market. Why is that important?

The proportion of small and medium-sized French businesses dealing with Russia is steadily increasing, but there are obstacles to developing this positive trend. For structural reasons, such as their modest size, small French companies tend to fear they have not yet reached the "critical mass" that would allow them to succeed in foreign markets. The task of creating a dense network of small and medium-sized business links with Russia is very important, because it will allow our two countries to be interdependent not only through prominent eye-catching projects but also through a multitude of small-scale business ties. This will undoubtedly contribute to the long-term solidity of our relations.

Prominent deals between French and Russian companies have been made of late in the auto and oil industries. Which other industries are most important for French-Russia business ties at the moment? What are some areas of business you believe have potential for future cooperation between the countries?

Economic cooperation between Russia and France revolves around major industrial and high-tech programs, which account for a large part of our commercial relations. You mentioned the auto and oil industries, but there are many more, such as the aerospace industry, shipbuilding and energy efficiency. These ambitious projects are success stories that demonstrate the strength of our joint efforts and show French entrepreneurs that doing business with Russia is not only possible but desirable.

A wide range of French goods and services are already well established in several markets, such as cosmetics, perfumery, pharmaceuticals, food and retail. Some other sectors that might indeed be of interest for French investors include energy, railroad transportation and IT.

After this landmark year for French-Russia relations, what do you see as being the next major step in improving cooperation between the two countries?

After the year of France and Russia ends, we will go on strengthening our relations. Our two presidents share common views on the building of a space of security and prosperity between the European Union and Russia, and we hope the future will see the implementation of concrete steps in that direction.   

Russia - France 2010
Russia - France 2010
To coincide with President Sarkozy of France's visit to the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, The Moscow Times is publishing a special edition of its Partnership XXI Century guides. Russia-France is dedicated to business relations between the two countries.
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