Sun, 07 January 2024
Bahrain and France enjoy a long-standing diplomatic partnership stretching back more than 50 years. Recently, His Excellency Eric Giraud-Telme became the new French Ambassador to the Kingdom. Bahrain This Month sat down with him to discuss his diplomatic career, his first months in post and his plans to bolster ties between the two nations.
Your Excellency, welcome to Bahrain! Could you give our readers some insight into your diplomatic career?
Firstly, I would like to say it is a great pleasure to meet with your renowned magazine, which has been part of my readings since my arrival in Bahrain. In short, my career abroad has been mostly oriented towards the Arab world, with different postings in Libya, the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Before coming to Manama, I had the chance to be a diplomatic advisor to the Arab World Institute in Paris, which is a unique foundation, dedicated to a better knowledge of the Arab world, and to deepen the links between France and the Arab countries. This institution presented some years ago a beautiful and successful exhibition on the history of Bahrain and its treasures.
What are your first impressions of Bahrain, having had a little time to settle into your new role?
I was lucky enough to have visited Bahrain some years ago and my impressions are today as they were at that time. Bahrain is a great and interesting country, marked by an impressive age-old civilisation. Its heritage is of big interest and France is glad to have an archaeological mission working here, in cooperation with the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities (BACA) since 1977. The people of Bahrain, who are so welcoming, have shown their attachment to their history and they cherish and preserve their precious heritage. Bahrain is a country of openness, tolerance and coexistence, which you can feel every day.
How would you describe the current state of relations between France and Bahrain?
We are now celebrating more than a half-century since the opening of the French embassy in Bahrain. The relationship between France and Bahrain is not only excellent, at the highest level, but also rooted in history: even before the establishment of an embassy, the Alliance Française was already active here. Important French companies were also already settled in this country. We have since then, developed a very trustful and multifaceted relationship in security, economy, education, health, culture, justice and more.
What are the key priorities for France when it comes to diplomatic relations with Bahrain?
Firstly, I believe Bahrain has a young and promising generation, which is very well educated. I would love our diplomatic relations to focus on the youth to develop a better understanding of the opportunities, especially in training, for our respective countries. Take the economy; the position of France as the first destination for Foreign Direct Investment in Europe is not known enough. Reversely, we have started to explain opportunities that Bahrain has to offer to our SMEs.
Another priority for me is culture and French language: I can feel the appeal of the French language among the Bahraini people. I know it can be challenging, and there is room for progress even more to provide a quality French learning education. It is a real asset to have access to the French speaking world and markets from West Africa to Canada and Asia.
The iconic ‘French international lycée MLF’ in Bahrain, welcomes many students of Bahraini and other nationalities and is a key element in that regard. I call on families in Bahrain to consider choosing that school of excellence for the education of their children.
Can you discuss any ongoing or upcoming bilateral initiatives or projects between France and Bahrain?
We have two major initiatives, one regarding judicial cooperation and the other one in favour of youth and sustainable development.
France works closely with the Bahrain Judicial & Legal Studies Institute on judiciary cooperation. Our best experts in the French judiciary are involved and one major focus of this cooperation is alternative sentencing. This month, a dozen of Bahraini judges and lawyers are going to travel to Paris and be in touch with all the relevant institutions in France.
Another example is the Green Youth Hackathon, a project deployed for the first-time last year. It aims at supporting the development of sustainable entrepreneurial projects in Bahrain. Participants designed an entrepreneurial project focused on sustainable development goals, namely responsible consumption and production, and the fight against climate change. This project will be repeated in 2024, focusing on other SDGs this year.
What are the current trade figures between France and Bahrain?
The level of exchange between our two countries is good and has picked up quite significantly after the period since Covid-19. We are happy to observe a trend increasing by more than 80 percent last year over the year before. Hopefully, we will be able to catch up the level of 2019, which was close to EUR700 million on a yearly basis.
Furthermore, we have a very dynamic and active French Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Bahrain, that is leveraging on three main activities to enhance economic and trade cooperation between the two countries: providing business services to French companies willing to establish a business in Bahrain, promoting Bahrain as a trade destination for French businesses and entrepreneurs, and leading a community of French and Bahraini businessmen and women through different networking events and sectorial committees.
Are there any current or planned cultural and educational exchanges between France and Bahrain?
The French archaeological mission has played a leading role in understanding the various civilisations of the Gulf in antiquity, and the Dilmun culture, on the site of Qal’at Al-Bahrain, where it was active for 30 years. Headed by Julien Cuny, the mission will travel back to Bahrain to study the Hellenistic necropolis of Abu Saiba and its Tylos culture.
Last year, the famous Musée du Louvre opened the exhibition ‘From Dilmun to Tylos’, bringing together an exceptional collection of over 70 pieces from the National Museum of Bahrain.
France also supports the most cutting edge know-how, like in the fashion industry. A major fashion show will be held in early 2024, at which participants will be able to present their collections on the theme of ‘the revisited abaya’. The embassy will reward the best designers by offering them the opportunity to study in Paris at the ‘Institut Français de la Mode’ as part of a short programme.
How does France view Bahrain’s role in regional security and stability in the Gulf?
France and Bahrain have a strong security cooperation, aligned on sharing an important goal: preserving the freedom of navigation, especially in the Gulf, and regional security. Secondly, I would say that the geographical position of Bahrain in the Gulf makes it act as an important contributor to regional security and stability.
What are the major challenges or obstacles to further strengthening the relationship between France and Bahrain?
I would say that the main challenge is that I have so much ambition for this relationship and we have so much to do, in so many areas, that I believe I don’t have enough hours in my day to reach my goal!
More seriously, I believe the challenge of this mission is to take into account different trends in a quickly changing environment, on many topics: climate change, digital life, etc. We need to be flexible in our policies and adapt our common responses.
What are your main goals as Ambassador both in the short term and longer term?
On the short term, with the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, we have a major milestone in front of us, a celebration of sport and the Olympic values of excellence, friendship and respect, with a focus on openness, accessibility and inclusiveness. It will be the first one to welcome as many men and women athletes. I want to leverage it to strengthen sports cooperation between our countries.
As a tool for education, health and social inclusion, the Olympic and Paralympic Games Paris 2024 is a unique opportunity to bring more sport into the lives of all our citizens both in Bahrain and France. It is an opportunity for an entire country to awaken its inner champion, but it is also an event that works for everyone, of every generation, in every nation.
We would like to help promote more common initiatives in Bahrain, particularly among young people, support initial and further training in the field of sport and get French and Bahraini athletes to work more together.
On the long term I am committed to work in order to enhance the bilateral relationship in all fields, with the help and support of all the French actors in the country, the ‘team France’ as we call it, with my great team of the Embassy, and of course with our Bahraini friends.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
Yes, I would like to add that I am so grateful to the Bahraini authorities and the people of Bahrain for their nice and gentle welcome of my family and myself. I am looking forward to meeting more people and discovering more of your beautiful country.
And finally, I would like to wish every single one of your readers a wonderful and prosperous New Year, full of joy and happiness for them and their families!