Ambassador of France to Nepal, Jean–Charles Demarquis, first came to Kathmandu more than 30 years ago. At the time he was a young diplomat posted in Calcutta.“Not so far away,” he said. “I came here as a tourist and was struck by the open spaces, the unpolluted air and the almost traffic-free roads.”
He said it was a fascination that has stayed with him since and has made his posting here all the more meaningful. “Nepal’s biggest treasure though, over and beyond its renowned scenic beauty is definitely its welcoming, generous and hospitable people”.
Excerpts of the interview taken on the occasion of the National Day of France celebrated every year on July 14th:
1. First of all, tell us how do France and its people perceive Nepal?
Nepal immediately conjures up images of a mountain realm tucked away in the majestic Himalayan ranges and brings over 30,000 French tourists here annually for trekking, mountaineering and other forms of adventure tourism.
One of the observations I have made during this posting is the particularity of the French tourists who, though initially come to Nepal for mountaineering and treks, are unable to stay away for long and keep returning regularly. Some of them raise funds in France and come back to set up NGOs in areas such as the protection of women and children, human rights or build schools and shelters in remote areas of Nepal. Others open restaurants, run guest houses, manage trekking agencies or manufacture French cheeses and meat products with local ingredients. A large number fall in love not only with the county but intermarry and settle here.
France is fully aware of the role that Nepal has played on the world stage as the founder-member of the Non-Aligned Movement and the important role it has in bringing the issues and challenges of the Least Development Countries to the fore. Nepal is also the founder member of the regional body SAARC and has contributed immensely towards maintaining world peace by sending its troops to the UN peacekeeping operations worldwide.
2. How has the Nepal-France bilateral relationship evolved after the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries in 20 April, 1949?
Although Nepal and France established diplomatic relations in 1949 with the appointment of an Ambassador in 1967, the two countries enjoyed cordial relations long before that time. As far back as 1850 Nepali Prime Minister Jang Bahadur Rana visited the French Emperor Napoleon III. The National Museum of Nepal, situated in an old arsenal, may have been built at the beginning of 19th century with help of French engineers.
One of the best examples of Franco-Nepalese cooperation is the Panauti Integrated Project in Panauti, a small Newar town southwest of Kathmandu. The cleansing of the old town through a network of sewers, and the building of several schools was undertaken by qualified Nepali craftsmen and a team of French volunteers.
Most people have heard of the exploits of famous French climbers like Maurice Herzog, Pierre Mazeaud and Christine Janin who were pioneers in scaling some of the tallest peaks in Nepal. But Nepal has also been visited by French orientalists like Sylvain Levy, ethnologists and scientists conducting research on various fields. French President Francois Mitterand made a state-visit to Nepal in 1983 and the late Prime Minister GP Koirala paid an official visit to France in 2002.
Air France and other French enterprises were historically implicated in the setting up and equipping of the Tribhuvan International Airport with the highlight being the historic landing of the Concorde in 1987.
3. Tell us about other areas of bilateral cooperation between France and Nepal?
In the field of seismology, France has been cooperating with Nepal by closely working with the Department of Mines and Geology of the Government of Nepal. Our two countries continue to collaborate in agricultural research as well as the food security program for Nepal to reinforce the farmers’ capacity, increase food availability locally and improve the access of agriculture products to markets.
In the area of mountaineering France has given its support to the Nepal Mountaineering Association by extending up-to-date training to Nepali mountain guides in the town of Chamonix in the French Alps.
In the field of university education we have a relatively recent cooperation between the University of Lille in France and the Tribhuwan University with student exchanges involving Nepalese students going to France every year to pursue higher studies.
Education is one of the EU’s priorities, and France’s contribution represents 17 % percent of the annual budget earmarked by EU for support given to educational projects in Nepal. The development assistance France provides to Nepal through the EU also goes to peace-building and election programs.
4. What is the French interest in Nepal?
France is interested in promoting French business in Nepal in the fields of hydroelectricity, infrastructure, tourism and hospitality, and aeronautics.
For example, in the field of aeronautics, the ATR aircraft, a Franco-Italian manufacture, has shown that in these times when environmental issues have become a real global challenge it is possible to link progress with care for the environment. These planes are known to be the best turbo propelled aircraft emitting 50% less carbon dioxide per passenger per kilometer in comparison to the new generation jets. In this regard Buddha Air has a fleet of ATR aircraft that transported over 690,000 last year. France hopes that Nepal Airlines Corporation will soon be in a position to extend its direct links with Europe in general and France in particular thus enabling an increase in the number of tourists to Nepal, which is one of the Government’objectives.
Culturally, France is active in the promotion of the French language world wide. For this purpose the Alliance Francaise in Kathmandu, which is supported by the French Government, enrolls over 2000 students every year and the numbers keep growing. It also organizes literary exchanges, screening of French films and has a small library with French literature.
This year there will be several exchanges between scientists of our two countries on the subjects of climate change and sustainable development at the Planet Nepal Festival to be held in November. The first edition of this festival took place in 2010 and was attended by over 30,000 people.
The French Government has also established an agency called “Campus France” to promote its higher education abroad. The office in Kathmandu is located in the Alliance Francaise and provides all the necessary information to Nepali students wishing to pursue their studies at the Phd and Masters level. There are many programs that are in English but a basic knowledge of French is a bonus.
5. As an influential and the most active member of the European Union (EU), tell us what does EU think about the current political situation in Nepal?
All EU member states are closely following the political situation in Nepal. We are of course concerned with the current political stalemate and have been meeting leaders of various political parties in Nepal, bilaterally or as EU members, to urge them to forge consensus and end the current political deadlock. It is important that Nepal’s political parties do away with their differences so as to allow the questions pertaining to economic development and promotion of foreign investment to become a priority of governmental action.
In this regard we can only applaud the government’s action in creating the Investment Board, an initiative that is of great interest to French enterprises wishing to invest in Nepal.
6. Do you think the annual EU assistance to Nepal is going to increase in the near future?
The European Union is the biggest provider of development aid to Nepal. It provides an estimated 120 million euros to Nepal to support development projects related to education, human rights, rural development, environmental conservation and sustainable development.
The 8th session of the EU-Nepal joint commission took place in Brussels on the 11th of July 2012. It was a good opportunity to asses the on-going cooperation and discuss bilaterally the annual action program of 2013 given that there has been a significant increase in the volume of EU aid to Nepal over the last four decades.
7. Nepal has become very much dependent on foreign aid, is this good?
Nepal gets around US$ 1.1 billion in foreign aid annually with more than half of it going to the country’s budget. Such aid benefits Nepal if it helps meet its development goals. The main challenge is the absorption and utilization of all this foreign aid for the purpose it is intended. For this Nepal needs a strong and accountable administration across the country to ensure that the foreign aid is channeled appropriately in order to achieve maximum results and boost its development. However, aid cannot be the only source of Nepal’s development. The actual political climate is seriously hindering Nepal’s ability to attract investment – both local and foreign - which is vital for development and economic growth. International aid is valuable but in the case of Nepal it must be complemented by politics conducive to foreign investment and job creation.
Every year 400,000 youths enter the labour market with no assurance of finding employment equivalent to their qualifications. This results in the youth becoming disenchanted and being forced to look for jobs abroad. Foreign investment and joint ventures would go a long way to creating jobs within Nepal and preserving the social tissue of the country. Nepal has a strong and vibrant private sector which needs political stability and security in order to be able to function optimally and stimulate stable economic growth.
8. In what sort of sectors would the French companies be interested in investing in Nepal?
French companies have the techniques and expertise to invest in the fields of hydroelectricity, Water Management, Roads, civil engineering, Tourism and Hospitality industries among others. At the moment, two major internationally renowned French companies, EDF and Alstom are interested in hydroelectricity projects in Nepal which is one of the main water reservoirs in Asia. Nepal’s strategic position will allow it to use this opportunity to meet the challenge that access to water presents now and in the future.
As a representative of the French Government I can guarantee you that France is eager, willing and able to make the journey with Nepal and its people towards the peace and economic prosperity it deserves. nepalnews.com