Nepal and France has established their bilateral relations long time back and France has been supporting Nepal in various sectors. In the change French ambassador to Nepal Jean-Charles DEMARQUIS spoke to NEW SPOTLIGHT on ranges of issue in his written interview. Excepts:
Nepal and France has a long history of bilateral relations, how do you see the present state of bilateral relations?
It is true that the bilateral relations between our two countries goes back a long way. France was the third country to establish diplomatic relations with Nepal on the 20th of April 1949 and opened its Embassy here in 1967.
The French, however, were present in Nepal long before then - the National Museum of Nepal, situated in an ancient armoury in Kathmandu was built at the beginning of the 19th century with the help of French engineers and French soldiers were associated with the development of Nepalese artillery right up to the 1790s. The visit to France of Prime Minister Jang Bahadur Rana in 1850 who met Napoleon III is another example of this. Going beyond the military and diplomatic relations it is a known fact that Nepal has forever attracted French travellers and one of the best guides of monuments in the valley of Kathmandu “Voyage au Nepal” written by Gustave Le Bon was published in Paris in 1886.
How would you describe status of our relations?
The word that best describes the status of our actual bilateral relations is “commitment”. Commitment to Nepal with our European Union partners particularly at a time when the country is traversing challenging political times. This engagement is based upon the full respect of the sovereignty of the Nepalese people and stresses the necessity of dialogue. Our bilateral relations are also nourished by the aid and cooperation that France brings to Nepal via the European Union and its programmes. In this regard I will state a recent example: The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) which was recently held in Rio was a key date for France and the EU given that the EU is a primary financial benefactor in favour of LDCS and France is the 4th financial supporter. This support is both an historical reality and an active commitment to back the most vulnerable countries.
In what way France has been supporting to Nepal?
As a member state of the European Union, France contributes, through the EU budget, to the activities that the EU supports in the country. Those described in the 2007-2013 Country Strategy for Nepal represent an overall budget of 120 million euros and focus on the areas of Education, Stability and Peace building/Governance, Trade and Economic capacity building. France also contributes to the bilateral Country Strategy thematic interventions concentrating on areas such as democracy and human rights, good governance, food security, nutrition and agricultural development, renewable energy, environment and climatic change as well as migration. France also plays a part in the Nepal Climate Change Support Programme which seeks to enable Nepal’s poorest and most vulnerable communities to adapt to the effects of climate change. Finally, France also contributes to the activities supported by the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the United Nations system through its bilateral contributions to these organisations.
Along with renovation of historical sites in Panauti, the French Government has been providing support to Nepal in various stages, what is the state of bilateral cooperation now?
I am glad that you mention Panauti and the fact that France in the 90s funded and enabled the complete renovation of monuments and historical buildings there. This is, in effect, a remarkable example of Franco-Nepalese cooperation.
Today, our bilateral collaboration is in force and functioning in very different sectors: in the domain of seismology going back to over 30 years (1978) and ever more active with the CEA and the Nepalese Department of Mines and Geology. This has enabled Nepal to install the totality of its detection network in seismic material and train its specialised staff making France a privileged partner in the studies of seismology. In the field of mountaineering, France has an enduring and valuable cooperation with the city of Chamonix in the training of mountain guides.
In the University sector 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 their higher level studies.
How do you see the role of Alliance Francaise?
Interest in learning to speak the French language continues to attract students of all ages to our Alliance Française cultural centres worldwide. These centres aim to teach the language and promote its cultural diversity. The Alliance Française in Kathmandu welcomes around 2500 students every year and this number keeps growing annually.
It also organises several cultural events with Nepalese artists : singers, poets, writers painters, dancers, musicians etc. In November 2010 the Alliance Française Kathmandu in close collaboration with the French Embassy organised the Planet Nepal Festival which was dedicated to environmental awareness and attended by over 30,000 people. A second edition of this Festival will take place in November this year.
Air France supported the process of modernisation of Nepal Airlines in the 1980s and improvements in the navigation system in Tribhuwan International Airport. Will this kind of support continued to be given to Nepal?
Air France and other French enterprises were historically implicated in the workings of the Tribhuwan International Airport. I do not doubt that if tenders are launched for additional works on the airport, French enterprises, would not hesitate to participate.
What is the level of bilateral trade between the two countries?
It must be remembered that Nepal benefits from a preferential access to the European Union market by virtue of the system of generalised preferences. France is the principle importer within the EU of ready-made Nepalese garments, 90% of our imports from Nepal being composed of textiles.
An increase in French exports could be stimulated with the return to stability of the political situation in Nepal. The announcement of the Year of International Investment in Nepal could offer new perspectives to investment in sectors such as hydroelectricity and water management to name a few. With this perspective I count on the support and expertise of the Franco-Nepalese Chamber of Commerce among others.
French aircraft ATR has gained high popularity in Nepal. How do you look at-this?
ATR is a Franco-Italian aircraft manufacturer formed in 1981 by Aeropspatiale of France (now EADS) and Aeritalia of Italy (now Alenai Aeronautica). This aircraft is turbo propelled and can fast climb from 1500 ft to 17000 ft in less than 10 minutes.
It has excellent short-field performance and step approach capability. These characteristics explain its success worldwide including in Nepal. ATR today has a wide range of planes - ATR 42-320 and ATR 72-500 – known to be the best turbo propelled aircrafts. It is therefore a success story in the field of aviation but also in that of the environment. The ATR 72, to be precise, emits about 50% less carbon dioxide per passenger/km than new generation jets and up to three times less carbon dioxide than older ones. In these times when the environmental question is a real challenge for the world ATR has shown that in the field of aeronautics it is possible to ally progress and care for the environment. The Nepali passengers will undoubtedly appreciate this as one of its renowned local companies, Buddha Air, which has a diverse fleet of ATR aircraft transported over 690 000 passengers last year.
Following the dissolution of Constituant Assembly, Nepal has been passing through a very crucial political situation. What is your impression?
As indicated in the Statement published on the May 31st 2012 by the EU missions in Kathmandu along with Norway and Switzerland, following the dissolution of Nepal's Constituent Assembly, we expressed our disappointment over the failure of the political parties to agree on a new Constitution, which resulted in the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly on 27 May 2012. This statement also expressed our concern with the prolonged political uncertainty and the effect this could have on Nepal's socio-economic development. Therefore, we urge all the political parties to build consensus on the way forward, preserve the achievements of the past four years and find a solution to the legal problems at hand which is acceptable to all and in the best interest of the country.
This same message has been delivered to all the political leaders and also to the President of the Republic whom we had the honour to meet since the CA dissolution. There is much work to be done by the political leaders to rapidly reach an agreement, find ways to build the necessary trust to conclude the peace agreement reached in 2006 and to deliver a democratic and inclusive constitution. It is my sincere hope that this message will be taken into consideration by all the leaders and stakeholders.
Last year, a Nepalese woman was given a Human Rights award by the French Foreign Ministry. How do you see the state of human rights in Nepal?
Nepali women’s rights activist Shyam Kumari Sah of Siraha is the first person to receive this Human rights award established by the French government to encourage rights activists. Ms Sah, 30, has worked tirelessly at the grassroots level in the Terai at personal risk to herself, in order to provide justice to the victims of domestic violence, rape, dowry and witchcraft accusations. The protection and promotion of human rights is the top priority of the French government which believes that this award will encourage other defenders of Human rights in Nepal to work with stronger commitment under international protection.
What is your views on Protection of human rights in Nepal?
The situation of human rights in Nepal is a very preoccupying one. The issue of Transitional Justice has been blocked because of the dissolution of the parliament without any agreement being reached on its content and the modalities of reconciliation. The search for reconciliation should not be undertaken at the cost of justice sought by the victims and their families. It is a longstanding issue which needs to be resolved rapidly as should the situation of the Human Rights Commission whose effectiveness should not be undermined by continuous internal problems. The remarkable work done at ground level by the network of human rights defenders needs more support and protection. These dedicated and courageous
Individuals and organisations must be given the opportunity to voice their concerns notably on the issues of social inclusion.
What Nepal needs to do to lure more French tourists in Nepal?
On an average 30,000 French tourists come to Nepal annually with the particularity, that once seduced by the quality of the welcome and the beauty of the sites, a large number of them keep returning. Though Nepal lures a huge number of backpackers, adventure travellers and trekkers, in order engage in luxury tourism not only with France but with Europe in general, it is essential for the Nepalese national carrier, which already has acquired landing rights, to rapidly establish direct flights from Nepal to European capitals. Improving the existing infrastructures such as roads, water, electricity and communication would also help boost this industry.
It may also be a good idea to put agents from the Tourism Board within certain Nepalese Embassies in countries with high tourist potential, who would promote Nepal abroad. In certain targeted countries it might be possible to consider setting up organizations which would showcase Nepal and its tourism potential such as the very active “Maison de France” organisations which France has established in numerous countries to promote its tourism abroad.