This is the third time Scott Murray has interviewed French Ambassador Christian Prette, who after forty years in the diplomatic service is set to retire next year. When you interview anyone a number of times, you run the risk of asking the same questions and getting the same responses. So in this interview he strayed a little touching on everything from the euro to terrorism and peace in the Middle East.


Please update us on Thai-French trade relations? “Last year, there was a slight increase from the previous year. French exports to Thailand were up, while Thai exports to France remained about the same. This helped to reduce our trade deficit, which is substantially in favor of Thailand.”

What new major French investments are there?  The French firm, Alstom, had hoped to provide the rolling stock for the subway, but it now looks like that project will go to Siemens.

“The new mobile phone company TA Orange is based in the UK, but it was recently bought by France Telecom, so there is some confusion as to whether to classify it as a British or French firm.”


Please tell us about France’s reaction to the introduction of the euro? “I was in France on 1 Jan 02 so I was able to see the currency put into place. Everyone was expecting some kind of panic but surprisingly everything went well. I think part of the reason for this was that the French government decided to allow people to use Francs until the middle of February, and this made the transition easier. People could buy goods in euros and still receive change in Francs. (By the way, one euro is worth about THB38).”


Will the UK, Sweden and Denmark eventually use the euro as well? “I think that eventually they will because there are many economic advantages to using it but the governments in these countries must wait for the right moment to put forward the proposal, because there is still a lot of resentment towards the euro.

“Remember, the national currency is such a big symbol and even countries who are using like Germany were reluctant to use the euro at first because much of their previous economic success was linked to the own currency, the Deutshmark.”        


What role is France playing in the war against terror? “France has many reasons to be involved in this overall strategy against terrorism. We ourselves have been the target of terrorist attacks by many fundamentalist Islamic groups in the past e.g. the hijacking of an Air France jet in Tangiers in __ , which was then stormed in Marseilles by our special forces. And in the middle of last decade there was a spate of bombings in the France metro, which produced many casualties.

“As a result of these and other attacks our intelligence agencies were monitoring the activities of these groups with probably less leniency with regards to their civil liberties than other European countries. So when the events of September 11 occurred we were able to provide the Americans with very valuable information about the terrorist networks.

“Of course, we supported the US reaction against Taleban. But, we said it would have been best carried out under a multinational framework under the aegis of the United Nations. We offered and provided military support, but the US didn’t really need troops or equipment, it needed political support, which we provided.

“We did end up sending two Navy ships and air force support though and we are now part of the international force being sent to help maintain peace in Afghanistan.

“On the domestic front, our counter-terrorist measures were also strengthened.

“I would also like to mention that France was the driving force behind the Convention on the Suppression of Terrorists Fund (correct name?) adopted in 1999, which allows (and which Thailand has recently ratified) law enforcement agencies to go after bank accounts they suspect of supporting terrorist activity, or which are being used to launder money for terrorists. This has obviously helped the US go after al-Qaeda’s funds, even though ironically enough the Americans did not initially want to ratify the treaty themselves.

“But on a broader base something must be done to help eradicate the poverty and development gap which helps create environments which allow terrorism to foment. Many of these people come from ultra-conservative countries where they suffer from a lack of social and political freedoms. So we must try to understand them better and have a dialogue with the more open and liberal quarter in these societies who have a more modern interpretation of the Koran. We must encourage the trends in modernization in these countries.”              

The situation in the Middle East just gets worse and every night on our TV sets we see more violence between the Palestinians and Israelis, what’s France’s policy here?   “France and Europe’s policy on the Middle East is somewhat different than the US; I’d say it’s a more balanced view of the conflict. We don’t support either the terrorist activities of the Palestinians when they attack Israel’s civilian population, nor do we support what we regard as the overreaction of the present Israeli government.  

“The only way to solve this problem is go to back to the negotiating table. The failure of the implementation of the Oslo Accord is not one-sided, but it’s too bad because at the end of the Clinton administration, they were on the brink of an agreement and they missed a very good chance to achieve peace and now the situation has become a political disaster with a cycle of attacks and counter-attacks, which won’t lead anywhere, and certainly won’t lead to any peace or security.”   

Please tell us about Thai-French Innovation Center? “This has been in existence for seven years now, and it is an interesting combination of French state involvement and French firms operating in Thailand, which favor the transfer of technology. This process develops the training of engineers and good technicians.

“What we see happening in most of the French firms operating in Thailand now is that they have fewer ex-pats from France or other countries, and more and more Thais; not only workers, but those in middle and upper management positions performing highly specialized jobs.”




Is the Franco-Thai Chamber of Commerce involved in any new ventures? “The FTCC is spearheading a project in association with Chiang Mai University and French firms and the embassy in developing the biotechnology field here by encouraging Thai start-ups which will eventually provide Thai products with more added value and make them more competitive in the global marketplace.”    


What are you trying to do to attract more Thai students to France? “We are definitely trying to attract more Thai students to France. Last year we issued 400 student visas, but we have a lot of competition form Britain, the U.S. and the U.K. so we have to do a better job of providing more information on the French tertiary education system, which we are doing through a yearly education fair, we set up three years ago. And we will advertise our universities more as well as our technical tertiary institutions where Thais can receive good specialized training.

“We need to have a more open and welcome policy towards foreign students, which includes better lodging facilities, tutoring, and ways to make easier for them go through all the administrative procedures e.g. social security. We are encouraging French universities and French tertiary institutions to come here and show Thai students what they have to offer.”       


 What will you do when you retire?  “I will keep active, read many books and I will act as a consultant while enjoying life as a retired civil servant. I’ve worked for forty years so it will be nice to get some rest, to travel as a tourist and focus on my hobbies.”


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