“Our nations need a stronger and less naive Europe”
Text: Martina Hošková and M.Zisso; Photo: Archive
“The European dimension of our relations is absolutely crucial,” says H.E. Mr. Alexis Dutertre, Ambassador of France, and continues, “We are now working on preparing key decisions to pave the way for the next EU enlargement, a process where we also need to achieve significant reforms in governance and policies so that a future EU can be efficient and successful”. How many “Alliance Française” can you find in Czechia? Is nuclear energy making us closer partners? And is there really only one Europe? These are but a few questions we are touching on in our interview.
You took over as Ambassador to the Czech Republic in October 2020, three years ago. Can you still recall the time?
Of course I can. I arrived in Prague during the COVID-19 lockdown. It was a very particular period, and not the easiest one to begin my tenure here, with all the Zoom meetings, live meetings with masks on, and Plexiglas windows. In a function where establishing good personal contact is so important, it was very frustrating, not least regarding the need to manage the services of our embassy. Therefore, I was only able to truly enjoy Prague and the Czech Republic after a few months. It was quite special to discover Prague with almost no tourists, and I enjoyed my first visits out of Prague a lot, starting with the cities where we support an “Alliance française” as a cultural and linguistic centre: Brno, České Budějovice, Plzeň, Ostrava, Pardubice, and Liberec.
These three years have allowed me to work towards building on and establishing lasting partnerships between France and Czechia, in particular as my first mission was to promote strong cooperation on the EU agenda as France and Czechia were preparing for their respective EU Council presidencies (during the first and second semester of 2022). I have always been pleasantly surprised to see how well France is known and appreciated, no matter the city or the region.
We are now supporting the opening of a seventh “Alliance Française” in Zlín, and taking an active role in the activities of the newly inaugurated Milan Kundera Library in Brno.
How many countries had you served in before arriving in Prague?
My career has always entertained a close link with the European Union. I served twice in our Permanent Mission to the EU in Brussels, the second time as deputy permanent representative, focusing on negotiations on EU sectoral policies, but also as EU advisor to our Foreign Minister, and then to our Prime Minister. I also served in a three-year position as deputy head of mission in Tel-Aviv: Israel is a thrilling place to serve as a diplomat.
I came to Prague knowing that the succession of the French and Czech presidencies of the Council of the EU would be a crucial moment for our bilateral relations, as well as for building convergence on the EU agenda. Indeed, in the second semester, no less than fifteen of our ministers came to Prague for ministerial meetings, and President Emmanuel Macron attended the Prague Summit on 6th and 7th October 2022, with the launching of the European Political Community, which was his idea.
The European dimension of our relations is absolutely crucial: we forged the EU unity on the support to Ukraine immediately after the Russian military aggression, now supporting Ukraine’s accession to the EU and NATO, but also building a stronger Europe, with a particular focus on strengthening economic security and reducing strategic dependencies in the fields of defence, technology, energy, raw materials, etc. We are now working on preparing key decisions to pave the way for the next EU enlargement, a process where we also need to achieve significant reforms in governance and policies so that a future EU of up to 36 members can be efficient and successful.
How do you assess current Czech – French relations?
Our French-Czech relationship is reinforced today by the shared conviction that there is not that of the West and that of the East, the old and the new: there is only one Europe. This topic is at the heart of the late Czech- French author Milan Kundera’s essay “A Kidnapped West”: in the face of Russian aggression, we all lay westwards of Moscow, and share the same values and interests. This relationship is first and foremost that of all our personal ties, which we support as our daily work at the embassy, the French Institute in Prague, the French high school, and the CEFRES – our research centre for human and social sciences, here in Prague. It is an ever-growing network of cross- investments, scientific and research partnerships, alliances of European universities, multilingualism with high schools with Czech sections in France and bilingual sections here, exchanges between cultural and audiovisual institutions, and actions for equality between women and men.
Our economic ties are growing: our bilateral trade reached an ever-high peak of 14.5 billion Euros in 2022, with nearly 500 French companies established here and providing for nearly 70,000 direct jobs in the Czech Republic. France and Czechia are strong partners within NATO and the EU, with also a solid and living bilateral strategic partnership since 2008. France is listening to Czechia’s needs in upcoming strategic choices, to be a long-term partner, in particular in energy independence, with a focus on nuclear energy and in interconnections, and modal shifts with transport infrastructures and high-speed railways.
On the other hand, France is also attractive to Czech investments, with recent high-profile investments of Czech companies in France, in various sectors: energy, media, retail, chemicals, and biotechnologies.
You mentioned nuclear energy. What does the cooperation of both countries in this area look like?
Czechia is France’s closest partner in the EU when it comes to the question of nuclear energy. We share the same strategic choice to ensure our national energy independence, and meet the growing demand for stable, competitive, and low-carbon electricity, with the strong support of our public opinion that nuclear energy must be part of the solution, together with renewables. Both our countries have now decided to build new nuclear reactors: up to four in Czechia, and six (with an option for eight more) in France. It thus makes sense to build a European partnership, and to make European choices for the future of our interconnected energy markets.
France and Czechia are building an alliance of like- minded Members States on nuclear energy within the European Union, which is key to securing investments and financing models, as well as to ensuring technology neutrality in the EU regulatory framework on energy.
In this context, EDF (Électricité de France company) will submit its final offer at the beginning of October for the Czech new-build nuclear program. This offer is based on the proven and licensed EPR technology, with a clear commitment and proven track record to ensure the participation of the Czech supply chain to its largest extent, and to help establish a European fleet effect, in synergy with other new EPR programs being developed in France and in the United Kingdom. France and Czechia are also investing in skills and research in nuclear energy, with strong cooperation already established and flourishing in this new context.
This interview is done on the occasion of the French national day. What would you wish for your country and for the Czech Republic?
I can only wish that both our countries remain steadfast in our commitment to the European agenda. In a more brutal and competitive world, our nations need a stronger and less naive Europe. For France, a more united Europe also means a more sovereign Europe, and I believe Czechia has an important part to play in this shift.
This also means remaining steadfast in our support of Ukraine. The Russian aggression has destabilized our continent, and it is crucial that we help Ukraine achieve victory. Both France and Czechia have been strong supporters on all fronts, with the delivery of significant military equipment. This support will continue until Ukraine achieves its objectives. So, I can definitely wish this success not only for Ukraine but for both our countries and the whole European continent, paving the way for Ukraine’s membership in the EU and NATO.