Jacques Faure, Ambassador of France to Ukraine: “European public opinion will hardly understand signing an Association Agreement with Ukraine as if nothing had happened and nothing was going on”
Jacques Faure, Ambassador of France to Ukraine, breaks the stereotype of his country being pro-Russia and indifferent to an out-of-the-way province called Ukraine. At a moment complicated and crucial to our nation’s future, when the very notion of real political opposition is at risk of being applied only to the inmates of pre-trial prisons or escape artists, France was prompt to voice its concern about the motives of the legal proceedings initiated against Yulia Tymoshenko, and her arrest. In Kyiv, Faure honestly and openly expounded on the opinion of his country's leadership. He did so at a time which happened to coincide with the end of his term as ambassador. And suddenly some obscure, “mason”-style diplomatic source in Kyiv came up with the news that his recall was due to his criticism of the trial of Ukraine’s ex-prime minister.
We all were supposed to believe the illusion that our incumbent “reformers” have influence over critically-minded foreign diplomats. The Ukrainian Week offers our readers a conversation with Jacques Faure.
LOOKING FOR THE “AUTHORS”
UW: Mr. Ambassador, France’s diplomatic mission to Ukraine has already issued an official denial of Interfax information concerning your alleged recall due to excessive criticism of Tymoshenko’s trial. Yet we would like to have first-hand information about what really transpired.
No one recalled me as the Ambassador of France to Ukraine. Both the Embassy and the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs of the French Republic (MAEE) have denied the rumors concerning my person. My country’s official political stand concerning the trial you have just mentioned was expressed consistently and publicly both by myself as Ambassador, in a press release and by the MAEE communiqués of June 23 and August 6.
As far as my departure is concerned, I will comment on it when time will come to make any relevant statements. I would also like to add that I am very sorry that this untrue, deceitful information about me was generated within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine and spread in the mass media. It is unbecoming behavior.”
UW: How can you explain all that?
Actually, I find any explanation inappropriate. You would do better to ask the authors of this fiction about it.
I would like to remind you that in France ambassadors are appointed by the President’s decision at the session of the Council of Ministers, usually for a three-year term (sometimes it can be a little longer or shorter). The new ambassador must get an agrément from the government of the country of their stay. And it is only from the moment of receiving a response to the agrément, that the appointment comes into effect and is published. This is a standard procedure for all countries.”
UW: Is it possible that France can give an official opinion of political trials in Ukraine on the level of the minister of foreign affairs, prime-minister, or president?
I would like to state first of all that Paris has recently had numerous occasions to stress the necessity and importance of keeping to the principles of a state governed by law in Yulia Tymoshenko’s trial which opened June 23. France instantly reacted to her detention and incarceration. Our concerns are not exclusively limited to the personality of Ms. Tymoshenko alone; they also embrace other incarcerated officials, such as Yurii Lutsenko. But even outside each of these specific cases, today one can well say that the very principles of law-governed state, democracy, and political pluralism in Ukraine are being called into question.
Doubts also rise about the trial’s full conformity with the basic principles of European democracy, and the Ukrainian government’s respect for them. If Ms Tymoshenko continues to be kept in custody, it would be natural, due to France’s steady interest in the development of its partnership with Ukraine, to predict a certain political reaction to this fact – but it will be generated on a level higher than our Embassy.
I want to use this opportunity to remember the words of our Prime Minister who visited Kyiv on April 19 this year. ‘I remarked to the President of Ukraine that given the efforts Ukraine is making to sign the Association Agreement with the EU, it was extremely important to pay necessary attention to the strengthening of the principles of a law-governed state. I think that the President of Ukraine is well aware of that.’
SANCTIONS LOOM INTO THE PICTURE
UW:Representatives of Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry stated that diplomats had no right to comment on trials unless they involve their own countries. However, virtually all Western foreign ministries reacted to Tymoshenko’s arrest (on the diplomatic front France was one of the first nations in the world to react to Yulia Tymoshenko’s arrest). What is the common practice in French diplomacy when it comes to trials of political figures?
It is uncommon to comment on the course of a trial of any person as long as the normal procedure is kept. Yet once there appears evidence of a politically motivated persecution, and the rights of defense are not properly guaranteed, diplomats can express their opinion in the country of their stay.
I would like to remind that Ukraine is currently presiding over the Council of Europe, it has clear-cut political obligations before the EU, and it is bound by the Association Agenda documents. Proceeding from conclusions about the progress in establishment of law-governed state made in 2008, when France led the European Union, the EU suggested initiating negotiations of a new agreement with Ukraine, namely, the Association Agreement. With the aspirations of the Ukrainian nation in mind, European structures passed a decision to make rapprochement with Ukraine one of their priorities in foreign policy.
Yet when it seems that the fundamental principles are forgotten, that is that they have lost their priority, I think the European diplomats have every right, proceeding from the feelings of friendship and partnership with this nation, to send a message saying “Watch out! You are wrong, you are getting off the right path.” This is exactly what was said and done not only by the heads of diplomatic missions in Kyiv, but also in European capitals, in particular, in Brussels on the level of the European Commission and the European Parliament.”
UW:Can the EU – Ukraine dialog on the free trade zone and association be suspended or slowed down due to Tymoshenko’s arrest and theoretically possible conviction? What is France’s official stand?
The negotiations on the Association Agreement and the free trade zone have not been suspended, they are still going on. Today, no one wants to slow down or postpone this process, as it affects the future of millions of Europeans that is Ukrainians. But if Kyiv does not take the necessary steps, Europe’s public opinion will hardly understand the signing of such an agreement, as if nothing had happened and nothing was going on. You remember that the parliaments of all the EU countries will have to ratify this agreement. The European Parliament will also have to give its official opinion.
It is also important that the above-mentioned negotiations were initiated by yesterday’s Ukraine, which was quite different from the Ukraine of today. On the European level, negotiations and consultations concerning the possible consequences of the recent political developments are still continuing. It is now perhaps too early to say anything definite about the clear stand of one party or another in this discussion.
UW:Can Paris support sanctions — similar to those imposed on the Lukashenka regime — against top Ukrainian officials implicated of wrongdoing in the trials of Tymoshenko, Lutsenko and other former members of government?
As far as sanctions are concerned, such decisions will only be made on the top level in the framework of consultations between the European partners which are still continuing, as I have just mentioned. There is a lot of talk in the media about the possibility of their application. But I still think this is the worst-case scenario, and I hope that common sense in Ukraine will take the upper hand, and we will not have to discuss it.
ON BUSINESS AND VISAS
UW: The press has written about a finance-related conflict between French banks and their Ukrainian customers, industrial enterprises which tried to initiate bankruptcy proceedings in order to avoid the return of a €27 million loan. How did this story end?
When French banks come to face such problems in relations with private companies or local governments, they normally take legal action. The Higher Arbitration Court of Ukraine recently ruled in favor of the Ukrainian branch of Crédit Agricole Bank Group. The loan demands of $750,000, put forward by the French financial institution to its local contractor, were found well-founded by the local court.
In your question, you mentioned a sum of €27 million. I cannot confirm or deny it. I can only make a general statement to the effect that during the current economic crisis, a certain proportion of bankruptcies can be directly related to it. But we have seen cases when such events are obvious abuse. It is necessary to do everything possible to implement relevant court rulings once they are passed.
UW:Mr. Ambassador, what trends if any can you infer from comparing 2008-09 and 2010-11 in terms of business conditions for French companies in Ukraine?
I have already mentioned that the French business community in Ukraine pinned great expectations on the change of power, hoping for political stability and the end to arguments which frustrated the previous governmental majority and blocked important reforms. Sadly enough, today I must admit that our entrepreneurs are in a sense disillusioned. This disappointment stems from the great interest the international community has in cooperating with Ukraine. This feeling which entrepreneurs share with me is confirmed by various international ratings, such as those by Doing Business, the Heritage Foundation, the Wall Street Journal, Transparency International, and the World Bank.
As far as French companies go, they have had trouble dealing with taxation and customs authorities. The number and nature of inspections and sanctions applied to them often were out of proportion in 2010-11. I had to personally interfere in each particular case concerning French firms and sort things out on the level of the Ukrainian government or relevant authorities.
UW: The French Embassy can require, from Ukrainian citizens who were granted a visa, proof of their timely return. The Ukrainian Week knows of an incident when during such an interview a Ukrainian citizen was asked how he could prove that he and the owner of the passport was actually the same person, that is, that “he has really returned.” So how should one answer then?
I quite understand that such a question could have shocked the man. But even if it was formulated in such a way, this was not done in order to hurt anyone. It does not mean that the visa granting authorities of the French Embassy maltreat Ukrainian citizens. In all probability, such incidents are caused by the previous experiences of the visa office, with frequent instances of forging travel documents. I will not assert that there have been too many incidents of this kind. However, they have happened and we must take this into account.
b. 1947. Education: Institute of Political Studies, National Institute of Oriental Languages. Ambassador Plenipotentiary 1st Class, bearer of the National Order of Merit.
1975-77– attaché, head of chancellery, Embassy of France to Mongolia.
1977-80– worked for the central office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Directorate for European Affairs).
1980-85– second, later first, secretary for the Embassy of France to Poland.
1985-89– worked for the central office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
1989-92, 1992– acting deputy director, acting director, Directorate for Eastern and Central Europe.
1992-94– Ambassador of France to Albania.
1994-98– Ambassador of France to Estonia.
1998-2003– acting director, Directorate for European Cooperation, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of France.
2003-07– Ambassador of France to Slovakia.
2007-08– head, Directorate for Continental Europe.
August, 2008 – present– Ambassador of France to Ukraine.