With these two new member states, the OIF today accounts for 21 European members or observers, including 11 members of the EU. Over the past 15 years, 14 out of the 21 new members of the OIF have been eastern European countries. In addition, it was the first time a Francophonie summit took place in this region.
This expansion to countries in Eastern Europe raises concerns among the Francophonie’s traditional members, the African countries. Indeed, most of the organization’s members are former French colonies in Africa and the Carribean. They fear loss of influence within the organisation and to see their financial aid reduced. “This is a legitimate concern. With the growth of the OIF, pioneers, that is the very first circle of francophonie, are worried,” said Burkina Faso Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Didier Somda.
Some UK newspapers are also critical that many of these new European members speak less French than English as a foreign language. In Romania for instance, people are more likely to speak English as a second language in preference to French. They also highlight the fact that the OIF’s budget of 136 million euro is 80% funded by Paris, claiming that the organisation is used by France merely to resist US economic and cultural power.
The UNESCO Convention promoting cultural diversity through the protection of ethnic and minority language, adopted in October 2005, is another potential source of conflict with the United States. Indeed, US are opposed to the convention for fear it could be used to erect trade barriers against cultural exports, such as movies. French president Jacques Chirac called on leaders attending the Summit on 28 and 29 September to ratify this convention. In addition, President Barroso announced that the EU will set up the first European instruments for ratification of this convention by the end of the year.
This first official text of international law on trade in cultural goods was one of the main achievements of the Francophonie and showed the increasing political dimension of the organisation. This dimension, added to the recent enlargements, makes it more and more difficult to show unity among OIF members. The summit thus highlighted splits between those who want to focus on African countries and those saying that Francophonie is “something else”. Like the EU, the organization could face a debate between “deepening” and “enlarging” in the coming years.