Francophonie growth brings concern for ‘first circle’

The 11th Francophonie Summit finished with a statement on Lebanon, Ivory Coast and the Darfur crisis and highlighted Francophonie tensions.

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.

Francophonie Secretary-General Abdou Diouf, said that OIF member countries are not seeking to defend French against English, but that “anyone should be able to speak his native tongue and at least one language of world circulation such as French or English”. He added that “culture is not a commodity to be traded” and that this combat to defend French and other languages is needed “so that we do not live under a hegemony and a single conception of the world”.

French President Jacques Chirac highlighted that “peace and the future of the world” depended on dialogue among cultures, adding that the UNESCO Convention should be ratified “to develop cultural initiatives… and to offer to our young the hope of an open and free world”.

Romanian President Traian Basescu  said: “Romania enjoys an increased visibility recently, especially in the international press, thanks to the summit”. He highlighted the fact that, given its member status within the OIF, French-speaking EU countries showed solidarity with Romania, but that his country still had to make progress within the European Union. 

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper: “I hope we can all recognise the suffering of humans – men and women - and not just suffering based on people’s nationality.” He added: “Yes, we can deplore the war and we can recognise the victims, but Francophonie can’t recognize victims according to their nationalities.”

Participants of the XIth Francophonie Summit, which included 22 heads of state, 11 prime ministers and 36 foreign ministers, adopted a statement recognising the civilian victims of the Hezbollah-Israeli conflict in Lebanon. 

The initial proposal by Egypt, which specified that the only 'victims' were Lebanese, was opposed by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who believed that all victims should be recognised. 

The leaders also discussed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Ivory Coast, the Darfur crisis and problems in the Western Balkans. Also on 29 September, Senegal’s former president Abdou Diouf was unanimously re-elected as secretary-general of the 63-member International Organization of Francophonie. Diouf, 71, has headed the organization since 2002.

European Commission President, José Manuel Barroso and Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn also took part in the summit. The Commission announced on 26 September 2006 that Bulgaria and Romania can join the EU in 2007 (see EURACTIV, 26 September 2006).

  • 2008: The next summit will be held in Quebec, Canada.

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