Ségolène Royale (President, Poitou-Charentes Regional Council)

09.11.2009 - Interview conducted by Inès de Belsunce

Ségolène Royal, one of the leading politicians in France, is the President of the Poitou-Charentes Regional Council. Before campaigning to become the next President of France in 2007, she held a number of important positions under the Mitterand and the Chirac governments. Not only is she a renowned politician, but also an author, focussing specifically on the development of children and families. The ICD was honoured to have such an esteemed guest speaker at the Congress.

On Sunday 8th of November, Ségolène Royal conducted a memorable and inspirational speech, during which she reflected on the end of the Cold War, the reunification of Germany and highlighted increased European integration as the key to a peaceful and prosperous future. After her informative presentation, one of the ICD members was lucky enough to conduct an interview with Madam Royal.

The title of this congress is “A World Without Walls”, however, as we can see in today’s world, many walls remain, be they physical or intellectual, visible or invisible. What role do you think cultural diplomacy can play in breaking down the walls that continue to divide us?

I believe cultural diplomacy plays an essential role in doing this, since people are often united by cultural means. If, for instance, you consider the Berlin wall today, it is clear that it gave rise to an abundance of artistic creation, through which a strong message can be delivered. On the same note, if you look at what binds the European youth together most today, you will find it is a shared interest in the same kinds of music. In my opinion, cultural exchanges are the strongest means of enhancing both communication and freedom.

Moving now to France... the French have unfortunately earned  the reputation of not being strong defenders of Europe, with the exception of a small elite group, a fact illustrated by the “no” vote to the constitution. What do you think France, or Europe, could do in order to convince said majority of the benefits of European integration and to help them better understand Europe?

I strongly believe that we have to create the “United States of Europe”. In my opinion this is a realizable utopia. Most European citizens already feel that it is the union between European countries that will make them stronger. On the other hand people still feel very strongly about the fact that they do not want to let national cultural identities disappear or be compromised by increased integration.

 I also believe that Europe has not been clear enough in emphasizing its goal to put the human dimension at the center of its decisions, decisions regarding every aspect of EU decision-making and activity. In today's Europe we see a rise in unemployment and in delocalisation. The younger generations are worried; farmers feel  threatened and workers are moved  between European countries in firms of the same group.

 I think that the European powers have to support the people who wish to find, in Europe, a place for cultural expression and, above all, a place where there is work, a place with purchasing power. I would like to say, to those people, those optimists, who wish to find reasons to believe in the future of Europe: I think it is possible. It is possible because we are one of the leading economic powers, a demographic power, at least compared to the USA.  We have good universities, research programs and a will to go forward.

There is a pessimistic and an optimistic face to Europe; I believe in the political union of Europe, what I call the” United States of Europe”, which has the power to bring a new goal and new boarders to younger generations.

You referred to the “United States of Europe”,  which leads me to my next question about President Barack Obama. What do you think about his recently receiving the Nobel peace prize?

I think it is a wonderful idea. By now, everyone has had time to identify and recognize the significance of his first decisions and actions taken as President: the attempt to close Guantanamo,  the withdrawal of the troops in Iraq. Obama has also had a personal involvement in the Middle East conflict, as opposed to his predecessors, who waited until the end of their mandate to engage in this difficult diplomacy, deliberately taking advantage of times when they were the best placed to get results. We expect a lot from President Obama and will watch with anticipation each time he intervenes on the international scene. The ethic dimension of the Nobel prize, I feel, will give him a supplementary mission and strength to succeed.

Are you not afraid that we might expect too much from him?

I think you can never expect too much from political representatives. You need to have great expectations in order for them to feel like they are supported, that the people are on their side. This is essential for them to be able to deal with a task that is often above them. That is the very amazing thing about politics - you serve a greater cause than yourself.

On the subject of political expectations.. you have been Minister of the Environment and will shortly be attending the Copenhagen summit (the Cop15). What would you say are France’s 3 priorities in Copenhagen?

I believe that Copenhagen should not be a failure, in the sense that it cannot be seen as renewed inertia. It is an unfortunate fact that there have been many deceptions thus far, due to manipulation on the part of capitalist financial powers, who do not want things to change, or want to ensure that things change as slowly as possible.

 I also believe that we need the political strength and capacity to put rights and duties in every domain of economic, social and cultural activities. Indeed, environment should not comprise a sector on its own, it should be considered in relation to all human activities and go hand-in-hand with discussions on sustainable development, renewable energy and, above all, a better repartition of clean water in the world. The central question today and one of the main problems we will have to face in the future is unequal access to and rarefaction of clean water in the world. It is very likely that this could be a cause for wars in the future. Therefore a fight for the environment is a fight for peace.

Ms. Royale, it has been a pleasure talking to you. Thank you so much for your time and enjoy the rest of the congress.