Ambassador Bermann looks ahead to 2016
After the year that has just gone by, I feel extremely moved to be wishing a very Happy New Year to our British friends and the French community here. It’s an opportunity to say thank you once again for your friendship and solidarity during what was a very difficult year for France and its people.
A year on from the horrific Charlie Hebdo shootings and following the appalling attacks of 13 November 2015 in Paris – both of which saw outpourings of public support in the UK and messages of condolence from members of the Royal Family, Prime Minister David Cameron, Home Secretary Theresa May and Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond among others – now more than ever I’m thankful for the close relationship that exists between our two countries, France and the UK.
— France in the UK (@FranceintheUK) November 17, 2015
Our unity will be very important in 2016 too. This year will see the French-British Combined Joint Expeditionary Force become ready for action. We’re already fighting together: HMS Defender is as I write protecting the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle combatting Daesh in the Middle East.
There is much to do in the fight against terrorism. But together with our allies, we are committed to eradicating this evil. In World War II, Britain and France stood shoulder-to-shoulder to defeat a common enemy and defend the values of freedom and democracy. Today, over 70 years later, we stand united again.
It is a sober start to the New Year as we remember the victims of the Charlie Hebdo massacres, but there are also many positives to look forward to in 2016. Having secured the first ever legally-binding universal agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions at the Paris climate summit at the end of last year, France retains the presidency of the UN climate negotiations until November 2016, when it’s handed over to Morocco. There’ll be a lot of work to do between now and then to ensure the implementation of the Paris agreement gets off to a good start and enable the deal to reach its ambitious targets.
After COP21, France will be hosting another huge global event in 2016… of a slightly different nature this time! A record 24 sides will contest the UEFA Euro Championship in France this year, with dozens of games taking place in June and July in host cities across the country, including Bordeaux, Lille, Marseille, Nice, Paris and Toulouse.
I’m not sure at what stage in the competition France will meet one of the UK teams, but after the nail-biting game between England and Wales in the Rugby World Cup last September, their head-to-head in the group round of the football this summer will definitely be one to watch! Quite fittingly, the match is being played in Lens, a short hop across the Channel in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region. I hope it’ll be a chance for British fans to discover this town, renowned for its friendly football supporters as well as its very own Louvre Museum. However many goals are scored, Euro 2016, like the Paris climate summit, will be an opportunity to show the world France’s determination to carry on as normal – French ‘sang-froid’ at its finest.
Football won’t be the only reason to visit France this year. In the summer, as part of the First World War centenary commemorations, we will be marking 100 years since the Battle of the Somme, when more than a million British and French soldiers fought side by side. A major commemorative event organized jointly by the French and UK governments will take place at the Thiepval Memorial on 1 July, and events in the Somme region will continue in the subsequent months to remember the fallen from all nations. Amiens, the closest city to the Somme Front, will be hosting a rich cultural, scientific and artistic programme throughout the summer.
This year also marks 950 years since the Battle of Hastings, an anniversary that falls in the very year that, for the first time in centuries, Normandy goes back to being a single political entity following the redrawing of the map of France to reduce its number of regions from 22 to 13.
While all that’s going on in France, here in the London embassy we also have a busy few months ahead. One of the things I’m most looking forward to is presenting more British D-Day veterans with the Légion d’honneur. I awarded the distinction, which is France’s highest, to dozens of veterans during the course of 2015, and some 2,000 have now received their medals in total. The ceremonies are always very touching events and I consider it a true honour to meet and talk to these men who risked their lives for our country over 70 years ago on the beaches of Normandy.
It wouldn’t be a year at the French Embassy without a gastronomic extravaganza on the cards. And this year it comes again in the shape of Goût de France/Good France, a celebration of French cuisine which will see restaurants around the UK join chefs worldwide in serving up a show-stopping French supper on 21 March. It’s been a fantastic year for French food, with three French restaurants making it into the top 10 of La Liste’s 2015 ‘World’s 1,000 Outstanding Restaurants’ ranking. I can’t wait to see (and hopefully taste!) what delights French cuisine has got to offer this year.
Finally, the start of 2016 will see the UK launch of Créative France, an international campaign aimed at highlighting France’s ingenuity and creativity across sectors from technology to design, industry and education. The campaign will show off French inventions and technologies, as well as some well-known French entrepreneurs and innovators who have achieved amazing things. With so much cooperation between UK and French businesses and start-ups, I’m hopeful these success stories will be sources of inspiration here and encourage even greater cross-fertilization between our two countries.
On that note, I wish you a very prosperous, as well as happy, year. Bonne année 2016!
Sylvie Bermann, French Ambassador to the UK