IN the context of the current economic crisis, many Irish people worry about the reputation of their country abroad. However, few can imagine how positive the image of Ireland remains in France.
For the French, Ireland is first and foremost a close and much-loved neighbour. Both countries have long enjoyed excellent relations and shared many common historical experiences, creating special links between our peoples.
As is sometimes the case between close partners, small disputes may occur, but nothing so great as to damage the foundations of a solid bilateral relationship.
Last November, when Ireland had to request European assistance, the French were ready and willing to participate in the financial package; a poll revealed that 73 per cent of the French population supported it and wanted to demonstrate its solidarity with the Irish people.
Despite current economic difficulties, French companies are still investing and doing business in Ireland. At the same time, cultural and scientific co-operation between our two countries is booming.
To recall a few facts:
• 400,000 French tourists visit Ireland annually, attracted not only by its beauty and hospitality but also because of the ever increasing accessibility by sea and by air from many cities in France.
• More than 12,000 jobs have been created by 130 French companies such as Irish Distillers/Pernod Ricard, BNP Paribas, Sanofi Aventis, Axa and Schneider Electric who have chosen to come and invest in Ireland and are here to stay.
Many large and small companies I visited recently -- including Danone, Yves Rocher and Valeo -- have even decided to increase their investments here and expand their activities. Alstom, responsible for the maintenance of the Luas, is also pursuing projects in the promising renewable energy sector. Renault and Citroen will shortly introduce their electric cars to the Irish market.
• Ireland's exports sector continues to grow and will significantly contribute to the recovery effort. It is not widely known that France imports twice as many products from Ireland as it exports to this country.
Even in such highly competitive sectors as pharmaceuticals, agricultural products (like meat and seafood) and ICT, Ireland has recently opened successful access routes to the French market.
• The Ireland-France Chamber of Commerce is very active in Dublin, as is Network Ireland in Paris. Both organisations encourage French and Irish companies and professionals to connect and create business opportunities between our two countries.
In the area of science, our co-operation with Ireland is geared towards the promising new technologies in which this country has an edge. The well-established ULYSSES programme funds new collaborations between early-stage researchers in both countries in areas that are key to Ireland's economy, such as biotechnologies, ICT, green technology and agriculture.
Public/private partnerships are also well under way: Servier, the pharmaceutical company which has been in Ireland for many years, sponsors an annual scholarship to further medical research collaboration; Veolia Environment, highly visible in the transport, energy and water sectors, also awards two young students annually with scholarships, the aim of which is to encourage excellence in the field of engineering.
One area of huge potential co-operation between our two countries is green energy. In this regard, Ireland has fantastic assets and expertise, demonstrated by the fact that France's EDF selected Irish company OpenHydro to develop its marine energy technologies.
Ireland and France have long shared a common love for culture and the arts. Throughout the years, Irish writers have travelled to France and forged links which have endured and flourished over the years. French is still the most popular foreign language chosen by students at Leaving Certificate level and many Irish people of all ages are keen to practise it, in particular through the six very dynamic Alliances Françaises which provide classes and language learning activities around Ireland.
And along with our Irish partners, France is enthusiastic about participating in and supporting a wide range of local cultural events. Next up on the agenda is Dublin Contemporary 2011 in September; the French Film festivals in Dublin and Cork; the Wexford opera in November; and the Franco-Irish literary festival next April.
In collaboration with University College Dublin, we are now also looking to Dublin European City of Science 2012. In France, we believe that Ireland's macroeconomic fundamentals remain strong and that there is a solid basis on which to continue doing business here. With President Sarkozy acknowledging the "unprecedented efforts" made by Ireland in overcoming the crisis, France has shown that it trusts the Irish Government's commitment to lead the economy towards recovery.
The new Government is investing a lot of energy into communicating Ireland's present situation, and recent visits to France by Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan and Minister of State for European Affairs, Lucinda Creighton, have been very useful in explaining Ireland's positions to their counterparts in Paris.
We also share common positions on the future of the Common Agriculture Policy, as Minister Coveney highlighted when he recently met with his counterpart in Paris. Both countries have made it very clear that European agricultural policy cannot be overlooked in a very challenging context, for the beef industry in particular. The common views held by France and Ireland on the CAP serve as a reminder that our countries share a common purpose within the European Union.
The current crisis puts a definite strain on what the member states have carefully constructed over the years. The integration of our economies and the creation of a single currency mean that the difficulties faced by one country will impact on the entire eurozone.
Therefore, differences of opinion between Ireland and France on the subject of corporate tax must be considered in this context. France believes that fiscal co-ordination is a necessary step in strengthening and developing the eurozone. This does not mean that rates should be the same in all member states -- direct taxation remaining a national competence -- but that some common rules should apply.
It is an issue which will take some time to settle. A solution will only be reached with the agreement of all member states.
Despite the significance of this debate, the relationship between Ireland and France should not be confined to the single issue of corporate tax.
This would mean drawing a line on the strength of our economic and commercial relations; the density of our political and cultural links; and that je ne sais quoi that nurtures all the greatest friendships.
Her Excellency Mme Emmanuelle d'Achon is Ambassador of France in Ireland
Sunday Indo Business