What is the current state of the economic relationship between Malta and France?
There are a number of big French companies who have started operating in Malta over time, starting obviously from Franco-Italian ST Microelectronics and also Freeport operator CMA-CGM. Total has one of its manufacturing outfits in Gozo, Pamargan, which produces small engine parts for planes. There are also number of French investments in local companies, including Wins which is a subsidiary of Eutelsat, a major French satellite company. There is also a strong pharmaceutical industry connection, with Malta also importing a lot of medical products from France ‘s SANOFI. Meanwhile major French companies specialising in financial services are in Malta: amongst them I can mention Groupe PSA Finances (Peugeot Citroen Group) and RCI (Renault Finance). This shows the level of comfort there is in doing business in Malta as these are flagships of the French economy who have chosen to do business in and from Malta.
Recently you have announced that France will be re-opening an economic office in Malta to complement the work already being done by your Embassy and participate in the work related to the Maltese Presidency of the EU. How do you believe that the economic ties between the two countries can be developed further through this new office?
I am very glad that we have achieved this goal. We have been working directly with Paris for the last months in order to make our case for the opening up of the economic arm, and we have now secured the presence of such a cell for a period of 12 months. This will help us improve our efforts in promoting and branding Malta with the French business community. The bigger French companies do not always see Malta as this fantastic catalyst for exchanges. In truth we know that if you come to Malta it means that you are still in the EU and yet you have a foot in the Commonwealth, it means you have a foot towards Africa and specifically to North Africa, including Libya, which will come back to the international scene.
So we are working to change this perception. There is one very good example of a French pharmaceutical company which has been here for some time: ICP-Texinfine run by Dr Gilles P. Gutierrez which has a fantastic outfit using French technology and all Maltese resources including seaweed, sea salt and prickly pears. They produce dietary complements and beauty products that they sell worldwide. I always use this example in explaining that French business need to look at Malta as a platform. On the other hand, from the Maltese side, there are slightly ingrained ideas on the French economy as a non-reactive and bureaucratic, and we are trying to show that this idea is outdated by being reactive ourselves as an embassy.
For example, we had a Maltese company expressing interest in trying to develop a car-share system in Malta, and we immediately put them in contacts with French companies who operate in this industry. We aim for reactivity and flexibility. Another example was our response to the tender to train Maltese public officers ahead of the EU presidency and which was ultimately won by a French school, the Ecole Nationale. This also made sense because there are strong commonalities in our European approach.
It is not always about big sectors but about making the best of the proximity between the two countries and economies. SMEs and other start-ups do also fit very well in the Maltese system. Recently Malta signed a contract with a French start-up, Meludia to grant a free access to all Maltese residents to an innovative app dedicated to musical education. In short I believe we need to be much more positive and forward-looking on possibilities for Maltese and French entities to work together.
Are there any specific sectors in which you believe that investors from your country may be interested in?
We are encouraging interested operators to approach us not as a single company but as a family of companies wanting to export to Malta or invest here. And very interestingly the first platform that has been created is a platform called Eco-French Malta, involving all the companies with a green label wanting to work with the Maltese. So I would say the first area of opportunities is the area of renewables, green economy and electrical transportation. We are also very proud that the first electric cab company in Malta was French, Green R Cabs.
What is your opinion of Malta’s political progress through the time of your posting here?
I prefer to refrain from commenting in detail on local political issues however what has most impressed me is the authorities’ ability to address the questions of society. When you come here, you see that on the most sensitive issues, once discussion starts, it goes very fast. Citizens are consulted, Parliament moves. We have seen this in LGBTIQ rights. The process has been very impressive.
Malta’s economy is faring surprisingly better than other economies both in the Mediterranean and also in Europe as a whole. From your knowledge and experience of Malta what do you believe is the secret to this success?
If you ask French companies, why do they come here, it is never for one particular reason. There is a healthy access to the authorities. If you are a financial services company, you can benefit from easy access to the regulator. French companies also mention the strength of all the entities that have been created in Malta to help companies and investors and who also work together. There is also the ability to draw efficiently on EU funds.
Then there is the tax system, but to insist too much on the taxation regime might give the wrong impression. President Hollande has said it very well when he said that Malta can yes be described as a ‘tourism haven’ but definitely not a ‘tax haven’.
"Malta can yes be described as a ‘tourism haven’ but definitely not a ‘tax haven’."
What positive developments do you foresee for Malta in 2017 and what are the challenges that need to be dealt with?
Malta, a country of 450,000 people, is welcoming 1.5 million tourists every year, thus Malta hasto face the challenges that come with heavy tourism including infrastructure, transportation and waste management. I would also say that for Malta, the challenge is to continue building a growing and green economy. In 2017, Malta will hold the EU Presidency for the first time. I see this as a fantastic opportunity to showcase Malta for what it really is: a small country but with immense capabilities and links to the outside world. A country which is able to both grow and respect its environment.
At this particular moment in time what are the main issues that your embassy is engaged with here in Malta?
France and Malta are two of the most determined Europeanists in the European Union. We have the same vision of Europe: a Europe which definitely cannot close its door to the south part of the Mediterranean but which has to face the challenges of security and migration. I feel that the political dialogue between France and Malta is at an all-time high, and we are very focused on preparations for the Maltese EU Presidency.
Do you believe that Malta’s aspirations to become a regional hub for the energy, maritime and the health tourism sector are realistic?
France already sees Malta as a maritime hub, and on the health side, as a French embassy we are informing the French medical sector that there is something going on in Malta and that they should be part of it. I think it would be wrong not to answer this call for investment in the health sector because Malta has a fantastic environment and a position at the centre of the Mediterranean, as well as a tradition of dialogue with the Gulf countries and North Africa. In view of this push, alongside the Franco-Maltese Chamber of Commerce and the Health Ministry, we are organizing an event on medical exchanges between the two countries. The event will take place between the 3rd and 4th of November.
"It would be wrong not to answer this call for investment"
How would you describe your personal experience of Malta so far?
A lot of work, especially as we gear up to the EU Presidency. Being the French ambassador in Malta during the presidency, I would like to turn it into a key moment for the Franco-Maltese relationship. Going forward, I would like us not to just work on minor ad-hoc projects between the two countries but to have a more sustainable structural relationship. I do not want my successor to have to start anew on everything, I would like entities and companies from both ends to have partnerships without having to go through the French embassy. I am happy to be a go-between but I believe that it is about time to have those relationships set up directly; between French museums and Maltese museums, French universities and Maltese universities, French companies and Maltese companies. They belong to the same world, Mediterranean Europe. This is the legacy I would like to leave behind.