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In 2014, a report on Francophonie proposed 53 measures including an increase in French teaching, building cinema theatres in Africa, and the creation of a Francophone Economic Union.

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France/ 3.4 International cultural co-operation  

3.4.1 Overview of main structures and trends

The European and international dimension is more and more important to cultural policies in the context of globalisation. International cultural cooperation is the domain par excellence of convergence between the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In 2016, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development allocated 750 million euros to international cultural cooperation and cultural diplomacy (finance bill 2016).

Several main axes and objectives structure the international cultural cooperation of France:

  • promotion of all forms of French culture and creation in the European and international arenas;
  • advocating intercultural exchanges and cultural diversity;
  • receiving and hosting culture professionals and foreign artists in France; and
  • strengthening the capacities and dynamism of the artistic and cultural sectors and networks.

The three main directorates of the Ministry of Culture, as well as the General Delegation of French Language and Other Languages of France, each comprise a special team in charge of international affairs. To insure a global vision and coherence, a Sub-Directorate of International and European Affairs is installed in the General Secretariat, which coordinates the European and international policy of the Ministry.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a vast network of institutions and bodies abroad, which organise around 50 000 events annually. In the cultural and artistic domains this network is coordinated and led by two main operators:

  • the French Institute (Institut français), which is supervised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and replaced, in 2011, the association Culturesfrance, with a widened scope of activity and reinforced resources; and
  • the Foundation Alliance Française, which has an annual agreement with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and coordinates a worldwide network of centres for promotion and learning of the French language.

France is a founding member and the host country of the Council of Europe, based in Strasbourg. The action of the Council, organised around the European Convention on Human Rights and other reference texts on the protection of the individual, has an important cultural dimension to which France contributes. The European Cultural Convention of 1954 is one of the first specifically cultural instruments to be adopted by an international organisation.

In the framework of the European Union (EU), France has advocated the development of cultural policies within EU policies, in particular since culture has become a field of intervention of the EU with the Maastricht Treaty of 1992: implementation of strong initiatives such as the European Capitals of Culture, setting up of an EU cultural programme, and regulation of the broadcasting and audiovisual policies in order to defend cultural diversity. The Ministry of Culture, which represents France on the Council of the EU, confers regularly with the other member States. Public authorities support in particular a French-German close co-operation, considered as one of the driving forces of European dynamics. The Ministry of Culture is active in the inter-ministerial bodies to insure consideration of the cultural issues in the different policies and to promote a global approach of the cultural ecosystem. Regarding the internal market, the Ministry follows with special attention the work on the future of VAT. Literary and artistic property is another domain of intervention of the European Union and the teams of the Ministry of Culture are strongly involved in the follow-up of these files, which are currently evolving in the era of digital technology. Moreover, France is a member of the EUNIC network, the network of the international cultural relations institutes from the member States of the European Union, based in Brussels (, (see chapter 3.4.2).

On a global scale, France participates actively in the activities of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) that is based in Paris. This participation relies on various devices: permanent delegation of the French Republic to UNESCO, French National Commission for UNESCO, and the France-UNESCO Cooperation Agreement (see chapter 3.4.2).

Another crucial organisation to the international cultural cooperation of France is the International Organisation of La Francophonie (OIF), which contributes to promote and to support the use of the French language worldwide and its dialogue with the cultures of the world. OIF was established in 1970 by the Convention of Niamey and it gathers 77 States and governments (57 members and 20 observers).

The promotion and advocacy of the French language and culture is also realised in the French school and teaching network abroad (schools, middle schools and high schools: écoles, collèges and lycées français). There also exist French-speaking universities outside officially French-speaking countries, which contribute to the influence of education, teaching and research in French:

  • Senghor University in Alexandria: this French-speaking university, partly supported by OIF, opened in 1990 to train students in disciplines centred on the socioeconomic and sociopolitical development;
  • Galatasaray University in Istanbul, established in 1992 by an international treaty signed by the French and Turkish Presidents François Mitterrand and Turgut Özal. It teaches about 2 500 students on courses in French and Turkish in various disciplines;
  • the French University in Egypt, a private university that opened in 2006 by the Presidents of both countries, and has strong partnerships with French universities for joint diplomas, and courses in Arab, English and French; and
  • Paris-Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi (PSUAD), which is a mainly French-speaking university created in 2006 by an agreement between the University of Paris-Sorbonne and the Ministry of Higher Education and Research of the emirate of Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates). Diplomas are delivered by the universities of Paris-Sorbonne or Paris-Descartes.

French is also one of the languages of Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Alexandria, which was inaugurated in 2002. In 2010, the Bibliothèque nationale de France (French national library) donated 500 000 French-speaking books and literary works, to reinforce the partnership between both institutions.

France has a long tradition of opening, welcoming and hosting world cultures. It is the country that counts most foreign cultural centres in the world, among which most are based in Paris and have formed the Forum of Foreign Cultural Institutes in Paris (Forum des instituts et centres culturels étrangers à Paris, FICEP), which is supported by the Ministries of Culture and Foreign Affairs: The World Cultures Institute (Maison des Cultures du Monde) was created in 1982 to promote cultural exchange programmes between French and other countries throughout the world. It is open to all horizons and civilisations, with a preference for cultural and artistic perspectives rather than a strictly political focus. It is committed to protecting cultural diversity and the expression of cultural identities. In 1987, the Institute of the Arab World (IMA) settled in Paris, with three main objectives:

  • to develop and foster the study, knowledge and understanding of the Arab world in France;
  • to support cultural exchanges, communication and co-operation between France and the Arab world; and
  • to improve relationship between the Arab world and Europe.

In 2013 Jack Lang, former Minister of Culture, was appointed director of IMA.

For almost twenty five years the Ministries of Culture and Foreign Affairs have organised annually, in partnership with other institutions, cultural seasons and years, which highlight and honour the culture of a foreign country (see chapter 3.4.3). The development of these events, which have become high profile references, illustrate the importance of cultural diplomacy, and sometimes also its fragility (as shown by the cancellation, in 2011, of the Year of Mexico in France).

Besides, most of the public and private cultural institutions develop international exchanges and regularly honour in their programming a foreign artistic movement, a period of the history of the arts, the arts of a particular country or region, or a foreign artist, like for instance the vast exhibition on German arts, De l'Allemagne, 1800-1939. De Friedrich à Beckmann at Le Louvre in 2013, the retrospectives Anselm Kiefer, Paul Klee, at Centre Pompidou, Mexique 1900-1950 : Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, José Clemente Orozco et les avants-gardes at Galeries nationales du Grand Palais in 2016 et 2017. These institutions contribute to influence of French culture, to the diffusion of foreign cultures in France and to the technical cooperation between international partners.

Moreover, territorial authorities are important stakeholders of international cultural cooperation, within the framework of the so-called "decentralised cooperation", which embodies a significant cultural dimension: city-twinning, cultural strands of cooperation agreements, cross-border cultural cooperation in Europe, inter-territorial networks, action of the cultural agencies and bodies of the territorial authorities, etc.

Yet, for about ten years, several parliamentary reports and cultural actors have regularly regretted the lack of visibility in the complexity of the system, the multiplicity and the dispersion of the operators, leading to a certain decrease in the performance of French external cultural action; also impacted by the lack of coordination between the Ministries of Culture and Foreign Affairs and the loss of influence of Francophonie faced with the domination of English, for instance as a working language of the European institutions (cf. for instance Cour des Comptes, Le réseau culturel de la France à l’étranger, report to the President of National Assembly, September 2013 :

However, many observers also acknowledge that France has a unique capacity for action in cultural diplomacy. The French cultural network abroad is remarkable and unprecedented due to its size and to the diversity and the richness of the structures that constitute it. The cultural and artistic expressions of Francophonie remain alive worldwide and promote cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue. The cultural image of France continues as one of the main vectors of its influence and its attractiveness. In 2014, a report to the President of the Republic ( estimates that the French-speaking community (Francophonie) represents the 6th geopolitical space in terms of population and could rise to 4th around the year 2050. The report includes 53 propositions, like: increase in French teaching offered, building cinema theatres in Africa, and the creation of a Francophone Economic Union. Another report by the Fondation pour les études et recherches sur le développement international found that in 2010, the 33 countries that have French as an official language, and/or in which at least 20% of the population speaks French, represent 6.5% of the world's population, 7.5% of the world's GDP and 12.5% of world trade (

The creation in 2011 of the French Institute responds to this need for revitalisation and for coherence of French cultural diplomacy (see chapter 3.4.2). For that purpose, the Institute engaged in an experiment which aims at unifying under the single label "Institut français" the diverse structures that compose the French cultural network: institutes, centres, cultural departments of embassies. An agreement must be signed between the Foundation French Alliance and the French Institute to pursue and strengthen the policy for a "unique and single network", with, in particular, a common logo and common directory of the French cultural network abroad.

Besides, in the context of greater globalisation of the cultural flows and digital transition of the information and communication technologies, public authorities are giving particular importance to the influence of French cultural industries. In 2013 the exports of cultural goods represented more than 1,5 billion EUR (not considering antiques, artworks and pieces of collection: 1,6 billion in 2013). Specific bodies are in charge of promoting theses industries: the Bureau international de l'édition française for the books and publishing industry (international bureau of French publishing), Unifrance Films for cinema and Bureau export for the music industry.

Books and publishing is the largest French cultural industry with about 3 billion EUR of revenue a year. It is also a very international-oriented sector: it ranks first in exports of French cultural goods (not including artworks), with about 25% of the turnover of French publishing being made from overseas markets. French cinema is the second largest exporter of cultural goods. The Cannes Festival is a unique and exceptional high profile event in the film sector. In 2012, 464 French movies were broadcasted in cinemas throughout the world to more than 137 million spectators, generating 851 million EUR of income. Around 40 French films per day are broadcasted by foreign television stations. In 2010, 37 music production companies had a global export turnover of 55 million EUR (19% for classical music), which represents a 12% increase compared to 2009. We notice an explosion in digital sales, which increased by 142% between 2009 and 2010, and subsequently represent 36% of total French music sales.

The European market is the main outlet for the French cultural industries, with more than 70% of the turnover of music production and shows, more than half of the market for French films abroad, and 48% of book and publishing exports.

Chapter published: 17-07-2018

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