I am very happy with the quality of our relations
Deputy Mayor of Marseille Jean Roatta, who is in charge of international relations and Euro-mediterranean cooperation and is an Honorary member of the French Parliament, hadn’t been to Moscow for two decades. But recently, he has been coming here almost every year. So what drew him to the Russian capital? “You know, mon ami, sometimes in life there are meetings that bring us happiness,” Jean ROATTA pointed out in an interview with Sergo Kukhianidze, Editor-in-Chief of Capital Ideas.
Jean Roatta is an incredibly charming person. He completely refutes the stereotypical image of a politician who is a closed-off, dry man of few words. Passion is his most prominent character trait. At least when he talks about relations between his home city Marseille and Moscow, Mr. Roatta’s eyes light up with a genuine, lively interest.
Mr. Roatta, you’ve been a frequent guest in Moscow over the past few years. Could you please tell us why that is?
I’ve been acquainted with Moscow for a long time. I first visited your city twenty years ago, when I was a member of the French parliament. I’ll say right away that, as a politician, I share the viewpoint of general de Gaulle, who believed that a united Europe stretches from the Atlantic to the Urals. I have always said that Russia is a friend. This is exactly why I was always interested in establishing a relationship between Moscow and my home city Marseille. You know, mon ami, sometimes in life there are meetings that bring us happiness. This was the case for my meeting with Sergey Cheremin, the head of the Moscow Department of Foreign Economic Affairs and International Relations. It happened two years ago in Marseille, when Mr. Cheremin came to France for an official visit.
Our meeting gave a big impetus to the relations between Marseille and Moscow. We immediately signed a letter of intent, the goal of which was to develop bilateral relations. These were more than just words, they were followed by concrete action. The following year there was regular communication between representatives of the two cities, sometimes in Moscow, sometimes in Marseille. During the spring and fall of 2018, we held fruitful negotiations, and determined points of collaboration in different fields. This includes tourism, car manufacturing, the aerospace industry, chemistry, agriculture, medicine, and education. During my visit to Moscow at the end of last spring, I met with the MSU dean Viktor Sadovnichiy and we talked about the need for student exchanges between our universities, for young Russians to learn French and for young French people to learn Russian.
Both Marseille and Moscow realized that direct contact between our cities is necessary to speed up bilateral cooperation.
When I was in Moscow last year, I also met with the leadership of Aeroflot. We shared our ideas for about three hours, talked about all the advantages of direct flights between Moscow and Marseille. The thing is that Marseille has a great location. The city is not only effectively located in the center of the Mediterranean, but is also next to Africa. This is important, considering the fact that the Kremlin is starting to revive its relations with African countries, as Vladimir Putin recently announced in Sochi.
As a result of these talks with Aeroflot, we decided to work together. A year has gone by, and direct flights between Moscow and Marseille were launched on June 1 of this year. The arrival of the first Aeroflot plane to fly directly to Marseille was a real celebration. It was attended by all representatives of the city government, headed up by the city’s mayor Jean-Claude Gaudin. Other officials, along with the Russian ambassador to France, were there as well. It was a wonderful celebration. Afterward, the Russian consulate in Marseille hosted a reception with a performance by a Cossack choir. It was so much fun that I even danced with the Cossacks and drank vodka.
Thanks to these direct flights, which take place every week now, things are going really well. The launch of a direct Moscow-Marseille flight was undoubtedly a big step forward in cooperation between our cities. It significantly increased the number of tourists and simplified the development of socio-economic and business contacts between the two cities. In just the first four months, 17,000 people used the flight – primarily Russian tourists. There really is a lot to see in Marseille, not to mention the beaches. Is it such a bad thing when Moscow is freezing, and you take a flight to Marseille, where it’s +20 and you can go straight to the beach? Yes, right now it’s mostly Russians using the flight, but I hope that Marseille residents will also start coming to your city more frequently as they start learning more about Moscow. In any case, we are trying to do everything in our power to make this happen. We want people in Marseille to receive more information about Moscow and Russia.
In a few months, by the way, we will once again come to Moscow to discuss the preliminary results of our quickly developing cooperation, to understand how far we’ve come along and what needs to be done next.
You’re also not leaving Moscow empty-handed this time…
Yes, at the end of October Mr. Cheremin and I signed a program of cooperation between the Russian capital and Marseille for 2020-2023. This is not a simple formality, but a concrete agreement for long-term cooperation. And it couldn’t have gone any other way, because our relations are built on mutual respect and economic benefit. You know, in the two years after we met, Mr. Cheremin and I have done something incredible together. We never stopped, we just moved forward! I don’t mean to come off as pompous, but from the very beginning we were propelled by the desire to do something good – not for ourselves, but for the residents of our cities. Against the backdrop of everything that’s going on in the world – the rise in nationalism, growing mistrust and hatred between countries – relations between Marseille and Moscow look unique. In a nutshell, I am very happy with the quality of our relations.
Listening to you, I understand that your example speaks to how well you can work with Moscow, with Russia. Be honest, how do you like working with Russians? Because you interact with different politicians, business people…
It’s very easy, because our Russian friends follow the rules. Moreover, just like us, all of them are passionate people. They have the desire to work, and they’re very organized. As you can see, we have everything necessary for mutually beneficial, successful cooperation.
Do the sanctions impact what you’re doing right now?
Again, as a member of the French parliament, I voted against the sanctions. From the very beginning, I said that the sanctions were madness. It’s an insane measure imposed by the US. The sanctions are really causing problems for us. For Marseille residents, for example, the sanctions cost a lot of jobs. If they were lifted, our relations would develop even faster.
How did you find Moscow after such a long break?
Moscow has gone through major changes in a lot of respects. The city is clean and safe. You know, when I come to visit you, I truly realize how Russia, just like France, has a rich culture and a rich history. There aren’t many countries like ours in the world. Every visit to Moscow is a wonderful journey for me.