I believe that one of our most valuable legacies from the original ideals of the Revolution, and even before that from the ideals of the Enlightenment thinkers, is the critical spirit

His Excellency Mr. Joël Meyer, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the French Republic to the Republic of Bulgaria, presented his Credentials to President Rumen Radev on Dec.1st, 2022.

He received this appointment after having gained considerable experience in Diplomacy as an Official in the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs of France and after having achieved many professional successes. It is not by chance that he is Bearer of the Highest Honors of the French Republic - Chevalier of the Order of the Legion of Honor and Chevalier of the National Order of Merits.

His Excellency Mr. Joël Meyer completed his higher education at the National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilizations (INALKO), then he specialized in Modern Greek Literature.

He started working at the Central Administration ("Asia and Oceania") of the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs of France in 1989. He rose step by step: 1992-1995 he worked as First Secretary in Nicosia (Cyprus); 1995-1999 he worked at the Central Administration ("European Cooperation"); 1999-2003 he worked as First Secretary in Athens (Greece); 2003-2006 he worked as Second Counsellor in Bamoko (Mali); 2006-2007 he is again at work in the Central Administration ("Center for Analyzes and Prognoses"); 2007-2010 he worked as Deputy Director for Southern Europe in the European Union Directorate; 2010-2014 he worked as Consul General in Milan (Italy). From 2014 to 2018 he was Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary in Nouakchott (Mauritania) and from 2018 to 2022 he was Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary in Bamoko (Mali).

His Excellency Mr. Joël Meyer is married and has three children.

We met with him a few days before France's National Day to talk more about the Fall of the Bastille, an event that changed the history of Europe and the world, as well as about France's modern achievements, our Diplomatic relations and Mr. Meyer's priorities as Ambassador here in Bulgaria.

- Your Excellency, we are on the eve of July 14th - France’s national holiday. What does it mean to the French people of today? And for you personally?

- I think it’s worth recalling the history of our national holiday in a nutshell. July 14, 1789 marked the storming of the Bastille – the Parisian prison – an event that came to symbolize the struggle against the monarchical regime of the day. Then there was July 14, 1790, the Fête de la Fédération (Festival of the Federation), which a year later celebrated the regained unity of the French nation around... the king! A unity that would prove turbulent – you know as well as I do the rest of the history of the French Revolution. But it was the latter date, July 14th, 1790, that, a hundred years later, the Third Republic chose to officially declare as our national holiday. This decision was taken in the interests of consensus (France was still partly divided between republicans and royalists), in reference to the idea of national unity, and not in memory of the storming of the Bastille. Today, the French collective imagination focuses more on the storming of the Bastille and the revolutionary ideal. But I believe that every French person, whatever their convictions, has in mind this dual celebration of the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity that founded the Republic, and of the cohesion and unity of the French nation. July 14th is a special moment when all French people come together to share a sense of belonging to the national community. 

It is the same feeling for me. And I am sure it is the same for all civil servants like me, with the added feeling of pride in serving the State and, above all, the French people. Our concepts of general interest and public service were also born out of these "revolutionary" watchwords of equality, social justice and solidarity.

- How does the French Embassy in Sofia intend to mark this important date for Europe and the world?

- This year, the ceremony in Sofia will bring together in a single event both our compatriots and all the Bulgarian actors of our day-to-day relationship. This evening will be specially dedicated to them, and we will have the pleasure of hearing a young Bulgarian soprano and her musicians perform the national anthems.

- What are you most proud of in your country’s glorious history and impressive culture? And what about its modern achievements?

- I believe that one of our most valuable legacies from the original ideals of the Revolution, and even before that from the ideals of the Enlightenment thinkers, is the critical spirit. Thinking for yourself, analyzing, understanding, expressing an opinion independently and, of course, accepting that others may have a different opinion from your own, is a heritage that we owe to them and that still guides education in France. Of course, it is not just France’s prerogative.

- Do you think the motto "Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité" (Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood) put forward by the French Revolution can be achieved? Especially in today’s confused and uncertain world?

- As I was saying, this motto is not exclusive to France, but it reflects the fundamental values of all democracies. It is what makes these democracies strong and cohesive in the face of other countries that want to revert to the system of survival of the fittest. I am referring, of course, to Mr. Putin’s war of aggression against Ukraine.

- Is it in its (the motto’s) name that events are taking place in your country today? We hear about and see protests, riots, fires... What does it really represent?

- There are several elements to that. The freedom to make demands publicly is an inalienable, constitutional right. And it is a sign of good democratic health if we can demonstrate and express ourselves on the street. But of course, this must be done peacefully, with respect for others and the common good. In recent weeks, there has been violence that has nothing to do with democratic expression. The French government’s intention is to ensure that the values of the Republic are respected by everyone and everywhere in France. Our ambition is also to strengthen the cohesion of French society and to include all citizens in the life of the Nation.

- Not only France, but also Europe is torn apart by contradictions, and worse still, by military conflict. As ambassador of a G7, G20, EU member country, do you see salvation, where is the way out?

- In short, let us not forget that Europe has often been built and strengthened in times of acute crises and conflicts. We can only regret these past wars, but we were able to overcome them through the victory of law and justice. Today, the situation is repeating itself. On the one hand, there is an aggressor whom we cannot let do as he pleases while he unjustifiably attacks an independent country; on the other hand, this war against Ukraine is also a threat to our shared values. Do we want to live in a democracy or in a dictatorship? This is the choice that Mr. Putin is forcing upon us, with behavior that dates back to another century. And the solution can only be an end to hostilities by Moscow, respect for the principles of the United Nations, the recovery by Ukraine of all of its territorial rights, and justice for all the victims.

- The French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs (MEAE) is a respected institution. Your country ranks 3rd worldwide in terms of representation and activity abroad with 163 embassies, 16 permanent representations, 113 consular services, 92 consulates general, including 19 influential ones. What are the challenges facing French diplomacy today?

- Thank you for your kind words. Yes, there are many challenges which, although not new, require the constant adaptation of the Ministry’s officials This ability to adapt is in fact our DNA. Today, we have to deal with the so-called hybrid threats, disinformation, Moscow’s attempts to recreate antagonistic East-West and North-South blocs, the challenges of climate change and economic imbalances. International cooperation and partnerships are key to overcoming these challenges. France wants to contribute to and support a collective European response.

- Diplomatic relations between Bulgaria and France date back to July 8, 1879, but we had historical and cultural links centuries before that. How do you see these relations today?

- You are right to emphasize the long-standing nature of our relationship. Bulgarian historians believe that the ideas of the French Revolution also influenced the development of the Bulgarian national liberation movement. At the same time, your country’s cause and the tragedies it has suffered have aroused the emotion and support of great literary and political figures in France – and here I am thinking, of course, of Victor Hugo’s speech to the French Parliament in 1876. And it was only natural that, during his visit in January 1989, French President François Mitterrand wanted to meet and encourage the Bulgarian opposition in its fight against the communist regime. It was the famous breakfast held at the Residence of France, attended by eminent figures from the Bulgarian intelligentsia, including the man who was to become the first democratically elected president after the fall of the regime, Dr. Zhelyu Zhelev. The closeness between our two countries has only grown stronger since then.

- You barely presented your credentials 7 months ago, but you have quickly become part of Bulgaria’s diplomatic and cultural life. Already in the first days of your work in our country we can notice your strong desire to see our bilateral relations continue to progress. What will be your priorities in our generally well-developed cooperation?

- France considers Bulgaria to be a strategic partner. In fact, in 2008 we signed a partnership agreement that already characterized our relationship as strategic. This vision is still valid today. And the first discussions with the new Bulgarian government, to which I wish every success, demonstrate this.

Firstly, because we share the same ambition of a Europe that is both politically and economically stronger, with greater solidarity between its Member States and towards third countries, which also need solidarity. A Europe that is strategically autonomous on the international stage, while of course aware of the importance of our fundamental alliances – I am thinking, naturally, of the transatlantic link.

We have much to learn from Bulgaria’s analyses and proposals, given that your country lies at a crossroads, not only geographically but also geopolitically. Bulgaria has much to contribute to the European family, and we all stand to gain from the country’s full membership of the Schengen area and the eurozone.

Alongside the dialogue on the future of Europe, Bulgaria and France can further develop their bilateral relations. Particularly in the economic and industrial spheres, where our respective know-how has already produced some nice success stories. Did you know, for example, that the doors and cockpits of Airbus aircraft are manufactured in Bulgaria? This is a French-Bulgarian partnership.

We can do more, particularly in the field of energy.

Another important objective, in our view, is to further promote mobility of women, men and ideas between our two countries. The natural dynamism of exchanges between our schools and higher education institutions, between our centers and our artistic circles, between our research institutes and universities, can count on the equally enthusiastic support of the teams at the French Institute of Bulgaria.

Education at all levels comes naturally as the preferred area for the exchange of best practices. Including the French-speaking dimension, which is so dear to our hearts.

-  Bulgarians and French people likewise venerate culture and education. You have naturally highlighted them as important in our bilateral relationship, underlining the promising partnership in the creation of a World Arts Center on the island of Saints Kirik and Julita near Sozopol. How would France contribute to its realization?

- It is a very fine project, presented by successive Bulgarian governments and supported from the outset by the Vice-President of the Republic. At the request of the Bulgarian authorities two years ago, but which is still relevant today, we have proposed French expertise from a public operator bringing together the experience of major French museums, including the Louvre. The aim is to see how this international arts center can promote the safeguarding of the national heritage, contemporary artistic creation and highlight Black Sea civilizations, foremost among which are the cultures of Bulgaria. This offer of expertise will, of course, also capitalize on the experience of Bulgarian experts.

- This year marks the 30th anniversary of Bulgaria’s official membership of the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie (International Organization of the Francophonie, OIF) under the presidency of Dr. Zhelyu Zhelev. Can you share with us your views on the role of the Organization today? What do you see as the future of the Francophonie?

- I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the dedicated commitment of all teachers of French or in French in this country, in public high schools with bilingual classes, in the French-speaking sections of universities, and in the Alliances françaises. Their teaching in French offers young people an additional asset in their personal and professional development. The French language is obviously still relevant nowadays: we do business and research in French, we work in French, we still discuss and negotiate in French in European and international bodies, we write literature and press articles in French. It is the language of 350 million active speakers. And the political dimension of the International Organization of the Francophonie has grown considerably stronger on the international stage: the OIF promotes the protection of human rights, the defense of democracy, and gender equality by encouraging girls’ education.

- What did you know about our country before arriving here, what did you associate it with, and with what feelings did you assume your position? Did your ideas about us match your first impressions?

- I had the pleasure of visiting Bulgaria on several occasions, notably when, as a diplomat in Paris between 2007 and 2010, I was already following the relationship between our two countries. Bulgaria had just joined the European family. Coming back fifteen years later, I can see the efforts that have been made and the progress that has been achieved, particularly in terms of democracy and the economy. Even among the oldest Member States of the Union there is still room for improvement in strengthening the rule of law. The latest Bulgarian governments have prepared reforms along these lines, and we can only support the Parliament in adopting the related bills.

On a human level, I would be ungrateful if I did not thank all my interlocutors for having always welcomed me warmly. Bulgaria’s hospitality is not a legend, but a reality!


The photo was provided by the Embassy of the French Republic in the Republic of Bulgaria. On it: H. E. Mr. Joël Meyer, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of  the French Republic in the Republic of Bulgaria