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Speech by Mrs. Valérie PECRESSE, University of Delhi

Valérie Pécresse à Delhi

Discours de Valérie Pécresse, université de Delhi
Speech by Mrs. Valérie PECRESSE, University of Delhi

Discours - 1ère publication : 2.11.2007 - Mise à jour : 13.11.0007
Valérie Pécresse

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am both happy and honoured to be here today by your side in this University of Delhi, one of the most prestigious in all of India, hence in the whole world !

Actually, with its campuses and colleges scattered throughout the city, with its hundreds of thousands of students, Delhi University is indeed a world in itself, a kind of metropolis within the metropolis, wholly dedicated to knowledge and learning.

On discovering it, I knew right away that I would never see a better testimonial of what India really is today : a nation entirely turned to the future and intent on achieving excellence in every respect.

Thus, it is my privilege to be given an opportunity to address you this afternoon and to be granted some time to introduce you to a country, my country, France, a nation that may seem somewhat faraway to you, somewhat abstract and perhaps even quite remote from your own lives and natural horizons, since the traditions of language may usually direct your eyes to other cultures and other countries.

And yet ...

And yet, our two countries are no strangers to each other, for in the course of their long history they were often induced to meet and to exchange.

In those days, France was present in India, in five establishments whose names French schoolchildren still learn to memorise, as symbols in their eyes of all the promises held by your culture: Pondichéry, Chandernagor, Yanaon, Mahé and Karikal.

It was also in those days that the French came in great numbers to lend a hand to the princes of India in their attempt to free themselves from British presence. Out of that common struggle, there emerged in France one of the greatest schools for Eastern culture experts known in Europe. 

France regards this past as a precious heritage, which brings her closer to one of the most brilliant civilisations on earth, a heritage from which France today still draws a certain familiarity with the people of India, a certain proximity to the youth of a world that is getting ready to play on the international stage the part naturally devolved to the greatest powers.

Of that past, however, there remains a lively, visible trace, in Indian schools for instance, where French is still the first foreign language taught.

Of that past, furthermore, there still remains above all a long and staunch friendship between France and India, a friendship that has never wavered in the last half-century and that, from the talks between Nehru and De Gaulle to President Jacques Chirac's visit last year has fed from the singular relationship that links our two countries.

Such is the friendship that brings me here today among you, with the sole purpose of seeding in your hearts and minds a yearning to discover France, to come and visit us for a semester or a year's stay, to study there, to travel there or quite simply to live there, in any event to meet French youth and renew those reciprocal ties of friendship, esteem and respect that have always linked both our peoples.


I remain convinced that these meetings will be all the richer and stronger as they are rooted in a commonly-held passion, the passion for knowledge and learning, the source for all progress known to mankind throughout its history.

Nowadays, this conviction is spreading all over the world, at a time when everyone acknowledges that our future lies above all in the construction of a worldwide society of learning.

Like India, the French Republic has held this conviction for many centuries, for a very simple reason: it was born and grew from it.

For when the French people decided to overcome its differences, whether social, regional or even cultural, and to be reborn in the form of a single nation of free and equal men and women, it also chose to construct a republican school system, capable of blending into a single people the many populations living in our country, and to ensure that every citizen might benefit from the education without which freedom is nothing but a pipe dream or an ideal.

In the eyes of every Frenchman, school has thus become a synonym for emancipation and progress, individual progress of course, but also progress of the community. For by offering each member of society the opportunity of developing his or her own abilities and skills, the republican school system has allowed the whole of France quite simply to move forward, to modernise and to improve its standard of living.

This republican school formed men such as Pasteur, who, while he was a mere tanner's son from the Vosges region, discovered almost by chance the vaccine against rabies; the same system is to be credited for nurturing a Gustave Eiffel, providing him with the means to raise the steel beacon that today watches over Paris. I am talking about the Eiffel Tower...

Eiffel and Pasteur, two destinies, two men of science, one an engineer, the other a biologist, who both contributed, through their individual achievements and intelligence to draw France into modernity.

The history of modern France thus blends closely with that of its school system, and will remain so, for years to come. Indeed, whereas the 19th century saw the opening of primary schools to one and all, it was not until the last quarter of the 20th century that children from all social backgrounds were in turn allowed to attend junior and senior high school, and then, finally, only twenty years ago, gain access to higher education.

This did not take place without its share of difficulties, drawbacks and passionate debate, but it was carried through, nonetheless. And France may be proud of this accomplishment, because nothing reflects more the values that have driven our country for over two hundred years - values it was first to uphold in the eyes of the world, liberty and equality for all men on this earth. Such were also the values that the Freedom fighters of India were to make their own, giving them in turn renewed vitality.

Nowadays, this history runs its course : through the successful reforming of its universities that it recently implemented, our country endeavours to make higher education a road to success for all the budding talents our nation numbers, thus overcoming once again the burdens and social hindrances that so often plague the ideal that brings us together.


But a new task now lies ahead. Traditionally the schools and universities of the nations of this world merely addressed a single issue: to form a country's youth and grant it the means to achieve its dreams.

Such times are now foregone : young Frenchmen are no longer the only ones to enrol in our universities, which are now also open to German, English or American youth, and too seldom as of yet, to the youth of India.

And in turn, German, English, American and Indian universities are no longer solely open to their own nationals, but also to students from all over the world, who come there to discover a new way of thinking, reasoning and working, there to learn to open their perspectives beyond their own national horizons, which would be far too limited for 21st-century men and women.

What arises today is a new form of international community, a community of intelligence, bearing the most beautiful promises that mankind has ever known.

Ours is a hope for a world society of learning, where in every country of the world will develop universal ties in the service of progress and brotherhood, a kind of silent covenant of new talents that will no longer suffer a nation to proceed on her own without drawing others to its side.

Seeing such a vast audience before me today, I know this hope shall be met, and that France and India will lay the cornerstone for this community of minds.

Such is the meaning of my presence before you, and that is why I invite you today to join me, and the youth of France in developing this balanced partnership, which will enable our two nations to show all others the way.

It is through this balanced partnership that France is offering India to partake in that our two nations will bear proof to the world that differences in cultures and traditions are by no means a hindrance to the progress of the peoples, but actually its very first condition: it is our singularities that will lend value to our meetings and exchanges. Indeed, what is a meeting worth, if one sees in the other a mere reflection of oneself?

Together, we shall thus commit ourselves to excellence, by pooling our knowledge and our talents with a view to launching our societies on the road to innovation and discovery.


To my mind, progress, whether scientific, technological or economic, has but a single virtue and a single goal: to serve society, to serve man, and make his life easier, lighter, and why not happier!

Witness the remarkable breakthroughs achieved by medical research over the last ten years, with a series of world premieres in surgery: I'm thinking of hand or skin grafts and notably the facial graft that was successfully carried through in Amiens in December 2005 by the teams of Professors Devauchelle and Dubernard.

With such unprecedented operations, beyond our wildest dreams only ten or twenty years ago, we give renewed hope to crippled patients, to live a normal or semi-normal life.

It is also with its ill people in mind that France has endeavoured for over fifty years to improve its health system, which now ranks first in the world, according to the World Health Organisation.

This is also what makes France great: a country that for centuries has nurtured the spirit of innovation and discovery for the benefit of its people and more than often for the benefit of all mankind.

A country which, having followed the inspiration of the philosopher and scientist Descartes for five centuries, regards intelligence as mankind's greatest wealth and has accordingly given its scientists and professors a prominent rank in public life, thus coining the word "intellectuals" for such men as Sartre or Foucault, whose works have been read worldwide.

A country which like India may boast of a first-class mathematical research, rewarded with nine Fields awards.

A country where the microchip was developed as early as 1974 and which, through the works of Albert Fert, only recently awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics, initiated the miniaturised hard disk drives that now run MP3 readers and mobile phones.

A nation ahead in all new technologies, with major firms such as Ubisoft in the field of video games, and with broadband and very high broadband connections that allowed for the first time in the world triple play offers, housing on a single network three distinct services : internet access, a phone line and multiple TV channels.

A nation which designed the TGV, the world's fastest commercial train, exported to all areas of the globe.

A nation which, thanks to Airbus and its European partners, has launched the A 380 (A three-eighty), the world's largest commercial carrier.

A nation which rose with Arianespace to the very first rank of satellite launchers in the world. Since it was created, more than two hundred and fifty satellites were launched by successive generations of Ariane rockets, the latest being Ariane 5, which is to supply fuel and equipment to the future international space station.


It is this nation, France, that yearns today to build even closer links with India, a country with which has shared for many years an identical quest for excellence and a same constant concern for innovation and progress.

Witness space research, which I just mentioned: it has been thirty-five years now since the two great space powers that we are, pooled their efforts, thanks to the agreement signed as early as 1972 by the CNES (France's space agency) and the Indian Space Research Organisation.

Thanks to this long-standing, yet still fruitful partnership, new types of commonly-held research projects are constantly given birth. I am notably referring to the MEGHA-Tropiques joint satellite project, designed for a study of the water cycle, the dynamics of climate in a tropical environment and, in particular, the forecasting of the Indian monsoon. Planned for an orbital launch in 2009 by an Indian launcher, this satellite will no doubt be of major interest to our scientists, both Indian and French, now active in climatic research

For at a time when mankind becomes aware of the new challenges ahead, we more than ever need to pool our forces and intelligences in order to meet them.

It is therefore our duty to offer the world the very image of an exemplary partnership, such as the one France and India are promoting in every field thanks to the Indo-French Centre for Advanced Research and which has for the last twenty years enabled our scientists, and most notably the younger ones, to learn to know each other better and to work together on projects essential to both our countries.

I am of course referring to the field of health where the high quality of Indian researchers and the challenges entailed by this country's pathologies open up great opportunities for collaboration, for the joint benefit of both countries. I am also very proud that INSERM, our French equivalent of your Council of Medical Research, should regard India as a privileged partner in the Asian zone. Those are concrete collaborations, Indian researchers regularly spend time in French research units, over 100 research papers have been jointly written and published since 2000, and a laboratory for neurosciences should shortly be completed, under the impulse of scientists from the National Brain Research Centre (NBRC) in Gurgaon and the Robert Debré hospital in Paris.

I also have in mind our joint effort better to understand our societies and their evolution which is under way in the French centres for Research in Human and Social Sciences located in New Delhi and Pondichery.

Last but not least, I have in mind a special project, one that is particularly close to my heart, since it regards one of the essentials of life: water. The importance of managing this resource is nothing new to India. Here is a multi-dimensional field, linking as it does the different sectors of India's economy such as agriculture, industry, household use, energy, the environment, fishing and transport.

I am therefore happy, and very proud indeed, to be able to announce that, following the work initiated in 2004 in Hyderabad and Bangalore by French and Indian scientists, the cornerstone for a Franco-Indian Institute for the sciences of water has been laid. As recently as yesterday, I was discussing this matter with your Minister of Science and Technology, Mr Kapil Sibal, and we shall work together towards the achievement of this ambitious project.

But we must strive even further, by joining our skills to stand up to some of our era's most pressing issues, whether related to the life sciences, information or communication technologies, or energy, and notably nuclear energy. Our two countries stand to gain by coming even closer and by establishing an even stronger bond.

All those topics are essential: they are the key to our future, they are the promise of those huge hopes the mention of which is enough to bring mankind together.

The hope to overcome famine and epidemics thanks to biotechnologies.

The hope to bring human beings almost permanently together thanks to new technologies.

The hope to overcome the threat of depleted fossil fuels and irrational climate changes thanks to alternative sources of energy.


In order to rise to the occasion, we must focus on knowledge, on science, in order to build our common future.

This is what France has just carried out, by holding what has been called a "Grenelle for the Environment", namely a vast national consultation, bringing together the whole range of talents and goodwill our nation has to offer, so as to address the environmental emergency our country is faced with, like the whole of mankind.

This great collective brainstorming session gave birth to numerous breakthroughs and novel ideas, which will enable France to play a leading role in the common effort of the peoples of the world to save our environment. By reinforcing research on biodiversity on an international level, by multiplying renewable energy sources, by controlling the effects of urban development on wildlife, by thinking up a novel kind of agriculture, respectful of soils and ecosystems, in a word, by reforming its way of life, the French people intends to contribute with all its might to shaping this new mode of development, respectful of the planet and the great natural balances, by placing its intelligence in the service of the future.

It is indeed essential, but will not prove sufficient if we fail to do so together and if the peoples of the world fail to join their intelligences to do likewise.

The challenges we are faced with today are such that we may not hope to overcome them by keeping to ourselves.

Pooling the singular genius of peoples and sharing our knowledge to create as of today what we never would have dared dream of yesterday, such indeed is the only choice of a future for mankind.

For as Claude Levi-Strauss has been reminding us for more than half a century, the difference in cultures is undoubtedly mankind's greatest wealth, the one that allows us to entertain all promises and hopes.

It is indeed this diversity in national talents which brought about all the major advances enjoyed by mankind, by allowing each little discovery on the part of such and such culture to add up and enable man to take a further step in his march forward.

We must, perforce preserve and share this diversity, in order to warrant tomorrow's revolutions.

Such is the huge task that lies ahead of us, to cultivate our differences without shielding ourselves with them, that mankind may benefit from this infinite diversity.

This is why I came forward today to meet you and, beyond you, a large section of the world's youth : to invite you to share reciprocal discovery, to invite India to discover France, and to help France discover India, thus enabling two ancient cultures to benefit from each other, and stand up together to the challenge of our times.

To be sure, our relationships at university level go back a long way. For over 150 years students from India have been travelling to France.

As early as the eighteen-eighties, a small community of Indian students had formed in our country. However, this had merely come about through the intellectual curiosity of a few members of the Indian elites, and remained very much the privilege of a restricted club.

In the nineteen-twenties and thirties, culture, technical modernity, the life of ideas, scientific research... therein laid the appeal of a country, France, which fascinated the Indian elite.

In those days, leaving home to study in France meant, to Kapurthala's crown prince, bringing home the dazzling memory of Versailles, which inspired him to build in Kapurthala the magnificent palace that still stands today.

Studying in France meant, to J.R.D. Tata, who grew up on the Avenue de l'Opéra in Paris and attended the Lycée Jeanson de Sailly, discovering a passion for aviation, a passion he shared with French aviator Louis Blériot.

Studying in France, for post graduate students from Bengal like young Kalidas Nag, like Rabindranath Tagore, studying in France meant drawing from the vibrant vitality of a bustling intellectual life.

And lastly, for scientists, research was already at the heart of the Franco-Indian intellectual relationship: think of physicists like J.C. Bose, C.V. Raman and Satyanendranath Bose - the latter, incidentally, worked with Marie Curie.

From the sixties to the eighties, many great artists came to France from India, mostly painters - Anjolie Ela Menon, Paritosh Sen, Raza, Sujata Bajaj, the list is endless - but also crowds of engineers, who today still animate the Indo-French Technical Association.

Culture, modernity, economic efficiency, scientific research: that is what you may hope to find in our country, in these early years of the 21st century.

Today's France, the France of AIRBUS, of bullet trains, of nuclear industry is here to welcome you. This is a country whose companies opened up more than forty thousand jobs in India. This is a country which rose to the seventh rank of investors in India, with Alstom, Areva, Saint-Gobain, Cap Gemini, Onyx, ST Microelectronics in high technology, but also Lafarge, Aventis, Schneider Electric and many others. Saint-Gobain, engaged in the production of high-quality glassware, recently doubled its output capacities. Lafarge has acquired cement factories previously owned by Raymond and Tata. Total is involved in a partnership with HPCL for the construction of an underground gas reservoir in Vishakhapatnam. Renault is currently making its enthusiastic debut in India, with the help of Mahindra and Mahindra. The list is endless. It testifies to how dynamic our companies are in India and underlines how interesting it is for you students to acquire the French "touch" by coming to study in our country.

So this is what I want to tell you this afternoon: France is now turning to you to suggest joining your forces and your talents with those of its youth, and work together to raise this collective intelligence of mankind which we direly need.

Consequently, France is ready to welcome you in the best possible conditions, by radically simplifying the hosting procedure for foreign students coming to France from all over Asia, and particularly from India.

We proved this only a few months ago by organising with the help of CampusFrance a week's forum about French higher education in India, which saw more than eighty French seats of learning come together with Indian students.

We proved it by establishing last year new rules, which allow to cut down on the red tape which so often puts off foreign students, while giving them the opportunity to stay on and work in France after finishing their studies.

We prove it once again today, by reforming our universities to offer talented people from all over the world a chance to follow a top-rate curriculum.

We shall prove it tomorrow by offering the most brilliant young Indians who wish to pursue a college education in France the benefits of both a grant, lodgings and a resident's permit. In 2007, we achieved an exceptional effort by granting over 300 scholarships to Indian students wishing to come to France. It is an effort we intend to pursue.

It is therefore a radically new policy that France is implementing today, to host Indian students in newly-reformed universities;

It is therefore a true invitation that I have come to extend today : an invitation to discover France and thus forge an exclusive bond of friendship.

Such a friendship must be fully shared. We also intend to facilitate the discovery of India by French students. The aim is more to lay down a solid foundation for relationships between our two countries, by helping to train young Indians familiar with France and young Frenchmen familiar with India, than to lure away the grey matter which India direly needs for her own sake.

Youth, knowledge, mutual respect, those are the key words of a Franco-Indian friendship that we wish to renew, together with you.

I am deeply convinced of this: it is around those three essential values that France and India will be able to build their common future and it thus that they will contribute together to the progress of mankind.

Thank you for your attention.

1ère publication : 2.11.2007 - Mise à jour : 13.11.0007


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