French president's visit hints at stronger business ties

Among the delegations members are representatives of the Orange SA telecom company, the Total SA petroleum company, defense company Thales, and SNCF, France’s state-owned railway company.

November 18, 2013 02:03
2 minute read.
Peres, Netanyahu and wife Sara welcome French President Francois Hollande, Nov. 16 2013

hollande, netanyahu and peres nov 2013 370. (photo credit: GPO / Kobi Gideon)


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When French President François Hollande landed in Israel on Sunday, he was accompanied by an enormous delegation of business leaders looking to strengthen economic ties with with the Jewish state.

Hollande’s recent bout of diplomatic support for Israel, most notably on the Iranian nuclear program, represents a shift in French foreign policy that is reshaping the bilateral business relationship.

“The fact that we see the French government aggressively leading the opposition to Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon is something Israel is not used to,” said Edouard Cukierman, whose Cukierman & Co. Investment House is Israel’s leading European focused investment house.

The political realignment “could be an opportunity for [France and Israel] to reinforce their relationship, and this is a new change. The French expect a lot from this trip,” Cukierman told The Jerusalem Post in an interview at his Tel Aviv offices on Sunday.

If anyone is in a position to know, it’s Cukierman; his father, Roger Cukierman, is chairman of CRIF, the umbrella organization of France’s Jewish communities. His uncle Henri Cukierman is head of the France-Israel Chamber of Commerce.

Both are part of Holland’s business delegation.

“If things are not going well in the French economy, they are really getting a major role in international diplomacy. So obviously [international] economic issues are part of that,” he said.

Among the delegations members are representatives of the Orange SA telecom company, the Total SA petroleum company, defense company Thales, and SNCF, France’s state-owned railway company.

Transportation Minister Israel Katz met with his French counterpart on Sunday to discuss France’s role in helping fund, develop and build a light rail system in and around Tel Aviv.

An agreement with NTA, the state company now responsible for the delayed light-rail project, is expected to sign an agreement with SNCF this week.

Tel Aviv is also considering adopting a French model of shared electric cars to help ease the city’s clogged streets and open up ever-elusive parking.

Whereas France has traditionally viewed Israel as a market for its products, the delegation hopes to shift the focus to acquiring Israeli innovation.

There may be cultural differences to overcome in that pursuit, however.

“French culture is not used to acquiring technology, that’s one of the biggest challenges when speaking of cooperation opportunities,” said Cukierman.

“They’re used to established partnership in the way of corporate R&D, but not the equity investment. I hope the fact that we have the leaders of these companies here can help that change.”

The changing political relationship is, however, fostering a noticeable shift within French business dealings with Israel, he said.

“I think France is more worried about their own problems than the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Plus, the risk associated with Iran has a bigger impact on them.”

He cites another phenomenon that is changing the face of the relationship: “Islam in France is not a minor issue, given the way that some extreme organizations are starting to act in France.”

Israel is not the only country where France is pursuing closer business ties surrounding its Iran diplomacy, he notes; it is chasing defense contracts with Islamic Republic’s geo-political foils such as the Saudis and the Emiratis, who are disillusioned with the US stance on the issue.

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