President François Mitterrand was the first Western leader to visit Latvia in May 1992, after the international recognition of its restored sovereignty. President Jacques Chirac also visited Latvia twice, on an official visit in 2001 and during the NATO Riga Summit in 2006. The Latvian President Ms Vaira Vike-Freiberga made an official visit to Paris in 2005.
During his visit to Riga in May 2008, the French Prime Minister François Fillon signed a Political Declaration on the Franco-Latvian Strategic Partnership, which sets out the focuses for the development of our relations, notably in the political, economic, cultural and scientific areas. Two agreements were also signed that year: one on the exchange of classified information; and the other, in liaison with the International Organisation of La Francophonie (IOF), on a multi-year programme for the teaching of French in the Latvian administration.
During his visit to Paris the Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics signed an Action Plan on 21 February 2012 to continue the implementation of the Strategic Partnership.
The French Minister Delegate for European Affairs, Mr Bernard Cazeneuve, visited Latvia in September 2012. There he met with the Latvian President and the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
On 19 April 2013, the Prime Minister of Latvia, Mr Valdis Dombrovskis, was received by his French counterpart Mr Jean-Marc Ayrault and then met with the President of the Republic at the Elysée Palace.
On 10 November 2014, the Minister of State for European Affairs, Mr Harlem Désir, visited Riga. There he met with the Latvian President and the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
On 27 April 2015, the Latvian Prime Minister, Ms Laimdota Straujuma, met with the French President at the Elysée Palace.
In 2015, French exports to Latvia totalled €275.5 million, and imports from Latvia €213 million. For our part, France is Latvia’s 13th-largest customer and 11th-largest supplier.
French exports to Latvia consist mainly of intermediate goods, capital goods, consumer goods (35.3%) and agri-food products (24.1%), while Latvian exports to France consist mainly of energy products (33.3%) and wood (21.8%).
The main prospects for contracts are now in the railway sector (Rail Baltica).
In the third quarter of 2015, the leading foreign investors were Sweden (almost €2.5 billion), Cyprus (€1.17 billion) and the Netherlands (€1.02 billion). Russia is the fourth biggest investor (€840 million).
In this context, the French presence is small but developing (ranking 19th at the end of 2015). Some sixty French companies, employing a total of nearly 2,900 workers, are active in very diverse areas: industrial products, processing industry, machinery and electrical equipment, cosmetics, municipal services, transport, logistics, finance, district heating, waste management, chemicals/pharmaceuticals, agri-food sector.
French investors include the following companies: Axon Cable in Daugavpils, with a staff of over 400 to produce and install high-tech cables; Schneider Baltic in the electrical equipment and connector industries (230 staff in Riga); L’Oréal Baltic (70 staff in Riga); GEFCO Baltic (50 staff in Riga); Société Générale (acquisition of the consumer credit network Inserviss); CMA CGM (worldwide shipping group); SNEF (supply of electrical equipment for a cement works); Groupama Transport, Veolia (acquisition of waste sector companies); Dalkia EDF Group (acquisition of a Latvian district heating company operating in several Latvian cities); ACS (joint venture with Rigas Karte, the Riga e-ticketing company for public transport).
At the initiative of the Ambassador, a Franco-Latvian Economic Forum took place in Riga on 22 May 2014 and brought together more than 160 companies. This made it possible to plan long-term investment (Vichy Spa International in the hotel business, and the Société Forestière - Caisse des Dépôts Group - for the acquisition of 12,000 hectares of woodland). In addition, Schneider Electric began building a silicon chip manufacturing plant which is to employ 600 staff. Finally, the Latvian airline airBaltic recently indicated it wanted to make France a priority destination.
Bilateral cooperation has been conducted in recent years according to an active agenda, with the renewal of the Agreement signed with the International Organisation of La Francophonie (IOF) for teaching French to Latvian officials, the Riga European Capital of Culture event in 2014, and the preparation of the Latvian Presidency of the European Union during the first half of 2015.
There has been renewed interest in the French language in Latvia in recent years. While the place of the French language in the teaching of foreign languages remains modest (ranking fourth after English, Russian and German), the memorandum signed in 2008 with the IOF on the teaching of French for senior officials (328 in 2012) was all the more supported by the Latvian authorities as they were preparing the Presidency of the European Union. In addition, Latvia has been an observer member of the International Organisation of La Francophonie (OIF) since 2008.
There were close contacts with the officials of the Riga – European Capital of Culture 2014 event which spotlighted France (opening events included the Heartbeats exhibition by Christian Boltanski, and the Capital of Culture year ended with an exhibition by ORLAN, the icon of French contemporary art).
The Hubert Curien Partnership (PHC) “Osmose” Programme promotes research between young French and Latvian scientists.
Six French regions were twinned with Latvian ones and 12 French and Latvian towns. Riga, the capital, has signed partnership agreements with Bordeaux, Marseille and Calais.
The first Franco-Latvian decentralized cooperation agreement was signed in 2005 between the Lower Rhine Department and the Vidzeme region, as well as the twinning agreement between Riga and Bordeaux. The Burgundy Regional Council and the Jelgava region, the Moselle Department and the Latgale region, the Centre region and the Daugavpils region, and the cities of Nantes and Liepaja maintain relations of cooperation.
Mr Stéphane Visconti has been the French Ambassador to Latvia since February 2013.
Mr Imants Lieģis has been the Latvian Ambassador to France since 2016.
Mr Edouard Courtial, deputy for the Oise Department and former Minister of State for French Nationals Abroad, chairs the France-Latvia Friendship Group in the National Assembly.
Jean-Marie Bockel, the Senator for Haut-Rhin, chairs the France-Baltic States friendship group at the French Senate.