France facing many post-corona challenges

Hamburg News talks to HamburgAmbassadors in countries with close ties to city
14 July 2020
Aerial view of HafenCity

The international HamburgAmbassadors' network comprises 39 voluntary envoys in 29 countries who go to great efforts to raise the profile of the Hanseatic City abroad. Hamburg News interviewed Katharina Scriba in Paris who is the HamburgAmbassador to France to find out how she experienced the corona crisis there and the ensuing changes.

Hamburg News: Mrs Scriba, are you and your family well and are how are you getting through the corona era?

Scriba:  Yes, despite the rather strict curfew in France, we have coped well with the challenges so far - from job-related crisis management to my new role as "tutor" for my seven-year-old son.

Hamburg News: What is the greatest corona-induced change or transformation in France?

Scriba: I can only speak of my own experience in Paris. During the curfew, I experienced a new form of neighbourly closeness and solidarity e.g. the shopping aids for the elderly, pop-up boards for the homeless or local initiatives against domestic violence. This is really special, especially for a city like Paris, where things are usually quite anonymous.

Hamburg News:  What creative ideas have emerged from the pandemic?

Scriba: The curfew has made people inventive. Several physical and digital measures have been created in terms of culture e.g. choirs in backyards, balcony concerts or the Paris Opera Ballet Company dancing at home to thank doctors and nurses. Many restaurants switched quickly to an out-of-home or delivery service, while the retail trade was active via the "click&collect" offer.

Hamburg News: Has digitalisation benefited the most from the situation?

Scriba:  Indeed, daily life in France whether it's work, education, relations with our neighbours, services and cultural activities has gone largely digital owing to the pandemic.

Katharina Scriba, HamburgAmbassador
© Katharina Scriba
Katharina Scriba, HamburgAmbassador

Digital transformation, especially teleworking, has become a must for traditional industries. Telemedicine was widely used in the French health sector before the pandemic and has been taken a step farther due to corona, e.g. tele-consultations are now fully reimbursed by French health insurers. Last but not least, the traditional Paris Fashion Week will be held online this summer. Both the major fashion houses and new labels will present their collections on digital platforms.

Hamburg News:  What future topics are being debated in France at present?

Scriba: The outstanding success of the Green Party in this year's local elections has shown that fighting climate change is one of the key issues of the future. In addition to many challenges, life in the cities needs to become more sustainable and more liveable. The city of Paris has already launched several initiatives to combat pollution. Car traffic has been calmed in many places, verdant spaces have been created and urban agricultural projects such as rooftop gardens have been initiated. Even during the months of public transport strikes at the end of 2019, many Parisians switched to cycling - and the corona pandemic has boosted this trend. Since mid-May, 50 km/h of additional cycle paths have been created in Paris alone.

Hamburg News: Paris overtook Berlin as a start-up city in 2019 and now ranks second to London. President Emmanuel Marcon has earmarked EUR 4 billion to rescue young entrepreneurs. Can you put that in perspective?

Scriba: That's correct. One of Macron's priorities is to make France a leading centre of start-ups in Europe. To do so, he wants to lower bureaucratic hurdles for young entrepreneurs*, promote talent and reward investors with tax breaks. In summer 2017, the world's largest start-up campus called Station F opened in Paris. It brings together over 1,000 international fledgling companies, diverse start-ups and mentoring programmes and potential investors. However, the efforts to establish France as a tech nation are not limited to Paris, but encompass all regions. The recently-adopted rescue package aims to secure the liquidity of young companies e.g. with short-term loans and transitional financing.

Hamburg News: Are there other support measures in France?

Scriba:  Like everywhere else, the corona crisis has hit the cultural secotor and actors hard in France. The Minister of Culture promised an aid package of EUR 22 million early in the crisis. Workers in the cultural sector have a special "intermittent" status (similar to the KSK social security fund for artists in Germany) and special conditions and are covered by a state bridging allowance here. Cultural institutions and festivals do not have to repay the subsidies despite cancelled events. Unfortunately, a large number of freelance artists have not received state subsidies.

Katharina Scriba and Dr. Rolf Strittmatter
Katharina Scriba and Dr. Rolf Strittmatter

Hamburg News: The HamburgAmbassadors programme has begun funding its own projects. When will your proposed "Hamburg Short Film Night - A Wall is a Screen" project be executed?

Scriba:  We had planned to invite the Hamburg-based collective "A Wall is a Screen" to Paris in August as part of the open-air film festival. The group of artists projects short films onto the walls of buildings, thus opening up public spaces with the audience. However, the hygienic situation has forced us to find a new date with the local partners. This is challenging under the given circumstances, but I am optimistic that the event can take place in autumn.

Hamburg News: The corona crisis has prompted the globalized world to go local in Germany. Have you noticed that in France?

Scriba: The consumption of regional produce has risen sharply since the start of the curfew. More than one in five French people say they have changed their eating habits. Many regional producers offered a delivery service themselves during the crisis and many supermarkets switched to local produce.

Hamburg News: The corona crisis has led to a return to family in Germany. Has something similar happened in France?

Scriba: Yes, that tendency is noticeable in France also. The French are very family-orientated anyway. The demand for houses or apartments with gardens or balconies has increased and the pandemic may also have prompted some Parisians to turn their backs on the city and move to the countryside or to a smaller city with a higher standard of living. 

Hamburg News: Germany and Hamburg are looking forward to tourists from France again. How is the mood on the other side of the border?

Scriba: Tourism is one of the main pillars of the French economy. Forecasts for 2020 showed a surge in tourism in France before the crisis. But the pandemic is changing the situation. Many French people will probably spend their holidays in their own country - more than usual - this summer, despite the open borders.

Hamburg News:  Thank you for the interview Mrs Scriba.
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HamburgAmbassadors Programme
The 39 HamburgAmbassadors in 29 countries hold honorary offices and are appointed by the Mayor of Hamburg. The Senate Chancellery, Hamburg's Chamber of Commerce and the institutions involved in Hamburg Marketing created the HamburgAmbassador Programme co-ordinated by Hamburg Marketing, which is unique in Germany in terms of structure. The HamburgAmbassadors work on behalf of politics and entrepreneurs, scientists and cultural workers abroad to enhance Hamburg's image and positioning it internationally.

HamburgAmbassador Katharina Scriba
Katharina Scriba has been living in Paris since 2009 and succeeded Professor Wolfgang Michalski as an honorary HamburgAmbassador in 2018. A communications expert, Scriba spent many years working for an agency in Hamburg and has worked for the Goethe Institute Paris since 2009. As Commissioner for Cultural Co-operation, she is responsible for international projects and has curated the institute's art programme since 2011. In 2015, she received the Franco-German Friendship Prize for her outstanding commitment from the German government. Scriba has been in charge of various Hanseatic projects in Paris including the presentation of the Elbphilharmonie when it opened in 2017.