Will Louisiana join the International Organization of La Francophonie (IOF)? The answer will be given in October at the 17th summit of La Francophonie held in Yerevan, Armenia.
“Louisiana’s application is valid,” says Bertin Leblanc, the spokesperson for the IOF. The American state is home to almost 250,000 Francophones and 5,000 students enrolled in dual-language immersion programs, and submitted its application to the organization on April 5. In 70 pages, the State presented the level of the use of French across nine distinct areas: language, education, culture, communications, economy, political and legal spheres, associations, and international affairs.
The document will first be examined by the ministers for foreign affairs in the 84 Francophone member and observer countries. They have to recommend the application for it to then be presented to the leaders of the member countries. “The heads of state discuss it together and return with a joint opinion,” says Bertin Leblanc. In line with the IOF statutes, the decision of the 54 official member states and governments “has to be made unanimously.”
The final verdict will be announced at the end of the summit on October 12. At the last La Francophonie summit, held in Madagascar in 2016, Ontario, Argentina, South Korea, and New Caledonia were accepted into the organization, but Saudi Arabia’s application was rejected. This year, Ireland and Gambia are also requesting observer member status with Louisiana.
Official Recognition and Economic Advantages
Louisiana has enjoyed temporary special guest status in the organization since 2006. But permanent observer member status represents an “official recognition of local Francophone communities,” says Scott Tilton. The New Orleans native has spent the last two years working with the CODOFIL, the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana, to help his state join La Francophonie.
The annual IOF membership fee is almost 10,000 dollars for an observer member state, but the potential economic gains are considerable. Louisiana could receive subsidies from the Francophonie University Association, which encourages academic exchanges between members. These and other multilateral cooperation initiatives are also a way of bolstering trade links between countries and states.
“Observer status will officialize Louisiana’s presence in the Francophonie economic area,” says Peggy Feehan, executive director of the CODOFIL. “If our application receives the recommendations of the IOF selection committee, I cannot see why the member countries would reject it. It’s practically in the bag!”