The State of Louisiana is home to almost 250,000 Francophones and has 5,000 students enrolled in English-French dual language programs. As a result, it has enjoyed special-guest status at the La Francophonie Summit since 2006. This temporary title allows the U.S. state to take part in the OIF Summit, the “conference of government leaders of countries sharing the French language” held every two years. However, this status does not enable it to take part in the debates, vote resolutions, or participate in the two other, major OIF bodies – the Ministerial Conference and the Permanent Council of La Francophonie.
However, a 26-year-old Louisianan man plans to rectify this situation. Scott Tilton was born into a Francophone family in New Orleans and studied at the Science Politique school in Paris, and has spent the last two years campaigning for his state to become a member of the OIF. “I believe it is essential for Louisiana, as a Francophone and Creolophone linguistic and cultural area, to play an official role in the OIF,” he says. The organization was founded in 1970, and unites 84 states and governments including France, Belgium, Vietnam, and the Ivory Coast, as well as Canada and the provinces of Quebec (full member since 1971), New Brunswick (since 1977) and Ontario (permanent observer since 2016). Being granted permanent observer status, Scott Tilton adds, would represent an “official recognition of Francophone communities in Louisiana.”
The Administrative Procedures
The young American – who works in Paris as an analyst in the defense and aerospace sector – decided to try his hand at diplomacy. He received support from Louisianan senator and Francophile Eric Lafleur, and from Charles Larroque, the then executive director of the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana (CODOFIL). And on March 8, 2017, he met with special counsel to the general secretary of La Francophonie, Jacques Bilodeau, who showed him the next steps to take.
In order to qualify, the application submitted by Louisiana has to be accompanied by an official letter from the state governor and another from the U.S. State Department. On January 7, 2018, Scott Tilton sent a copy of these letters to the office of the general secretary of La Francophonie in Paris, and three weeks later he received an encouraging reply from the OIF.
Showcasing the Dynamism of French in Louisiana
The deadline for submitting applications is set for April 10, 2018. In its capacity as official supervisor of Francophone affairs in Louisiana, the CODOFIL was tasked last February to write up the presentation. The state has to demonstrate “a satisfactory level of the use of French” across nine distinct “areas”: language, education, culture, communications, economy, political and legal spheres, associations, and international affairs. Peggy Feehan, the executive director of the CODOFIL, trained an editorial committee. The 11 members – three former CODOFIL directors, several French teachers, an employee from the Louisiana Department of Education, and a Quebecois intern – based their research on Ontario’s report submitted in 2016, and went to work.
On April 5 of this year, Peggy Feehan and Scott Tilton submitted a 70-page presentation to the Madagascan embassy in Paris. According to tradition, each application is sent to the head of government of the last country to have hosted the La Francophonie Summit. A copy of the application was also addressed to the general secretary of the OIF, and delivered to the organization’s headquarters in the 7th arrondissement of Paris on April 6.
A Vote in October
The OIF will announce its decision next October at the La Francophonie Summit. According to the statutes of the organization, “it is the Summit, based on the recommendations of the Ministerial Conference and following private deliberations, that decides whether or not to welcome the new candidate.” The document goes on to say that the decision made by the 54 established member states and governments “must be unanimous.”
The annual fees for observer status at the OIF is almost 10,000 dollars. “But the advantages reaped by Louisiana in terms of economic dividends are considerable,” says Scott Tilton. For example, the Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie has an annual budget of 40 million euros, and fosters exchanges between universities in member countries.
Multilateral cooperation initiatives are also used to bolster trade links between governments. “This permanent observer status will officialize the presence of Louisiana in the Francophone economic sphere,” says Peggy Feehan. “This offers a persuasive argument for attracting investors: ‘Come and do business in Louisiana, our state has privileged access to over 80 countries across the world.'”
Political Support from the "Francophone Delegation"
If the OIF accepts Louisiana’s application, it will then fall to local legislators to approve the spending. The U.S. state will however be able to count on its “Francophone delegation” – a group of Francophile representatives and senators led by Eric Lafleur, the president of the Louisiana section of the Assemblée Parlementaire de la Francophonie, the international association of French-speaking congressmen.
The feedback from the OIF seems encouraging. The director of the office of the general secretary, Jean-Louis Atangana Amougou, sent a letter congratulating the initiative launched by Louisiana. And the executive director of the CODOFIL is also confident. “If South Korea and Argentina received observer status in 2016, the chance is high that Louisiana will also be accepted!”