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The French government is to open a new cultural and diplomatic base in the heart of Edinburgh, reinvigorating one of Scotland’s oldest and strongest foreign alliances.

France has taken over one of the most prestigious buildings on the Royal Mile, the former chambers for Lothian regional council opposite St Giles Cathedral, as the new home for its consulate and its cultural institute.

The move comes after serious discussions over whether the consulate had a future at all, with some concerns over costs, and it is hoped that the new site will be more economically viable. Diplomats insist the relocation is not a political statement in support of Scotland’s demands for greater autonomy or independence: they say France shares the European commission’s reluctance to promote the break-up of EU member states.

Even so, France’s decision to acquire such a prominent site will add to Scotland’s confidence and reinforce its efforts to be seen as a European nation in its own right while the UK struggles with its divorce from the EU.

Dominating the busiest square in the Old Town, the new consulate is to house a language school, offices and rehearsal rooms for orchestras and arts organisations, a specialist library of French literature with 30,000 books, and a 100-seat concert venue.

The consulate general will be formally inaugurated on Wednesday by Princess Anne, the Princess Royal. She is naming the main room at the French Institute, the cultural and French language arm of the foreign ministry which shares the building, after Émilienne Moreau-Evrard, a resistance fighter in both world wars who worked with Scottish soldiers as a teenager in 1915.

Many Scots will see echoes of the medieval Auld Alliance, when France was Scotland’s closest ally. For much of the almost 300 years from 1295 to 1560, the two nations were united in their hatred of the English, culminating in French troops arriving in Scotland to help repel Henry VIII’s forces in 1548.

The consulate is already flying the French tricolour and a European 12-starred flag, and its consul general, Emmanuel Cocher, hopes to see it become a major venue during the Edinburgh festival while keeping its consular role for French citizens and businesses in Scotland. Read More …