INTERVIEW with Grégoire Rota-Graziosi « 45 years is a good age »

Published on July 27, 2023 Updated on July 27, 2023

on the February 18, 2022

Interview with Grégoire Rota-Grasiozi, Director of the CERDI (2017-2022)

INTERVIEW with Grégoire Rota-Graziosi « 45 years is a good age »

What are your research topics?

My research focuses mainly on issues of tax policy in developing countries, along with issues of public spending. In the past, I have worked on decentralization issues, particularly in Benin, with funding from the National Bureau of Economic Research.

What convinced you to return to CERDI and take over its leadership? 

I discovered CERDI a little by chance, filling in for a friend and former teacher of the Ecole normale supérieure in Cachan as PRAG (associate professor) at the Clermont-Ferrand computer science university institute. I was recruited as a junior lecturer, then passed the higher qualification to be a university lecturer. I then spent five years in Washington as a senior economist in the fiscal policy division of the IMF. 

In the middle of my career, I had apost at the IMF. This had numerous advantages, the salary was substantial, but you lose a bit of the freedom to work on the subjects that interest you. Next, my wife and I decided to return to Europe. Among several opportunities, the choice of CERDI was fairly easy due to its reputation and the quality of life in Auvergne. 

How does CERDI fit into the university ecosystem? 

We are a Université Clermont Auvergne (UCA) department. CERDI is a research center, but also a teaching center. We also are a CNRS Unit (Centre national de recherche scientifique - French National Center for Scientific Research), which allows us to have CNRS researchers and to increase our critical size. If we only existed through the UCA, we would be limited in the number of positions we could have. CERDI is also in discussions with IRD (Institut de recherche pour le développement -Development Research Institute) to host a researcher from this Institute. We also have excellent relations with the French Development Agency, DG DEVCO of the Commission of the European Union, etc. One of our associate researchers is a member of the World Customs Organization. Beyond the current size of CERDI, with 40 researchers and 90 doctoral students, the 45-year existence of CERDI has made it possible to spread the Doctors of Economies trained in Clermont Ferrand to high positions in international and national institutions. Indeed, we have privileged relations with French-speaking Africa. We have more or less formai partnerships with a multitude of stakeholders. These may be personal relationships or institutionalized relationships. The IMF offers a recruitment program for newly-qualified economics PhDs with approximately 20 positions each year. Several CERDI alumni have joined this very selective program. The same applies for the World Bank. When I worked in Washington, the World Bank considered CERDI to be the top non-English-speaking recruitment center. 

CERDI is located in Clermont Ferrand. Could it be somewhere else? 

Yes, economists can work anywhere. This is in contrast to our colleagues in a laboratory such as Magmas and Volcanoes, for example, who are here to have volcanos within their reach. Historically, we are in Clermont Ferrand because the founders, Patrick and Sylviane Guillaumont, created CERDI here. We should not, however, hide a problem of isolation. To recruit young or experienced researchers, you have to think about their partners, and job opportunities are not as great in Clermont Ferrand as in Lyon, Paris, or Marseille. Attracting young French researchers can be difficult. I will not hide from you that we are trying to attract foreign researchers. The attraction of Paris is relatively less for Europeans than for the French. For the students, on the other hand, there is no problem, it is even an asset. In Clermont Ferrand, life is cheap, and students can find work. I think it' s better that they are here to study rather than in Paris. Often we meet former CERDians who always keep a fond memory of Clermont-Ferrand. 

Where do your students corne from? 

60% of doctoral students corne from Africa or developing countries via the Clermont-Ferrand School of Economics - Ecole d'Economie. French students are recruited nationwide. Thanks to the program in English, with the Erasmus Mundus Glodep Master' s degree, we have a few English-speaking doctoral students. There is a large nucleus of Auvergne natives in the research team, many French but also ltalians, Brazilians, Senegalese, Beninese, Chinese, etc. .

What are the plans for the future? 

One of the perspectives for CERDI is to become stronger, especially in terms of CNRS researchers, to attract CNRS research associates and directors. Université Clermont Auvergne has a budgetary constraint and can only have a few economics lecturer positions. We are also exploring interdisciplinarity. We can recruit anthropologists, ethnologists, sociologists, or researchers in other disciplines who share the same empirical approach as us: to validate hypotheses by empirical tests. We can even work with historians. From the start, there have been ethnologists and anthropologists at CERDI, even though we have a predominance of economists. 

Economies research has evolved, like other disciplines, and it now operates mainly through responses to calls for tenders from the National Research Agency (ANR) or the European Union. Research agencies value interdisciplinarity, so you need to have a multidisciplinary perspective to obtain funding for projects. This allows us to work on new issues, even though economics must remain the intellectual heart of our research. 

What role does CERDI play in the world of research? 

ERDI's primary role is to train Doctors of Economies, who, when they join prestigious institutions, influence the policies of those institutions. For example, it is not Dominique Strauss-Kahn or Christine Lagarde who dictate how to write a report on the fiscal policy of a country. So, thanks to its training, CERDI influences the institutions in which its former students work. CERDI participates in a Labex (a laboratory of excellence), Initiative for Development and Global Governance (IDGM), with FERDI and IDDRI. FERDI is a foundation based in Clermont­Ferrand. IDDRI is a think tank, which facilitates the transition to sustainable development, and was created by Laurence Tubiana. These organizations aim to influence public policies through research. Research is provided mainly by CERDI. lt is a concept aimed at offering an alternative to the American think tanks on K Street in Washington, where many lobby groups are based. The lobby groups can be very influential on international institutions, and even on federal institutions in the case of the United States. The IDGM labex serves to provide an alternative, to promote French-speaking countries. 

By your side, besides FERDL what other institutions can enrich the debate? 

The Global Development Network, which was an initiative of the World Bank, is an independent international organization historically based in New Delhi. lt was seeking to relocate to Europe. Clermont-Ferrand, thanks in particular to the initiative of FERDI, was chosen among other cities in Europe. The GDN promotes research in the South, by the South. This research covers, but is not limited to, questions of economics. lt is open to many other disciplines. GDN is a small structure of around 10 people which is growing a huge network in developing countries. Every two or three years, it organizes a major conference alternately in a southern country and at its headquarters, which will now be in Clermont Ferrand. 800 to 900 researchers attend this event. GDN brings together researchers from the South to respond to calls for projects on agricultural themes, road infrastructure, or others. lt provides work for researchers in the South to influence and improve public decisions. This is an opportunity for Clermont-Ferrand, few cities in France host an international institution. 

What makes CERDI's spirit? 

CERDI is strengthening itself with CNRS and is constantly gaining in attractiveness. I am impressed by the fact that students corne from ail over the world, meet here, exchange, then leave after a few years. But former students often return to say hello, while they occupy positions of responsibility. Sorne of the first CERDI students are already retired and visit Clermont Ferrand. Recently we celebrated our 45th anniversary. This is very important for a research center. Especially since we have kept the same name over the years. 45 years is a good age.