Editor’s Note: Diplomacy Verbatim is a new column that features intimate conversations with top experts and envoys for their firsthand insights into the world of diplomacy and foreign affairs.
Monaco is the world’s second-smallest country at just under one square mile, and one of its most densely populated. It has long been known as a seaside playground for the rich and famous or those who wish they were. But according to Monaco’s articulate ambassador in Washington, Maguy Maccario Doyle, Monaco is not only teeming with people and prestige, it’s also packed with history and flair.
Before arriving in Washington in 2013, Maccario was Monaco’s long-time consul general in New York City, serving there since 1995. She started her U.S. career at the Monaco Government Tourist Office in New York in 1976, becoming director for North America in 1994. In 2008, Maccario was appointed vice president of the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation-USA, spearheading fundraising events and partnerships (with, among others, Travel + Leisure magazine, Disney, Tesla and M.I.T.).
In this month’s installment of “Diplomacy Verbatim,” we ask her about diplomats “going native,” her country’s reputation as a tax haven and why it’s great to be a citizen of Monaco.
The Washington Diplomat: You’ve been representing your government in various capacities since 1976, all here in the U.S.?
Maguy Maccario Doyle: That’s right. I started my career in tourism — at the time, we opened a small information center for tourists in New York. There were only two of us, just the director and myself.
TWD: Some countries, like the U.S., restrict the number of years their diplomats can be posted to the same country, for fear that they might ‘go native’ if they’re there too long.
Maccario: I don’t completely agree with that. It takes so long to get used to a country. Even in an English-speaking country, you are still dealing with a new culture. It takes time to understand the culture and to build relationships with people. In order to make an impact, you really need to … know what’s happening.
TWD: But during your career, did you ever feel like you needed a change from the United States?
Maccario: We don’t have embassies in many places…. I feel like I could do more here in the U.S. with this being such a great, powerful country. When you’re a foreign diplomat for a long time in one country, you become part of that country. The U.S. today is my adopted country, so I think I can accomplish much more now knowing both cultures. Here I can help Monaco understand what the U.S. is all about and vice versa.
TWD: You must know the U.S. very well by now, but are there still some things about the culture or the politics here that you find difficult to understand?
Maccario: You never have a handle on everything. I’ve seen this country change and evolve. When I moved to New York in 1976, the city was in bankruptcy. Look at New York today! I’ve seen a transformation of some of the country’s key cities. Look at Chicago. I remember, years ago, being told to be careful there because there were some dangerous parts, and now it’s wonderful. Washington also wasn’t as exciting and international as it is now.
Now regarding the politics here, I’m always surprised by the politics in the United States. All these debates that are now being held, for example, this is very different from the way we do things in my country. We don’t have elections. There is one leader: It has been the Grimaldi family for seven centuries. We all work for one leader.
Here, you have one administration and then another one comes in and changes things. I’m not sure if we achieve a lot of things that way. It takes so much time to get things done, and you are always thinking about re-election, so are you really doing something for the long-term good? And will you have time to make it a reality because a new administration might come in and change things?
TWD: How can foreigners make sense of Monaco’s history?
Maccario: Start with the Grimaldi family. They have ruled Monaco for seven centuries. When Marco Polo was coming back from India, this was the beginning of an era of trade. Monaco had a natural harbor that was perfect for trade. There were two Italian families, the Ghibellines and the Guelphs, who were heavily involved in this trade.
Monaco is a Catholic country; there is no separation of church and state. The Ghibellines held the fortress of Monaco; the Guelphs were supported by the pope, though, and they wanted to take over the fortress because of its strategic location on the Mediterranean. In 1297, the first Grimaldi, François, used a trick to get inside the fortress by dressing up as a monk. When they got inside, the Grimaldis took over the fortress of Monaco.
This is what you see on the Coat of Arms of Monaco: You have two monks brandishing a sword. This is in memory of François Grimaldi taking over the fortress of Monaco.
TWD: Is it a miracle that Monaco still exists as an independent country?
Maccario: I think so, yes. There are some countries that have some magic to them — we are one of those. Remember, once the Grimaldi family took over, the country changed hands many times, they lost it, they won it back, etc. When you look at all the tribulations of European history, it is quite amazing that this small country has been able to survive seven centuries under the rule of one family.
TWD: Is the fact that it has survived a testament to their diplomacy?
Maccario: Absolutely, because we have no army, so everything has been done through negotiation.
TWD: With no army, who protects your borders?
Maccario: The French.
TWD: Has the immigration crisis touched Monaco? Are there refugees finding their way to your country?
Maccario: They aren’t arriving in Monaco, per se. When I was there in September, there were some refugees at the border of France and Italy. And we have taken some refugees.
TWD: Monaco is a rich country. How come more migrants aren’t trying to get in?
Maccario: There is no room. Remember, we are only one square mile. Also, it is pretty guarded. We have a strong police force. We check who comes in, even though there is no real border where you show passports. We are well aware of who is coming to Monaco.
TWD: And there are no cheap apartments in Monaco, so it’s not exactly an easy place for a migrant to get settled?
Maccario: No, it’s very difficult. But we have accepted some refugees. We’ve given them housing, not in Monaco, per se, but we have an agreement with France, so we resettle them there.
TWD: Your government pays for them to live in France?
TWD: Monaco is known for its low taxes but is there also a strong social safety net, free health care, university education and so on?
Maccario: Absolutely, although citizens are entitled to some protections that residents do not get. We have just 7,000 nationals and 30,000 foreigners who live in Monaco. We have 120 nationalities living peacefully together.
TWD: Has Monaco always been considered a tax haven?
Maccario: It’s not a tax haven. It has a softer fiscal structure but if you set up a company in Monaco and you make more than 25 percent of your income outside Monaco, you’re taxed the same as the French, because we’re under the French tax system. The advantage is really for the Monegasque only, the nationals that are really completely exempt from tax. There is no real estate tax, no inheritance tax, etc.
For nationals, there is a great health system for them. There is the possibility for apartments for them to live in. Because we are so small, there are greater protections for them.
TWD: So if you are a Monegasque citizen, you can get a subsidized apartment?
Maccario: You can, because real estate in Monaco is so expensive — a one-bedroom apartment could cost you $1 million. Some of the local people don’t have that kind of income, so there are areas that are specifically reserved for the nationals.
TWD: Kind of like rent-controlled apartments?
Maccario: Yes, only for the Monegasque. The government owns those apartment buildings and decides who gets those apartments.
TWD: So the advantage for wealthy foreigners to come live in Monaco is that they can lower the tax burden from their home country by residing outside of it?
Maccario: It depends on the rules in their own country. In the U.S.A., you pay taxes no matter where you are in the world, but that is not the same structure for Germany, the U.K. and other countries.
TWD: Are there any poor people living in Monaco at all? Is anyone unemployed?
Maccario: No, not really. Everyone is employed.
TWD: Tell us about your family?
Maccario: I was born in Monaco and moved to the U.S. when I was in my 20s. I married an American that I met while jogging in Central Park many years ago, in the late ’70s. I had two daughters with him. I’m not married any more. My daughters were born in New York, so they have American passports. One graduated from Georgetown University and the other from GW [the George Washington University].
TWD: Did you start your career in tourism promotion or did you have some jobs before that?
Maccario: I had a few jobs here and there. My parents were art dealers, so I minded the gallery when I was young. And I worked at the Yacht Club of Monaco when I was young. That was my first official job.
TWD: Working at the Yacht Club of Monaco, you must have met some rich and famous people?
Maccario: I did. I met Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Also, the movie director and producer Sam Spiegel. This was 1972, I think.
TWD: You have a host of famous athletes who live in Monaco, but they don’t compete on the international stage for Monaco.
Maccario: No they don’t. It doesn’t work that way.
TWD: Has your country ever tried to convince some of these athletes, like Novak Djokovic for example, to get citizenship and represent Monaco at the Olympics and other competitions?
Maccario: Well, if they took a Monaco passport, they’d have to give up citizenship for their home country. We don’t allow dual citizenship. They don’t want to give up their citizenship. Your heart is where you’re born, where you come from.
TWD: A lot of people don’t realize that Monaco has its own language, Monégasque. Is it considered a language or just a dialect?
Maccario: It’s a language. It’s being taught in school in Monaco and is spoken by a segment of our population. It’s a mix of Italian and a little of Portuguese and other languages. We have been under so many protectorates over the years. We were under the Spanish protectorate for 100 years; we were also part of what is now Italy, so there is a mix.
TWD: Is it the first language taught to schoolchildren in your country?
Maccario: No, French is the first language. French is the official language. Students can also learn Monégasque if they choose.
TWD: Monaco is obviously a very small country but is it possible to get off the beaten track and discover things that most tourists don’t notice?
Maccario: It’s small, so you notice the key things when you come to Monaco. It is a magical setting, being on the Mediterranean Sea. The open sky, the light, there is a beauty to the landscape. The Old Town of Monaco has kept its medieval charm. The palace and the fortress are very interesting, [as are] the gardens, the Oceanographic Museum, which was built in the early 1900s. It has a fantastic aquarium. What I like about Monaco is that you can walk everywhere. It is one of the easiest countries in the world to walk across.
We have the Monte Carlo Open tennis tournament in April, there is the Grand Prix of Monaco, the yacht show every September. Our National Day is Nov. 19, which is also a great time to visit. All the streets are decorated in red and white. This is a time of feast and wealth.
TWD: Monaco has also long been associated with gambling. Has it always been a place for those with money?
Maccario: Not always, no. Under the rule of Charles III, Monaco was in bankruptcy. In the 19th century, our income came from flowers and oil from olive trees…. The producers of flowers and the olive trees were heavily taxed by Monaco and they wanted to revolt, to be returned to France. The prince, knowing that he couldn’t hold them back without provoking a revolution, went to the king of France and negotiated, at the suggestion of his mother, Caroline, the introduction of gaming into Monaco. Caroline had seen that some principalities in Germany had been successful with gaming. She thought that since gaming was illegal in France and Italy, it could be a great asset for Monaco, so that is how it was introduced in 1886.
TWD: What are some common misperceptions about Monaco?
Maccario: People think that since we’re small there isn’t much to do. They say, ‘Oh, I’ve seen Monaco.’ I ask them where they stayed and they say, ‘We stayed in Nice, came to Monaco for a day trip to see the palace and we left.’ But there is much more to see than people imagine.
There is also a misperception that you can’t see Monaco on a budget, that it’s too expensive. Actually, you can. There are more than 130 restaurants in Monaco. Sure, you can go to the Michelin-star restaurants and you can spend a fortune there. But you can also go to local brasseries and bistros, where the food is delicious, and you don’t have to spend a lot and everywhere you go, there are fantastic views. And there is the open market, which is a charming part of Monaco where you can sample local food.
TWD: Is there a national dish people will find at this market?
Maccario: There is. It’s called barbagiuan. It’s like a pocket dough, filled with Swiss chard, eggs, Parmesan cheese, parsley. It’s like a finger food — very delicious.
About the Author
Dave Seminara (@DaveSem) is a contributing writer for The Washington Diplomat.