Interview: Brigitte Boccone-Pagés, President of the Monaco National Council

For International Women’s Day on 8th March, this year themed on the Economic Inclusion of Women, Monaco Life speaks to Brigitte Boccone-Pagés, the first female President of the National Council in Monaco’s history.

Brigitte Boccone-Pagés is a staunch Monegasque. Born and educated in the Principality, the 64-year-old is a career politician who served as vice president of the National Council between 2018 and 2022, before being elevated to president on 6th October 2022, the most powerful elected position in Monaco.

With that, Brigitte Boccone-Pagés made history, becoming the first ever female leader of Monaco’s National Council, joining a closed club of just 56 countries with a woman as their parliament’s head and sending a solid message beyond the borders of the Principality.

Four months later, her Monegasque National Union won all 24 seats in the general election.

In this insightful interview with Monaco Life, Boccone-Pagés reveals her admirations and life-long goals, the challenges she faced in her political career and how her constant fight for women’s rights is not a crusade against men.

Monaco Life: Can you tell us about the most critical stages in your political career?

Brigitte Boccone-Pagés: My political career began before my involvement per se. It is the fruit of my concern for others and wanting to be helpful for the general interest of Monegasques. It results from me questioning my role as a woman.

I am the mother of a boy and a girl, who are now grown up. I wanted this woman in the making to think of herself with all the facets of her personality and potential without limiting what she could bring to others. Actions are better than words, and leading by example is more effective. That was the genesis of it all.

A significant point was meeting Stéphane Valeri, a politician whom I accompanied from the creation of the l’Union pour la Principauté (UP) party in 2003, and I followed during the establishment up of the Primo! party in 2017.

The work I carried out for Monegasques within the Education and Youth Commission enriched me even more as they aligned with my professional career as a teacher.

Notably, my election to the presidency of the National Council in October 2022, followed by a second election for the presidency in February 2023, is a symbol that goes beyond me as it shows the commitment of my colleagues and of Monaco in the promotion of equality between women and men.

What did you dream of doing when you were a young woman?

From a very young age, I wanted to care for others. I had the chance to do this while I was a teacher and continue to do so in my political career.

I have been elected for more than 21 years in a row with increasingly essential responsibilities throughout my political career: President of the Education and Youth Commission, President of the Committee on Social Interests and Miscellaneous Affairs, Vice-President of the National Council, and currently President of the National Council.

“Nothing and no one will ever deviate me from my course of action.”

What advice did you receive early in your career that influenced you the most?

As the German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel said: “Among the special duties towards others, the first is truthfulness of speech and conduct.”

All my life, I have remained faithful to my actions and my commitments. Nothing and no one will ever deviate me from my course of action.

Brigitte Boccone-Pages, President of the National Council of Monaco. Photo credit: Romain Fondcaro

What inspired you to enter the political scene?

My inspiration to enter politics came in the footsteps of strong people. Simone Weil (French magistrate, Holocaust survivor and politician) comes to mind, who did so much for democracy and women in general. Her greatness was her humanism. May she be our compass in the troubled times we are going through. Seven years after her death, we have, more than ever, the duty to continue each of the just fights she led.

I come from a family where commitment is fundamental, as is honesty in making decisions and sticking to them, no matter the cost. I have strong women among my ancestors who held on to their convictions at the risk of being ostracised. The future proved them right.

My father experienced the ravages of war. He shared his memories with me without omitting the challenging moments he had kept within himself. He inspired me to commit myself to the service of all within my abilities. I felt obliged to do so, given the sacrifices made by those who preceded me and who, by de facto, gave me the gift of the Principality we know today. My responsibility is to continue their work by building the best Monaco possible for our children through my political involvement.

Why do you think it is important to celebrate International Women’s Day?

International Women’s Day is essential, but it’s still insufficient. As some of my elected colleagues say, we must not limit ourselves to a special day to celebrate women, pay tribute to them, or fight for them. We must protect women’s interests and develop legislation that considers their legitimate expectations and particular needs.

Whereas elsewhere in the world, we witness a regression of women’s rights, or worse, the questioning of their fundamental birth rights. We ascertain this dangerous decline in the areas of education and physical and moral violence, including cyber harassment. Our responsibility is to ensure that societies and the law move forward accordingly. We must stay vigilant, as these advances may not be immutable achievements in a world undergoing major upheaval.

We must remain conscious, proactive, and observant, as our time is crucial; my male and female colleagues and I are keen to get actively involved and ready to act.

Who is a woman you admire?

The woman I admire is Her Serene Highness Princess Grace, who once said: “I would like to be remembered as a person who did useful deeds and was kind and loving. I want to be remembered as a human being with an honest attitude who did her best to help others.”

Do you consider yourself a woman of influence?

No, I do not see myself as a woman of influence as an individual; roles should not be reversed: I am at the service of my country and my position. I consider myself the recipient of a burden and responsibility that goes beyond me.

The influence is not mine; my position demonstrates the Principality’s desire to be part of a resolutely modern dynamic. This election brought Monaco into the very closed club of 56 countries out of 192 that have a woman at the head of their parliament.

We are demonstrating our commitment to Monaco and to the Monegasques. My colleagues have chosen to send a clear sign and expression of values; a strong message spreading beyond our borders.

“I have always believed women possess admirable strength. They are capable of sacrifice; they have a backbone.”

What do you believe are the qualities of female leaders?

I have always believed women possess admirable strength. They are capable of sacrifice; they have a backbone. Sincerity is essential, and any public person must always respect the commitments made, honouring their word. It is about the credibility of public speech, which is the guarantor of the trust placed in us by those who elected us.

Tell us about your rise to become the first female head of the National Council in the history of the Principality. 

I was VP during the election, which made me president of the National Council. It was already a heavy load to carry. With this new position, I could appreciate the complexity of this task, a place that people do not expect a woman to occupy. I assumed this role in a delicate context; I had to get my bearings during a complex and turbulent period.

Being the first woman to reach this level of responsibility requires you to resist and do everything possible to give the Monegasques the best of us all. My goal is to place this novelty of having a woman as the head of the NC in the continuity of the commitments made to the citizens regarding efficiency, calmness, and quality of work. I refer to the elected officials who put in the hard work, all those who support us within the NC, and the Monegasques and residents who have the right to expect excellence.

We are at a historic crossroads for our Institution: to transform it into a momentum to confidently call on other women to take on the responsibilities that are mine today.

Experiencing difficulty creates strength. How did you manage the trials and tribulations you faced and maybe still endure in your career?

My husband, who has always advised, supported, and defended me, is inseparable from who I am today. He has been my rock for many years. I owe him more than I can ever repay him. It’s all thanks to him. I can never thank him enough.

Brigitte Boccones-Pages at an assembly of the National Council of Monaco.
Brigitte Boccone-Pages at an assembly of the National Council of Monaco. Photo credit: Romain Fondcaro

What actions during your tenure as president of the NC are you most proud of?

This first year in office has been prosperous, as we have achieved a record that we are proud of, despite the tensions and many disruptions, which is unique in the history of the parliament in Monaco.

We succeeded in processing around 10 bills and several legislative proposals of crucial importance in the health, social, economic, budgetary, and digital fields. We prepared the four texts of the Moneyval project in the fight against money laundering, the financing of terrorism, and the proliferation of WMDs quickly, allowing the Principality to access current international standards in this area.

See also: Monaco to “step up” financial crime action after damning Moneyval report

We took charge of the question of the European Union, which is fundamental to the future of our country. Without forgetting the relevant texts today, such as the modification of paternity leave granted to employees or the bill establishing maternity leave for self-employed workers.

Do you believe that women and men can participate fully as equal partners?

As much as I have always fought, and will continue to fight, for women’s rights to be considered and respected, I am convinced that this is not a crusade to be led against men but to seek fairness and equality in our interactions.

We are human, above all, and complementary in our skills. We cannot work without each other and even less against each other. We must aim for reciprocity in work with shared objectives to serve the most significant number and the common interest.

The National Council comprises seven women and five men. Do you believe that men and women working together on a parity level produce more impactful results?

I am convinced! The assessment we are presenting, briefly mentioned earlier, blatantly demonstrates this fruitful cooperation. It results from joint work carried out by everyone despite many disruptions and through heated debates. Along this path, I will continue my commitment, doing everything possible to move towards appeasement and consensus, which is in our DNA, without sacrificing our vigilance.

What message would you give to young women interested in politics?

I would rather, more modestly, make a request: Do not limit yourself! Dare to stand as straight and tall as your dreams. Our families, our entourage, and our country deserve it. We need you all. We are waiting for you with open arms!

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Main photo credit: Roman Fondacaro