“France and the United States: Perspectives on the Past and Prospects for the Future”. Transcript of the speech by Jean-David Levitte, Ambassador of France to the United States, at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
Chicago, May 4, 2007
I’m truly delighted to be back in Chicago, back with the Chicago Council on World Affairs. Marshall Bouton asked me, is it your twelfth visit? I don’t count anymore. It is the twelfth, the thirteenth, the fourteenth, I don’t remember exactly, but I’m always delighted to be back in Chicago. I do consider that it is by far the most elegant, beautiful city in the United States. And I consider we don’t do enough business with the Midwest, with Chicago, and that’s why we have now a great Consul General, Jean-Baptiste Main de Boissière, who is certainly in the diplomatic service in France the most business oriented of all our diplomats. So believe me, we will work hard together to make sure that more and more French investments will come to Chicago.
Now, we have elections in France, the 2nd round, on Sunday. So I was asked not to say a word about it. Well, of course, I will say a word about it, and let me comment not on the results of Sunday’s election but about the lessons of the first round.
I see 3 lessons.
The first one is that 85% of the French voters did vote. And it says volumes about
the so-called gloomy mood of the French people. They showed enthusiasm and determination to build their future and to take their future in their hands, and that’s good news.
The second lesson is that the extreme left and the extreme right lost a lot of votes. The extreme right 5 years ago was around 19% of the votes. Two weeks ago, they got only around 10 % of the votes. They lost nearly half of their voters. That’s also good news, it shows that the voters wanted to support the mainstream political parties, not the parties which refuse, but the parties which want to build, either on the center right or on the center left.
The 3rd lesson is that our president, the next president he or she, will be in his or her fifties. Today, Jacques Chirac is 74 years old, I was proud to be his diplomatic adviser for 5 years, he is the last French president who was part of the Second World War. We had General de Gaulle, Pompidou, Giscard d’Estaing, Mitterrand, Chirac, and that’s it. Now it’s one generation younger. If it is Sarkozy, 52 years old, if it is Ségolène Royal, 53 years old. And that’s very important in terms of vision, about France, the role of France in Europe and in the world. Our next president has no knowledge about what was the Second World War. He was or she was a kid during the Algerian war where Jacques Chirac served for 3 years. And he was born with the European Union and I’ll say a few words about the European Union because I think that for our next president it is the 1st horizon.
The European Union was born thanks to the US. We will commemorate in exactly one month already this 60th anniversary of the famous speech of General Marshall which led to the Marshall plan. And in March, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the treaty of Rome which founded the European Union. And for me the European Union is the place of 3 miracles.
The first one is the reconciliation between the Germans and the French. It is a real miracle because we were the harsh enemies. In my young days the Germans were les bosch, the harsh enemies of the French forever. And we were invaded 3 times by the Germans, we invaded time and again Germany. Now if you ask the French who are your best friends, 80% will say the Germans, and if you ask the Germans who are your best friends 80 % will says the French. It did not happen like that, it was the vision and the will of General de Gaulle and Chancellor Adenauer. But it succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. And I say that in front of Ambassador Bindenagel my friend.
The second miracle is the Euro. It was not obvious for the French proud to have for 800 years in their pockets le franc. Or even more for the Germans so proud of their strong deutschmark to say well lets abandon our currencies and let’s adopt a common currency. It was like jumping above a cliff and you don’t what’s on the other side or below. And I do remember, I was at the Elysée Palace at the time, the anxiety which existed the moment we jumped, because we knew what we were leaving behind, we did not know if it would work. It is a miracle because we have to organize the conversions of our economies, you have the same level of inflation, debt, budget deficit, we made it. And now, 300 million Europeans have in their pocket the Euro. It is a miracle, the only problem it is that maybe the Euro is a bit too strong. Please, do what you have to do to have the dollar a bit stronger.
The 3rd miracle is the expansion of the European Union. We started with 6, then 9, 10 12, 15 and in a big jump we opened our doors to ten new comers, most of them coming from the other side of the iron curtain. Three of them coming from the USSR, the 3 Baltic states. This happened without a war. And you have to understand that it is a real miracle, first of all because we are now in the longest period of peace since the days of the Roman Empire 2,000 years ago. Second, it is the first in our 2000 years of history that we are united without a war. We were united thanks to the Romans with the Roman Empire, then we had Charlemagne, then we had Napoleon, then Hitler all the times with wars. For the first time we are united, West and East of Europe, 27 countries belonging to the European Union, without a war through the will of the people democratically expressed by their votes. It is a real miracle, that’s the 3rd miracle.
And you have now to think like a European for one minute. When I started my diplomatic career it was the bipolar world, it was the confrontation between the West and the East, and the battleground of this confrontation was Europe. And we were a small community doing its best, now the European Union has nearly 500 million citizens belonging to the European Union. We represent a little more than your GDP, a little more than 30% of the world GDP. And if you think as a European what you see on the other side in the East, first the total transformation of Russia, it was 15 years ago, 20 years ago USSR, the other superpower a country of 300 million inhabitants, now we have Russia with 140 million inhabitants losing 1 million per year because of poor demographic, and so as a European belonging to the European Union the strategic perspective has totally changed.
And you have on the other side of the Atlantic a strong Union, your strong ally for the 21st century. Of course you may say, well but, why did you say no to the Constitution. We’ll have to go back with the matter with our next president, we need a President for the European Union, we need a prime minister, we need better voting rights and so on. We’ll fix it. The no of the French has a lot to do with things which have nothing to do with the Constitution. When you ask the French by referendum what you think of the European Constitution they will tell you what they think about the President of France, the Government of France, the economic situation, the social situation, the weather and maybe Europe, and maybe the borders of Europe, maybe about Turkey which was part of our debate, and not much about the Constitution. So let’s go back to the matter and in the meantime, let’s focus on what we have to do together. What the next president of France will have to do with the United States of America. Well, he will or she will have to confront the challenges of the 21st century. For you, for us the 21st century started on 9/11/2001. As Jean-Baptiste said, I was at the time the Ambassador to the UN. I saw from the windows of my office the destruction of the Twin Towers. I saw the tragedy and it will remain in my heart for the rest of my days. But this was a personal reaction, what is amazing is that it was the reaction of 60 million French. The main daily in France, Le Monde, had a big title “We are all Americans”. And Jacques Chirac was the first Head of State to come to Washington and New York to express the total solidarity of the people of France with the US. And we were part of the war in Afghanistan right from the beginning and we will maintain troops until the end of this war, because this is a legitimate war.
You may say, what about Iraq. Well let’s turn this bitter page and let’s focus on the challenges of the 21st century.
For me, the 1st challenge is, can we prevent the war of religion in the 21st century?
The 20th century was a century marked by the confrontation of ideologies, fascism, communism, and on our side, democracy, market economy. In a way we won.
How can we win the challenge of the 21st century in terms of war of religion? and what do I mean by that? Well, it’s very simple. Al Quaida wants to impose their extremist view of Islam from Indonesia to Nigeria. They want to build a kind of huge Muslim caliphate, their way, and we have to make sure that this doesn’t happen. Because if they succeed, then yes we’ll have the war of religions, Islam versus Christianity, and that would be a disaster first of all for the Muslim people. Now how can we confront that risk? First by helping the moderates in the Muslim countries. We don’t think that you can impose democracy through war, the use of force. We do consider in France, basically in Europe, that democracy has to come from within. Is it mission impossible? Of course not.
If you are French and you look at Muslim countries you think first of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia. Well, in Morocco, after years of debate, democratic debate, they adopted a status for women which is exactly the same as ours in Europe. Away from Koran and that was their decision. In Algeria, after a bitter war, now they have free and fair elections. In Tunisia, certainly no fair elections, but in 2 generations they have built a middle class, a bourgeoisie, which represents certainly between 70 and 80% of the total population. That’s the best recipe for tomorrow’s democracy. And in countries like Jordan you have an evolution which is very encouraging.
So first let’s help the Muslim countries to develop, as Indonesia did, democratic institutions.
The second thing we have to do is to solve the problems of the Middle East. 5 years ago we had only one conflict the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, now we have four. The Israeli- Palestinian conflict and we applaud the reengagement of the US. We have the conflict in Lebanon. Not only the war with Israel last July between Hezbollah and Israel, but also the very difficult relations between Lebanon and Syria after the assassination of Rafik Hariri. And on this issue, Lebanon, I can’t see a better example of perfect cooperation than the one between Washington and Paris. We do a lot together and we achieved a lot together to help the Lebanese people to affirm their independence.
The third problem, the third conflict, is of course the war in Iraq. And we are participating in the Charm-El Sheik conferences with our representative because we think that the future will be positive, fruitful, promising only if there is a political solution inside Iraq and with the countries of the region.
And fourth, there is Iran, which is probably the most threatening conflict, the conflict about the nuclear program of Iran. And here 3 European countries took the lead in launching a negotiation of the UK, Germany and France and after 2 1/2 years we were joined by the US, Russia and China. So we have a lot of leverage. Unfortunately, Ahmadinejad was elected and it was a different story. So we have imposed two resolutions of sanctions over Iran, not to punish the Iranian people, but to tell them if you don’t suspend the enrichment program that may lead to a bomb, well, we’ll have no choice but to impose sanctions. Twice the Security Council voted unanimously to impose these sanctions, it was not enough and so we’ll see but we don’t want to punish Iran, as I said, we have proposed a huge package of incentive, if they stop their program leading to a bomb we’ll help them to develop nuclear electricity, their economy, and take care of their security problems in the region. So, that’s the deal we proposed. Now, all these four crisis are different. But there is a kind of glue between all of them and this glue has a name, Iran.
Because Iran is helping Hamas in the Palestinian territories, financing and equipping Hezbollah in Lebanon, and supporting Syria and, financing and equipping the Shia militia in Iraq. So, it is important to see that these different crises are more and more interconnected. And each time we make progress on one, it has ripple and positive effects and the other 3. So that’s for the number one challenge that is how to prevent the war of religion.
The second one, in my view, is how can we integrate better in the world affairs the emerging giants and number one China and India. I’m a bit preoccupied by the temptation in the Congress to impose tariffs on the imports coming from China, or to go to WTO because of dumping and it may trigger a kind of commercial war which would not be helpful. I think we are already in a kind of transition in China. Why do I say that, because yes it’s true that today they have a huge competitive edge. And for one good reason their salaries are still low, but they are going up quite rapidly in the cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou. But what is important for you to understand is that most Chinese are working, and hard, because you have very few retirees and very few children. In 20 years the situation will be totally different when you think about it, because their baby boom came a little later than yours and ours, we will have in the next 20 years a massive movement to retire. Hundreds of millions of Chinese will retire. And China has destroyed the heath system and pension system which existed during the days of the domination of the communist party. So not only they have to reinvent a new pension system and a new heath system but they have to pay for it. So it will diminish their competitive edge. So it’s not only a question of salaries, it’s a question of how to finance the pensions and the health system. And all this will be on the shoulders of the result of the one child policy. That is you’ll have four grandparents retired, two parents on their way to retirement, and one child to pay for all of that. And if you add to that the fact that they have to clean their environment and not only because of global warming but just go to Beijing and you will see the quality of the air you breathe, or look at their rivers and you will see the dark color of their rivers and you can measure that all this will be very costly too. That’s why I say that we should not be too preoccupied, of course we have to survive well during this period when they still have a competitive edge but come on you don’t have any unemployment in America, so don’t complain, don’t be scared to death, we have unemployment and we know that we will fix the problem not by closing our doors to China but by introducing reforms in France. So that’s my message on China, and in a way the same for Brazil, or India even if it is coming a little later than China.
Now the third challenge, and the last one, is about global problems. We have global warming. You may discuss it, well in Europe we think it’s already there. We had a heat wave few years ago, three summers ago, 15,000 people died in France because of global warming. For us, it’s not the future, it’s our present. We have to fix all the problems of health which have no borders, bird flu, SARS. We have to help Africa get out of poverty. We have to do a better job with the Doha Round. All these global problems will be solved only if we have rules accepted by everybody.
And for us it means institutions, global institutions, the UN, WTO, specialized agencies in great shape. In a globalized world, you need global rules. You may say well no, we don’t fear the law of the jungle, because in this jungle in a way, we are the 400-pound gorilla. So, if you are the only superpower left in the world why should you accept rules you impose the rules. That’s good for today. But think of tomorrow. In 20 years, you will be at that time hopefully the 500-pound gorilla, but maybe at that time China will be the 800-pound gorilla and India the 600-pound gorilla and that time you may regret not have good institutions and great rules respected by all the key actors. So it means that not only we need a multi-polar world, but we need the UN and global institutions in great shape. This means a degree of shared sovereignty, and I know from my years of experience and years in Washington that the Congress doesn’t like to share sovereignty, especially with the UN. In Europe, it’s the opposite situation, that is we share sovereignty on a daily basis through the European process, shared sovereignty, well the Euro in our pockets is the best symbol of shared sovereignty. So that’s a difference we have. So let’s work together to help the UN and other key institutions to adapt to the 21st century because we need these institutions even more than in the past.
So, in a way, we have today to defend and promote together the very values that our ancestors, George Washington, Lafayette, invented together, Democracy, Freedom, Liberty.
Thank you very much./.