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France/United States

Published on April 1, 2010
Official visit to the United States of America – Speech by Nicolas Sarkozy, President of the Republic, at the University of Columbia (excerpts)¹

New York, March 29, 2010

I will try to live up to the standards of your prestigious university. And the first rule is not to read a speech. Because speeches kill creativity.

Rather than coming to read a speech, one might as well send the speech and spare oneself the trip.

I want to speak to you candidly, as a friend, which doesn’t mean that we will agree on everything. Through you, I want to speak to the great people of the United States of America, so that you understand that Europe and the United States must work together. We in Europe are your friends. We in Europe admire you. You don’t have to worry about that. But in Europe, we want the United States to hear us, to listen to us, and to reflect with us.

You belong to a country whose power, whose currency, whose economy and whose army are the strongest in the world. Think about that.

What does it mean to be the world’s leading power? The world’s leading power must provide leadership, but it must also consider that because it is powerful, it must share, must listen, must discuss and must engage in exchanges.

This is the 21st century. There isn’t a single country in the world, in the 21st century, that can lead the world all by itself. In the 20th century it was possible; at the end of World War II we could imagine such a power. But in the 21st century we must all understand that in order to lead the world – a world that has become multipolar – we must accept that strength implies dialogue. Because we are strong, we are able to engage in dialogue. In the history of the world, only the weak reject dialogue. From this standpoint, the 21st century represents a considerable change. A single nation, strong as it may be, cannot impose its views on the entire world.

There’s a second thing I’m sure of: that in the 21st century, we must come up with new responses. And it’s up to us, the statesmen of today – and to you, the leaders of tomorrow – to conceive of these new responses. From this standpoint, the crisis we experienced 18 months ago offers us extraordinary opportunities. Many things must be reinvented.

The third idea I would like to share with you is that if Europe and the United States do not invent this new model, no one will do it for us. You must understand this. Europe cannot impose its ideas alone; the United States cannot impose its ideas alone. And if we don’t offer new ideas, no one will do it for us.

That is the reason for my trip, and for all the political choices I have made since I was elected President of France. I wanted France to return to NATO. Why? Because I wanted a candid dialogue with the United States, without ulterior motives. When France wasn’t fully part of NATO and would make a remark, there would be suspicions of an incomplete understanding with the United States. Now we are back in NATO; we are your allies. You have nothing to fear in this regard. The only thing I asked of your President, President Obama, was for us to engage in an open dialogue. Let me give you a few examples.

During the economic crisis, when the US administration let Lehman Brothers fail, you have to understand that it was a disaster for the United States, but also for the world as a whole. I am not saying this to cast blame. It is to make you understand a reality: that the world is totally interdependent. When you succeed here, it’s a success for the entire world. When you fail, it’s a failure for the entire world. This creates a joint responsibility.

In light of this, what can we do together? We admire the American economic model. We admire your businesses. We admire your universities. In fact, I wanted to reform French universities to make them more like yours, minus the tuition fees.

But at the same time, global economic regulation can no longer be what it was. We can no longer accept a capitalist system without rules, organization, regulation. I know quite well that when a French person comes here, he is always suspect. Isn’t he a little bit protectionist, a little bit socialist, is he sufficiently free-enterprise?

Let me tell you something: by demanding the regulation of capitalism, I am laying the groundwork for saving capitalism. An unregulated capitalism and market economy will be the death of capitalism. Because one day, people will no longer accept the recurrence of what happened 18 months ago. Let me explain: when Americans make a lot of money, when Europeans make a lot of money – what could be more natural? But you can’t win each and every time. You can’t collect bonuses one day and then say no to a “malus” if things go badly. When the crisis struck, I asked my own collaborators, “what about a ‘malus’ for all those who led us into this situation?” They told me, “It’s impossible to find those who were responsible.” I told them, “OK, let’s get out the list of all those who received bonuses last year when things were going well, and give them a ‘malus’.”

This is a system we no longer want. A system in which, when things are working, you can find those who are responsible. And when they aren’t working, we don’t know where the responsibilities lie. Am I making myself understood? The market economy implies responsibility.

You can’t have people willing to accept responsibility when we’re earning more, and no one who’s responsible when we’re earning less.

I want to pay tribute to President Obama’s courage, because at the London summit we wanted to put an end to tax havens. You young people must understand: what’s the point of imposing rules in our society if having a subsidiary in a tax haven is all it takes to be exempt from all the rules? Who can understand that? There are hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of Americans who lost their homes, who lost their jobs because of the crisis, through no fault of their own. And they find themselves with nothing. Is this normal?

In Europe, in all economies, unemployment is on the rise. The French Economy Minister is here. What do you think we can say to an unemployed person who is in no way at fault and who sees that the global economy nearly collapsed because a few hundred irresponsible people did whatever they felt like in the stock exchange, using derivatives and other people’s money. Do you think that we can defend capitalism, free enterprise and the market economy when there is so much injustice? I think we cannot defend it, because it is indefensible.
Tomorrow I will see President Obama. What do I want to examine with him? What will we talk about? One thing: how, together, we can ensure that what happened 18 months ago does not happen again.

That is our sole responsibility.

18 months ago, when it happened, everything almost collapsed.

Everything. And when I see today that the same people are ready to make the same mistakes, I don’t want to be an accomplice to that. Is that understood? I don’t want to be and I won’t be, because when the next crisis comes, we States will be so heavily in debt that we won’t be able to stack up the sandbags to prevent disaster.

So what I want you to understand is that Europe and the United States must come up with rules that will stabilize the global economy. That doesn’t mean going from no rules to too many rules – it means regulating the global market economy. And from this perspective, if Europe can count on the United States, we will win. If the United States and Europe clash, we will both lose. It is Europe and the United States that will be able to invent the new global economy.

The second example I would like to mention is raw materials, the cost of oil. Is it normal for oil prices to go from $30 per barrel of crude to $150 in less than two years? It’s too expensive one day and not enough another day. Isn’t it in our interest, as consumers of fossil fuel, and in the interest of oil-producing countries as well, to lay the groundwork for regulations that would allow oil to cost, say, $80 a barrel? Wouldn’t that be in our interest? When the cost of a barrel of oil was too high, we went to the producer countries to tell them it was too expensive. But when prices fell, we gloated. We were irresponsible. I am talking about oil, but I could be talking about gas, I could be taking about all raw materials. We must regulate the world economy. This is our responsibility.

A third thing: Mr Stiglitz, a Nobel Prizewinner and a man for whom I have great admiration, is here in this room with us. I asked him and Jean-Paul Fitoussi to form a commission to come up with new criteria – and this is of concern to you students – to measure growth. If we retain all the criteria that measure growth from a solely quantitative perspective, we will not be able to maintain sustainable growth. We must change the way we measure evolutions in our economy in the 21st century, which is not the same as the 19th. Wellbeing, education, and environmental costs are all aspects that must be integrated into the measurement of our economy. If we measure our economy using solely quantitative criteria, we will be incapable of giving the world a qualitative economy. Here too we must show imagination, understanding.

My final example: the market economy. It is a production economy that creates value. Over the past 20 years, the global economy has become a speculation economy. We favour a production economy, not a speculation economy. When an inventor, when a Bill Gates makes a lot of money because he has created new concepts and made new discoveries and has given work to tens of thousands of people worldwide, that’s normal. But making lots of money from speculation, from knowing whether the New York Stock Exchange is going to pass the 6,000 or 7,000 mark – that isn’t the system I want to live in. And by ensuring that capitalism and the market economy do not become caricatures of themselves, we will save the market economy and capitalism. In order to do that, the great people of America must understand that the absence of rules kills freedom, that there is no freedom without a minimum number of rules, that the rule of law means something – it means that not everything is permitted. If the great people of the United States of America understand this message and join the fray to devise new standards, then the world will have balanced standards.

The second major area of action for the two of us is the new world governance. I was in Copenhagen for the environmental summit, and this afternoon, I will see the UN Secretary-General. Copenhagen represented the failure of a method to the point of caricature. How does this work? We have a UN Security Council that has a certain number of permanent members with veto powers. But the Council was defined in the wake of World War II. Do you young students at Columbia know that not a single African country is a permanent member of the Security Council? [And yet the continent has] a billion inhabitants! Do you know that not a single Arab country – [although the Arab world has] about a hundred million inhabitants – is a permanent member of the Security Council? Do you know that India – with a billion inhabitants, and becoming the world’s most populous nation in 30 years’ time – is not a permanent member of the Security Council? That Japan, the world’s second-largest economy, is not a permanent member of the Security Council? Why? Because 60 years ago they lost the war. Is that reasonable? Do you know that not a single Latin American country is a permanent member of the Security Council?

How can anyone expect us to resolve major crises, major wars and major conflicts within the framework of the UN without Africa, without three quarters of Asia, without Latin America, without a single Arab country? Is that reasonable? Is that sensible? Is it even imaginable? Who can believe that?

I’m told, yes, but they’re all members of the UN General Assembly. There are 192 countries in the world: the G192. So we move from a system at the Security Council, where we want to solve problems without two thirds of humanity, to a system where the smallest country can block the agreement of all the others. The United States of America and Europe must demand the reform of world governance to make room for the continents of tomorrow, which are entitled to give their opinion.

How do you want Brazil or India or Africa to assume their share of the responsibility for the world’s major conflicts if they aren’t asked their opinion? Would you like that, to be told that you’re welcome to pay, but as far as your opinion is concerned, we don’t want it? Who can work that way? Who can understand it? That is why, along with Gordon Brown, we submitted the text of an interim reform of world governance and of the UN Security Council.

As the French President, I was a member of the G8. And I say, “It’s hard to imagine that the G8 represents anything without China, India, Mexico or South Africa.” I’m told, “Well, that’s not a big deal, they’re invited to the luncheon at the end of the G8 summit.” Five representatives of two and a half billion of the world’s inhabitants are invited to cross the globe to come and eat with us. And we didn’t foresee that one day the G5 would be the one refusing to invite the G8, rather than the G8 refusing to invite the G5.

My dear friends, I am not saying this because I want to make myself look good in Africa, Asia or Latin America. I am saying it because if we don’t change world governance, we will have no chance to respond to the conflicts of tomorrow.

With respect to Iran, towards whom we must demonstrate the utmost firmness, and who must not obtain nuclear weapons, we need the support of China and Russia in order to impose sanctions. So the entire world must be on board with the global government in order to take the correct decisions and make no mistakes. The alliance between Europe and the United States is crucial.

Finally, here we are in New York. New York, the city that was brutally attacked in September 2001, as nobody has forgotten. In the fight against terrorism, we need everyone. You need us and we need you.

Waking up this morning, I received news that our Russian friends – for they are our friends – experienced an attack. Two women, apparently, wearing explosive belts blew themselves up in the Moscow metro. More than 30 people were killed. Do you think there’s a basic difference between those crazies who blow up innocent victims in the Moscow metro and the madmen who flew aeroplanes into the Twin Towers in New York? Do you think we can be picky, establishing rankings for the most barbarous terrorists? When New York was attacked, all the world’s democracies were attacked. And when Moscow is attacked, it is an attack on us all. In the face of terrorism, we cannot allow ourselves to be divided. At a time when the American President is in Afghanistan… you know, in France it isn’t easy to explain that French soldiers are dying in Afghanistan. But I tell you we will stand by your side in Afghanistan because the fight against terrorists is a fight that concerns us all. Not just the Americans – all of us. Because I don’t want the Taliban to torment Afghanistan. And because I don’t want Pakistan, which has atomic weapons, to fall into the hands of terrorists in the future. Here too, we must work together.

Finally, and I will conclude here, before answering your questions, I sometimes try to imagine what I would think if I were a young American. You have a country that spans a whole continent from east to west; your success in so many areas is exceptional; you have your own problems to solve. But please never turn inwards. The world needs an open America, a generous America, an America that leads the way, an America that listens to the suffering and expectations of others. You are greatly loved in the world, but we expect a lot from you. And sometimes, when we like you less, it is because we expected so much of you that we feel disappointed.

When you chose President Obama, the whole world was proud of you. The whole world had hope in you. And I must say that the debate between President Obama and John McCain was a credit to American democracy. I often speak to President Obama, and I take great pleasure in speaking and exchanging views with him. Sometimes he tells me, “You know, on a subject like the environment or regulation, I’m a little ahead of what the American heartland thinks.” But let me tell you something: don’t be behind, relative to your president, when it comes to regulation, defence of the environment, listening to others.

Because in our 21st-century world, it isn’t permissible for the world’s leading power not to be open to the world. The world doesn’t stop at the east coast, and it doesn’t stop at the west coast. Please accept this message from a French President who is your friend, who admires you, and who loves the United States of America.

Thank you.

Q. – President Sarkozy, thank you for coming. You said, “We admire your university,” and my question is on the campus plan, more specifically on the Saclay campus. What features of American universities do you think a new cluster like the Plateau de Saclay absolutely must have?

THE PRESIDENT – What features of US universities are we going to adopt? The first, the most important one is your autonomy. For me, university is a place of freedom. What gives the university its huge value is the freedom found there. Freedom to choose your professors, do you realize that here in Columbia you’ve even got French professors, that shows how free you are. My dream is for US professors to be able to come to France without this creating a drama, without people talking about nationalism or protectionism.

The research programmes at Columbia: I’ve looked, it’s your Board of Governors, your scientists who decide on them. It’s not for the State to do so. What was France’s problem? From this point of view, it’s a poor understanding of the word “equality.” Equality doesn’t mean uniformity. Equality means to each according to his/her merit. What I like in the American model is precisely the reward for work, merit, effort, initiative and boldness. That’s my first observation.

Second observation: Campuses can’t develop in the virtual world. I’ve rather had enough of universities like yours existing only in the United States. In my delegation I’ve got great French scientists, great heads of grandes écoles (2). I think people can’t work in campuses with a narrow outlook, with libraries that are closed on Sundays and where people consider that the nobility of the buildings is inversely proportional to their state of dilapidation. I wanted to open French universities’ windows, give them a lot of resources, make them compete a bit against each other and give more to those who do more.

I’d also like American students, you, to be able to come to our universities and for a large number of French students to come to yours. What’s the use of being in the 21st century, which is a world where one can travel freely, if you can’t come and study in our country and we have difficulties sending students to yours? That’s what we are in the process of changing in France. And changing is tough, it upsets routines, it causes concern. But a statesman’s duty is to pursue change when it’s necessary. Basically, I think when a politician is elected, he’s only travelled a tenth of his/her route. Very many politicians who preceded me thought that being elected meant they’d reached their destination. I think that being elected puts you at the very start of your road, that political leaders, statesmen like us, must be like CEOs, judged by the results of what we do. And that very exactly is the reform of the universities we have set in motion in France.


Q. – How do you see Europe’s future role in the wake of the economic difficulties of some EU Member States?

THE PRESIDENT – It was a much-talked-about issue and, in particular, one that took up a lot of my time and that of Mrs Merkel, who is a person with whom; I know that people here don’t always understand how Europe operates and are sometimes irritated with this Europe. But do you realize that Europe consists of 27 countries, 27 countries that for centuries have waged war against each other, have hated each other: between the Germans and French, three wars; between the British and French; between the Spanish and French; between the Italians and French. It’s always worked well. 27 countries – we decided that we’d make peace and work together. You know, it’s very complicated to run, but it works. Within the 27, 16 countries among us decided – you’ll hardly believe this – that we’d have the same currency.

When Greece was attacked, I impressed on my colleagues that it wasn’t Greece who was attacked, but the euro, our currency. So we had to show solidarity. I drew a lot on what had happened with Lehman Brothers here. Had we let Greece go down, then the crisis would have reignited.

With Lehman Brothers, I understand Mr Paulson’s reasoning back then. Why give taxpayers’ money to support a bank which has been badly managed? You let it go down. When you let Lehman Brothers go down, savers all over the world said to themselves, “So, a bank can collapse,” and the whole world was gripped by panic. This is why we decided to support Greece. Since we took this decision, spreads, interest rates and speculation have calmed down. Why? Because speculators goad us. And as long as we don’t erect a wall, they test us. The moment we say, “OK, you’re goading us, we’re ready to do something to stop you,” then they stop goading us. It’s called solidarity. This solidarity is essential.

The last time I had President Obama on the phone, last week – since I have a teleconference with Mr Brown, Mrs Merkel and Mr Obama roughly every month – Mr Obama said to me, “and what are you going to do about Greece?” Because he knew very well that the United States’ stability depended on what we, in the Euro Area, were capable of doing or not doing. That’s today’s world. This is why when the decision was taken to let Lehman Brothers go down, we’d have really liked to have been asked for our opinion.

That’s solidarity and interdependence. (…)./.

(1) Source of English text: Elysée.
(2) prestigious higher education institutes with competitive entrance examinations.

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