François Hollande meets the French community at the Embassy
On Friday, May 18, 2012, the president of the French Republic François Hollande came to the French Embassy in Washington, D.C., where he met with the French community of the Washington area. This visit was part of a four-days diplomatic trip in the United States, during which the French President met with U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. President Hollande then took part in the G8 Summit at Camp David, Maryland, before representing France at the NATO Summit, held in Chicago on May 20 and 21.
Speech by President François Hollande to the French community - Excerpts
This is my first visit outside of Europe since I became president three days ago. You must excuse me but it isn’t my first visit outside of France, because I traveled to Germany on the evening that I was sworn in as president. However, because my plane was hit by lightning I wasn’t able to meet the members of the French community who were however crowding around the gates of the Chancery in order to welcome their new president. But I’ve made you wait longer than you may have wished. I’m not talking about the last five years. I mean the hours that many of you have waited and I am especially touched by your presence.
It’s true that this trip to the United States has taken place very quickly; as soon as I was elected and sworn in I had this G8 meeting and the Chicago summit and I thought—and I would also like to thank President Obama for this—that we could seize this opportunity to hold a meeting between the American president and myself as the new Head of State. But I also wanted—and I thank the ambassador for this—to have the opportunity to meet with you. So I am going to talk to you for several hours and then I will come to you to listen to your demands, your proposals; but what I wanted to achieve through this meeting was, first, to stress the importance I attach to the relationship between France and the United States.
We are two great countries. We experienced revolutions at about the same time and one revolution may have triggered the other. We’ve experienced major ordeals. We’ve been allies during major events. There’s extensive trade between us. There have been differences between our two countries, with some especially intense moments just a few years ago with respect to the intervention in Iraq, but each time, under the most difficult of circumstances, during the most intense moments that the world has seen, the United States and France have always stood together.
We share common values. We’re attached to freedom. We don’t necessarily share the same view of entrepreneurship, but we understand that we need a strong economy if we want to distribute wealth. We feel called upon to speak out on behalf of the world; of course some people sometimes challenge this right, France’s right. Yet we still feel this calling, and France speaks out on issues beyond our borders. And that’s why the United States also sees us as a partner country, an exceptional ally. Because the United States, as a result of its power, its geography, its history, also feels it is called upon to speak out on behalf of the world. That’s why it was so important to me to meet President Obama.
This was the first time because before the elections I experienced some difficulty in meeting certain Heads of State and Government. But that was perfectly normal because Heads of State and Government must firstly meet with Heads of State and Government and work together. That’s why today I was able to discuss with President Obama the key issues affecting the world and Europe. Global issues, first of all, because we—the United States and France—know that our planet still faces numerous threats: the events in Syria, our preparations for the negotiations with Iran, in order to reaffirm to that country that it cannot access nuclear technology for military purposes. We’re alert to what’s happening in the Sahel region, in Africa with the risk of terrorism that could affect that entire part of the African continent. And—this is new—together with the United States, we’re also concerned about global warming, by the issue of energy. And we will be able—with President Obama, moreover—to make progress with respect to preparations for Rio + 20 and other meetings that await us with respect to the preservation of the planet.
And then there’s the issue of growth. As you know, since my election, I’ve frequently mentioned to our European partners, as well as to the world’s major powers—the emerging powers as well as developed powers like the United States—the need for growth, not that we would have to abandon objectives relating to the balancing of our public accounts, which are essential, but we can only achieve them effectively, fairly and with certainty if there’s growth. So this is the key issue that we have to discuss. We will do that at the G8 summit. We’ll do so in the European Councils. I want a growth dimension to be incorporated in all of the policies that we’re going to pursue at the European level as well as at the global level.
It was clear to me that the U.S. Administration was open to this and that it could in fact demonstrate it quite quickly, because it too needs [growth]. In a way, the upcoming U.S. elections can make the job easier for us. It’s easier to win elections in a period of economic recovery than during a recession. That is why there may now be more of an opportunity for us to assert the importance of growth than in the past. I also brought up […] the Chicago summit and the issue of the French troop presence in Afghanistan. I made a commitment to withdraw French combat forces from Afghanistan at the end of 2012, and I will keep it.
That decision is based on the fact that in the area under our control, the Afghans are capable of replacing us. It is also based on a change in the mission. We will remain in what’s known as ISAF, that is, in the operation itself, but in a different form and with a different task—providing training and maintaining equipment that we will later repatriate. We will speak with our NATO partners the day after tomorrow, and I will make sure that our position prevails—that is, we will respect the commitments that I made on behalf of France and to the French people, while at the same time respecting our Alliance partners. But I also stated that we were considering operations that could be decided on, notably with regard to Syria, in the United Nations context.
That was the spirit that characterized our meeting, and I think that we will enjoy cooperation and a partnership with President Obama that—for his sake and ours—I hope will be long-lasting.
But beyond important diplomatic issues and major economic affairs, I wanted to speak to you—the French community in Washington—who help contribute to France’s influence abroad. I wanted to express France’s gratitude for living abroad as a French citizen, particularly in the United States. It is both a right and a duty. In a way, you serve as ambassadors here. You champion the interests of your companies, your boards, even your own personal interests, but you also champion the interests of France. And you are committed to understanding the country in which you live. You love it, and therefore you want the rapprochement between our two countries, France and the United States, to improve life both here and at home. I wanted to stress how much cooperation there is on the scientific and cultural levels, which I value highly, as does the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
There is also economic cooperation […] We have economic interests that must be successful. Let me remind you that the United States is France’s number-one trading partner outside of the European Union, both as a client and supplier. I know that has a lot to do with you. I know that there is a business community here; a community of entrepreneurs that contributes to the vitality of our relations.
Our objective, as you know, is to bring about economic and financial recovery, but also commercial recovery. We have a current account deficit that is unacceptable. We have a foreign trade deficit amounting to 70 billion euros. So we must restore the importance and vitality of international trade. The minister, who is here today, will be responsible for that in particular.
We are also facing a challenge with regard to jobs. Cross investments between our two countries—France and the United States—are enormous, and more than 600,000 American jobs depend on French companies. American investments in France support 770,000 jobs there. That is why we must combat all the effects of the crisis and make the effort to grow that I have been speaking about.
Growth and jobs are the priorities that I will be stressing in the weeks to come. I also want to emphasize the scientific and academic fields, as I said. The level of scientific research in the United States is very high, but in France it is too. I will make it one of my government’s priorities.
I want to conclude by telling you—in addition to how pleased I am to have had the opportunity to meet you, and that your large numbers here are an encouraging sign—what our relationship should be. I am the President of the Republic, the president of all French citizens, wherever they are, wherever they live, whatever their leanings, their career path, their origins, their skin color. I want you to be fully aware of the fact that you French citizens residing abroad are wholly French and that your concerns are fully taken into account.
Now we must put Europe back on track. This will definitely be difficult. Because it is always very painful for a European—and I am a European—to project the image of a sick continent to which the great powers of the world must minister. Because, when we go to an international meeting—I remember the G20 in Cannes, and now we have the G8 at Camp David—what subjects will we discuss […]? We will talk about Europe, and in what terms? In terms of the crisis; once again, of the euro zone; of Greece, which may break apart the euro zone itself and may have repercussions here. When Europe attends an international council or any summit, it must do so in order to express its position, its strength, its vitality—not to bow its head. Even as we examine the numbers in the current situation, Europe is still the world’s leading economic power.
We are not an old continent, we are a young continent, in particular France, full of vitality, inventiveness and high-quality research and production. That is why we must put Europe back on track.
And finally, we must guarantee fairness, which is not easy; everyone wants fairness except when he himself is called into question. We are very familiar with issues of solidarity and sharing, so in order for us to be as fair as possible, we must be the most capable of creating wealth. Everything depends on that.