Rep. James Oberstar’s promotion to Commander of the National Order of Merit
of the National Order of Merit
Residence of France, June 19, 2012
Dear Members of Congress,
Former Members of Congress,
Madame la Sénatrice,
Monsieur le Sénateur,
Monsieur l’Administrateur Général du CEA,
It is a great pleasure and honor for my wife Sophie, for my team and for me to welcome you tonight to the French Residence as we celebrate the Congressional French Caucus and French-American relations.
I would like to express my warmest thanks to the co-chairs of the French Caucus. Senators Mary Landrieu and John Boozman and Congressman John Campbell could not make it this evening, but the three other co-chairs are with us tonight : Congressman Dan Burton, Congressman Russ Carnahan and Congressman Mike Michaud. Your leadership at the head of the Caucus is deeply appreciated.
Thanks to you, and thanks to the commitment of each member of the French Caucus, the Caucus is thriving and today boasts 109 members in the House and Senate. This great success story underscores the importance of the Congress in strengthening the strong and enduring friendship between France and the United States. Whether it is meeting with visiting French delegations, travelling to France to meet with your French counterparts, or promoting the important work our two countries do together, you are all making a real difference in our vital bilateral relationship.
I would also like to offer a special welcome this evening to two French Members of Parliament, Senator Catherine Procaccia and Senator Bruno Sides, who are visiting Washington this week to meet with their counterparts and others to discuss challenges and prospects for European space policy.
I am also pleased to welcome tonight the head of the French Atomic Energy Commission, Bernard Bigot, together with his deputy Frédéric Mondolini. Bernard Bigot is on a mission to the United States to discuss nuclear energy cooperation between our two countries, including nuclear safety issues.
- Ambassador François Delattre congratulates Rep. James Oberstar
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We are all aware of the depth and breadth of our alliance.
From Yorktown and Lafayette to the battlefields of World War I and the beaches of Normandy, our two countries have always stood shoulder to shoulder to promote the values of freedom and democracy that we together gave the world more than 200 years ago – here you recognize the well-known French modesty.
Let’s always remember that France and the United States owe each other their very existence as free nations.
We celebrated a few days ago the 67th anniversary of D-Day, and we will never forget the sacrifices made by so many American heroes to restore our freedom.
On a more personal note, I recently went to West Point to bestow the Legion of Honor upon 38 American veterans of World War II, and I can tell you that it was one of the most moving moments of my life.
Against this backdrop I have good news tonight. French-American relations have never been stronger.
The very successful visit to the United States by President François Hollande last month, literally three days after his inauguration, illustrates our strong ties.
On the diplomatic and security front, our two countries prevailed together over Gadhafi in Libya, bringing 42 years of a bloody dictatorship to an end. The United States and France are leading international efforts to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear-weapon state.
Our two countries are fighting side by side in the mountains of Afghanistan and are each other’s closest allies in the fight against terrorism. We are working very closely together on Syria and to resolve the Eurozone crisis.
On the economic, scientific, university collaboration front, the Franco-American partnership is also growing stronger every year. France is in the top 5 foreign investors in the United States, where 4,000 French companies support more than 600,000 American jobs. I am delighted to welcome tonight representatives of several of the major French companies that have invested so extensively in the U.S.
Conversely the U.S. is the number one foreign investor in France, and American investment in my country has increased by more than 40% over the last two years. In the same vein, France is depending on the year the 3rd or the 4th largest destination worldwide for direct foreign investment.
It says a lot about the vitality of the French economy. For example entrepreneurship is booming in France (…)
So you are right to believe in France, to bet on France, as we French bet on America.
Now it is my privilege to give the floor to Congressman Dan Burton – and please join me in welcoming Congressman Burton.
It is now a great privilege to present one of France’s highest distinctions to an outstanding individual and a very special man, The Honorable James Oberstar.
Over his long and storied career, Congressman Oberstar has been a close friend of my country, and he has been instrumental in furthering the excellent cooperation between the United States and France.
I would like to extend a warm welcome to his family and friends who have joined us tonight to show their support and admiration. With a special word of welcome to his wife, Jean ; his brother, David, and his wife, Sharon ; and Jean’s daughter, Lindy-Corrine, and her husband, Steven.
Dear Congressman Oberstar,
Born in Chisholm, Minnesota, you began working at a young age as a paper boy, then in Minnesota’s open iron ore pit mines to finance your studies.
Then, after a brilliant stint at St. Thomas College, where you studied French, you packed your bags, and headed to the College of Europe in Bruges, Belgium, where you earned an advanced degree in European Studies in 1957 - at the time of the signing of the Treaties of Rome, which created the European Community.
Your professional career began as a civilian employee of the U.S. Naval Mission to Haiti, where for three and a half years, you taught French and Creole to Marines, and English to Haitians.
In 1963, at the age of 29, you began working as chief of staff to your predecessor in Minnesota’s 8th congressional district, Congressman John Blatnik.
In 1974, you were elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, filling the seat of Rep. Blatnik, who retired from public service. You were re-elected 17 times, and served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 36 years. That’s impressive!
In the spring of 1986, you were selected by Speaker Tip O’Neill to serve as the U.S. delegate to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France. When it was time to make your remarks, the vast majority of the European Parliament members donned their headsets, expecting you to make your remarks in English. Indeed, it was the British MPs who had to scramble to find their headsets when you spoke in perfect French.
Specializing in transportation, you chaired the Aviation Subcommittee from 1989 until 1995.
In 2003, you and your esteemed friend and colleague, The Honorable Amo Houghton, established the Congressional French Caucus.
The fact that the caucus was created during a difficult period in our bilateral relationship sent an important message to your colleagues in the Congress, and to all Americans, that our disagreement over Iraq would not weaken the fundamental alliance between our two great countries.
- Former U.S. Representative James Oberstar.
An ardent cycling enthusiast, in 2003, you even wore a yellow jersey during the final 40 kilometers of the Centennial of the Tour de France. Afterwards, you explained in French — live on French television — why you were proud to be an American Member of Congress, supporting France.
In January 2007, you became Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, a post you occupied until the end of 2010.
In your first foreign trip as Chairman of the committee, you led a CODEL to Belgium and France to showcase transportation safety and my country’s transportation infrastructure. Your passion for high-speed rail was ably demonstrated during this visit when your CODEL took the TGV from Brussels to Paris. I heard you spent most of the trip in the front of the train, talking with the train operator and actually driving the train part of the way. Amazing!
Let me cite just a few more examples of your well-known love for France and service to my country as a Member of Congress:
In 2009, you successfully petitioned President Obama to reverse a 300% increase in duties on Roquefort cheese, which were levied in an unrelated trade dispute.
You posed for your official portrait in a tie given to you by then-French Trade Minister Christine Lagarde, and it is my understanding you are wearing that tie this evening.
Since leaving the Congress, you have maintained your strong ties to France, traveling to my country, and remaining deeply involved in French-American relations.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The National Order of Merit was established by Charles de Gaulle in 1963 to reward outstanding services rendered to France and extraordinary accomplishments.
The President of the French Republic has nominated the Honorable James Oberstar to the rank of Commander in the National Order of Merit – The rank of Commander is truly exceptional, illustrating France’s profound gratitude for your exemplary commitment to French-American relations.
The Honorable James Oberstar
Au nom du Président de la République, nous vous remettons l’insigne de Commandeur de l’Ordre National du Mérite.