Amb. Delattre Speaks at World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh
It’s a great pleasure to be in this great city with our Consul general, Olivier Serot-Almeras, with our honorary consul in Pittsburgh, Jean-Dominique Le Garrec, and with our press attaché in Washington, Arnaud Guillois, and also with a representative of the Invest in France agency, Constance Breton.
I would like to begin by thanking Dr. Steven Sokol, the president and CEO of the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh, and the board of directors for inviting me. Also, a special thanks to Jean-Pierre Collet, head of the honorary consul association in Pittsburgh.
Your mission at the World Affairs Council is really to bring the world to America. So today, I am proud to be the ’world,’ so to speak, and here you recognize the traditional and well-known French modesty. (laughs)
Ladies and gentlemen, I think we should start with the values and the history that we share, we French and Americans, because that is what makes our relationship really unique. Let’s never forget that the United States and France owe each other their very existence as free nations, and that from Lafayette and Yorktown to the battlefields of World War I and the beaches of Normandy, our two countries have always stood shoulder-to -shoulder to defend and promote the values of freedom and democracy that are the core of who we are.
We French we will never forget that many Americans risked and often sacrificed their young lives during the two World Wars to restore our freedom.
On June 6 of last year, for the anniversary of D-Day, I went to the military academy of West Point to bestow the Legion of Honor, France’s highest reward, upon 39 American veterans of World War II. And it really was one of the most moving experiences in my life that I will never forget; there was no dry eye in the room, including mine.
Against this backdrop, French-American relations have never been closer than they are today, as illustrated by President Hollande’s very successful visit to Washington last May just three days after his inauguration. And last month, there were three major visits to Paris: Vice President Joe Biden, and Secretary of State John Kerry twice. I was in Paris yesterday with him for a meeting with his French counterpart Laurent Fabius.
If you think of the diplomatic and security front, France and the United States are each other’s closest allies in the fight against terrorism, as illustrated by the leading role that we French have taken in Mali, with full American support, to get rid of al-Qaeda and its affiliates in this fragile region of the world.
I am sure we’ll come back to it in the Q&A but keep in mind that in Mali we have to fight against al-Qaeda fighters who are among the best-funded and best-equipped in the world, based on years and years of drug trafficking, weapons and cigarettes smuggling, and hostage-taking. They have huge amounts of weapons, and huge amounts of money.
And the fight that we are leading there, together with American support, is really essential.
In the same vein, our two countries are at the forefront of international efforts to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons state. We consider it to be the number-one strategic threat of our time.
We French consider that we must not let Iran become nuclear for at least three reasons :
Number one, a nuclear-armed Iran would mean an existential threat to the security of Israel and that would be enough to make it unacceptable.
Number two, a nuclear-armed Iran would trigger an arms race and potentially a nuclear arms race in what is the most fragile part of the world; that’s not what we need.
Number three, a nuclear-armed Iran would mean the demise, the death of the international non-proliferation regime that we together patiently built for the last decades, so for these reasons our strong views are that we must remain tough towards Iran.
The third example that I will name on the diplomatic front is the fact that Washington and Paris are working closely together to resolve the tragic situation in Syria and to get rid, to speak frankly, of Assad, the sooner the better. And here, we’ll speak during the Q&A about this, we have come to the conclusion that we should seriously think about having a more assertive position vis-à-vis Syria, and even to provide weapons to the moderate rebel groups in Syria.
The economic partnership between France and the U.S. is also growing stronger every year. The backbone of our partnership is cross-investment. France is one of the top five foreign investors in the United States, with 3,000 French companies supporting more than 600,000 U.S. jobs. Pennsylvania is a key and growing player in this respect, and France is one of the leading foreign investors in the state of Pennsylvania. It’s true in and around Pittsburgh, in particular, where French companies support 4,000 jobs. Among the French companies, which I guess all of you know, I will mention Thalès, and I’m glad to have here the regional CEO of Thalès, Deborah Lhota, as well as members of her team. Thalès is one of the world leaders in train signaling, and they are expanding their investments in the U.S., and around Pittsburgh in particular.
I will also mention companies like Sodexo, Véolia Water North America, Pittsburgh Transportation Group, which is part of Véolia Transportation, All-Clad Metalcrafters, Areva, Coverteam, Saint-Gobain, and many other French companies investing in Pittsburgh and its region.
Conversely, the U.S. is the number-one foreign investor in my country, and American foreign direct investment has increased by more than 40 percent in the last three years. Overall, France is one of the top five destinations worldwide for foreign direct investment, and great companies from your region, like Mylan, which I will visit this afternoon, or industrial scientific connections like PPG Industries, or law firms like K&L Gates, Reed Smith, and many others, are key investors in my country.
This robust American investment in France says a lot about the vitality of my country, and about the fact that the situation of the euro zone is back on the right track. This says a lot about the structural pro-business and pro-growth reforms that we are implementing in France, including to bring more flexibility into our labor market. And this growing investment in France says a lot about the many competitive assets that my country has. Beyond our well-educated workforce, our first-class infrastructure, our strategic position at the heart of the European Union, with its 500 million people, let me briefly underline three of the key assets that we have.
Number one: we are the demographic exception in Europe. There is only one country in Europe with a growing population, based on its strong birthrate, and it’s France, together with Ireland.
Number two: if you ask me what my country’s priority is today, I would say without any hesitation that innovation is the number-one, number-two and number-three priority. That’s why we in France put in place 71 innovation clusters all around the country, bringing together the American way, French universities, the industry, the private sector, and public research labs. That’s why we in France established the highest research-and-development tax credit in the industrialized world. And that’s why we are engaged in an unprecedented level of investment in research and innovation—$60 billion dollars of public and private investment for a period of three years, through the Investment for the Future program.
And this creates a lot of new opportunities between our two countries, in terms of R&D and innovation. In the same vein, this unprecedented effort toward innovation goes hand-in-hand with a booming entrepreneurship. In the last year or so, over 600,000 new businesses were founded in France, many of them technology-driven. This is a record high, and in today’s France, you can start a business in 15 minutes online, while it was a bureaucratic nightmare just 10 years ago.
Let me conclude on this positive note and on the values of freedom and democracy coming from the French and American revolutions and that are at the core of our common DNA. These values that we have in common are today our best guide, I would even say our best moral compass to confront together the current challenges we face.
Alors mes chers amis, vive les Etats-Unis, vive la France, et vive l’amité franco-americaine.
Question: There hasn’t been a question on the euro so I’m going to ask that. Twenty years ago the euro was introduced to the world through the Treaty of Maastricht as a way of bringing Europe together. And the question over the last several years has been if the euro has done that and whether the complicated nature of different countries and economies in Europe really can support a single currency. So the question, and there might be lots of different ways to ask this, but the question here would be: does France have a position on what they think Europe should look like over the next 10 to 20 years, whether, in fact, Europe should be expanded from 27 countries and whether Europe has really worked for countries like Greece and Cyprus? Thank you.
Amb. Delattre: I think it’s important to put things into perspective. Number one: the euro is a teenager. He or she is thirteen years old. And in thirteen years, if you think about it, the euro has already been a great success story. The euro helped us Europeans get rid of decades of devaluations and has led to financial stability in Europe. But the euro has also been a great success story for our American friends. Remember, fifteen years ago, the American press was full of fears about “Fortress Europe.” ‘Ah, you will see, the euro will undermine American exchanges with Europe.’
Exactly the opposite has happened. The euro has been working as a wonderful leverage to encourage American investment and exports to Europe, that’s number one. Number two, I keep reading here and there that the euro is a weak currency. Of course it’s not. It’s a strong currency, a solid currency. So much so that in thirteen years, the euro has seen its exchange rate increase by 20% against the dollar. So much so that the euro has become in thirteen years the second-largest currency reserve in the world, preceded only by the dollar, that’s point number two.
And point number three, of course seen from this side of the Atlantic, we the 17 countries of the eurozone, are by definition too slow to react, compared to the expectations of the market. But, please keep in mind, that under German-French leadership, we in the eurozone are seriously addressing the three key challenges that we have to meet at the same time. Chapter one: tightening the belt in order to tackle our debts and deficits. There is no choice. We’re doing our share in France with a 60 billion euro consolidation plan.
Chapter two is about promoting growth because if we only add a consolidation plan to an austerity plan, we’ll have a recession in Europe. And that would be a big problem for our American friends. So this is the French message: At the same time that we tackle our debts and deficits, we have to promote growth in Europe, not through public spending—that would be a contradiction with chapter one—but through structural reforms. That’s what I said about innovation, about entrepreneurship, about bringing more flexibility to our labor market, which are among the key priorities announced and implemented by President Hollande.
And chapter three is about governance. When we founded the euro thirteen years ago, we founded a monetary union, but we forgot about the economic leg of it. By that I mean the convergence of our economies; the labor market mobility; the better coordination of our economic, fiscal, social policies. That’s what we’re doing right now, under German-French leadership, to promote a better governance of the eurozone and have a better decision making process. For example, what is happening, what happened in Cyprus is something that could not happen next year when we will have the tools of the banking union that we decided to put in place. So at the end of this crisis, we in Europe will be much stronger, much better equipped to avoid such a crisis from happening in the future, and therefore stronger partners for you in America.
Moderator: Thank you, Mr. Ambassador. (End)