Mrs Christine Lagarde Awarded the Legion of Honor
Residence of France, June 13, 2014
Madame la Directrice Générale, Chère Christine,
Distinguished Guests – I wish I could mention each and every one of you by name,
Chers amis, Dear friends,
It is an immense pleasure and a great honor for Sophie and me to welcome you tonight to our temporary Résidence on this very special occasion, as we are gathered here this evening to honor Christine Lagarde, one of the world’s most remarkable and most talented leaders, who is also a unique bridge between our two countries and a truly exceptional individual.
- Ambassador Delattre, Christine Lagarde and Sophie L’Hélias-Delattre
Sophie and I are humbled and moved that you Christine have chosen this venue for this ceremony.
Humbled, because there are occasions when the one bestowing the award is even more honored than the one receiving it. That is the situation tonight.
Moved too, because you represent the very best that our country has to offer, and because your friendship means the world to Sophie and me.
I would like to extend a warm welcome to Christine’s family and friends who have joined us here this evening to show their support and admiration.
With a special word of appreciation to Xavier, to whom I also want to pay tribute tonight. Xavier’s intelligence and humility is only matched by his extraordinary entrepreneurial talent, and he is living proof that entrepreneur remains a French word.
- Christine Lagarde and Madeleine Albright
And Chère Christine I know that your friend Sonia Criseo celebrated your decoration at lunch earlier today with your sons Pierre Henri and Thomas.
Mes chers amis, the Legion of Honor was created in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte to reward extraordinary accomplishments and outstanding services rendered to France, based on a decision by the President of the French Republic. And the rank of Officier that I will bestow upon Christine Lagarde in a few minutes is truly exceptional.
It is France’s highest distinction and one of the most coveted in the world – and you know the long tradition of French modesty…
Chère Christine, you are the best example of what the combination of an American and a French education can achieve.
You were born Christine Lallouette, on New Year’s Day, in the 9th arrondissement of Paris, in a family of academics. Your father, Robert, was an English Professor while your mother, Nicole, was a Latin teacher (agrégée de lettres classiques). After your father passed away, when you were 16, with great strength and courage your mother raised a family of four: you and your three younger brothers.
You spent your childhood in Le Havre, in Normandy, and you had such a passion for synchronized swimming that you earned a bronze medal in the French National Championship at the age of 15!
After receiving your baccalauréat in 1974, you decided to study abroad and chose to come to the United States. Thanks to an American Field Service scholarship, you attended the well-known Holton Arms School in Bethesda.
During your year in America, you forged a deep relationship with your American host family, and here I am so pleased to recognize Bill and Marion Atkins and their daughter Elizabeth. Christine considers you family.
During your stay at their home, you decided to experience the political world in DC and interned in the office of then Representative William Cohen, whom we have the pleasure of welcoming tonight.
During your internship, you helped Congressman Cohen to respond to all the mail from his French Canadian constituents in Maine, when the Hill was dealing with the Watergate hearings. This personal and professional experience was one of the very first signs of Christine Lagarde’s strong interest and love for the United States, her love to serve and help others and her ability to build bridges among different cultures - all of which explain in part her extraordinary success as an attorney, as Europe’s most popular Finance Minister and now at the helm of the IMF.
Back in France, chère Christine, you graduated from the prestigious law school at University Paris X, and graduated with a Master’s degree from the Political Science Institute in Aix-en- Provence.
After being admitted to the Paris Bar, in 1981 you joined the Chicago-based firm Baker & McKenzie, where your career skyrocketed throughout the top executive echelons of the firm to become its Chairman.
While you were brilliantly managing Baker & McKenzie from Chicago, you were a member of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), where together with Zbigniew Brzezinksi you co-chaired the USA-Poland Defense Industries working group (1995-2002) and worked on issues regarding the liberalization of Polish exchanges.
In July 2000, you were named Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur by President Jacques Chirac.
In 2005 you were called to serve in the French government as Minister for Foreign Trade. Less than two years later, after a brief stint as Minister for Agriculture, you became the first woman from a G7 country to hold the post of Finance and Economy Minister.
You were so successful that in 2009 the Financial Times ranked you the best Finance Minister in the Eurozone.
As a member of the G-20 and its Chairman in 2011, you were deeply involved in the Group’s management of the financial crisis, where your exceptional skills helped guide the world through a historic crisis.
Your outstanding record is well known, and as G-20 chair, you launched a wide-ranging agenda to reform the international monetary system.
Having earned worldwide recognition for your skills and talents, you were elected by the IMF board in June 2011 as the 11th Managing Director of the IMF, once again the first woman to hold the position. You took office amid a very difficult crisis in Europe that was reverberating all over the international markets.
Under your watch, the IMF launched a massive lending program to tackle the sovereign debt issue in Europe and partnered with EU institutions, EU member states, the United States and other key allies to make sure Europe got out of the crisis and recovered swiftly.
Today, you preside over an institution that has never been so crucial, not only to monitor the worldwide economic situation but to address, with strengthened tools, crises that can roll over the international markets or destabilize countries, like Ukraine at the moment.
Dear Christine, Dear friends,
Today Christine Lagarde is one of the world’s most powerful, respected and admired leaders. It is no surprise that she has been recognized as such by the most influential media outlets. You are ranked as one of the most powerful global leaders and we are all fortunate and grateful to have you at the helm of the IMF.
Your commitment to fostering the relationship between France and the United States is second to none, and you miss no opportunity to promote Franco-American partnerships in the field of education and university collaborations in particularly, as illustrated by your support to the French Lycées across the country and to the Centre France Chicago at the University of Chicago for instance. And I could give many others illustrations of this.
Along with her unique professional accomplishments, Christine Lagarde is an exceptional individual. For you Christine, public service, serving others, bringing people together is part of your DNA.
A loyal friend, you are a woman of conviction with a strong backbone and you stand up for your humanist values. For example you have never been afraid to tell bankers exactly what you think.
As the daughter of teachers, education has always been one of your priorities. Whenever your travels take you to a foreign country you ask to visit a school and sit down with the students.
Fighting the glass ceiling has been one of your lifetime commitments - and accomplishments. You don’t tell the world that women are global leaders: you show them. And you offer a global perspective. As you said in an interview published in the last edition of Fortune Magazine – and I quote:
“the glass ceiling is unfortunately a kaleidoscope across the world, and not one-faceted as we tend to look at it from an advanced economic point of view. So when I talk about the glass ceiling, I think about that kaleidoscope that applies in Afghanistan, the Emirates, and Saudi Arabia and African countries, and Germany and Japan and the U.S. It’s multifaceted, and it’s still there. It’s a factor of culture” (endquote). To take just one example among many others, Sophie and I were struck by your commitment to supporting the role of women in Afghanistan.
Chère Christine, you also love to sing, especially French singers such as Brel, Brassens and Barbara, whose entire repertoire you know by heart. This runs in the family, as one of your brothers and his wife are opera singers. Recently you wrapped up your evening at a famous Russian restaurant in Paris where you amazed guests by joining the singer and pianist on Brel’s “Le Plat Pays” and Barabara’s “L’Aigle Noir”, two very famous French songs.
So tonight, on behalf of the President of France and in recognition of your extraordinary accomplishments in France and on the global scene, especially at the head of the IMF, as well as for your personal commitment to French-American friendship, it is a great privilege for me to bestow upon you the insignia of Officier in the Legion of Honor.
Christine Lagarde, au nom du Président de la République et en vertu des pouvoirs qui nous sont conférés, nous vous faisons Officier de la Légion d’Honneur.