France and Globalization

October 26, 2000

Edited transcript of remarks, 10/26/00 Carnegie Council Luncheon October 26, 2000


I am both honored and happy to have this opportunity to address you today.

As agreed, I shall briefly share with you some of my thoughts on how France is reacting to the movement of globalization in which we are all caught up.

I shall attempt to develop two additional convictions:

  1. France is comfortable with globalization.

  2. France therefore wants to take advantage of the upsides of globalization and to correct its downsides.

Let me explain each of these convictions in greater detail.

France Going Global—

Our country still has a reputation of being afraid of opening up to the outside world and of bowing to its old "chauvinist" or "protectionist" devils.

That reputation no longer matches any reality.

In every field, France is opting for opening up to the world, and is perfectly comfortable with that. Such is the case in economics. Let me provide a few examples, focused on Franco-American economic relations:

  • Franco-American trade has been following a strong, regular growth curve. From 1990 to 1998, French exports increased by nearly 90 percent!

  • Contrary to preconceived ideas, luxury goods and foodstuffs, traditionally associated with our brand image, account for no more than 22 percent of our total exports. The core consists of capital goods with a high technological content (aeronautics, automotive industry, etc.).

  • France is massively investing in the United States. Over the last three years, more than 300 French shareholdings or takeovers have been completed in a very wide range of sectors. The number of French firms locating in the United States has increased threefold since 1980.

  • Major merger and takeover operations have left their imprint on French minds: in the services sector (Havas, Accor), the multimedia (Alcatel), and water supply (Vivendi). The European Commission has just given its go-ahead to the Vivendi-Seagram deal, which will result in Vivendi Universal, one of the largest groups worldwide in NICT.

  • All in all, the United States is the leading host country to French outboard investments, both in terms of flow and in terms of stocks. We rank fourth among the foreign investors in your country.

  • In the other direction, your investments in France more than doubled between 1994 and 1998. You now rank third flow-wise and first stock-wise.

France is opting totally for globalization in other fields as well:

  • Monetary: In conjunction with eleven of our European partners we have adopted a single currency, the Euro. It is today a currency that comes in for a great deal of criticism because it has weakened considerably since its creation. Nevertheless, it has made it possible to create a zone of stability of substantial benefit to those economies behind it and which are now sheltered from competitive devaluations. The dollar has also had its weak moments. Then it recovered. I have confidence, in the medium term, in the strength of our Euro, backed by first rate economic and commercial resources.

  • Cultural: French culture has always had a universal dimension. In the 18th century, it permeated throughout Europe, linguistically, philosophically or artistically. French was the dominant language among well-educated people. Today French culture is reaching out spontaneously, reflecting its time-honored thirst for exchange and dialogue. In the United States, for instance, France is reaching out through

    • the network of American schools with French on their syllabus as well as the 138 Alliances Françaises.

    • the university cooperation agreements that have grown over the last ten years: e.g., the France-Berkeley Foundation, the French Studies Institute at Stanford, the France-Chicago Center, and the twelve multidisciplinary centers being developed on some of the most prestigious U.S. campuses.

    • operations such as the "French contemporary season of art" involving twenty-eight institutions from Seattle to San Diego, and the cooperation between the museums of our leading cities, in which Bordeaux is involved.

Finally, I should like to touch upon the political and diplomatic field.

Having been for centuries one of the world's leading powers, France has a diplomatic tradition of international presence and action. With the support of its 149 embassies and 111 consulates, forming the second largest diplomatic network in the world after that of the United States, France continues to pursue an extremely active foreign policy. It has a permanent seat with the right of veto on the Security Council. It makes a leading military contribution to the peace-keeping forces deployed in the operations under the UN flag, both as far as the funds committed and as far as the number of soldiers engaged in the various theatres of operations are concerned. Moreover, France is one of the major nuclear powers and one of the rare space powers. The French language gives it the necessary linguistic and cultural tools to maintain special communications with close to sixty countries on all five continents.

Furthermore, France is strongly committed to the construction of a European policy known as the European Common Security and Foreign Policy (ECSP), the aim of which is to give the European Union the means to play its role fully on the world stage. I know that this determination of the European Union to assert itself as a player in its own right in a globalized world may give rise here to either skepticism or hostility. But I also know that many American decision-makers have perfectly well grasped the fact that a reinforced transatlantic partnership could make a major contribution to international equilibrium, which is our common goal.

I very much hope that we shall see this drive for partnership, which already enabled us to open up new prospects at the Washington summit in April 1999 for the development of a European pillar to the Atlantic Alliance, once again at the Euro-American summit on December 18. The agenda contains a number of projects for transatlantic cooperation:

  • reflecting on information technologies

  • launching scientific collaboration in medical research

  • fighting marine pollution

  • fighting against drugs, money laundering, and the pornographic exploitation of children on the Internet

  • deciding on the future of the western Balkans

  • developing a joint strategy with respect to Russia and the Middle East peace process.

—But a Qualified Globalism

As you can see, by globalization, we French tend to mean cooperation and partnership.

Indeed, globalization, despite the advantages it provides for the prosperity of our economies, is not always a cause for enthusiasm. As you know, the French have many reservations. Currently, our biggest bones of contention are:

  • The free market creates injustice: the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, not only at home but also among nations.

  • Unmitigated liberalism overlooks the social dimension of human relations: it is tough on the weak, on children, on women, etc.

  • Excessive financialization of the economy blows artificial bubbles. When those bubbles burst, as in Asia three years ago, the resulting crisis threatens the entire world economy.

  • The markets are insensitive to ecological concerns. All-out competition can destroy natural balances and compromise the very future of our planet.

  • Globalization rhymes with standardization, meaning loss of identity, hegemony of a single culture, of a single way of eating (junk food), of a single way of talking, etc.

Whatever our political leanings, we in France are extremely sensitive to the possible fallout effects of globalization. We believe that they must be parried by working at least in two directions:

  1. Setting up a certain number of regulations designed to correct the imperfections or negative consequences resulting from the sole interplay of market forces. I shall restrict myself here to a single possible field of regulation—that of international trade. The creation of the World Trade Organization in Marrakech in 1994 and the setting-up of a mechanism for the settlement of conflicts was a major step forward. We are anxious to see that the new cycle of multilateral negotiations will enable progress simultaneously in the liberalization of trade and in the definition of a certain number of fundamental social and environmental standards which will avoid competition being changed into a general free-for-all. We know that the negotiations will be difficult and that the developing countries in particular are afraid of our imposing excessive constraints upon them. A point of balance must, however, be found. That is why we were disappointed by the ministerial conference in Seattle. We hope that the cycle can pick up again in the very near future.

  2. Ensuring continuing respect for diversity. Diversity is the wealth of the world. Globalization occasionally acts like some blind steamroller flattening every difference in sight. We are particularly attached to our cultural diversity ­ the diversity of our languages, the diversity of our cities and their planning, the diversity of our countryside, cuisine, products, etc. For that reason, we consider that cultural assets, even when their production and their distribution follow an industrial model, cannot be treated as ordinary merchandise. The diversity of nations making up the global village must maintain the necessary means to preserve the identity and originality of their various cultural productions, and what makes them so different, by correcting as required the standardizing effects of no-holds-barred competition which pits the weak against the strong. That is also very much what is at stake in the upcoming multilateral negotiations.

* * *

In conclusion to this rapid overview of the problems of globalization, I should like to say how struck I am by the concomitance of two distinct trends:

  1. globalization, leading us to the construction of what is commonly called the global village.

  2. the assertion of local or regional identities, neighborhood solidarity— spurring our fellow citizens to go looking for their roots, to profess their attachment to their own "home town." In Europe, that is a deep, powerful current. I wonder if you are experiencing the same phenomenon here in the United States.

Global Village versus Home Town: such ambivalent aspirations could be worrisome. One might fear fragmentation, withdrawal, or a return to self-centeredness or to local singularities, detrimental to the strengthening of all-embracing solidarities of universal reach.

It could also be considered that these phenomena, far from being contradictory, mutually reinforce each other. The more a person feels he or she belongs somewhere, with roots in place and in time, the more he or she will be strong and therefore outgoing, generous, and peace-loving. Personally, I support that optimistic vision. Let us therefore assume both globalization and diversity, that we can have both at once.

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