The State of the U.S. -Transatlantic Relationship

The Interdependence of the EU and the U.S.
Mr. Fran‡ois Bujon de l’Estang, the current French Ambassador to the U.S., was greeted by the HBS community with much anticipation last Monday afternoon where he delivered the first lecture sponsored by the HBS European Club’s new team to a packed crowd in Aldrich Hall. The crowd was visibly anxious to hear Mr. De L’Estang views on Mr. Le Pen’s unexpected success in the first round of Presidential voting last Sunday which has turned the usual rules of politics upside down and caused much stir and anxiety in and outside of France.

Mr. De Le’Estang, a graduate of Harvard’s Advanced Management Program (1980) and President of the Harvard Business School Club of France, started off by informing his audience that he preferred to speak informally rather than from prepared remarks and that he plans on focusing on the current status of affairs between the U.S. and the EU. He went on to highlight the extent of interdependence that currently exists between the U.S. and the EU emphasizing that they are each others largest trading partner (with bilateral trade topping $557bn in 2000) and cross investments of $1400bn. Furthermore, he mentioned that over 6 million jobs were created via European investments in the U.S. with over 2100 French subsidies currently present in America.

Issues of Dispute
Mr. De L’Estang then went on to touch on some of the thorny issues that are currently in contention between the EU and US emphasizing that, despite (or because) of the high degree of interdependence and the size of both markets, the two sides are not only partners but also invariably competitors. The Banana Wars that we all studied in BGIE, the current debate around steel, the foreign sales corporation issue and the controversy surrounding genetically modified beef are all areas where the two sides have yet to reach an agreement. Even though such disputes comprise no more than 3-5 % of the total bilateral trade, Mr. De L’Estang went on to reiterate that they are frequently mentioned (and played up) by the media. “As long as they remain within reasonable bounds and do not reach critical mass or become further politicized,” he noted, ” there shouldn’t be any reason to be concerned, contrary to what the popular press seems to think.”

After briefly highlighting what he termed the “ambivalence of the US towards European construction” (European defense outside of NATO, the Euro, and EU trade barriers were where all topics the U.S. seems to be skeptical about), he went on to take questions from the attentive audience.

Q&A Session
During the Q&A session, Mr. De L’Estang was predictably asked the question that was on everybody’s mind: what impact does LePen surprising victory in the French Presidential elections have on bilateral relations? He brushed off the importance of the initial results, insisted that he does not think there will be much impact because “the elections are only midway through and because the French electorate, not unlike its American counterpart, tends to be very inwardly drawn when it comes to domestic elections.” A little bit later, he diplomatically countered the question about whether he would continue to serve as Ambassador under Le Pen saying that he would not serve under an administration that does not respect the basic tenets of democracy and the values he believes in.

After taking a subsequent question about the “French cultural exception,” the questions became more heated as the audience questioned the Ambassador on France’s stance towards the Middle East and the perceived anti-Semitism, which manifested itself in the destruction of various synagogues in France in recent weeks. Explaining that he perceives the current anti-Semitic tensions in France to be a spillover from the Middle East Crisis, he went to say that such actions are unacceptable and that France is committed to protecting its Jewish citizens. In a nation that currently includes almost 6 million Arab immigrants (almost 10% of the population) as well as 700,000 Jews (the largest Jewish population outside of Israel and the U.S.), such incidents damage the French social fabric. He insisted that the government is very concerned, that it is finding ways to protect all its citizen but that given the fact that France has been a largely homogeneous society in the past, it is currently struggling with adjusting to the new reality that its population is becoming more diverse and is actively searching for ways to reconcile such tensions.

Finally, the Ambassador underlined France’s support of the U.S. on its “war against terrorism” reminding the audience that Chirac was the first European leader to visit the US after 9/11 and that 4700 French troops have participated in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. However, he did warn against unilateral tendencies tin the U.S., and said that France, not unlike many other European and Arab countries has warned the U.S. against military action against Iraq given the current tensions in the region. He insisted that military response is not always the most effective ways of achieving goals and that the U.S. should be very careful as it weighs its policies in the Middle East, going forward.

Adriano Di Petrillo (NE), new co-President of the European Club noted that they were very pleased with the high level of attendance amongst the HBS Community. “We also felt that the Ambassador’s visit was very timely,” said Alexandre Pham (NH) who helped organize the event, “especially in light of recent political events in France and the outcome of the initial Presidential Elections.”