There are few better ways for former friends to kiss-and-make-up after a falling out, than with a dinner at an exclusive hotel at the glitzy Place Vendome in Paris.
And that is exactly what France and the United States did at what’s being called ‘The Atlantic Dinner.’
Like many couples, they had grown apart after an argument. Unlike most couples though, this quarrel was about a war.
But now they are each feeling the pinch of money troubles and some neighbours are proving troublesome on the other side of the global fence.
So America’s ambassador to France and President Sarkozy’s Chief Foreign Policy Adviser decided to put on a very open show of the two countries’ new found closeness and unity.
There were no fewer than eight ambassadors on the guest list for this Franco-American exchange of ideas, as well as captains of industry and some of the most senior figures from the world of finance. But both France and the United States are major economic powers in their own right. So why the need for this very public display of mutual back-slapping ?’
‘Two nations formed in liberties with the same shared liberties and shared values. Friends sometimes have small fights. But every issue that matters to America right now….From Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, global warming, global climate change, missile defence — you name it — Middle East peace, France is at our side,” said US Ambassador to France, Charles Rivkin.
President Sarkozy’s chief foreign policy adviser, Jean-David Levitte added: “Let’s not forget that the European Union represents more than 30 per cent of gross global production. The united States — 23.5 per cent. So together we are the two heavyweights of the economy.”
In recent years, an argument between the friends proved too much. In 2003, the Bush administration wanted to invade Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein, claiming he had weapons of mass destruction.
At the United Nations France made its opposition clear. The foreign minister at the time, Dominique de Villepin delivered a lashing speech: “The American Secretary of State Mr Powell has talked about the supposed links between al-Qaeda and the Baghdad regime. The research and information we have at the moment, gathered in conjunction with our allies, does not allow us to establish that such links exist.”
While Chirac held power in Paris, Franco-US relations chilled.
But things changed when Nicolas Sarkozy took over at the Elysee Palace in 2007. In the US, George ‘Dubya’ decided to put the fierce French opposition to the Iraq war on one side and organise a home-style get together at the Bush family residence at Kennebunkport in Maine.
Over hot-dogs and hamburgers, the ice began to thaw, and both sides reminisced about the military support they have given each other over more than 200 years.
It was a theme re-visited in January 2010 in Paris.
‘Our good old friendship has returned,” Levitte said, ‘like the times of Lafayette, or like the moment when the American troops landed on our beaches on June 6th, 1944.’
Rivkin was similarly nostalgic: ‘America exists because of France. There’s no debate about it. Without Rochambeau and Lafayette we wouldn’t be here. And so they’re our oldest ally, one of our closest friends. The new warmth comes from the election of President Obama and the election of President Sarkozy.’
But the two countries were keen not to wallow in the past, and show this Parisian gathering how much common ground they have together.
In a question and answer session, Alison Smale from the International Herald Tribune asked: “Who has to take the first decisive step to re-launch this trans-atlantic alliance – Europe or the United States?”
Jean-David Levitte replied: “President Sarkozy’s initiatives have brought an end to the war between Russia and Georgia, he’s proposed to the world and Europe a way to manage a crisis which was meant — and I’ll say this in front of several bankers and major financial players in our country — that certain evenings, we were asking ourselves if the banking world would fall back the next morning. He has reacted quickly and strongly. No-one should question that the EU has reacted quickly and strongly with meetings of the eurogroup, the 27 (EU member nations) the partnership with the United States, the G20 etc.”
Charles Rivkin added: “As far as what it takes for Europe to get America’s attention – Europe has America’s attention. With 60 per cent of the world’s GDP represented by the union between the EU and the United States it’s not only a matter of economy, it’s a matter of national security. A strong Europe is in America’s best interests. Europe is America’s strongest ally, but not only that, we have shared values and a shared history.”
The financial crisis dominated the dinner, with both representatives stressing that millions of jobs depend on world leaders getting it right.
And Ambassador Rivkin spoke with admiration of some of the methods France uses to get things done.
“Let me tell you about France and its business. Thirty years ago when America was facing gas lines we began to invest in R&D for new energy, and ultimately we kind of gave it up and built bigger and more polluting cars, more gas guzzling cars. France spent billions and billions of dollars building nuclear power-plants. As a result France generates 77 per cent of its electricity from nuclear power. It was an enormous bet, an enormous risk. France did it, and they’re winning as a result.”