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'Difficult Partners'

photo: cafe de la poste, r campagne premiere

Part of the crowd in the Rue Campagne Première on Sunday.

A New Campus in Town

Paris:– Monday, 17. May 2004:– It is not my normal beat to be taking part in a symposium with the ponderous title of 'France and the United States – Past–Present–Future,' but this what I was doing on Friday afternoon on account of Metropole's bumper–sticker slogan contest.

At the previous day's club meeting I was stricken with dismay to discover that I had managed to overlook bringing the contest prize, so I was unable to present it to the winner, Francine Harcourt Caplan. The only chance to make good was to present it at the symposium.

As these things invariably work, it was a super bright spring day here – just the kind of day not to be inside and worrying about the bed of thorns uneasily shared by the United States and France for the past 200 years.

The 100th anniversary of the American Club of Paris was the occasion being marked by the symposium. This club, founded with the ideas of Benjamin Franklin's meetings in Parisphoto: rue campagne premiere before the American revolution, is the oldest non–diplomatic American institution in France. The majority of its 500 members are Americans, while the remainder are mostly French, with some other European nationalities as well.

Al fresco in Campagne Première.

The moderator for the afternoon session, about the odd couple's current and future status, was Ms Avis Bohlen, former US ambassador to Bulgaria, and long–time veteran of the embassy in Paris. The morning session, about the historical perspective, was moderated by François Bujon de l'Estang, Ambassadeur de France.

Ms Bohlen started off by saying that relations between the US and France look more positive than a year ago, but noted that "France is the United States' most difficult partner – it has no competition."

This got a wry laugh from the audience, which numbered about 180 – mostly wearing ties or dresses. Noting that France is seen as a distant equal because it has an army that it is willing to use, the leaders of the United States still do not appreciate France's opposition executed with 'flamboyant gusto.' The United States mistakenly believes that France should always be 'an ally in a crunch.'

Despite the crisp feelings generated over the past year, President George Bush will be visiting France to take part in the D Day memorial ceremonies in June. "The US is condemned to cooperate with Europe," Ms Bohlen said, adding, "There are no other candidates in this marriage of convenience."

The first speaker was Olivier Giscard d'Estaing, president of the INSEAD Foundation. He added the 'G8' to the odd couple's marriage, and talked about economics and politics while offering opinions probably too pragmatic to be acceptable on either side of the Atlantic, no matter how rational they may be.

Mr. d'Estaing promoted the United Nations, saying that it was created to ensure 'security.' He said that world wars are in the past, and the problem today is that people will simply move from lives of poverty to wherever they think life might be better. He thought a world government was the only solution that could manage this kind of problem.

Laurent Cohen–Tanugi, author of 'Alliance at Risk' and vice president of Sanofi–Synthélabo, began in French and switched to English. As far as business was concerned, he didn't think there were many differences between the US and France.

The thrust of his remarks focused on the 'menage–à–trois' between France, Europe and the United States – with emphasis on the growing role of the European Union. He said the days of 'Transatlantic' – or France–US relations – were over.

Instead, he suggested that the US sees the EU as a sort of 'grande France.' Or doesn't see, because France hasphoto: bistro 7 changed, due mainly to Europe. France, he thought, could best explain the EU to the United States – as well as the UN, which is poorly understood by the United States. Basically, the United States is annoyed with Europe because the US thinks it may become a strong competitor, or rival.

Third up to bat was Charles Lambroschini, deputy editor of Le Figaro. "I don't pretend to be objective," he began, before going on to say, "America has a history of not listening to France."

This was followed with, "It's true that the French press is just as ignorant as the US press." Then he spoke about his first stint in Washington at the time of Watergate and later, in the Reagan years.

He said, "France does remember that France was saved by America, twice!" And he noted that France was the only US ally never to have been at war with the United States. "Britain was at war twice," and he added, "They burned down the White House."

Speaking about Iraq, he said "We made the same mistake in Indochina."

Mr Lambroschini, who characterized himself as the best Italian correspondent with a French newspaper, was somewhat self–mocking – an attitude only Europeans seem comfortable with – saying, "Nixon lied about Watergate, the French lie too." And, "If Europeans are shy about going to war, they're not chicken. Europeans have a thousand years of wars to remember."

In the summary session that followed, one lady wanted to know the answer to a question that France's Foreign Minister did not answer some time ago. When asked if he wanted the United States to win the war, 'yes or no,' Dominique de Villepin chose not answer at all. This was a terrible 'faux–pas' the lady insisted, repeating the question several times as if it were a vital, self-incriminating clue to recent world history.

The moderator and all of the speakers tried answers but the lady was happy with none of them. There were some comments about over–emotionalism, which reminded me of other unanswered questions – better unasked – during the Clinton years.

Charles Lambroschini said, "It's better to be a journalist than in the government right now." This he modified for TV–news reporting, "Les idiots visuels." The journalist also summed up recent history with, "France est une impuissance moyen. France can't fight, so it screams."

Despite all of its power, Avis Bohlen suggested that the United States will need help to extricate itself from Iraq. Olivier Giscard d'Estaing called for a solution to be brokered multilaterally, or by the United Nations.

It seems to me that the fundamental difference between the United States and France is the definition of the necessity for war 'only as a last resort' – which is how the French government put it last year.

It hardly matters now that events have shown that unilaterally having a war with Iraq was not a 'last resort.' The thing has been done, right or wrong, and what is now needed is a speedy way to conclude it in a manner that saves some 'face' for all concerned, as well as saving some lives.

G8 + US = Private Revenge

The coming summit meeting of the 'G8' in Savannah already has a surprise in store for the press. The organization of the press centre, several dozen kilometres distant from the location of the summit meeting, has been turned over to a private catering company. For a chair they are charging $350, plus tax.

A mini TV studio costs $2500, but includes one table and two chairs. A lamp costs $95 extra, and an additional chair, $40. A telephone line has a charge of $295, and a telephone rents for $30. For a video–conference hookup to the summit meeting location, the charge is $23,000.

Le Parisien laconically notes that last year at Evian everything was on the house, and meals were tossed in, free, TTC.

New Campus for U of Chicago

I must read the wrong newspaper. Friday's Le Parisien notes that Laurent Fabius will be spending a couple of weeks teaching at the University of Chicago beginning on Tuesday, 25 May – without mentioning that the University of Chicago inaugurated its first foreign centre in Paris last Thursday and Friday.

For the occasion Chicago's mayor, Richard M. Daly, was on hand along with the university's president, Donphoto: rue campagne premiere Michael Randel. Two hundred other 'friends of the university' were in Paris, to meet with the Senat and with Paris' mayor Bertrand Delanoë. Also on hand was ex–Prime Minister Laurent Fabius, who will be a senior lecturer at the university's Chicago campus.

Not just a language school, The University of Chicago's Paris centre intends to enroll students in courses in English, economics, political science, history and mathematics, in addition to offering French and civilization courses. The Paris site, in an area being redeveloped into a learning centre, will have other activities such as colloquia, debates and conferences, that are open to researchers from France and elsewhere in Europe.

The University of Chicago considers itself to be the most European of American universities. In 1991 the French government recognized the university's standing by awarding an annual grant towards funding its 'Chicago Group on Modern France' program. France's Ministry of Foreign Affairs entered an agreement with the university in 2000 to create the 'France Chicago Center,' which promotes courses on modern France. More than 70 Nobel Prize winners have been associated with the university. Chicago and Paris became 'sister cities' in 1996.

Hooray! – the Chunnel Turns 10

It seems like only yesterday that the tunnel under the Channel opened for business, but it was ten years ago, possibly on 7. May 1994. Other than this uncertainty about the exact date, the Chunnel is real. I've been through it twice, and my feeling was that it is an extension of Paris' Métro, but with fancier wagons.

To celebrate, there have been several press features about it – mostly to bemoan its financial problems and political shortcomings. According to one opinion the Chunnel's greatest failures are the non–view from the Eurostar train and that cars can't drive through it.

This might be one of its political advantages. Suppose Napoléon or Hitler wanted to invade Britain – they would have to take the train, wouldn't they? Putting an army into Britain via the Chunnel might remove its element of surprise, but it might also make its eternally whining stockholders happy. Am I the only one who dumped the stock while there was something left of it?

But it is these other stockholders for whom the Chunnel was built. Unluckily for them, the Chunnel only makes enough to cover its operating costs by hauling seven million Eurostar passengersphoto: passage d'enfer a year through its 50 kilometres of concrete lying on the seabed between Calais to Folkestone. Car ferries and airlines handle the rest of cross–Channel traffic, but none are as fast and convenient as the Paris–London trains.

The Chunnel was conceived in the time of Margaret Thatcher, who no doubt insisted that it had to be a private–capital deal, despite ample hints that a huge infrastructure project like this would never become a blue–chip stock value. Thatcher was wrong about a lot of things, but her fans are still willing to vote for her.

Nearly everything written about the Chunnel focuses on its financial plight, and nearly nothing is ever written about what a sweet ride it is – to get on the train in London and get out less than three hours later at Gare du Nord in Paris. In my case, I switch directly to the RER and get out at Denfert–Rochereau, a ten–minute walk from my door. No ferry or airline can match it, and nobody intends to have a birthday for either.

Contre l'Antisémitisme

Between ten and 20,000 took to the streets to march on Sunday to eliminate the 'silence about anti–semitism' in France. On the tribune installed on the steps of the Opéra at Bastille there were prominent members of the government and of the opposition, plus anti–discrimination leaders.

There was some disagreement about whether the display should be purely against anti–semitism, or against all forms of discrimination. This problem was resolved by having two parades, with the second one following the first by 50 metres.

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