Courtesy Reuters

EXCEPTION TO THE EXCEPTION

By Jean-François Boittin

To the Editor:

Sophie Meunier's "The French Exception" (July/August 2000) is a potpourri of cliches, non sequiturs, and sophisms. It displays ignorance of French history, politics, and current events. Defense of the French language is nothing new; it has been the stated goal of the Academie Franaise since its creation in the seventeenth century. The Union pour la Democratie Française (UDF) -- not a political party, as Meunier calls it, but a conglomerate of smaller components -- has not, along with the centrists, "finally embraced European integration"; integration has always been its raison d'être. In the Uruguay Round, movies and music were never discussed; television programming and the Directive Television Sans Frontières -- a European, not French, law -- were the only subjects of debate. Finally, local dialects and regional languages have not recently been "downplayed," as Meunier writes; they have actually been encouraged.

I have a few words of advice for Meunier. First, choose adjectives carefully. If French agriculture subsidies are "astronomical," then how would one describe American ones? (The average American farmer gets more subsidies than his European counterpart.) And do the millions of French soldiers in the cemeteries near Verdun justify the epithet "humiliating reliance on American help"? Second, avoid personal attacks. Pascal Lamy, the new European Union (EU) trade commissioner, might be French, but he has demonstrated that he is a staunch free trader in his current and past jobs. Finally, do not forget the big picture. How can one write on globalization and France in 2000 and not mention the euro, of which France has been the strongest supporter over the past ten years?

Meunier's article is disappointing especially because the questions she raises are fascinating if seen in a different light. Why is it that resistance to globalization stems primarily from the United States, after the longest period of economic expansion since World War II? After all, I was in Seattle and saw 50,000 protesters, very few of whom were French, who received qualified support from President Clinton. And why did France and the United States, prodded by anti-globalization nongovernmental organizations like Public Citizen, kill the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development negotiations on investment? And finally, how will the world -- not France -- react if globalization, as presented by its chief cheerleader, Milton Friedman, is really perceived (wrongly in my opinion) as Americanization?

One last thought: one should not forget that Jose Bove, despite all his communication skills, would still be

an unknown sheep farmer if the United States Trade Representative (USTR) had not deliberately chosen to retaliate against very symbolic French targets in response to the EU ban on American hormone-treated beef. It just happens that there are also American symbols in France, and only very shortsighted people could express surprise at the result. The USTR created Jose Bove, or at the very least, made his day.

Jean-François Boittin

Minister Counselor, Economic and Commercial Affairs, Embassy of France

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