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Introductory Remarks at World Leaders Forum with President Nicolas Sarkozy of France

Introductory Remarks at World Leaders Forum with President Nicolas Sarkozy of France

March 29, 2010

It is my pleasure to welcome everyone to this World Leaders Forum event featuring President Nicolas Sarkozy of France. I want to acknowledge our co-sponsors, especially the Maison Francaise, which played a critical role in making today's event possible, as well as the Columbia-Paris Alliance Program. I also offer special thanks to the Consulate General of France in New York for helping to arrange this event. I would also like a very special welcome to First Lady Carla Sarkozy. Will you please stand so that we can welcome you? I would also like, again, to send a very special welcome to Christine Lagarde, France's Minister of Economic Affairs, Industry and Employment. I would also like to acknowledge my wife, Jean Magnano Bollinger, who's here.

Today is one of the highlights of the World Leaders Forum series, which has become one of the nation's leading venues for prominent and influential people to address critical issues of our time. Since 2003, this year-round program has featured heads of state from every continent. The resulting range of perspectives and the spectrum of topics discussed in the forum have enriched the already wide diversity of perspectives that characterize this great academic institution. At times, the forum has sparked meaningful discussion and debate here and around the world, which must be expected and welcomed to arise from a fundamental commitment to vigorous freedom of speech - the only position the University holds, and it holds it strongly.

Today we are honored to have President Sarkozy, the sixth president of the fifth republic of France. President Sarkozy came to the presidency after extensive public service, including nearly two decades as the mayor of a Paris suburb, as well as cabinet roles in the national government as both minister of the interior and minister of finance. He holds degrees in political science and law. And he is the author of, "Testimony: France in the Twenty-first Century" (published in 2007).

President Sarkozy holds a very special place in contemporary political culture of France, of Europe and the world. He is both vigorous and visible, outspoken and intent on action. In following him, one has the sense that he is more inclined than most to express his views as they are and without regard to the political consequences that might follow. Surely, that makes him a delight to us, those of us who inhabit the halls of the academy. I cannot say what others might think. I do sense he is unafraid of controversy, which is good since his disposition seems likely to generate a lot of it. President Sarkozy is, to be sure, praised by critics and supporters alike, for his oratory skill, his charisma, and his determined leadership.

President Sarkozy's visit to Columbia allows us to celebrate two important relationships - that of Columbia with France and the French language and culture and that of the United States with France and the French people. Today there are about two hundred students from France enrolled at Columbia. And many of Columbia's students study in France, especially at our historic site in Paris known as Reid Hall, which we just two weeks ago launched as our Global Center for Europe, part of our system of centers around the world designed to facilitate research and teaching on globalization. The Columbia-Paris Alliance Program has flourished since it was founded in 2002 with our distinguished partners Ecole Polytechnique, Sciences Po and Paris I. Already more than two hundred students have benefited from dual and joint-degree programs under the Alliance. Columbia's Mailman School of Public Health, the School of Art, the School of International and Public Affairs, the European Institute, the Institute of African Studies and many others have very active programs in or involved with France and Francophone studies. Crowning all of these activities at Columbia is the famous Maison Francaise and the Department of French, the top academic department in the United States.

In many respects, Columbia is a symbol for the historically strong relationship between the United States and France. Thousands of our citizens work in French companies in France, and just as thousands of French citizens live and work in this country for U.S. companies. As the world's fifth largest economy, as the leader of Europe, as the source of ideals to which we (and so many others) have staked our collective lives, and as the partner of the United States in nearly every international policy now (not least now in Afghanistan), we have much to celebrate in the connections between our respective countries.

Mr. President, we are very much aware that you have come to Columbia in order to deliver a major address while visiting our country. We are pleased and proud to welcome you. We also know that you come here at a moment of great uncertainty and even crisis in world affairs. The fragile recovery from a near global financial collapse begs for solutions beyond nations voluntarily moving in concert (almost always a remedy unlikely to succeed). The long-term disaster of climate change poses the additional dilemma of how to overcome the human tendency to short-sightedness. Meanwhile, extremism and its propensity to violence plague our opportunities to build better lives for everyone. Yet, unjust inequality and marginalization of populations remain our responsibility to remedy, if we are to speak credibly about the potential we see in our political, economic and social philosophies. And for all this we are in critical need of a free and uninhibited flow of information and ideas, and yet we are experiencing a rise in censorship around the globe that threatens our capacity to see and think clearly. We are, in short, in desperate need of strong global norms and institutions to guide us successfully through this new century. A fresh leadership on a scale that re-ordered the world after World War II.

Mr. President, you have spoken to all of these issues. And because of your important office we have listened intently, with admiration at your fearless outspokenness, and we will do so again today. Thank you for allowing Columbia to share in your present visit to the United States (and, when you dine tomorrow evening alone with President Obama, would you please extend to him the very best regards from his alma mater). President Sarkozy.