French President François Hollande travelled to the United States last week for an official State visit at the invitation of President Barack Obama, aiming to symbolize the renewal of French-American relations.
Such a visit had not occurred since Former French President Jacques Chirac visited Bill Clinton in 1996.
Hollande and Obama published a co-written article in Le Monde in partnership with the Washington Post. The piece was used as a sign of alignment in which they discussed their common endeavors and emphasized their international cooperation regarding issues they both face. Obama underlined the importance and efficiency of Hollande’s military policy in Africa. The article also discussed climate change, for which they called for an agreement and an expansion of clean energy partnerships.
President Hollande arrived in Washington on Monday 10 Feb. where he was greeted by the Obamas and a salute of 21 cannon shots before meeting with President Obama two American veterans of WWII who served in France. They flew together on Air Force One to visit Monticello. By paying tribute to Thomas Jefferson, a founder of the United States and a president famous for his love of French culture, the visit emphasized the historical ties between France and the United States.
The next day, both leaders held a press conference back in Washington where they focused on the unprecedented level of cooperation between their countries. They approached issues such as climate change, ongoing negotiations with Iran, and the stagnating talks in Syria with a united vision. Apart from international security issues, their bilateral discussion also included strengthening trade agreements and multiplying joint development efforts. Obama also announced that he accepted the invitation from Hollande to attend the 70th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy during World War II in June.
The press conference was the opportunity for both leaders to display the friendly state of their relationship following the NSA scandal. Hollande and Obama both declared having established an understanding regarding the NSA revelations and that they focus now on their cooperation on the matter. Despite this unusual degree of rapprochement, when asked which of France and United Kingdom was America’s best ally, President Obama declined to choose, comparing them to his own daughters and saying the choice would simply be impossible.
A State dinner was held that night on the White House lawn and attended by approximately 300 guests, including Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund Christine Lagarde. Valerie Trierweiler did not attend the dinner following her separation from the French President due to allegations of his affair with French actress Julie Gayet.
Hollande left Washington on Wednesday for Silicon Valley, where he met with a delegation of French entrepreneurs. This special trip was as an effort by the French government to encourage French entrepreneurship. He then gave a press conference at the City Hall of San Francisco, calling it the place where the future is being built, where 300 French companies are based. The last French leader to make the trip was Mitterrand in 1984.
Traditionally, a State visit includes an address Congress, but Hollande’s decision to visit Silicon Valley on his last day left no time in the schedule for such an appearance. Some have claimed that Hollande preferred not to go to Capitol Hill out of fear of addressing a half-empty Congress, like former President Jacques Chirac during his visit in 1996.
The State visit was crucial for President Hollande to boost his domestic popularity which has seen a gradual decrease since his election in May 2012. He is at lowest approval ratings ever recorded for a French President of the 5th Republic.