PARIS – When François Hollande, fresh from his election as France’s next president, was asked by a journalist which language he would use when he meets US President Barack Obama for the first time, his answer was revealing. “I speak English more fluently than the former president,” the Socialist leader insisted, referring to the outgoing Nicolas Sarkozy. “But a French president must speak French!”
In proclaiming his mastery of the lingua franca of global affairs, Hollande was asserting himself as a modern statesman, while also suggesting that France will remain as influential as possible on the international scene. Indeed, he was proclaiming his commitment to internationalism and multilateralism. In order to remain a country that punches above its weight diplomatically, it is in France’s interest to operate through international organizations rather than to rely on bilateral relationships.