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‘A friend of France’: Who is the fluent French-speaker representing the United States on the world stage?

As Joe Biden prepares to be inaugurated as US president, one member of his new team has stirred particular interest in France - Antony Blinken.

'A friend of France': Who is the fluent French-speaker representing the United States on the world stage?
US Secretary of State nominee Antony Blinken. Photo: AFP

The new Secretary of State – the US equivalent of a Foreign Minister – has deep ties to France and is a fluent French-speaker.

He spent part of his childhood in France, moving to Paris with his mother when she remarried and attending the bilingual École Jeannine Manuel.

His half-sister Leah lives in France where she runs a non-profit organisation dedicated to multicultural understanding, while his stepfather Samuel Pisar, a lawyer and Holocaust survivor, was friends with former French president Valéry Giscard d'Estaing.

Former French ambassador to the US Gerard Araud described Blinken as a “friend of France”.

A former classmate of Blinken, Robert Malley, told the Financial Times: “Tony was an American in Paris – both terms are important.

“He was very conscious of being American and he believed in American values. But he also understood how foreign policy could affect the rest of the world, because he lived abroad and saw how others looked at the United States. At the time [during the Vietnam War], the country was not particularly popular in Europe, especially in France. Tony sailed between these two worlds.”

Blinken has also spoken in the past on the importance of the EU as a partner to America.

As you would expect from someone who spent part of his childhood here, his French is fluent and he is happy to not only give speeches in French but take part in interviews and Q&A sessions in French.

 

And this skill is sufficiently unusual among American politicians to have earned Blinken plenty of positive headlines in the French press.

 

While several members of the French government speak English to a high standard – including Emmanuel Macron who is happy to make speeches in English – it's far more unusual for US politicians to speak French (and indeed the outgoing incumbent of the White House seems to struggle with English).

 

 

 

The recent exception to this has been John Kerry, who spoke good French that he learned as a child while at school in Switzerland, and during holidays at his grandparents' home in Brittany.

 

Member comments

  1. In response to the comment “indeed the current incumbent of the White House seems to struggle with English”, our President fully know the words. He just doesn’t know what they mean. And if he knew what they meant, he wouldn’t use them. I hope this clarifies his purported struggle.

  2. I should add that while Mr. Trump knows the words, he is fortunate to have consecutive translation provided by his trusted legal advisor, Rudolf Giuliani, who both provides comic relief in deflecting attention from Trump’s “struggles” and serves as Trump’s canary in the coal mine. I suspect that after Mr. Trump’s ejection from office, Mr. Giuliani will be available to perform stand-up comedy. Engagements can be secured through Four Seasons Landscaping.

  3. ” (and indeed the outgoing incumbent of the White House seems to struggle with English).” Trump needed an interpreter for English speakers.

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POLITICS

Tensions mount in France ahead of new pension strike

France braced on Monday for another day of mass protests and strikes over proposed pension reform, with the government of President Emmanuel Macron and its left-wing opponents trading blame for the expected disruption.

Tensions mount in France ahead of new pension strike

Around 1.1 million people took to the streets for the first strike day on January 19, according to official statistics, the biggest demonstrations since the last major round of pension reform under right-wing president Nicolas Sarkozy in 2010.

A police source told AFP that security forces were expecting similarly sized crowds on Tuesday, with 1.2 million seen as the upper limit at 240 demonstrations around the country.

With unions warning more stoppages are to come, the strikes represent a major test for Macron as he seeks to implement a showcase policy of his second term in office.

The president’s ministers and their opponents are desperately seeking to sway public opinion ahead of what is expected to be a bitter and costly standoff over the next month.

READ MORE: LATEST: What to expect for Tuesday’s French pension strikes

Senior hard-left MP Mathilde Panot from the France Unbowed (LFI) party accused Macron and his ministers of being responsible for the stoppages that are expected to cripple public transport and other services again.

“They’re the ones who want to wreak havoc on the country,” she told BFM TV while also criticising comments by Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin over the weekend as a “provocation.”

Darmanin, a close Macron ally, said Saturday that left-wing political parties were “only looking to screw up the country” and were defending “idleness and champagne socialism.”

Macron’s reputation

The most controversial part of the proposed reform is hiking the minimum retirement age to 64 from its current level of 62, which is the lowest level in any major European economy.

Macron made the change part of this re-election manifesto in April last year and he insists it is needed to guarantee the future financing of the pension system, which is forecast to tip into deficit in the next few years.

Opponents point out that the system is currently balanced and that the head of the independent Pensions Advisory Council recently told parliament that “pension spending is not out of control, it’s relatively contained.”

For pro-business Macron, who has repeatedly told French people they “need to work more”, failure to succeed with a signature proposal would severely undermine his credibility for the remainder of his second and last term in office, analysts say.

The government headed by Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne has signalled there is wiggle room on some measures as parliamentary committees started examining the draft law on Monday.

Conditions could be improved for people who started working very young, as well as for mothers who interrupted their careers to look after their children and for people who invested in further education, Borne has suggested.

But the headline age limit of 64 is not up for discussion, she said Sunday, calling it “non-negotiable.”

Despite the policy being a flagship of his second mandate following his 2022 re-election, Macron has so far sought to stay above the fray and commented only occasionally on the growing tensions.

Darmanin’s intervention has not helped reduce strains, with the tough-talking minister telling the Le Parisien daily Saturday the left were defending an idea of a “society without work and effort”.

Parliamentary battle

The left-wing opposition has submitted more than 7,000 amendments to the draft legislation in a bid to slow its path through parliament.

Macron’s centrist allies, short of an absolute majority in parliament, will need votes from conservatives to get their pensions plan approved.

A new poll by the OpinionWay survey group, published on Monday in Les Echos newspaper, showed that 61 percent of French people supported the protest movement, a rise of 3.0 percentage points from January 12.

A majority of French people — 56 percent — think reforming the pension system is necessary, the data showed.

But the proportion convinced of the need for change is falling, down five points since January 12, the survey group said.

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