The following was contributed by Anesa Diaz-Uda, a second-year MPA student.
Part of what has made my SIPA education so special is the access to world-renowned scholars as well as current and former global leaders. Just this year I’ve attended several lectures with Jeffrey Sachs and Joseph Stiglitz, and heard President Kirchner of Argentina and the former Secretary-General of the UN, Kofi Annan. Monday morning I was lucky enough to add President Nicolas Sarkozy to my list. Below are some of the key points I took away:
Columbia University’s President Bollinger introduced President Sarkozy as a fresh leader, unafraid of controversy. Sarkozy lived up to his reputation, immediately expressing his intent to not use a speech. Rather, he would speak to us as candid friend – a very charismatic and focused one.
President Sarkozy first admitted his admiration for the US, and its unequaled power in the global order. He concentrated on the idea that with power comes responsibility, namely a responsibility to listen and exchange ideas with others. He made it clear that Europe wanted to be heard in such a setting.
The value of this exchange, for Sarkozy, was particularly potent in this moment of crisis. He impressed upon all of us a 1) Need for new answers, 2) Need to renew the existing model, 3) Need to do all of this together.
As he put it, “This is why I am here in the States.” He hoped to foster a free and open discussion at Columbia as well as at the White House the following day.
One of the main topics in this discussion was economic regulation. Sarkozy felt that the financial market must be regulated. It lacked structure, and without a mechanism that holds people accountable in good and bad times, another crisis would ensue. He understood that as a Frenchman speaking in favor of regulation, many would suspect him of socialism or at the very least anti-free market sentiments. This was not the case. He spoke favorably of capitalism, however, he genuinely believed that only regulation would save a faltering free market economy.
He couldn’t defend a system where so many people who were not responsible for market failures got hurt, and would consider himself an accomplice should he not attempt to create a system to regulate the global economy. He then cited examples such as the oil market, which is subject to much fluctuation, as an industry in need of some ground rules. He genuinely believed that it was in the interest of all stakeholders, particularly producer-states and top consumers to set a targeted price for barrels of oil. He spoke harshly on the topic of speculative bubbles, but repeatedly said he thought that it was “well and proper” for businessmen and women who produce innovative products and services to make large profits – he was simply not pleased with the idea of people simply speculating on derivatives, for example, making immense sums of money.
Sarkozy also made it clear that he believed we need new metrics for understanding and measuring growth. He spoke highly of Joseph Stiglitz’s work, and supported the idea that sustainable growth requires the measurement of new more qualitative concepts. He also spoke of his hope to create a new international institution dedicated to monetary policy – similar to what we saw during and in the wake of WWII with the Bretton Woods System.
Sarkozy moved from his economic and financial evaluation, to the topic of new world governance. He spoke candidly about the need for reform in the UN, particularly the Security Council. He impressed upon us the need to think about the countries of tomorrow. When referencing the G8, he said, “We can’t manage tomorrow’s conflicts alone.”
He spoke briefly about security, and compared the attacks in Moscow’s subway system to 9/11. For Sarkozy, the fight against terrorism is everyone’s fight, and he pledged his support and military to the War in Afghanistan.
President Sarkozy ended his conversation again speaking of the value of listening and engaging the international community in this time of crisis, and spoke of his admiration of President Obama. “We were proud of you when you elected Obama.” He saw the US as a country making much progress. He did, however, ask the American people to not lag behind the US President specifically with regard to financial and environmental regulation.
He then took questions. Questions ranged from US healthcare reform to what a new UN Security Council would look like. He was as lively and honest in his responses, once even citing his wife, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, who was in attendance and as expected, looked stunning.