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Remembering the “Freedom Fries” Episode in Washington

Nathalie Loiseau, former director of the French administration school and Minister of European Affairs in the recently-formed Macron government, spent five years in the United States working as the spokesperson for the French Embassy in Washington D.C. It was a trying time for relations between France and America.

From 2002 to 2007, when American officials in Washington needed a French opinion, they would turn to Nathalie Loiseau. She was a voice for the country in the United States. Notably, her term coincided with the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the subsequent Iraq War, an event that strained the French-American relationship. France opposed a military invasion and threatened to veto any United Nations resolution that proposed it. Many Americans received this with hostility and in the years following, prominent politicians, businessmen and celebrity figures alike would openly express anti-French sentiment. French wine was poured down the gutter, French affiliations were shunned and “French fries” were renamed “Freedom fries” in three Congressional cafeterias in 2003. To the latter, Loiseau responded to The New York Times, “We are working these days on very, very serious issues of war and peace, life or death. We are not working on potatoes,” and noted that French fries came from Belgium.

“It was as challenging as it was interesting,” she recently recalled. “Peacetime may be boring for people like me. Every morning I knew why I was going to work. I learned to talk with people who might not agree with me or understand my point, so I had to make an effort to understand theirs.”

In this time of bitter relations, Loiseau attempted to bridge the two countries with her influence. She handled American accusations and insults aimed at France with poise. Her superior at the time, French ambassador to Washington Jean-David Levitte, described her as “calm” and “serene.” In an interview with French newspaper Libération, Levitte said, “Bush, the Congress and the third power were against us. And everybody told us to let it pass. With Nathalie, who directed communications, we decided to respond. And we won.” With her help, Levitte wrote a letter to the United States Congress decrying the false statements about France in the American media, listing several lies and their perpetrators by name.

Recently, in another “victory,” Loiseau became the new Minister of European Affairs in Emmanuel Macron’s cabinet. In her new role, Loiseau will work with Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to manage France’s relationships with the European Union and represent them to the rest of the Council of Ministers, the French Prime Minister and President. She will be on the forefront of international issues such as the migrant crisis, the European economy, and security. The position is will make use of her knowledge gained abroad, talent for diffusing tensions and rapport with prominent French leaders to aid the new French government.

“In the European Union, there are lots of topics of convergence with the U.S. but also disagreements and cultural differences, with issues such as climate change or negotiations with President Trump. This is true of diplomacy as well,” she said about her new relationship with the U.S. “Welcoming the American troops in 1944 is still vivid in memories for my parents’ generation. It is absolutely key that Europe and the U.S. treasure their alliance because this sort of alliance lasts forever.”

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