About the Author: Mr. Evan G. Reade is the U.S. Consul General in Strasbourg
Time flies! We’re already two months into 2012, and it seems like just yesterday we were wandering through the Christmas markets in Alsace. And what have we been doing since the tourists went home and the market stalls were packed away? Well, first of all, trying to stay warm! We suffered through a cold spell here in Europe and in Eastern France the likes of which no one I spoke to in Alsace had ever experienced before. Hopefully that is behind us, and Spring will be just around the corner.
Seriously, we have been quite busy so far this year, which will witness major political events in both France and in the United States. Presidential elections in France are scheduled for April and May, and all indications are that they will be hard fought and very exciting. We will be working hard with the Embassy to “take the political pulse” of the region in the period leading up to the elections. At the same time, there is an incredible amount of interest here in France about the upcoming Presidential election in November and the ongoing Republican Party primary process that is taking place now. Although they have their own election to think about, I am always amazed by how much the people here know about our elections and by how closely they follow them. We’ll be quite busy in the coming months answering questions about how America chooses its leaders.
We’ve also been traveling a bit in the Consular District, visiting the cities of Metz, Nancy, and Colmar (three times!) to help welcome the New Year, to learn more about commercial opportunities, and to help observe memorial ceremonies to mark moments in our shared history that must not be forgotten, such as the liberation of Colmar. I was also honored to be present at ceremonies in Strasbourg to bid farewell and good luck to 150 soldiers of Eurocorps as they departed for a six month tour of duty in Afghanistan, and in Colmar to welcome home the French 152nd Battle Group, which recently completed a successful deployment in the Surobi District of Kabul Province. These are challenging times in the world, but French and American forces continue to work and fight together to protect and advance our common and shared interests and values.
The Council of Europe (COE) is also off to a busy start in 2012. The Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) met in January and, in addition to electing a new President, Jean-Claude Mignon of France, and a new Human Rights Commissioner, Nils Muiznieks of Latvia, it tackled a number of issues that continue to be in the spotlight of European headlines, including Ukraine, Bosnia, Russia, Serbia, and Belarus. Women’s rights, the fight against domestic violence, demographic issues and forced population transfers, as well as the right of all to participate in cultural life were also addressed by the PACE. The Committee of Ministers (COM) and Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland continue to focus on continuing political developments in Syria, Ukraine, and Hungary, while the European Court of Human Rights finds itself on the front page as controversy simmers about the possible need for reform in order it to get control of a huge backlog of cases, which are partially the result of its growing success and relevance in the field of human rights. The United States and COE continue to work closely to advance common interests. As February drew to a close, Deputy Secretary General Maud de Boer-Buquicchio was in the U.S. where she met with Department of State officials to discuss women’s issues, anti-trafficking in humans, and human rights issues more broadly. At the same time, the current and former Presidents of the Court of Human Rights were in Washington to participate in a seminar at George Washington University with the Department’s Office of Legal Advisor and the United States Supreme Court. I enthusiastically urge anyone interested in human rights issues to visit the Council of Europe’s website at www.coe.int to find out more about what this important organization is accomplishing.
Finally, we had the chance to visit with some of our closest and most important friends and collaborators. I was thrilled to participate in annual general meetings hosted by Alsace-Etats Unis in Strasbourg and Association Alsace-Etats Unis Haut-Rhin in Colmar. And we co-hosted events at the Residence with Americans in Alsace and with the Strasbourg Chapter of the American Chamber of Commerce. If you’re not already a member of one of these important groups, think about joining one, or more! It’s a great way to meet some wonderful people and to help promote the cultural, historical, and commercial ties that bind this region of France and the United States.
I hope 2012 is off to a great start for all of you, too. More later!
Evan G. Reade