French wines and bottled water, poured down the drain in the United States under the watchful eye of the media, were some of the first casualties of Franco-American diplomatic clashes over Iraq. How ironic, then, that this year’s Group of Eight (G8) summit should take place in Evian, France, home of the world-famous eponymous water. The June summit addresses the question of how to re-launch economic growth and, under French President Jacques Chirac’s impetus, the search for ways to craft a “more responsible, more secure and more democratic globalization.” Despite this nice rhetoric, however, the summit is acting as a magnet for anti-globalization activists, as have recent such summits from Birmingham in 1998 to Genoa in 2002. This year, the activists have chosen the illegitimacy of the G8 as their official theme for mobilizing protest. Thus, beyond being the first true test of Franco-American relations in the postwar period, the 2003 G8 summit is also interesting for observers of French society and politics, because it may force France to confront its own uncertain and often contradictory discourse about globalization.
A Major Player in Globalization
Far from a victim of globalization, France is actually one of its major beneficiaries. Evian itself is a symbol of a French economy thriving thanks to globalization. Evian is owned by Danone—the world’s largest distributor of fresh dairy products and bottled water, and the second largest in terms of cookies and cereal products with sales in 120 countries and a turnover in 2002 of over 14 billion euros.
Like Danone, many other French companies have been transformed by globalization—and have found ways to use the opportunities offered by an expanding world market to their advantage. Indeed, in spite of its reputation for protecting state-run, uncompetitive firms, France has fostered an impressive roster of large, dynamic corporations led by a new breed of young and aggressive corporate leaders. In the Forbes 2003 ranking of the world’s “best” companies, France held the number two spot for the first time with 34 companies, well behind the US (156 companies), but ahead of Japan (25), the UK (22) and Germany (18).