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Cablegate: France's Got Talent: Reaching Out to Young Leaders

VZCZCXRO9329
PP RUEHIK
DE RUEHFR #1719/01 3511558
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 171558Z DEC 09
FM AMEMBASSY PARIS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7926
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 PARIS 001719

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL FR
SUBJECT: FRANCE'S GOT TALENT: REACHING OUT TO YOUNG LEADERS

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1. (SBU) Summary. "Reform" in the political, economic, and
social arenas is a common driver behind the diverse activism
of the almost 50 young, rising French leaders who
participated in an outreach event hosted by the Embassy on
December 2. Representing a wide swatch of the French
political spectrum -- including local elected officials, key
staff for National and European Parliamentary leaders, and
NGO activists -- these up-and-coming leaders enthusiastically
shared their insights with Emboffs on a range of issues,
capped by the upcoming battle for regional elections.
Emphasizing technology as the key to getting their message to
the public, they described how they are using new media to
attract support for their issues, from campaign organization
to the environment. Curious about President Obama's
administration and decision-making process, they openly, and
deftly, discussed U.S. policy, particularly on Afghanistan.
The backgrounds, networks, and goals of some of the attendees
provide a window on the future landscape of French political
leadership.

Tech-Savvy Youth Getting Out Their Message . . .

2. (SBU) From the Deputy Mayor of Versailles,
Francois-Xavier Bellamy, to Reda Didi, a social worker who
has participated in post's Public Affairs programming, hails
from Fresnes, and is involved in developing a slate of
independent candidates for the 2012 legislative election, the
rising French politicos who attended the Embassy's early
December outreach event for young leaders frequently
mentioned "reform" as the key to a better future, emphasizing
the need for increased opportunities for participation by a
new generation in the French policymaking establishment.
Such reform depends on disseminating new ideas and political
messages out to other youth and a general population who
increasingly inform themselves via podcasts and YouTube on
their blackberries. Young French campaigners are learning
everything they can from the 2008 internet outreach of
President Obama's campaign. Tech-savvy young French leaders
able to exploit this trend are building their own bright
futures. Thomas Mimra, for example, oversaw the 2007 digital
campaign for then-presidential candidate Sarkozy. Although
no longer a member of the UMP, he remains close to the party
and to Henri Guaino, a key advisor to Sarkozy. Mimra, who
has developed ties to colleagues in Lebanon and Egypt, is
currently engaged in creating a think-tank focusing on
Euro-Mediterranean issues. Michael Benhamou serves in the
press section of the Elysee, and will conduct a special
Elysee mission to Kosovo in January. Benhamou was the UMP's
choice to cover the U.S. election from Washington in 2008.
Frederic Neau led the internet campaign for Europe-Ecologie
-- considered by some as a "massive success" for getting out
its message during the European elections. One French
interlocutor speculated that the traditional career path is
becoming more open and less restrictive due to the new
technologies. His comment: "While the traditional path is
still dominant, it is no longer the only path to political
success. And Sarkozy is an example. It will take time, but
change has begun."

. . . And Amplifying Our Message

3. (SBU) As the outreach event took place on the heels of
President Obama,s rollout of Washington's new strategy on
Afghanistan, Embassy officers reinforced POTUS' message with
the participants. Post drew upon Public Affair's extensive
French language tools to answer questions and outline what is
stake in the alliance for a young, politically savvy crowd.
Their response was favorable, including some who said they
were more receptive to our arguments in favor of increased
contributions than the French media's coverage -- which
focuses on senior party leaders opinions-- might lead us to
believe. One French attendee volunteered that not only was
he in agreement with President Obama's policy on Afghanistan,
but he also viewed the U.S. president as a careful and
thoughtful decisionmaker in comparison to Sarkozy, whom he
characterized as sometimes too quick and less thorough in his
decisionmaking.

Honing Their Skills at the Grassroots

4. (SBU) The regional elections slated for 2010 dominated
conversation among the young leaders, who agreed that
President Sarkozy would try to make the elections a test of
his mandate at the midterm and use the results to pave the
way for a government reshuffle to build the team he will lead
going in to the 2012 Presidential elections. They noted that
center left parties -- who remain in disarray at the national
but still control 20 of the 22 regions whose fate will be
decided in March -- must campaign on local issues in an
attempt to deliver a defeat to Sarkozy. That said, with the
Copenhagen Summit in the spotlight, the Europe-Ecologie group
(represented at the outreach event by Neau, Caroline

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Soubayroux and Jean-Baptiste Malet) are hoping for a strong
showing in regional elections, driven by the belief that the
public is more receptive to Ecolo's "sustainable development"
argument -- which they say is broader and less frightening to
the business community and other interest groups than the
traditional "Verts" ("Greens") program. The Ecolos rely upon
a very young demographic base which is growing faster than
that of other political parties, and they are convinced that
they have a strong chance to win in at least one region, with
3-4 regions being their ambitious goal. Their message is
popular with youth, and the young find them more believable
than other parties which, according to the Ecolo
representatives, are increasingly "stealing" Ecolo policy
platforms to attract voters, but are viewed as simply paying
lip service to the issues without demonstrating commitment to
action.

Diverse Interests but a Common Passion

5. (SBU) The young leaders who attended the outreach
represented diverse backgrounds and a wide array of political
persuasions, while sharing a common passion about their
varying issues. In fact the event brought together minority
leaders, including those who participated in PA programs,
with their compatriots following the more classic route to
power in French politics. A snapshot of some leaders to
watch that demonstrates such diversity and drive includes:

Benjamin Benita -- well-connected in the Middle East
(especially in Israel and Palestine), Benita works for a
large public museum for outreach in the whole Mediterranean
area and is close to the Socialist Party;
Pierre Catalan -- a dynamic individual who is currently a top
consultant for a leading public relations agency, EURO RSCG,
Catalan is a member of the "Jeunes Europeens," wrote for
Liberation.fr during the European elections campaign, and is
now focusing full-time on the Greens regional campaign;
Mohamed Chirani -- a political activist who works in the
prefecture of Saint-Denis, especially in the "tough" areas of
the suburbs, Chirani has a rare expertise regarding these
issues;
Thibault Delahaye -- a young militant, who like many of the
young leaders we met, started his political life with the
2005 referendum on the European Constitution, Delahaye is a
member of the inner circle of the supporters of current IMF
chief and potential future socialist party presidential
candidate Dominic Strauss-Kahn. An elected member of the
Malakoff (a suburban area of Paris), and a member of the
bureau of youth socialists, he is simultaneously serving as
assistant to two MP's and finishing his law degree;
Jean-Baptiste Malet -- a 22-year-old candidate for the Greens
at the most recent cantonale elections, Malet received a
respectable 15% in an area that is not particularly
Green-friendly and will be in charge of content for the
"Verts" in the forthcoming regional elections; and
Phillipe Perchoc -- founder of the think tank, "Nouvelle
Europe," Perchoc -- who comes from a Christian-right
pro-European political family and is a PhD student at
Science-Po who published more than 60 articles last year --
specializes on the Baltics and has an extensive network in
Central and Eastern Europe.

Looking to the U.S. for Inspiration

6. (SBU) Whatever their party affiliation, the young leaders
consistently embrace the "positive politics" they ascribe to
President Obama. One young leader noted that he was in New
York at the time of the U.S. election in 2008 and wished he
had been an American in order to vote for President Obama.
Indeed, many of the young French leaders had some experience
either studying or working in the United States. For
example, Benjamin Bechaux, a former adviser of Jean-Pierre
Jouyet (European Minister during the French Presidency of the
European Council) and now an adviser of the SIG (Service
d'information du Gouvernment) -- the French Government's
public affairs agency -- spent a year serving in the French
Consulate in Houston. Soubayroux (Europe-Ecologie) just
returned to France after a year at Harvard.

7. (SBU) This event builds on a series of training programs
and exchanges for young elected officials in France from
disadvantaged backgrounds launched this year by the Public
Affairs section in Paris. The cumulative impact of this
programming is now becoming evident as these young leaders
with enhanced skills grow in status and self-confidence.
They have responded very positively to Embassy overtures.
Indeed, the young leaders invited to our event expressed a
high degree of appreciation and enthusiasm, with the
attendance and response rate from this group of invitees
exceeding that of any other event we have hosted this year.
In additional to promoting new relationships, the event was a
source of considerable good will, with one participant,

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representing an EU NGO, remarking that "not a single one of
the European Union's 27 member country embassies has ever
invited us to something like this." Among those who
expressed their interest in continuing to dialogue through
such a forum were Benjamin Lancar -- the leader of the UMP's
youth wing, "Jeunes Populaires," who relished discussing with
Emboffs the recent Obama vs. Sarkozy article in the French
periodical, L'Express, and who, as another attendee remarked
,is likely to win a safe conservative seat in the 2012
legislative elections -- and Johannes Hommel, a member of the
Socialist Party and assistant to two members of the National
Assembly, who belongs to the inner circle of
"Strauss-Kahniens," preparing the political comeback of
current IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn in 2012.
(Strauss-Kahn lost an earlier bid to secure the Socialist
party's presidential nomination.) Their reaction indicated
that these types of events provide a unique opportunity to
create a positive image for America among such future
leaders, and also to convey substantive information to a
receptive audience, such as Christophe Roussel, who has
organized UMP debates on Afghanistan; Camille Roux, the young
CEO of "Intelknowledge," an economic intelligence
organization; and Delphine Alles, a professor of South Asian
Studies at Sciences Po, where many of France's future
politicians receive their university-level education. It has
also vastly expanded our window on debates among emerging
groups as they have invited us to attend, and in the future
speak, at some of their events.
RIVKIN

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