TAMPA — Èduoard Philippe served as prime minister of France for three years during President Emmanuel Macron’s first five-year term in office, leaving office in 2020.
Now the leader of a new party, Horizons, Phillipe, who is also mayor of the Normandy port city of Le Havre, visited Tampa this week to reaffirm a 30-year-old Sister Cities agreement with Tampa. His visit was also framed as much more than signing a friendly official designation between cities, but rather as a relationship that could recast the European-American shipping trade.
Philippe, 51, is widely seen in France as a strong contender for the presidency in 2027 when Macron leaves office due to term limits. A moderate conservative, Philippe leads a party that holds 29 seats in the French parliament and has been allied with the president.
The French consulate in Miami arranged Philippe’s visit, which also included a stop in that city. Industry officials said that, with the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union in 2020, French ports like Le Havre and affiliated industries and services have an opportunity to replace traditional British dominance in the United States’ shipping trade with Europe.
Phillippe met with a Tampa Bay Times reporter for about a half-hour Thursday afternoon before he left for Miami. The following are excerpts of this interview, edited for length and clarity:
How can Tampa and Le Havre benefit from a closer relationship?
“We are two different cities, but we are living a very intense and very fast evolution transformation. In Tampa, because so many people are arriving and the city’s image is changing. And we have exactly the same challenges in Le Havre.
The population is not growing as fast, but the image is very quickly changing and transformations are very intense. And so in that kind of situation, exchanging students, exchanging companies, exchanging political views, is useful.
My other point is that I think it’s very useful for French people, for American people, to communicate, to talk with each other. Our two countries have never been at war in history. Never. In the tough times, they’ve always been there for the other, the beginning of the Republic for the United States and during the First and Second World War for France. So we are not sharing the same view on all subjects, of course, and it’s not a problem. But we’re good friends. And it’s always useful in the world we live in to have good friends.”
Le Havre, like Tampa, has a cruise ship industry. Tampa’s cruise ship industry faces challenges with the height of the Sunshine Skyway bridge. What challenges face the industry in Le Havre?
“The biggest challenge we face in France regarding cruise ships is their impact on the planet. Because a lot of people in France are beginning to say, ‘Well, is it really, really reasonable for those enormous ships, these floating cities, to be sailed or to be working?’ And so a lot of people say, ‘Well, is it really reasonable for such big boats to come on shore and to, you know, burn oil into the city?’ So what we developed in France, what we are doing right now, is that we are electrifying all our docks. So that within the next years, every cruise ship that docks will have an electric plug-in and will not be permitted to burn its oil in order to produce energy on the ship when it’s docked in port.
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That’s huge investments. But it’s what we’re doing. And we’re doing it quickly. Because, as I said, in 2025 it will be mandatory for the ships to be equipped in order to be able to plug in on electricity.”
You follow American politics closely. Did you speak with Tampa Mayor Jane Castor about the political situation here?
“In a few days there is going to be important election in the U.S. so I asked her how she saw the situation, and I must say that she had very interesting answers but I won’t say what they were as it was a private conversation.
When I am outside of France, I don’t want to comment on French politics, and I certainly don’t want to comment on U.S. politics.”
Having the possible potential future president of France in Tampa meeting with the mayor, getting to know the city, that seems to me to be a potential advantage for Tampa, no?
(Laughs) “It’s a long way away. France, in that way, is probably like the US. The last presidential election in France was in April. And almost immediately people are thinking about the next one. Everyone wonders who’s going to run? And what the chances are of this one or this one to become president. And in a way, it’s a little bit like that in the States also, of course. So don’t think it’s a good habit, but, well, it is what it is. We’ll see. What I’m sure of is that every time you prepare for something, it is always good to look abroad and to learn wherever one can. That’s for sure.”
It’s been a whirlwind trip for you. What most stood out?
“Well, yesterday, I went to this restaurant, which is called Columbia. (Philippe went with his niece, who lives in Sarasota, and her husband.) It was nice. But what really interests me very much was what we saw at the University of South Florida. The most interesting thing was the role that the University of South Florida plays in the city and region. We had a lunch today with French entrepreneurs and a lot of them spoke about the role of the university in research, in training. I was impressed by the pace, very quick, and the intensity of the atmosphere and the energy.
It’s probably what I will keep in mind when I come back. Because, you know, 20 years ago, it was a small university, right? And it’s becoming a very important, a very fast growing university. It’s not only a university in academic success, which would be already very good. But it’s also an economic success, right? Because a large number of companies are using the relationship between their company and the university to grow so that’s, that’s really interesting.”