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G20 Summit (24-25 September)
Thursday 24 September: arrival in Pittsburgh. Six months after London, this third G20 summit is devoted primarily to the new economic and financial governance. The two-day programme focused primarily on reform of the IMF, regulating bonuses, strengthening the banks’ capital and improved regulation of the financial system, against the backdrop of a warning issued to Iran over its nuclear activities.
Barack Obama did not choose the city of Pittsburgh by chance. Home town of Henry John Heinz (who made ketchup) and Andy Warhol (who painted ketchup cans), this former bastion of the steel industry became a model of reconversion to the green economy after a serious recession in the 1970s: 30% of its inhabitants now work in companies specialising in sustainable development. A series of projects and reforms that the city embraced alongside the Allegheny Conference, a private non-profit organisation, with the aim of revitalising the city. Since then, the Steel Tower overlooking the Ohio River, which once housed the headquarters of American steel giant US Steel, is now home to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), a medical conglomerate worth $8 billion and the region’s biggest employer. Pennsylvania’s flagship university city is also a major centre of medical research (AIDS, cancer, organ transplants).
During this day and a half in Pittsburgh, Michelle Obama played the role of hostess. On Thursday evening, the US First Lady, accompanied by the US President, greeted her 20 guests. Leaving their husbands to their working dinner, the spouses were welcomed at the home of Teresa Heinz, widow of the ketchup magnate and wife of former Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.
Friday, 25 September: visit and lunch at the Andy Warhol museum. Before then, the first ladies visited several classrooms in a secondary school located a few tens of metres from where the summit’s plenary sessions are held, where 800 boys and girls are learning to sing, dance and act. Away from press scrutiny and in front of Michelle Obama and Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, some 15 of them performed songs by Gershwin (I got rhythm, It had to be you…) — even the tap dancing was perfect. A shared enthusiasm for the two first ladies, which elicited the following comment from Michelle Obama: “My very good friend Carla Sarkozy told me: Here in America, you have people who can sing, dance and act at the same time. In France, we can’t always do all that at the same time.” Michelle Obama took advantage of the occasion to encourage students to cultivate their artistic sense, since, after all, “you don’t have to be Van Gogh to paint“.
Painting was a natural subject of discussion during the lunch, held on one of the floors of the Warhol museum. The collection of works by this “local” artist is extraordinary. As she left, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy embraced Michelle Obama and whispered: “I’m staying… “. A smile. Outside, the photographers waited in vain. Protocol was ignored and, alone, accompanied only by the museum’s curator, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy lingered on the floor devoted to the Velvet Underground. Films, posters and reviews announcing Exploding Plastic Inevitable events. Everything is there. The Velvet Underground plays. On the screen, the faces of Nico and Lou Reed. “Carla” is touched: “Look, it’s Nico! So beautiful…“. A moment of silence.