ON FRANCE'S ROLE IN A POST-CHIRAC ERA
Sarkozy sets EU as top goal, plays down pro-US leanings
According to the French newspapers, the neo-Gaullist French Interior Minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, has pulled convincingly ahead of his main rival the Socialist candidate Segolene Royal, in the latest opinion polls. In some instances by as much as ten percentage points (see: www.lemonde.fr & www.lefigaro.fr). With this in mind, and wishing to take a better look at the likely winner of the French Presidential elections, which takes place this coming May, we would like to examine in greater depth, Nicolas Sarkozy, and, where he will take French foreign policy in the next fiver years. Sarkozy is in some ways, an outsider to the politics of the Fifth Republic. Unlike both his Socialist rival, the current incumbent, Jacques Chirac, and, the current Prime Minister, Dominique de Villepin, Sarkozy, did not go to either a Grand Ecole, nor did he go to Ecole National d'Administration, the famous graduate school for bureaucrats and businessmen of the Fourth and Fifth Republics. The child of wealthy, albeit emigre Hungarian nobility, Sarkozy, is unique in French politics in not ever having served in the civil service, much less in its elite echelons, unlike almost every other French President or Prime Minister in the last forty years.
An advocate of a decisive 'break' with the norm of French politics of the Fifth Republic, in domestic politics, Sarkozy has not made much of a mark in the field of Foreign Affairs, as of yet. His prior ministerial portfolios being those of the Budget, and Finance. More as a means of differentiating himself from his nemesis, Chirac and Chirac's protege, Villepin, Sarkozy, has in the past made some friendly noises about the United States. Such is the level of dislike for the current Bush regime in France and elsewhere in Europe, that even this was sufficient to set-off a torrent of attacks in the French press. Accordingly, Sarkozy has until recently, yet to set forth a clear picture of where he would like to take France in case he does win the Presidency. The two instances where he has made pronouncements: on Turkish membership of the EU (Sarkozy is opposed), and on French support for the current Siniora Cabinet in the Lebanon (Sarkozy favors retaining the current French policy). Recently, he has however illuminated a bit his views on foreign policy: in a speech in Africa, Sarkozy, denounced Chirac's, indeed the entire Fifth Republic's legacy of patronage links with various francophone leaders in the dark continent(the so-called Francafrique policy). According to Sarkozy, he would forgo such links and, instead champion democratization, and economic development, as a means of political stability and, preventing further illegal immigration into Europe. Some question whether or not, these prouncements however are merely grandstanding, rather than signalling any type of real break with the policy of Francafrique (on some of Sarkozy's pronouncements, see: "France-Afrique - Segolene Royal et Nicolas Sarkozy, a chacun sa
On the 28th of February, Sarkozy held a press conference devoted to "la politique internationale", in which he was his most revealing to date on his views concerning the International scene. According to Le Monde, the most revealing aspect of the conference is that Sarkozy, for once did not attack, even in a sotto voce fashion, the foreign policy policy of the soon to be retired Chirac (see: "M. Sarkozy aborde la politique etrangere sans brusque M. Chirac", 28 February 2007, in www.lemonde.fr). We would like for purposes of further enlightenment, to bring to you, the report from Agence France-Presse, of the press conference. What may one ask is the chief impression left by Sarkozy? Primarily, that of someone who is for the most part, playing for the gallery. Throughout he seemed to be checking off, positions to be pronounced on, rather than attempting to put forth any interesting or new ideas, either about France's place in the world, or even in Europe. With the partial exception of his statement in recommending that both France and Europe as a whole increase its spending on the military (Indeed this was the chief 'news valute' for some, see: "Sarkozy seeks a 'more assertive' France" in www.ft.com). Otherwise, one is left with the impression that the next President of France, will eschew in the future, grand statements about France's place in the world, or its destiny, `a la Monsieur de Villepin, in favor of much more humdrum concerns of French domestic politics. Perhaps without meaning to, Sarkozy will in fact rupture French politics, rupture them all the way back to the provincial banalities of the Fourth Republic...
PARIS, Feb 28, 2007 (AFP) - France's right-wing presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy Wednesday vowed a major push to wrench the European Union out of crisis if elected, calling for a relationship of equals between a strong Europe and the United States.
Sarkozy said he would use his five years in power to carry out a thorough "diagnosis" of France's role in world affairs, but stressed he did not want a "blank slate" break with the policies of President Jacques Chirac.
"I have two priorities, the independence of France and the future of Europe," the interior minister told reporters, in a wide-ranging speech aimed at boosting his statesman's credentials ahead of the April-May election.
"Our most urgent foreign policy priority is to resolve the institutional crisis opened by the French and Dutch 'no' votes", which torpedoed the drive to adopt an EU constitution in 2005.
"After half a century of European construction, we are united enough for none of our members to be able to act independently, but not enough to be able to act together. Europe has a common space but no common power."
Sarkozy repeated a call for the adoption of a mini-treaty aimed at breaking decision-making gridlock in the 27-member EU, saying there was "nothing to be gained by allowing a European crisis to drag on."
He also argued for a consolidation of French and European defence efforts, describing nuclear deterrence as an "absolute imperative".
"We live in a complex, uncertain world, full of new threats. In such a world it would be reckless to lower our defence effort."
Often attacked at home for his pro-US leanings -- he kicked up a storm last year by criticising French diplomatic "arrogance" during a US visit -- Sarkozy said he wanted an alliance of equals with Washington.
"The friendship between Europe and the United States is vital for the world's balance. The friendship between France and the United States is deep, sincere, I would even say indestructible."
"But friendship means respect... it does not mean submission. I want a free France, I want a free Europe. I therefore ask our American friends to let us be free, free to be their friends."
Sarkozy paid tribute to Chirac's decision to keep Franceout of the US-led war in Iraq, which he said had been a "historical mistake".
Concerning Iraq's future, he warned against both "a hasty withdrawal that would spark chaos, and a failure to set a calendar for a pull-out that would provoke more violence and play into the hands of terrorists."
Speaking of the need to relaunch the Middle East peace process, Sarkozy denied any bias towards Israel: "I put Israel's right to security on the same level as the Palestinians' right to a viable state."
On Tehran's nuclear ambitions, he reaffirmed that "the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran is not acceptable" and that the country would have to "choose between sanctions" and "cooperation with the international community".
More broadly, Sarkozy pledged to confront human right violations, even ones committed by powerful allies.
"In today's world, where we are informed of everything in real time, silence is unacceptable... our failure to act criminal."
"We cannot remain silent faced with 200,000 refugees in Chechnya," the war-torn southern Russian republic, he said.
Turning to China, Sarkozy said that "as a great power, China cannot expect to abstain itself from the rules respected by other great powers," notably on human rights, environmental protection and fair trade practices.
"A nation that can do so much must also ask itself the question of political freedom even if it's on another continent and is part of another civilisation."
Sarkozy said the Beijing Olympics of 2008 was an opportunity for China to open up to the world. "This is what I want to say to China as friends and with frankness."
Sarkozy is currently running neck-and-neck for the presidency with his Socialist rival Segolene Royal, who has slipped up on foreign policy with a series of blunders during recent trips abroad.Copyright AFP. www.afp.com
Sarkozy sets EU as top goal, plays down pro-US leanings