After Chirac, Questions on French Foreign Policy (and the English proficiency of the next President)
Harold F. Schiffman
haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Wed May 2 13:23:41 UTC 2007
May 2, 2007
After Chirac, Questions on French Foreign Policy
By ELAINE SCIOLINO
PARIS, May 1 The most dramatic change in Frances foreign policy in a new
presidency may not be the arrival of either Nicolas Sarkozy or Sgolne
Royal, but the departure of President Jacques Chirac. For twelve years,
Mr. Chirac has been a hands-on head of state who saw the world through two
prisms: the cold war and Frances old colonial ties. The 74-year-old French
leader immersed himself in world affairs, phoned his preferred presidents
and prime ministers on weekend afternoons and gave younger ones like
President Bush or Tony Blair long history lessons.
Neither Mr. Sarkozy on the right nor Ms. Royal on the left will come with
the same personal relationships or ideological frame of reference. Neither
is a foreign policy expert. They are of a different generation, and
certainly there will be a fresh approach, a former French president, Valry
Giscard dEstaing, who has endorsed Mr. Sarkozy, said in an interview. But
they have not been involved in big debates in world affairs. They have not
attended summit meetings. Theyre both intelligent people. But how either
will be as a foreign policy president? Too early to say. The world outside
Frances borders has mattered little throughout the presidential campaign.
In a CSA exit poll after the first round of the presidential election on
April 22, only 9 percent of the 5,000 respondents said foreign policy was
a factor in their choice for president. By contrast, 44 percent said that
proposals for job creation played a role in their decision. Both
candidates have campaigned on platforms of swift change inside France.
Deeply aware of the French concern about immigration and globalization,
both have hesitated to tell the French that they need not fear the outside
world. That means that both would be expected to strongly promote Frances
national interests when faced with hard compromise. The most important
thing to keep in mind is that there is a broad consensus on foreign policy
in France since de Gaulle stronger than in the United States and both
Sgolne and Sarkozy are part of it, said Justin Vaisse, a French historian.
On far-flung issues like the Middle East, Africa, multilateralism,
proliferation, you find a lot of consensus. Both will be willing to oppose
the United States to protect French interests.
Indeed, on many issues, the two candidates agree. Both supported and have
defended Mr. Chiracs decision to oppose the American-led war in Iraq,
although Mr. Sarkozy famously criticized his government for arrogance in
the way that decision was made. Both oppose military action against Iran.
But they favor tougher sanctions against that country as well as against
Sudan, pledge to make human rights a top priority, are skeptical of
Frances conciliatory attitude toward Russia and China and are concerned
about American plans for a missile shield deployment in Eastern Europe.
Mr. Sarkozy has much more experience on the global stage than Ms. Royal
does. As interior minister, the third highest post in the French
government after the president and prime minister, he was responsible for
cross-border issues, including terrorism, immigration, drug trafficking,
money laundering and organized crime networks.
Ms. Royal has sought to compensate by making strategic trips abroad. Prime
Minister Jos Luis Rodrguez Zapatero of Spain, a fellow Socialist, and
Prime Minister Romano Prodi of Italy have endorsed her for president. The
Sarkozy camp has attacked Ms. Royal for her lack of foreign policy
gravitas and her repeated gaffes. France doesnt need someone who changes
ideas as often as her skirts, Defense Minister Michle Alliot-Marie, a
Sarkozy supporter, said at a rally on Sunday. But when Mr. Sarkozy
stumbles, he tends to be forgiven. When Ms. Royal got wrong the number of
submarines in Frances navy, she was portrayed as a foreign policy
neophyte; when Mr. Sarkozy did the same thing, his mistake was largely
Similarly, Mr. Sarkozys apparent ignorance in a television interview in
February that Al Qaeda was a Sunni movement was little noticed.
Mr. Sarkozys unapologetic admiration of things American from Hemingway to
Horatio Alger-like entrepreneurship is well-documented and already has
served him well in the Bush White House.
What struck everybody is how strong a person he is and how strong a leader
he could be, said one senior administration official after Mr. Bush
received Mr. Sarkozy at the White House last September. He was rather
impressive, to tell you the truth.
Mr. Sarkozy has hedged his bets, also collecting praise during that trip
from Senator Barack Obama, an Illinois Democrat and presidential hopeful.
I shouldnt be predicting French elections, Mr. Obama said after their
meeting. But I know that he has a good opportunity to lead France in the
But pro-Americanism has never been popular in France, and Mr. Sarkozy is
sensitive to public opinion. After enduring relentless criticism that he
pandered to Mr. Bush, Mr. Sarkozy has modulated his message, vowing in a
speech on the topic of foreign policy in February that he would never be
submissive to the United States.
Ms. Royal has made no westward pilgrimage to America la Sarkozy. She
vowed in a recent speech never to genuflect before Mr. Bush a clear
reference to Mr. Sarkozy.
Some of her aides are more critical of the United States than she is. The
United States aggravates problems rather than tries to solve them, Arnaud
Montebourg, Ms. Royals campaign spokesman, said in a telephone interview.
He added that Ms. Royal does not want a French or even a European foreign
policy aligned with the interests of the United States.
Mr. Sarkozy is unabashedly pro-Israel. He stunned Arab ambassadors in
Paris recently, opening his remarks by saying that his foreign policy
priority as president would be to forge a closer relationship with Israel.
He also has said in private that French policy has not been tough enough
against Hezbollah, which he, unlike Mr. Chirac, brands a terrorist
Ms. Royal also says she wants warmer relations with Israel, but during a
trip to the Middle East last December was widely criticized when she did
not speak out when a Hezbollah deputy compared Israel to Nazi Germany.
Neither candidate will bring to lyse Palace the same ease in English as
Mr. Chirac, who speaks the language with charming flaws, but enough
precision to conduct a long television interview.
The English-language skills of Ms. Royal, who was an au pair in Ireland in
the summer of 1971, are rough. A short news clip of undetermined date and
origin circulating on YouTube has her saying, in part, Or with this
government, investment in research has decreasing a lot, and thats bad. I
can see, as the presidency of the region, that we need money to invest in
research and environment.
As for Mr. Sarkozys English, it is more mind over matter. As he told New
York City Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta during a visit last
September: I run. This morning. In Central Park. With T-shirt
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