France with a New Course? Part II
5: From Africa to the Middle East?
In the election campaign, Sarkozy emphasized the need for a new French strategy for Africa. He has followed up, among other things, with a rather sensational speech in Senegal in July 2007. There he argued that Africa’s tragedy is not a result of previous colonial rule and claimed that African farmers lack the will to develop. Thus, Sarkozy denies that France has any responsibility as a former colonial power.
It is speculated that France is toning down its military involvement in Africa. The country currently has around 5,000 soldiers in three permanent bases in Africa – in Senegal, Gabon and Djibouti. In addition, it has a significant number of soldiers in a UN force in Côte d’Ivoire and in the French-led EU operation in Chad. Historical ties may explain France’s role in Africa, but Sarkozy has recently announced that French base policy will from now on be linked to needs rather than tradition.. In this connection, he has announced that France wants to establish a military base in the United Arab Emirates. This will then represent a shift in French defense policy as it will be the first time France will have a permanent military base in a country with no historical colonial ties. France has also announced plans to withdraw its troops from a base in Djibouti, Africa.
However, a new military base in the Emirates can also be explained by the fact that Sarkozy wants to make clear that France has taken a tougher line against Iran and distance itself from France’s handling of the Iraq crisis in 2003. Although Sarkozy was opposed to the US invasion of Iraq, he was critical of the way French views were conveyed by Chirac and de Villepin. However, Sarkozy’s foreign minister, Kouchner, was one of the few French politicians who supported the US invasion – on humanitarian grounds. Combined with a more conciliatory attitude towards Israel, these are new tones in French politics.
6: Increased focus on human rights
Sarkozy wants a clear human rights dimension in his foreign policy. In the election campaign, he said that a main goal of French foreign policy should be ” freedom and human rights on the international stage”, and he has emphasized that France should not be reluctant to criticize China and Russia’s human rights violations. That is also why Bernard Kouchner – a socialist human rights activist – was appointed foreign minister. He has also created a human rights position in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and appointed Rana Yade (31) from Senegal to the position.
There are many indications that this primarily reflects a desire to acquire a good reputation. During Sarkozy’s stay in China in the autumn of 2007, there was little focus on human rights and far more on concluding contracts. Yade was not on the trip either. While many other heads of state expressed concern that the Russian parliamentary elections in 2007 did not take place according to free and democratic rules of the game, the election winner of President Putin’s party was met with congratulations from Sarkozy.
7: Relations with the EU and NATO
Sarkozy is a strong supporter of European integration. However, he is concerned about a working EU. He is therefore skeptical of further enlargements that could paralyze the union and does not want Turkish membership. However, Sarkozy suggests that Turkey could join another type of intergovernmental cooperation that could connect all countries around the Mediterranean.
Sarkozy was one of the initiators of turning the controversial proposal for an EU constitution into a mini-treaty in order to implement the most urgent institutional reforms. This has now resulted in the Treaty of Lisbon, which was signed in December 2007.
Like his predecessors, Sarkozy is concerned that the EU’s defense policy will be further strengthened and that relations between the United States and the European member states of NATO will be more equal. France left NATO’s military structures in 1966 in protest of what it perceived as US dominance in the organization. In 1995, France made an attempt to reconnect with NATO, but the process stopped when the country failed to meet its demands.
France’s role in NATO is problematic. On the one hand, the country is a full member of the alliance itself. The country is a major contributor to NATO operations – 1/3 of the French soldiers in operations abroad are under NATO command. In addition, there is a French general leading the NATO force in Kosovo. On the other hand, France has no say in NATO’s defense planning. This, together with France’s desire for a closer relationship with the United States, is probably the reason why Sarkozy has hinted that France is considering re-entering NATO’s integrated military structures – under certain conditions. Like previous French leaders, however, Sarkozy is concerned that the United States should accept the EU’s role as a defense policy actor. He will, like his predecessor, demand that France get its share of command posts. According to countryvv.com, France also wants closer dialogue between the EU and NATO and has proposed that the EU’s Foreign Policy High Representative should brief the NATO Council and vice versa. However, it remains to be seen whether France will receive support for its claim.
8: A change just in shape?
There is little doubt that Sarkozy represents a new type of French president. But the most obvious differences are in form rather than content – or at least tools rather than objectives. Nevertheless, we also see some important changes in the content of the policy. The most far-reaching amendments concern domestic policy. Whether the proposals will actually be implemented remains to be seen, however.
In foreign policy, Sarkozy has chosen new and sometimes untraditional instruments, but there is little indication that France will abandon its traditional goal of maintaining and strengthening Europe’s and France’s position and role internationally. However, a change in style is not without significance. Among other things, it can contribute to a far better relationship with the United States. The tense relationship between the two countries is often pointed out. At the same time, it is important to note that these frictions have mainly taken place at the diplomatic level. There has been close and close co-operation between the two countries in many specific policy areas. This applies not least to defense and intelligence.