- The Washington Times - Monday, May 14, 2007

“I want to call on all the people in the world who believe in the values of tolerance, liberty, democracy and humanism, to all who are persecuted by tyrannies and dictatorship, to all children and women tortured in the world, to tell them that France will be at their side, that they can count on it” declared Nicolas Sarkozy on May 6, the very night of his presidential election.

This messianic-like statement aims at reshaping France’s foreign policy, to make it sound as if it will change its course of action, differs from the Chirac years. Yet, objective reality will prevail over idealism and Mr. Sarkozy’s international ambitions may be more like “all hat, no cattle” policies.

Mr. Sarkozy is assumed to be American-friendly, and it is a fact that he leans more than former President Chirac toward the United States. Yet, entangled in the French and European real-politik, and despite his personal feelings, all glimpses given by Mr. Sarkozy on May 6 show that he is going to build his foreign policy on four core commitments inherited from the previous presidencies.

The first of them is a commitment to economical and political protectionism, using the European Union as a shield against globalization. “France is back in Europe” stated Mr. Sarkozy, encouraging the other EU states “to hear the voices of the people who want to be protected.” Mr. Sarkozy intends to take the European leadership and to fuel the engine with protectionism since Europe must not be the “Trojan horse of globalization” — i.e. must not yield to a capitalist system embedded in the United States.

The second is a commitment to good neighbor policy with Muslim countries. “It is in the Mediterranean Sea that everything is at stake, and we must overcome all hatred in order to fulfill this great dream of peace and civilization.” Aware that Arabs and Muslims are keys to whether Europe will be at peace, Mr. Sarkozy declared, “The time has come to build together a Mediterranean Union which will be the link between Europe and Africa.” It is a step further in France’s “Arabic policy,” a step that should tie even more closely the fate of North African countries with Europe. This collaboration could result in a more radical position against the U.S. policy in the Middle East.

The third commitment is to what can be called the humanitarian colonization of Africa. It is a product of France’s African policy, a remnant of the time of the colonies. Mr. Sarkozy assured Africans that “we want to help them to win over disease, starvation and poverty and to live in peace.” How? “We will decide together of a policy of controlled immigration and of an ambitious development policy.” In other words, to develop a sort of international welfare system, subsidies thus becoming another means of control over a continent where France needs to stay an influential power especially to counterweight the United States and an annoying new comer, China.

The fourth commitment is one of soft opposition against the United States. Looking on the other side of the Atlantic, Mr. Sarkozy addressed the Americans: “France will always be at their side when they will need it,” adding immediately that “I want to tell them that friendship means to accept that friends can think differently.” Then he showed the next ground of opposition: “a great nation as the United States has the duty not to obstruct the fight against global warming.” France will remain an uneasy ally, but not on military matters. The battlefield has changed since it concerns environmental issues, weapons being economical. Mr. Sarkozy wants to apply “carbon emission tax” over products coming from countries which did not sign the Kyoto protocol.

From those first glimpses of foreign policy, the relationship with France may not be an easy one. If France wants to remain a leading Western democracy, it has to diverge from the only world superpower. Thus, France is not able to stand as a positive power, i.e. to show enough financial and military strength to exist by itself and impose its will without caring too much about other countries’ opinion. On the contrary, France finds its strength in opposition, raising moral issues, such as military non-intervention or global warming, thus becoming a sort of negative power. Opposition to the United States, and more widely to the English speaking world, is key for France to appear as a world power, and Mr. Sarkozy is not going to surrender it.

Being non-aligned, no matter what, is the actual French foreign policy doctrine inherited from the De Gaulle years, in order to remain alive on the international stage. Thus, Mr. Sarkozy will not be more friendly or less friendly than his predecessors; he’ll just be French.

Sylvain Charat is director of policy studies for Eurolib Network and a contributing scholar at the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College.

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