I have ranted a lot about the USA and the UK in the past days, so I guess it is only fair enough that I turn back to my own country for once. More precisely, I would like to give a look on the first hints on France's new European policy. And, let's say it right away, it is not looking too good. France's new President, Nicolas Sarkozy, has been keen to show that he was in control and to assert himself in the first days after his elections, both at home and in international meetings. If he enjoys internally what we call in France "l'état de grâce" (a religious term describing the trust the people give in a newly elected leader), he still has to prove himself abroad. And the first appearances have been nothing less than abysmal.
I will pass on the little show at the G8 summit where our dear new President showed he couldn't really stand alcohol. It's a minor mistake and merely an embarrassing moment. Not everyone can make a Russian roll under the table. ;-) More importantly, I believe, the "petit" Nicolas has sent four first messages to the world. The first was the day of his election, when he said that France should try to rebuild links with its US ally while continuing to show its "friendly difference". Nothing wrong with this, as it might be a small inflexion from past policies, but no real novelty.
His second message has been a little more concerning. And it was also a kind of backing off from his electoral promises (probably not the last but, hey, that's politicians for you). In two occasions, he gave signs that he would abandon free market orthodoxy to avoid social unrest. The first one was its visit to Airbus, where he hinted that he could ask for a renegotiation of the reorganisation plan. I hope this does not happen. Airbus badly needs such a reorganisation if we want to keep in Europe some kind of lead over the American aerospace industry. It is not a social issue, nor really an economic one, it is more strategic. Any visionary leader (and so is Angela Merkel who accepted the plan) should see that. The second occasion was during the renegotiation for the amended European Treaty in Brussels. The only French demand was to scrap the defense of free competition by the Union. I am not particularly concerned about it. After all, there is no need to put this kind of proposal in the supranational treaties when it can more appropriately be dealt by regulations and directives. I have always been in favor of keeping organisational aspects at treaty and constitutional level and political aspects in the purely legal field. But the message sent to the world and to France European partners is worrying: Nicolas Sarkozy, self proclaimed champion of free market is backing off.
Sarkozy's third message has been to the Middle-East world as well as Europe. Our new president has said in several occasions that he wanted a clear definition of Europe's ultimate border. And he has also said he does not want to see Turkey ever entering the EU. Everybody can see he will use the first matter to block the second. This is a bad idea hidden behind a good one. Yes, there is a point in defining the future ultimate borders. Would it be for the sake of clarity, but also to send a message out. But no, Turkey should not be excluded a priori. I have said it several times, but we have treaties and engagements with Turkey that we can not negate. Furthermore, blocking Turkey is a major strategic and geopolitical mistake.
To show how dumb that is, I'll give a little example. Two groups of children are playing in a school court. One is a bit uptight, but rather nice, educated and fair play, consisting of mainly rich white boys. The other group is quite more violent, colored, poor and aggressive (it's not their fault all the way, they have been poorly educated and resent previous squabbles with the first group). There is one big boy in the middle, stronger than most of the others, but not really belonging to either group. Both groups are not fighting, but everybody knows, including the teachers, that it might happen at any moment, as it already has in the past. The big boy in the middle has asked to play with the rich ones, because he is wary about the aggressiveness and condition of the poor boys. The rich ones, at the beginning of the year have said, ok, you can play with us, but there are some conditions you have to respect. And we give you the first six months of the year to fulfill these very difficult conditions. He has to find nice cloths, treat the girls in the school with more respect, improve his marks, learn to talk better and avoid all these bad words and he has to stop beating his little brother. There is also a little marble issue with two of the smallest of the rich boys (nobody is really sure about the legitimacy of the issue, or who began it, but the two small boys are adamant it must be solved at once, despite its relatively small importance).
After 3 months, the big boy has quite improved, but suddenly, the white boys begin to make it more difficult for him. They add criteria, renegotiate the trial period length with the big boy. Suddenly, four of the white rich boys call it quit (before the end of the six months). They just say: no you don't belong to our group. Keep playing on the side. Oh, and by the way, keep away from the poor guys because they are not as good as us. What do you think the big guy will do? And who do you think will win the next fight for marbles between both kids groups? Do you think girls will get more respect from all groups after all? And do you think that it will motivate the poor kids to behave better? Well, any school kid knows the answer to these questions. Any teacher too. But not our President as it seems.
But you know what? There is a third message sent out there by our dear Sarko... He has decided lately to present France's new budget. Now remember, Sarkozy is a right wing guy, defending free market and sounder budgetary policies... Well, think again. The project of budget is showing an deficit increased to 2.4% and no return to an even balance before 2012. So long for the agreed return to a balanced budget in 2010. This is not only stupid for France (remember that this is increasing our already massive debt, one of the highest in the world), it is also a break of solidarity with other European countries in the Eurozone which are balancing their budget. Basically, we make them indirectly pay (through the common monetary policy) for our deficit too. A nicety that they will sure remember when we will really need them for something important. Solidarity is not just one way. It s always give and take, especially in international relations...