Entries Tagged as 'Nicolas Sarkozy'

A Permanent EU “Crisis”?

December 8th, 2011 at 4:44 pm 4 Comments

On December 7th, sovaldi French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel presented a pilule 0, medical 5384220.story”>letter to the European Council President Herman Van Rompuy with their proposals for how to solve the current EU crisis. Except their letter was not really a proposal, in that it did not consist of a draft treaty amendment but only broad principles.

But it is clear that the plan they have in mind is creating a state of perpetual “crisis” — and permanent powers to deal with it — inside the eurozone and any other non-euro countries that would be bafflingly inclined to join it.

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Shrinking the Zone to Save the Euro

November 16th, 2011 at 8:34 am 10 Comments

The Merkel-Sarkozy strategy for changing which countries are able to use the euro is taking shape. Their next efforts will likely include an attempt to change the treaties that govern how to exit the euro and how the countries more deeply integrate.

Additional treaty powers to decide who can be in the euro will be sought at the Brussels summit on December 9. But comprehensive treaty changes allowing deeper integration of the eurozone are unnecessary, the authority to do so already exists.

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The Euro May Die, But Europe Will Live

November 10th, 2011 at 1:18 pm 31 Comments

A few hours after the prediction on this blog of a multi-track euro, the Germans and French went public with their desire to oust certain countries from the euro and build a new eurozone with much deeper policy integration and a much more selective membership.

Such a move gives the lie to several persistant and powerful myths of the European Union, but may well prove to be a very optimistic development for democracy in the new eurozone.

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Sarkozy, C’est Fini

November 9th, 2011 at 12:21 am 53 Comments

French songwriter Hervé Villard became famous overnight in 1965 with his love song “Capri, ask c’est fini” (Capri, illness it’s over). The song literally sounds like a broken record, site but Villard made a fortune out of it (he sold 2.5 million records). Could it be that disappointment is so universal a feeling that it speaks to our hearts even with the dullest melody?

And would I get 2.5 million downloads on iTunes if I were to write a song on “Sarkozy, c’est fini?” After all, there are more than 2.5 million people who are disappointed in Sarkozy. I’m no musician, though, so I shall settle for the following words.

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Socialists Can’t Escape Strauss-Kahn Fallout

May 16th, 2011 at 12:46 pm 1 Comment

IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s arrest is quite a shock for the French political class and public. Strauss-Kahn is often perceived as arrogant; he’s certainly not someone the French elite ever expected to see handcuffed.  As new details emerge about the arrest, the news has already changed the dynamics of the upcoming presidential contest.

For Nicolas Sarkozy, the arrest has provided a boost: the road to reelection seems more open now than 48 hours ago.  Strauss-Kahn would have been his toughest opponent, although admittedly his odds for defeating Sarko were probably not as great as many polls suggested.

Strauss-Kahn was essentially absent from domestic politics, which was very convenient for him. In 2007, Strauss-Kahn lost the Socialist primaries to Ségolène Royal, and he didn’t do much to increase his standing in the party since then.  Being in charge of an international institution, he couldn’t, and therefore didn’t have to comment on every single French political event.

It’s one thing to be the most popular political personality a year ahead of an election, but quite another to maintain that standing during a campaign. Even if he had been appointed the Socialist party’s candidate, Strauss-Kahn would have had to actually campaign: deliver inspiring speeches, look nice, shake thousands of hands and collect votes one by one.

The nitty-gritty of campaigning was never Strauss-Kahn’s strong suit. The French master at this game has always been Chirac. Sarkozy isn’t so bad. Strauss-Kahn though is no natural on the trail. Also, a presidential candidate must appear likable to the public.  During his presidential debates, Sarkozy had to hold back when he debated Royal to avoid looking arrogant or smug. Strauss-Kahn would have had a very hard time pulling this off.

The Socialist party can still find an effective candidate and the arrest may even free some space for a dark horse. This may be one of the reasons why the Socialists have decided not to postpone the primaries. Candidates have until mid-July to declare, which doesn’t leave too much time for outsiders.

Many Socialist leaders are also silently rejoicing at Strauss-Kahn’s arrest.  François Hollande, Martine Aubry, Ségolène Royal and Laurent Fabius have all lost a tough competitor. None of them has poll numbers nearly as high as Strauss-Kahn’s, but if the government remains as unpopular as it has been during the last year, any candidate supported by the party stands a chance.

The arrest also poses a daily problem for the party.  Socialist politicians have to support Strauss-Kahn to a certain extent because he is one of them and they don’t want to look like opportunists. But at the same time, they have to remember that they are dealing with accusations of sexual assault.

The alleged victim is also a member of an ethnic minority group and so the Socialists can’t afford to look insensitive.  If Strauss-Kahn’s lawyers mount a defense by trying to raise questions about the accuser, it could end up backfiring on the Socialist party.

Most politicians from the conservative majority have remained careful as well and Sarkozy hasn’t spoken yet, but there’s no doubt they will exploit this weakness as the case against Strauss-Kahn proceeds. Strauss-Kahn’s “rock star” behavior was already an embarrassment for his party, but many were willing to overlook that so long as he was popular and stood a chance against Sarkozy. Now, he’s just a problem.

Sex Assault Charge Shocks France’s Socialists

May 15th, 2011 at 4:21 pm 11 Comments

IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s arrest for sexual assault pretty much puts an end to his candidacy for 2012, and possibly to his career as a politician.

When Nicolas Sarkozy appointed Strauss-Kahn as the French candidate for IMF directorship, he wasn’t doing him any favors. Sarkozy knew that Strauss-Kahn would have to come back to France some time before the end of his term in order to run in the 2012 presidential election, which in turn would complicate the Socialist party’s choice of a candidate. In addition, it wouldn’t look very good on the part of Strauss-Kahn to quit his post in order to return to run for political office.  And in fact, the position wouldn’t help him with the French left which doesn’t like the IMF, an institution they see as the embodiment of the free-market.

Nevertheless, Strauss-Kahn was performing well in the polls.  It may not have meant much a year before an election, but he had a good chance to run well. There were issues: a few weeks ago, he was spotted getting out of an expensive Porsche, which in itself isn’t damaging but is a problem for a politician who was asking Greece to lower their wages while pushing for the opposite policy in France. All that was expected by Sarkozy who knew that the IMF position would complicate any Strauss-Kahn political run.

Some people speculate that the alleged sexual assault incident was planned by Strauss-Kahn’s opponents, but information is scarce and quite frankly, it doesn’t make much of a difference. That’s because Strauss-Kahn has been linked to scandalous behavior before.  Less than 24 hours after Strauss-Kahn was shamefully arrested trying to flee the U.S., stories are emerging that were ignored or under-reported earlier. Strauss-Kahn has been known for years to have a problem with women and it is quite possible that he has behaved criminally: A journalist claimed in 2007 that Strauss-Kahn tried to rape her.

The French media though tends to look the other way in those sorts of cases. French political culture has a reputation for being relatively blind to politicians’ private lives. Many French politicians cheat on their spouses without anyone taking any interest in the story.  Whether this is the right way to deal with such matters is open to debate.

Even if the story involving a hotel chambermaid is a conspiracy, which it doesn’t look like, that probably wouldn’t save Strauss-Kahn. His past is coming to the surface and his reputation is irremediably hurt now. He’s history. If it is a conspiracy, it’s a very good one: the kind that damages the target even if discovered.

That leaves Sarkozy with much less dangerous Socialist opponents: Martine Aubry, the daughter of Jacques Delors, ex-president of the European commission, secretary general of the party, and the politician who originated the 35 hour week; François Hollande, another socialist apparatchik with no particular charisma, and Ségolène Royal who lost to Sarkozy before and lacks credibility. None of them looks very frightening for Sarkozy.

France: The New Global Cop?

April 6th, 2011 at 11:48 pm Comments Off

It’s true that even being involved in one shooting war is a relatively new experience for France.  But now the French find themselves in three conflicts (Afghanistan, Libya and the Ivory Coast).  The New York Times asks if it’s a sign of a “more muscular policy?”  Don’t get your hopes up: France isn’t the world’s new policeman.

In the Ivory Coast, France’s involvement is part of a long line of interventions in French-speaking Africa. There may be more troops involved, but the role is still limited.  And in Libya and Afghanistan, the moves aren’t the result of a more assertive, go-it-alone France, but rather of a weakened French military more open to cooperating with other Western forces.

For starters, none is a war in the legal sense.  Declarations of war still have to be authorized by the French parliament and while admittedly no one does that anymore, perceptions still matter.  The French don’t see any of these interventions as a major conflict.

In Afghanistan, French troops were present early on, but their role remained marginal for years. Only a few special forces were actually engaged in combat until more troops were sent in 2007. Few in France seemed aware that French soldiers were actually involved in a conflict.

In fact, Sarkozy’s policy in Afghanistan is part of a larger strategic shift towards better integration with the Western alliance. France joined NATO’s integrated command structure in 2009, and the French presence in Afghanistan is an embodiment of that same policy.

France is getting closer to the US and NATO not because it’s getting stronger and more aggressive, but rather for exactly opposite reasons.  France’s military budget has shrunk more or less continuously since the 1960s. Governments however have still wanted to maintain some sort of global influence.

In order to do that, leaders from De Gaulle to Chirac experimented with two options that failed. First, they tried to triangulate between the East and the West during the Cold War, but this strategy was constrained and possible only to a certain extent.  De Gaulle could only make his speeches about “Free Québec” or leave NATO’s integrated command structure because France was still, in effect, under the American umbrella.

Second, they tried to use the EU. France and Germany were the two main EU member states until the United Kingdom joined the Union, and with Germany keeping a low political profile until reunification, that left France as a de facto political leader of continental Europe.  It’s debatable if that’s still the case.

None of these two policies would make much sense today, so France is again changing direction and focusing on working better within the Western alliance.  In Afghanistan, a key French interest is maintaining good relationships with the US.

Again in the Ivory Coast, it’s not a new assertive France, but just business as usual. The country has always kept close watch on French-speaking Africa. For decades, the Ivory Coast was the showcase of French-speaking Africa, with many expats and a high level of political stability, thanks to local elites who had often studied in French schools. Things though have gradually grown messier after Felix Houphouet-Boigny’s death.

In the past, French African interventions were small affairs.  In 1978, two companies of French paratroopers could stop a Cuban supported invasion in Zaire. Up to the 80s, most rebellions in Western and Central Africa could be halted with two helicopters and one company of Marine Infantry, or something close to it.

But population change and the proliferation of arms have made things more difficult.  Yet, the conflict in Ivory Coast is still a classical African ethnic war.  France can intervene punctually and efficiently. Their military has experience with the region, knows how to operate there and isn’t getting directly involved in the fight. It’s nothing new: the French have done this before.

In Libya, French aims are constrained, though mainly thanks to confusion about the mission.  In short, the French are improvising their Libya policy.  Sarkozy did decide out of thin air to offer full diplomatic support to the rebels, and rushed to begin military operations without a defined objective, but the French expect a typical African-intervention ending.

Libya is seen in and treated by Paris very much like a sub-Saharan African country: a land unstable and divided, with strong tribal factions and very weak military forces.  International negotiators will work out a political order and European states hope for an arrangement that would help them prevent a flood of migrants leaving North Africa (Europe’s biggest worry.)

So while France may be involved in three shooting conflicts, their involvement in each seems to be set within relatively constrained limits. And war in this decade is different from even 20 years ago: many Western armies, not just the French, are now forced to carry out operations in multiple theaters.

How long they can maintain this posture though poses an interesting question.  Most European military budgets have been shrinking for decades, and demographic trends may make it much harder for the West to keep policing the world.

While unusual, and perhaps unprecedented, for France to be involved in three different shooting wars at the same time, that doesn’t mean they’ve become trigger-happy.