Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

Nicolas Sarkozy – a sorry excuse for a European

When Nicolas Sarkozy defeated Segolene Royal in last year’s French presidential election, there were some grounds for optimism that French foreign policy might take a turn for the better. Indeed, Sarkozy – no anti-American – has taken the important step of opting to bring France back into NATO’s integrated command, thereby reversing one of Charles de Gaulle’s most symbolic acts of Gallic independence vis-a-vis the US. Yet where South East Europe is concerned, Sarkozy has on at least five counts proven himself to be as obstructive and destructive as French presidents come; an enemy of the region and of the cause of European unity.

1) Sarkozy argued against Turkey’s entry into the EU on the grounds that ‘Turkey is in Asia Minor’ and that ‘I won’t be able to explain to French school kids that Europe’s border neighbors are Iraq and Syria.’ He is, meanwhile, no doubt aware that the state of which he is head includes territories in the Caribbean, South America and the Indian Ocean as its integral parts or ‘overseas departments’. It is difficult to believe that the French president genuinely has difficulty with the concept of an EU including Turkey, which was part of the Ancient Greek world and the Roman Empire and whose largest city was for a time the Roman capital, but has no difficulty with the concept of a France that borders on Brazil. Or that he is unaware that EU member Cyprus is, geographically, more wholly Asian than Turkey. Either Sarkozy really is spectacularly ignorant – which I find difficult to believe – or he is cynically playing up to the popular ignorance and chauvinism of his citizens in the most vulgar manner.

2) At the NATO summit in Bucharest in April, Sarkozy vetoed the granting of a Membership Action Plan to Georgia and Ukraine; for all his denial, he appears to have done so because he did not want to offend Russia. This makes no sense in terms of principles; it is as if Norway should have been denied NATO membership so as not to offend Sweden; or Poland, so as not to offend Belarus. A sovereign state’s right to join a military alliance cannot be the subject of a veto by one of its neighbours; otherwise it ceases to be sovereign. The deference to Russia harks back to an era of imperial spheres of influence. Sarkozy appears less interested in the principle of European unity than in pursuing old-style imperial diplomacy on the European continent.

3) Sarkozy has long supported Greece in its dispute with Macedonia without pretending that this has anything to do with principles: ‘I always stressed that we support the Greek position in the name issue. Greeks are our friends.’ In his most recent statement, however, Sarkozy not only argues that Macedonia should back down because ‘the newcomer is the one that should make efforts’, but reportedly also on the grounds that Macedonia is a ‘non-democratic country’. This marks a new low in French efforts to destabilise a fragile country that was deemed sufficiently democratic by the international community to warrant international recognition back in 1992, and whose provisions for minority rights are incomparably better than that of Greece, which does not even recognise the existence of its Macedonian and Turkish minorities. The consequences of a Macedonian collapse for peace and stability in Europe should not need emphasising; Sarkozy is playing his cynical, Gaullist game in the most irresponsible manner possible.

4) While denying Macedonia’s democratic credentials, France under Sarkozy is reverting to the traditional French policy of supporting Serbia, the country primarily responsible for the catastrophes in the Balkans in the 1990s, and whose attempts to undermine Kosova’s independence are endangering peace and stability in the Balkans more than anything else. France’s ambassador in Belgrade, Jean Francois Terral, is reported to have described Serbia as ‘the country with the greatest possibilities in the Balkans’. He is quoted as saying that ‘as far as France is concerned, Serbia has the priority among Western Balkan states’. After all the efforts in which the West has engaged in this decade, to encourage Serbia to change its ways and behave in a responsible manner, France now appears to be reinforcing the old, destructive belief of Serbia’s – that it is a natural regional hegemon with a right to preeminence over its smaller and weaker neighbours. And this without demanding any commensurate change in Serbian policy toward Kosova.

5) While rewarding the two Balkan states – Greece and Serbia – that are pursuing the most destructive, nationalistic policies at the expense of the wider region, Sarkozy has taken efforts to punish Croatia, a state that has turned its back on extreme nationalism. In contrast to Serbia, Croatia since 2000 has abandoned expansionism vis-a-vis Bosnia, abandoned support for anti-Bosnian separatists and come round to full cooperation with the war-crimes tribunal in the Hague. Yet in response to the Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty, Sarkozy has announced that France will veto further EU enlargement until the treaty is ratified – a step that above all punishes Croatia, which is the next state slated for EU membership. Showing scant regard for the democratic will of his fellow Europeans, he appears to be willing to punish Croatia and other EU aspirants for the fact that votes within the EU have not gone his way.

Nicolas Sarkozy is a sorry excuse for a European. His foreign policy makes no pretence at being guided by any principles or consistency, and he appears to revel in its selfish, nationally egotistical character. Nevertheless, at a certain level, one must admire his readiness to behave so unreasonably: the EU is a body that rewards the unreasonable and the selfish and that punishes the well behaved. If an EU member – or indeed a non-member – wishes to get its way, it pays for it to be stubborn and obstructive, as then the EU’s spineless, amoral bureaucrats will pander to it with talk about a ‘compromise acceptable to both sides’ or other such cliches designed to conceal appeasement. It is difficult to see that Sarkozy’s policy toward South East Europe is inspired by anything other than short-term, tactical and narrowly national considerations, but he is at least prepared to go about trying to get what he wants.

It would be encouraging if our own British government were to be similarly stubborn and obstructive in pursuit of goals where, justifiably, our policies have diverged from France’s: over EU and NATO expansion; Turkey; Macedonia; etc. Were it to do so, it would achieve more than it does. But I’m not holding my breath.

Friday, 4 July 2008 - Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Caucasus, Croatia, Former Soviet Union, Former Yugoslavia, France, Georgia, Greece, Kosovo, Macedonia, NATO, Russia, Serbia, Turkey

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