Thursday, October 21, 2021

Why Paris has to be independent

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When Emmanuel Macron visited India last month, he largely devoted his three-day trip to a government to meet: the British government and the Indian government. He was in the British territory of Gibraltar. The US has developed its own strong relationship with the elected government of India, but no one else has so far. Prime Minister Theresa May’s government was an integral part of any discussions on how to prevent clashes between British and Indian naval forces.

In India, Macron seems to have adopted a similar approach to how US presidents used to handle Australia. Macron, too, went to meet the government and had a lot of meetings with the government, but he met the opposition too, including the prime minister’s socialist rival, Ms. Gandhi.

French ministers, ministers-in-waiting and right-wing politicians are as tightly aligned with Washington as do the British, Indians and Australians. This is not just because they share many democratic values and the same interests and institutions. One reason is that they are caught in a more post-colonial position of ingratitude for the respect due them by their former imperial masters. Another reason is that they are under different degrees of pressure and pressure from different sources.

With regard to France, the pressure has mounted in the wake of the Donald Trump presidency. He has threatened to abandon the Iran nuclear deal, has appointed a far-right ally as the United States Ambassador to France, has been misbehaving with North Korea and the rogue Syrian dictator Assad, has imposed his team’s cruel immigration policy on the other Europeans (including the French people), has applauded Russian actions and rhetoric, and continues to declare the Paris Climate Agreement a “disaster.”

In such a context, Mr. Macron will consider the United States an indispensable partner, especially since he realizes that no other country in the world has as many illiberal forces and regimes about it – or is in any way doing anything to fix them. Mr. Macron might in the near future request that the US rejoin the Paris climate pact.

France is not alone. New democratic partners are emerging all over the world. Even the Czech Republic, Belgium, the Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Japan, South Korea, Greece, Australia, Canada, Hungary, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, the Dominican Republic, Indonesia, New Zealand, and Estonia. The European Union has 45 member states, while France has 65. There are 164 countries in the world. There are 94 democracies. There are 7 countries that lack any kind of democratic institutions – because they are not democracies. And there are 67 countries without embassies in the United States.

Many European countries probably feel the same way as France, and also fear the rise of illiberal political forces like Russia. Last week, 11 French politicians told France’s foreign minister to forget about promoting France’s interests at the United Nations. They warned him to stay in his lane. They are looking for new friends and allies, as the Washington Post wrote recently.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday that the US and Russian-backed rebels in Syria’s Idlib province “deny even the most rudimentary humanitarian standards.”

President Trump’s visit to Russia this week sparked some claims of prior negotiation. But none of the dealings ever takes place in a vacuum. An agreement can only work between two sovereign states.

Sinai jail in Egypt

Nowhere was the perceived harm to France seen as more damaging than in Egypt. During President Muhammad Morsi’s rule, France was seen as largely in his side, as one of its main supporters in the Muslim Brotherhood. Now France is unwilling to deny that it has been behind the desperate appeal by the Egyptian government to Moscow, with whom it has agreed on a nuclear deal, to help it in the current crisis in Egypt.

French Minister for Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian was in Egypt for a visit on Thursday to discuss the latest developments in Suez, including Israel’s occupation of the canal waters and the bombing of suspected terrorists. It was as if Mr. Le Drian was suddenly separated from Paris and forced to do “the French” job on his own, as if France was isolated and without friends.

The diversion of the American government to India, the UK and Australia created a worrying situation in France. It is no longer a source of defensive power to counterbalance China and Russia. Europe’s allies have been quickly drawn into “forward” matters. And France will now be in the background doing what it is best at – negotiating, not fighting.

Leo Bertinotti is a former European Union diplomat. His latest book is “French Image, French Politics”

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