A chance to change French foreign policy.

Nicolas Sarkozy 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Nicolas Sarkozy 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
French President Nicolas Sarkozy's election is a defeat for the old ideological Left, which has been appearing increasingly obsolete to French voters since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Sarkozy's victory also marks a crushing loss for the anti-Semitic extreme Right and the extremists in the Muslim world, and sounds a clear warning to all those among the country's immigrants who violate law and order. It is a victory for the sober Center-Right, which advocates real reforms in French society and in Europe, with an emphasis on the developing world's economy, the free market and globalization. Sarkozy opposes the enlargement of the European Union, particularly the inclusion of Muslim Turkey; instead he has spoken about a union of Mediterranean countries to form an economic community. For Sarkozy, the US and France face the very same security challenges from international Islamist terrorist organizations. If Israel can judiciously cultivate ties with Sarkozy while avoiding subjecting him to a bear hug, he will undoubtedly respond by being an advocate for Israel. But clearly the change in France's Middle East policy will not be drastic and Paris will preserve its many interests in the Arab world. There are many in Paris who see Sarkozy's victory as a celebration of democracy and French patriotism, as well as an impressive achievement for an immigrant's son. Globally, the Sarkozy victory is being viewed as a potential political earthquake that could fundamentally change many of the foundations of French foreign policy that were enunciated over the last 50 years. The editor-in-chief of Le Monde Diplomatique, Alain Gersh, told "We are witnessing the emergence of a new ally to the US in Europe." Without shortcuts Sarkozy was born on January 28, 1955, when socialist and colonialist France was licking its wounds from the defeat in Vietnam, bogged down in the war in Algeria, and struggling against pro-independence agitation in Morocco and Tunisia. That same year, the government of Pierre Mend s-France fell and Winston Churchill resigned from political leadership in Britain. At the same time, behind the Iron Curtain, the Warsaw Pact was signed and in the Middle East tension mounted at the Egyptian-Israeli border. Col. Nasser threatened to nationalize the Suez Canal and boasted of the flow of Russian weaponry to the Arab countries. These were the defining events for the generation of politicians who would rule France for the next 50 years. Sarkozy comes from a very different historical context and background than his predecessors. He takes power as France and the Western alliance are engaged in a war on Islamist terror. His personal story is that of the son of a Jewish immigrant who defied conventions in a conservative, Catholic country. Sarkozy's maternal grandfather was a Sephardi Jew from Salonika, and his father came from a prominent Hungarian family. He was raised by his mother and, as a result, spent a great deal of time with his grandfather, who converted to Catholicism but nevertheless had to hide during World War II because of his Jewish roots. At the end of a difficult childhood in which he was a mediocre student, Sarkozy became a fervent member of the Gaullist Party's young guard. Instead of the classic path that leads through the aristocratic hothouse of the prestigious Ecole nationale d'administration, he chose to study law and political science, financing his studies by selling ice cream. In 1983, when he was only 27, he was elected mayor of Neuilly (an upscale suburb of Paris). For 10 years he built up his public standing, also gaining support in the local Jewish community as he often visited the synagogue. He identified with the struggle against anti-Semitism, and his first visit to Yad Vashem strengthened his resolve to combat racism and his sympathy for Israel. In 1993, he was appointed government spokesman and minister of budgets. Notable for his use of clear, no-nonsense language, he showed himself to be a man of action who kept his promises. A decade later he announced on television that he was running for the presidency and, overnight, became a staunch and uncompromising opponent of his political rivals, including then-Paris mayor Jacques Chirac. A defeat for socialism This is the third consecutive presidential race that the French Socialist Party has lost. Sarkozy takes clear positions and favors a free and unified Europe that will carry political weight and spread principled messages in the world. A pro-American attitude The new president of France does not hide his sympathy for the democratic values of the United States and its policy of resolving world conflicts, although he opposed its military intervention in Iraq. Unlike his predecessors, he is not ungrateful, often mentioning America's contribution to France's liberation from the deadly yoke of the Nazis. He spoke openly about this friendship with America in his victory speech. For Sarkozy, the US and France share the very same security challenges coming from international Islamist terrorism. If Sarkozy seeks to improve US-French relations, it will undoubtedly affect his policies toward the Middle East. In the past, Washington and Paris had serious differences over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Iraq, in particular. While Sarkozy will not back the Bush administration unconditionally, the US is likely to sense a reduction of political pressure from Paris over its traditionally more pro-Israeli positions. In the coming months, Sarkozy will seek to unify the ranks and head a small, compact, fresh government. Next month, that government will aim for an overwhelming victory in the parliamentary elections to ensure a solid majority for implementing his policies. In an effort to achieve that kind of majority, Sarkozy has been reaching out to the Left. He has considered the appointment of former foreign minister Hubert Vedrine to a second term in that post, despite his past anti-American and anti-Israeli policies. Whoever he chooses, Sarkozy, as president, will retain ultimate control of French foreign policy. There is no doubt that a new era has begun in France, and the voice of Paris will be heard loudly and clearly in Europe and in the world. A new opportunity for Israel Israel's government needs to exploit the current momentum to strengthen relations with France and with a sincere friend, Sarkozy, while improving its image and its poorly articulated positions in the world. Still, the French Foreign Ministry will presumably pressure the new president to continue his predecessors' policies. One thing, however, is clear: France will no longer speak with two voices or practice the sort of diffident, hypocritical ostrich policy conducted by the Sarkozy's five predecessors as president of the Fifth Republic. He has unequivocally affirmed the right of the State of Israel to live within secure, recognized and defensible borders. Unlike his predecessors, he calls for border adjustments and a solution in the framework of a united Jerusalem. Sarkozy favors the establishment of a "viable" Palestinian state on condition that it recognizes Israel, and fights corruption and terror. He has repeatedly said that Israel's security is not negotiable. Sarkozy is well acquainted with French Jewry, which voted for him by an overwhelming majority, and with the French citizens in Israel, and he will continue to preserve French Jewry's identity and to provide it with maximal security. A new leadership has arisen in France that will work diligently, together with the US, Israel and other Western countries for a world that is free, stable, democratic and uncompromising in the struggle against global terror and the Iranian threat. France's foreign policy has not fundamentally changed since the establishment of the Fifth Republic in 1958. Gen. de Gaulle devised an ambitious policy for an independent European power free of American tutelage. This policy has failed. It has weakened France in the international arena and caused a deepening confrontation with the US. Sarkozy can be expected to try to amend the distortion. As a charismatic leader with a pro-Atlantic worldview, he will base French foreign policy on the two factors that have changed international, and particularly French, diplomacy: the end of the colonialist era; and the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union. After 9/11 The events of 9/11 in the US have intensified the struggle against global terror, and only close intelligence cooperation among all the countries of Europe, hand-in-hand with the US and Israel, can deter the extremist organizations from carrying out attacks. Sarkozy, having served as interior minister, has rich experience in this field and will undoubtedly implement his operational plans while expanding consultations with Israel and the US. Unlike his predecessors, he sees Hizbullah and Hamas as terrorist organizations. A visit to Yad Vashem in 2005 strengthened Sarkozy's resolve to fight racism, anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. He can be expected to take energetic action and to institute an information campaign, especially among young people. The Iranian nuclear threat will undoubtedly greatly occupy him as president. He agrees with the Americans that all resources must be used to stop Iran from having nuclear weapons, and he will work for the adoption of a harder line in Europe. In his first speech after his election, Sarkozy warned Iran, Syria, and Libya that they could no longer play Europe off against America. With Tony Blair's resignation from the leadership of Britain, Sarkozy will become the main advocate for greater pro-Americanism in Europe and for enhancing cooperation between the two blocs. He will receive backing for this new policy from German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The Berlin-Paris axis will undoubtedly gain strength, and countries formerly under Soviet rule such as Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and the Baltic states will take an even more pro-Atlantic line. Sarkozy, who is an enthusiastic champion of work, diligence, a free economy and globalization, will find attentive listeners in these countries. He will also work to prevent the entry of new countries into the European Union and, as noted, will strongly oppose the accession of Muslim Turkey, currently undergoing difficult tests. Finally, he hopes to keep NATO a Euro-centered organization in which European and American capabilities compliment one another. The new president of France, who will soon visit Washington, will speak in simple and clear language. Unlike his predecessors, he will not preach morality. He knows that despite legitimate disagreements, France and the United States are in the same camp and in the same battle to raise the flag of freedom and democracy in the world. Freddy Eytan, a former Foreign Ministry senior adviser who served in the embassies in Paris and Brussels, and was Israel's first ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. He heads the Jerusalem Center's Israel-Europe Project, focusing on presenting Israel's case in Europe.