Eye on Regionalism: France

French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced today that France will pay out €20 billion to protect its “strategic companies” in the wake of the global financial crisis through the creation of the country’s first sovereign fund. Made up of government and private investment, with state ownership projected between 34-49%, the fund will provide the catalyst for Mr. Sarkozy’s plan, announced last month, of protecting French companies from “foreign predators”.

Yesterday before an aerospace supply manufacturing company near Paris Sarkozy said:
“The day we don’t build trains, aeroplanes, automobiles and ships, what is left of the French economy? Memories. I will not make France a tourist reserve… I want France to keep its factories. I want this process of factory relocation and outsourcing to stop and I want firms with the potential to develop to be able to do so, even if financial institutions at the moment are a little timid.”

Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far”, which became his trademark foreign policy style. Ironically, Sarkozy, who took over the EU’s six-month rotating presidency in July 2008, has proven since his inauguration in May 2007 to define himself on an internationally stage as the converse: with bouts of grandiose rhetoric and de minimis policy measures. On Friday, on a podium with Dmitri Medvedev, Le Sarko stuck his foot in his mouth, saying the Americans’ (and Czechs’ and Poles’) plan to install an anti-missile shield against Iranian nukes would bring nothing to European security.” Further, Sarkozy proved to be a poor mediator in negotiating the withdrawal of Russian troops from Georgia. Sarkozy—who has received such nicknames as Super-Sarko, Sarko L’Americain, and President Bling Bling—has been nearly as heavily covered for his private life (e.g. his high-profile new wife Carla Bruni who has posed for nude pictures) as for his public service to the French state.

An advisor to Sarkozy offered this positive spin: “People are starting to understand how he works. He has an idea, says something serious, but not diplomatically, and then if necessary he’ll correct himself. If there’s a hullabaloo, he couldn’t care less.”

It is the “idea” part of the quote that deserves attention. Since arriving in office Sarkozy has proposed the organization of Europe’s six largest countries—Germany, France, Great Britain, Italy, Spain, and Poland—to form a European military. Yet reputation always seems to come back and hit you in the face. Historically France is not known for their lack of military involvement around the world, leading back to its departure from NATO more than 40 years ago. Even with Sarkozy’s recent statements that he wants back in the club, the state’s credibility within the European community might remain an issue.

Matt Hedrick

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