Our country is traditionally proud of its international status. Does France’s national identity not at least partially depend on its international identity? Was not the slogan “I am involved, therefore I am” for decades an expression of France’s relationship to international issues?
France’s citizens, however, have been emboldened through a campaign that more than ever has stressed individual demands (“What will France do for me?”) over collective ambitions (“What could we do for France?”). In this vein, they were generally satisfied with the foreign policy of President Jacques Chirac. In the eyes of the French, the outgoing French president—with his strict refusal to condone the 2003 US invasion of Iraq—offset an otherwise very negative domestic record.
Is it possible, in the absence of a foreign policy debate, to offer a few recommendations and warnings?
1. France cannot mistake the century it is presently in. Globalization is an irreversible reality. France is presently being offered a chance to decide whether globalization will be shaped in a more or less humane and moral way. We thus have to engage as an ambitious, proactive actor—not as a frustrated victim.
2. France cannot mistake its enemies. While the world is becoming ever more multipolar—with China and Russia’s return as important actors and India’s emergence on the international stage—it would be anachronistic and paradoxic to define oneself against or even in opposition to the United States.
3. France cannot mistake its priorities. Since May 29, 2005 (the day that French voters rejected the EU constitution treaty), there has been less France in Europe and probably less Europe in the world. Without the contribution of an ambitious, self-confident France, Europe cannot stake a claim to an important role in a multipolar world.
4. France cannot lose sight of the fact that its profile and influence in the world is, above all, dependent on its ability to carry out reforms in France itself. Domestic politics and foreign policy have always been tightly intertwined. France will be able to act more credibly on the other side of the Mediterranean and in the Middle East when it successfully integrates its own Muslim minorities into French society and dispassionately faces up to its colonial history in the same way it did its World War II past. In much the same way, this credibility depends upon Paris’s ability to follow other European countries, most recently Germany, on the path of economic and social reform.
5. France must be fully conscious of the newly won and legitimate concern for ecology. These issues have geopolitical implications: environmental protection is an important security factor. It is crucial that all democratic countries such as France prioritize the fight against global warming, the development of alternative energies, as well as the reduction of our independence on the oil-exporting regimes—whether they be Iran, Venezuela, or Russia.
6. France cannot err in its style. The pursuit of ambitious goals and the use of a modern, moderate tone are not mutually exclusive. The criteria for a successful foreign policy are not the number of allies that one alienates or offends. Everything that has to be said can be said in a sober, factual, and dispassionate way. A more self-confident France in a reliable Europe does not have to be full of itself or loud in order to be taken seriously.
7. Lastly and above all, France should not mistake the top goals of foreign policy. Our geography, our history, and our demography link our state to the Mediterranean region and beyond it, to the entire Middle East. In contrast to some ideological fantasies, the question is not whether Europe will be Islamicized, but rather whether France and Europe can contribute to a reconciliation with the Islamic world. More engagement in foreign policy and more fraternité in domestic policy go hand-in-hand.
The French should not only ask what their state can do for each individual, but also what developments in the world mean for France and what contribution their country can make to them. Here Europe has the highest priority.
Dominique Moisi is co-founder and special advisor to Institut français des relations internationales in Paris and professor for international relations at Collège d’Europe Natolin in Warsaw, Poland.
This article is presented as an excerpt from a longer essay published in the Global Edition of Internationale Politik, Germany’s foremost foreign policy journal and a collaboration partner of the Atlantic Community.
La Grande Nation, IP Summer 2007
Related Materials from the Atlantic Community:
- Yale Global on Sarkozy and the Arab world: French policy at the crossroads?
- Rosemary Righter on America’s Pampered Godchild
- Guillemette Faure on Old European France