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September 24, 2007 |  2 comments |  Print  Your Opinion  

Dominique Moisi

What Is France's Place In The World?

Dominique Moisi: France should come to terms with the present century and come back into Europe. I have a few answers to the question that went unasked in the recent French presidential election campaign, and seems to have gone unconsidered by the French people.

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

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Nikolas Kirrill Gvosdev

September 25, 2007

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A question that arises from reading points two and three is whether the priority is for France itself to become a major partner with the United States, especially as Paris can work directly with Washington in achieving common goals in North Africa and the Middle East, or whether France works to strengthen the common European voice to create a more co-equal trans-Atlantic relationship for the projection of power and influence across the globe.

This is also a much more cautious assessment of France's likely foreign policy role than what one still continues to hear in Washington--where the prevailing assumption remains that under the new president, France is much more likely to find itself in alignment with U.S. priorities.
Donald  Stadler

September 28, 2007

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It is difficult to argue with any of this. As an American I find points #2 and #6 particularly poignant. It has often seemed to me over the past decade that France has been treating the US as more of an adversary as a friend, and for a time the characteristic French style was often absent. Actually, much of continental Europe has behaved that way and except for the period 2002-2004 France has not been the most extreme - I would rate Germany and/or Spain lower on that scale since 2005.

Nevertheless it is a fact that the ties of friendship between Europe and the US have been severely frayed - and not exclusively as the result of mistakes made by the Bush administration. It has been a multilateral fraying with grave mistakes made by all parties to the relationship.

As an American I confess that I no longer take it for granted that European countries are necessarily the friends or allies of the US - or conversely. One lesson of the past decade for Americans is that the friendship can no longer be relied upon. I think the reverse is also true though that may not be quite as obvious - yet.

I think we face a choice; Europe and the US can undergo a divorce and each go our own way - or we can try to reknit the bonds which once supported us all and do no longer.

A year ago I thought divorce was the only realistic course of action. Today - I'm not as certain of that. President Sarkozy has show signs of change in the French stance toward the US. I encourage his efforts and those of Bernard Kouchner, whom I regard as an inspired choice for Foreign Minister if it is a goal to strengthen the astringent relationship wih the US. Nevertheless we must remember that it took a long time to reach this point of mutual mistrust - the path back will probably also be a long one....

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