French ambassadors told toswap arrogance for influence

26th August 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Aug 26 (AFP) - French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier on Thursday told his country's 300 ambassadors and chief diplomats around the world to ditch arrogance for influence in their dealings and concentrate on projecting Paris's power through the European Union.

PARIS, Aug 26 (AFP) - French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier on Thursday told his country's 300 ambassadors and chief diplomats around the world to ditch arrogance for influence in their dealings and concentrate on projecting Paris's power through the European Union.

France, he said at the opening of an annual two-day meeting of the envoys in Paris, "certainly has to conduct its own diplomatic action without ever shrinking back, but it increasingly has need of others.

And the first reflex, I say bluntly, must be European."

He said: "France is not great when it is arrogant. It is not strong if it is alone."

The heads of the diplomatic missions abroad have to "sincerely" reinforce their ties with European Commission delegates on the ground, said Barnier, who served as the European Union's commissioner for regional policy and institutional reform for four years before becoming French foreign minister in a March cabinet reshuffle.

Dominique de Villepin, the previous occupant of that post who was named interior minister in the changed line-up, became famous for persuasively fronting international opposition to the US-British war on Iraq, notably by questioning the justification that supposed weapons of mass destruction posed an imminent threat.

Barnier, 53, sought to put his EU credentials to the fore in the ambassadors' gathering, telling the envoys that an unspecified "action plan" would be unveiled in the next few months detailing how France could increase its influence in European politics.

That issue has become a sensitive one in the corridors of power in Paris.

The May expansion of the EU bloc to 25 members after the inclusion of 10 new states, most of them from central and eastern Europe, has diluted France's voting weight and limited its role in the reshaped European Commission, the EU's executive arm, to just one portfolio: the relatively lightweight post of transport commissioner.

Some members of President Jacques Chirac's ruling party fear the reduced place at the EU table may threaten a generally dominant position France has enjoyed since the bloc's inception.

France and Germany's candidate for the top job in the European Commission, Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, was rejected in the first EU summit since enlargement in June, with former Portuguese prime minister Jose Manuel Durao Barroso finally given the post.

And on July 30, in an EU ministers' meeting in Geneva, France found itself unable to convince its 24 partner countries to join its opposition to a new World Trade Organisation planned agreement.

The gradual move towards English as the only working language in Commission and EU ministerial meetings at the expense of French has also raised hackles.

Barnier said the Franco-German axis which has driven many EU decisions - most infamously the impunity both countries received after violating a euro zone deficit ceiling - was "irreplaceable" but not enough.

"We must and we will play together, because in the ministers' council in Brussels, all the states count regardless of their size," he said.

He said he recognised that the stepping back of France diplomacy behind an EU shield "is not inscribed in the long and prestigious history of our ministry ... (but) that is how our country can develop its influence."

© AFP

Subject: French news

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