New French president: a friend of the US?

29th April 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, April 29, 2007 (AFP) - Segolene Royal draws cheers when she declares that she is in no hurry to shake George W. Bush's hand while Nicolas Sarkozy gets nods of approval when he says Europe must be free of US influence.

PARIS, April 29, 2007 (AFP) - Segolene Royal draws cheers when she declares that she is in no hurry to shake George W. Bush's hand while Nicolas Sarkozy gets nods of approval when he says Europe must be free of US influence.

Attacking US policy is standard fare in the French presidential campaign, but whoever moves into the Elysee palace after the May 6 election is expected to work constructively with Washington, analysts say.

Both Sarkozy and Royal have singled out France's role in Europe as their foreign policy priority and called for a dialogue of equals with Washington, described as a friend and ally.

After the French 'no' to the EU constitution in the 2005 referendum that plunged Europe into crisis and a bitter dispute with the US over the Iraq war, France is choosing a president who will have to approach diplomacy adeptly.

For Sarkozy, the rightwing frontrunner and candidate of President Jacques Chirac's governing party, a much-publicized trip to the United States in September has left him battling to dispel the impression that he is "pro-American."

Sarkozy met Bush briefly and unabashedly praised the United States in a speech that Royal's Socialist Party denounced as proof that the former interior minister was an "American neo-conservative with a French passport."

Royal accused him of "getting down on his knees" and "apologizing" to Bush for French opposition to the Iraq war, adding: "I am not for a Europe that aligns itself with the United States."

A veto-holding member of the UN Security Council, France considers its opposition to the Iraq war as probably its finest hour on the international stage in recent years.

Sarkozy has said he made no such apology and stressed that good relations do not mean submission to the United States.

"I want France to be free, I want Europe to be free. I therefore ask my American friends to let us be free, free to be their friends," he said in a keynote foreign policy speech in late February.

"He is certainly more of an Atlanticist than Segolene Royal but there is nothing to suggest that he will profoundly shake up trans-Atlantic relations once elected," said Barthelemy Courmont from the French Institute for International Relations.

On Iraq, Sarkozy as president is expected to call for a deadline for US troop withdrawal, as would Royal in the Elysee, said Courmont.

"Sarkozy definitely seems more pro-American than Chirac," commented Oliver Griffith, the executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce in France.

"He has pulled back a little bit for election purposes because it doesn't sell well in France."

Sarkozy's proposed economic reforms which provide for cutting taxes and relaxing labour laws get top rating in US business circles. The United States is the third largest foreign investor in France after the Netherlands and Britain.

"We are facing globalisation. France, Europe and the US are facing India, China and Brazil which are not competing on a level playing field," said Griffith.

Sarkozy, the 52-year-old son of a Hungarian immigrant, has said that if elected he will make Berlin his first destination to relaunch the Franco-German engine of Europe.

He then plans to head to Brussels to chart the EU's future and finally to Africa where French influence is waning.

After making a trip to Berlin, Royal also said that getting EU institutions up and running is a priority and called for maintaining France's independent foreign policy.

"The United States are our friends and our destinies are tied in the face of international terrorism," Royal has said.

"But an alliance does not mean blindness. If I am elected, France will maintain its independence of judgment and action vis-a-vis the United States."

Dominique Moisi, a senior adviser at the French Institute of Foreign Relations, says the new president will likely put his or her domestic reform agenda ahead of any diplomatic initiative.

"The difference is not between Sarkozy on one side and Royal on the other. The difference is between Chirac, who was passionate about foreign policy, and Sarkozy and Royal who will put the emphasis on domestic issues," said Moisi.

"They want France to restore confidence in itself, to find a new dynamic before they can look at its role on the world stage," he said.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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