Sarkozy takes lead on Libya despite risk of EU rifts

11th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

Faced with plunging popularity polls just over a year before elections, French President Nicolas Sarkozy has stepped into the frontline of world bids to eject Moamer Kadhafi at the risk of angering key allies.

Heading into an emergency European Union summit on Libya, Sarkozy threw a spanner in the works by announcing that Paris and London were ready to take "targeted" action against Kadhafi should the Libyan leader bomb his own people.

While the French leader's call to battle was a touch less aggressive than his plea for air strikes against Kadhafi's command bases the previous day, it nevertheless irritated several of France's EU partners, notably Germany.

Chancellor Angela Merkel joined the summit calling for the 27-nation bloc to speak with a single voice on Libya.

Berlin too is at loggerheads with Paris over Sarkozy's unilateral recognition Thursday of Kadhafi opponents as Libya's rightful representatives -- making France the first and so far only country to take that stand.

"I advise everyone to look very closely to see if these people who say they represent the people are really speaking in the name of the people," said German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.

"Certain members of the opposition were until recently members of the Khadafi regime," he warned.

Though economic powerhouse Germany remains France's staunchest partner in the ongoing campaign to save the euro, Sarkozy's chosen ally in the battle against Kadhafi is Europe's other major military player, Britain.

Britain and France have joined in calls to their partners to recognise Kadhafi's opponents and have a joint resolution ready to go before the UN Security Council to impose a no-fly zone over Libya.

But a European diplomat who requested anonymity said there had never been any question of unilateral joint strikes between Paris and London. "There has been no talk of Franco-British targeted action."

Another diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Sarkozy's drive appeared to be targeted at domestic opinion.

"It very much resembles a domestic political offensive, he is almost in election campaign mode," the source said.

"He wants to present himself as president of the world after being G20 president by showing himself as the saviour of the Libyan population who will lead them to democracy," the diplomat added.

Another diplomat said Sarkozy "is picking up the thread of the French EU presidency in 2008 when he did a great job in his efforts to stem the Russian offensive in Georgia."

In case of a victory for the Libyan opposition, the rewards would be great, opening up the possibility of a slew of juicy gas and oil contracts.

A frontline role for France would also help clear past diplomatic missteps, when France rolled out the red carpet for Kadhafi in 2008.

© 2011 AFP

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