Sarkozy's lonesome cowboy act is hitting a European nerve

20th September 2007, Comments 0 comments

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is beginning to get on Europe's nerves.

20 September 2007

Paris (dpa) - Last week, he ruffled many feathers by criticizing the action of the European Central Bank and Luxembourg's Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the 13-member group of countries which use the single European currency.

Foreign minister Bernard Kouchner

Now, through the voice of his foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, the French president has created an uproar in the sphere of foreign policy.

Discussing the crisis over Iran's nuclear programme late Sunday on French television and radio, Kouchner said, "We will negotiate until the end. And at the same time we must prepare ourselves."

Asked what he meant about preparation, he replied, "It is necessary to prepare for the worst," and added, "The worst, sir, is war."

In August, in a statement to France's ambassadors, Sarkozy had made a similar statement. The Iranian nuclear crisis presented the world with "a catastrophic alternative," he had said. "An Iranian bomb or the bombing of Iran."

President Nicolas Sarkozy

Sarkozy and Kouchner must certainly be a little surprised by the extent of the criticism they provoked among their fellow Europeans.

"Before one can speak about a new war, one must give more time to political and diplomatic initiatives. A new war would only bring more tragedy," Italian Minister Massimo D'Alema was quoted as saying on Tuesday, in a statement that was disturbingly similar to France's warning to the United States before the invasion of Iraq.

Speaking from the sidelines of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) General Conference on Monday, Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik declared: "I am for continued and persistent work for a negotiated solution. It is not understandable for me why he (Kouchner) chooses to use this martial rhetoric at this point."

And the president of the European Parliament's Iran delegation, Angelika Beer, charged, "Raising the threat of war as a solution to the crisis in Iran, as was done by the French foreign minister yesterday, is not only dangerous but counterproductive. Such a statement can only be damaging to the agreements between Iran and IAEA Chief El Baradei, which have been supported by the EU so far."

At home, Kouchner's comments also provoked a storm of criticism, with the opposition Socialists demanding a parliamentary debate on the issue and centrist former presidential candidate Francois Bayrou accusing Sarkozy of becoming Washington's lapdog.

"We have reached a turning point," Bayrou said. "Not only has Nicolas Sarkozy chosen to align himself with the American position (on Iran), but also with the ulterior motives of the Bush administration."

Washington has remained silent on Koucher's comments, but Sarkozy has never made it a secret that one of his foreign policy priorities was to change France's traditionally adversarial relationship with the United States.

But it is difficult to discern Sarkozy's real motivation in repeatedly angering his European allies. He himself has suggested that he is driven by the desire to shake things up. "I get things moving by breaking taboos," he said.

In that regard, he has attacked almost every aspect of European policy. The EU's monetary policy is not conducive to economic growth, he said. Its trade policy? Naive. The farms policy is backward, the immigration policy is inefficient and the EU's stance on Iraq is too soft.

But if he continues to play the role of the lonesome cowboy, Sarkozy runs the risk of achieving the opposite of what he is seeking.

For one thing, his go-it-alone activism has already begun alienating France's traditionally closest partners, the Germans.

"Relations have dramatically worsened," the foreign affairs expert from the centrist FDP party, Werner Hoyer, said recently. "And it is much more than simply a series of beginner's mistakes."

It has also called into question his competence on the i

0 Comments To This Article