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François Hollande

Tag Archives | François Hollande

Islamists have struck Timbuktu

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Mali's President Dioncounda Traore in Senegal. Source: The Washington Times

“French troops will stay until the job is finished,” the then-French Ambassador to Mali, Christian Rouyer, told me last month.

Mali’s President Dioncounda Traore in Senegal. Source: The Washington Times

But French President Francois Hollande stated Thursday that French troops in Mali would be reduced from 4,000 to 2,000 by the end of July, and to 1,000 by the end of the year. Mr. Hollande previously had stated that French troops would not leave until a U.N. peacekeeping force was in place. Currently, the French are helping train the Malian army and troops from neighboring African countries for a counterinsurgency operation, should the Islamists return. But events can have a way of changing even the best-laid plans. When I was in Timbuktu two weeks ago, an Islamist suicide bomber detonated his belt at a checkpoint near the outskirts of town. In the ensuing gunbattle, seven jihadists were killed and one was captured; seven Malian soldiers were wounded and one was killed.

Security in Timbuktu has since been tightened at all the checkpoints leading to the 13th century town, which once served as the leading Islamic cultural center. Timbuktu’s townspeople had been subjected to brutality by Islamists who controlled the town and surrounding villages for more than 11 months. During that time, the Islamists destroyed several 15th and 16th century Sufi shrines, and burned some 4,000 rare Islamic manuscripts. Several village leaders told me that they were thankful the French troops had liberated their towns.

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Assessing U.S. Foreign Policy in Mali

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A French soldier wearing a skeleton mask in Niono, Mali. Source: Huffington Post

If Washington continues to avoid direct engagement in Mali there remains a possibility that Mali’s instability could spread throughout West Africa and to the greater region.

A French soldier wearing a skeleton mask in Niono, Mali. Source: Huffington Post

There is some evidence of this in Nigeria with the growth of Boko Haram. Mali’s internal strife not only represents a threat to Mali and its neighbors but the fragile state of intra-African politics. The African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) are engaged in Mali with ECOWAS dedicated to the restoration of democracy and the AU committed to preserving the territorial integrity of Mali. So far the Obama administration has not made any official commitments regarding direct military relief in Mali aside from limited support in the form of ferrying supplies to the region. Adding further urgency, various insurgency groups and Islamists are joining forces in some instances.

Organizations such as the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (NMLA), Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Polisario Front, Ansar Dine, and Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA) represent a network of terrorist and separatist movements whose combined actions characterize a growing threat to the economic and political development of the region. There are links that bind these movements together like ideology, tribalism, ethnicity, politics, and religion. Mali’s fate is just another piece of the puzzle in resolving issues in West Africa but Washington refuses to address the dynamic relationship between these guerilla conflicts. Reaffirming Mali’s progress towards democracy is the first step that U.S. foreign policy needs to take to resolve Mali’s and the region’s chaos.

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Mali was a Breeding Ground for Terrorists before Current Crisis

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The French liberation of northern Mali from embedded Islamists has finally put Mali on everyone’s radar screen.

Malian troops patrolling the northern town of Diabaly, Mali. Nic Bothma/AAP

In the House Committee on Foreign Affairs last week, Ambassador Johnnie Carson, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, testified about the crisis in the West African nation and what the U.S. and other countries should do. Mr. Carson noted that the “crisis is one of the most difficult, complex and urgent problems West Africa has faced in decades.” He further noted: “The March 2012 coup and subsequent loss of northern Mali to Islamic extremists demonstrates all too clearly how quickly terrorists prey upon fragile states,” referring to the presence of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

The U.S. could have subdued the AQIM in 2003 when its fighters fled Algeria to Mali’s northern frontier region, which has become a safe haven for al Qaeda-linked Islamists from Mauritania, Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Somalia and as far away as Pakistan and Afghanistan. The U.S. knew that northern Mali was becoming a breeding ground for these terrorists; the Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Initiative training program was launched in Mali in 2005. Two years later, special operations forces carried out additional training, and U.S. Africa Command considered setting up a base there. An ongoing program would have reduced the presence of the Islamists.

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Security Firms Seek Inroads in Mali

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Tuareg tribesman in Mali. Source: Al Jazeera

The British security firm G4S is set to rake in massive profits thanks to crises in Mali, Libya and Algeria. Recognized as the world’s biggest security firm, the group’s brand plummeted during the London Olympics last year due to its failure to satisfy conditions of a government contract.

Tuareg tribesman in Mali. Source: Al Jazeera

But with growing unrest in North and West Africa, G4S is expected to make a speedy recovery. The January 16th hostage crisis at Algeria’s Ain Amenas gas plant, where 38 hostages were killed, ushered in the return of al-Qaeda not as extremists on the run, but as well-prepared militants with the ability to strike deeply into enemy territories and cause serious damage. For G4S and other security firms, this also translates into growing demands. “The British group is seeing a rise in work ranging from electronic surveillance to protecting travelers,” the company’s regional president for Africa told Reuters. “Demand has been very high across Africa,” Andy Baker said. “The nature of our business is such that in high-risk environments the need for our services increases.”

If Algeria’s deadly encounter with al-Qaeda was enough to add then north African country to private security companies emerging African market, Libya must be a private security firm paradise. Following NATO’s toppling of the regime of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and his brutal assassination in Sirte on October 20, 2011, numerous militias sprang up throughout Libya, some armed with heavy weapons, courtesy of western countries. Initially, such disturbing scenes of armed militias setting up checkpoints at every corner were dismissed as an inevitable post-revolution reality. However, when westerners became targets themselves, ‘security’ in Libya finally became high on the agenda.

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From Rwanda to Mali: France’s Chequered History in Africa

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French armored vehicles patrol a road as they take part in operation Serval to assist Malian troops to push back an islamist rebel advance, North of Bamako, Mali. Arnaud Roine/EPA

Why the French intervention in Mali?

French armored vehicles patrol a road as they take part in operation Serval to assist Malian troops to push back an islamist rebel advance, North of Bamako, Mali. Arnaud Roine/EPA

Last week, French daily Le Monde asked this question of André Bourgeot, specialist on Sub-Saharan Africa with France’s National Centre for Scientific Research. Bourgeot gave two main reasons, the first of which was that without intervention, Islamist troops that had already conquered the north of the country were likely to take over the international airport at Sévaré, blocking access for any international military intervention, and opening the way to take over the capital, Bamako.

The second reason? Because they were asked to. Interim president Dioncounda Traoré appealed to his French counterpart François Hollande to help prevent an Islamist takeover of his country. The French action is conducted within the framework set out in UN Security Council Resolution 2085 of 10 December 2012, on the situation in Mali. A special meeting of the Security Council further supported the action, calling on all member states of the UN to provide support to Mali.

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Mali Intervention and Chickens

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The French military on the outskirts of Sevare, Mali, hoping to oust Islamic extremists in Mali's north. Thibault Camus/AP

The French military on the outskirts of Sevare, Mali, hoping to oust Islamic extremists in Mali’s north. Thibault Camus/AP

“It appears the French had one of their wars going on thereabouts.”

– Charlie Marlow from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness

The vision that Conrad’s character Marlow describes is of a French frigate firing broadsides into a vast African jungle, in essence, bombarding a continent. That image came to mind this week when French Mirages and helicopter gunships went into action against a motley army of Islamic insurgents in Mali. That there is a surge of instability in that land-locked and largely desert country should hardly come as a surprise to the French: they and their allies are largely the cause. And they were warned.

A little history. On Mar. 17, 2011, the UN Security Council approved Resolution 1973 to “protect civilians” in the Libyan civil war. Two days later, French Mirages began bombing runs on Mummar Gaddafi’s armored forces and airfields, thus igniting direct intervention by Britain, along with Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Resolution 1973 did not authorize NATO and its allies to choose sides in the Libyan civil war, just to protect civilians, and many of those who signed on—including Russia and China—assumed that Security Council action would follow standard practice and begin by first exploring a political solution. But the only kind of “solution” that anti-Gaddafi alliance was interested in was the kind delivered by 500 lb. laser-guided bombs.

The day after the French attack, the African Union (AU) held an emergency session in Mauritania in an effort to stop the fighting. The AU was deeply worried that, if Libya collapsed without a post-Gaddafi plan in place, it might destabilize other countries in the region. They were particularly concerned that Libya’s vast arms storehouse might end up fueling local wars in other parts of Africa. However, no one in Washington, Paris or London paid the AU any mind, and seven months after France launched its attacks, Libya imploded into its current status as a failed state. Within two months, Tuaregs—armed with Gaddafi’s weapons’ cache—rose up and drove the corrupt and ineffectual Malian Army out of Northern Mali.

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Gérard Depardieu, Vladimir Putin and the Tax Man

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French actor Gérard Depardieu. Photo: Tommaso Masetti

What will a man do to avoid tax? Become Russian for one, or the cultural ambassador for Montenegro, the prelude to obtaining another means of escaping the homeland’s rapacious tax regime. France’s Gérard Depardieu, having failed to teleport himself via a spaceship timed to arrive at the world’s end, decided to do something distinctly terrestrial – adopt a new citizenship.  The bogeyman here is François Hollande, the French president who won the general election on a platform stacked with promises of increased taxation for the super rich, notably his 75 percent on those earning more than a million Euros. The grand and conspicuously aggrandised Depardieu took issue with it. How dare his talent be treated this way? The creators are always attacked by mindless managers and paper pushers.

Come to think of it, Depardieu has taken issue with much of what the French state has done to him, or at least according to his own account. The decline of his health was occasioned by a hospital infection he got after one of several operations he received after the motorbike crash of 1995. His son, Guillaume, died in 2008 at the age of 37 after years of agony and a leg amputation.

The response to Depardieu has ranged and raged but some advice has been dished his way, including the odd piece of admiration. For one, a near hagiographic piece came forth from Rich Lowry in the National Review. Depardieu’s remarks to the prime minister on his departure – that he was “leaving because you believe that success, creation, talent – difference, in fact – must be punished” – were roundly approved. “He is right. May he – dare we say it? – prosper in his new home.” Depardieu, read through the American Right’s astigmatic eyes, had a genuine, sincere wish – “to keep some meaningful portion of his income.”

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Weariness Foretold: The EU Budget Summit

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Prime Minister David Cameron during a news conference in Brussels on the negotiations over the EU budget.  Philippe Wojazer/Reuters

There were always going to be disagreements about next year’s EU budget, which started in the evening instead of a sensible morning hour, and occupied officials into the early morning.

Prime Minister David Cameron during a news conference in Brussels on the negotiations over the EU budget. Philippe Wojazer/Reuters

Various MEPs pitched for an increase in spending for this year (some 7.3 billion pounds) and the next. The European Parliament has been considering restoring some 6.5 billion pounds worth of funding slashed by governments from next years’ budget. The austerity battles continue to remain running affairs. Eight hours of negotiations only ended out in walkouts, suggesting that the summit to agree to the EU’s funding plans for 2014-2020 might be stalled.

The EU Commission’s claim is that an increased amount is necessary to pay the bills. New Dutch finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem found that claim barely believable. “I’d question that very much. The Commission has to re-prioritise, that’s just the way it is. Budgetary discipline is not just for the member states.” The British are being characteristically cantankerous. When in doubt, cut, slash and burn. To be fair, the system of funding in the EU is such that increased contributions will be required from contributor economies if the desired amounts are to be met. Each state has its own domestic program to implement, austere or otherwise. That, at the end of the day, is a problem the EU has yet to resolve.

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The Mysterious François Hollande

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French President François Hollande. Source: Ministère des Affaires étrangères

Not since Charles De Gaulle has a French president confronted an economic and international situation as tumultuous as the one faced by François Hollande.

French President François Hollande. Source: Ministère des Affaires étrangères

Hollande, who took over the presidency from Nicolas Sarkozy last month, is facing an unemployment rate in the double digits and a national debt that stands at 90% of GDP. In addition to his domestic challenges, Hollande finds himself at the center of a deepening European crisis, with Greece on the brink of collapse and most euro-zone countries in a recession. While the challenges facing the new president are enormous, there seems to be little consensus on how he will govern. This is largely because Hollande managed to capture France’s highest office while remaining a relatively unknown commodity. Even though he is now the most powerful man in French politics, many still wonder – who is François Hollande?

The new French leader’s electoral campaign does provide a few clues about the man and his politics. Throughout his campaign, Hollande wooed his left-wing electorate, while at the same time putting himself in a position to deliver on his promise to keep deficits under control. Take his rollback of Sarkozy’s pension reforms, which would allow French workers to retire at 60. This policy proposal is actually more of a modest tweak than a fundamental revamp, as it only impacts the few workers who have worked continuously for 41 years. Hollande also promised to hire 60,000 new teachers, a pledge that has deficit hawks concerned. However, the new president plans to pay for these new teachers through an equal reduction in the number of civil servants elsewhere in France’s sprawling bureaucracy.

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The Eurozone Still Faces Several Challenges

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Greece's Prime Minister Antonis Samaras with French President François Hollande in Paris

European financial officials are preparing their policy package to deal with the current crisis for the meeting scheduled next week. It is not clear whether any of the proposals will be able to stop the ongoing bank run.

Greece’s Prime Minister Antonis Samaras with French President François Hollande in Paris

Here are some of the rumored proposals. Euro members jointly issue short term bills – in effect, short term euro bonds, a debt redemption fund as proposed by economic advisors to Merkel, new procedures for euro area banking supervision and using the ESM to purchase peripheral nations’ bonds in order to reduce their sovereign interest rates. French President Hollande is advocating the ESM purchase program. He is also advocating that the ESM be given a banking licence linked to the European Central Bank’s balance sheet. This makes sense as it addresses the solvency issue.

In the Eurozone we have a solvency problem and a crisis of deficient aggregate demand. Unfortunately, within the European Monetary Union these twin crises ultimately fall entirely in the realm of the issuer of the currency- the ECB, and not the users of the currency- the euro member nations. So without the ECB, directly or indirectly, underwriting the currency union, solvency is always an issue, whether that be Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy or, indeed, Germany. Likewise deficient spending power has been exacerbated via the austerity imposed as a condition of the ECB’s help.

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Future of Greece and the Eurozone Remains Uncertain

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Greece's Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. alex@faraway/Flickr

So for the short term, it appears we won’t have a “Grexit”, which has led many commentators to suggest (laughably) that a crisis has been averted.

Greece’s Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. alex@faraway/Flickr

Typical of this sentiment is a headline in Bloomberg today “Greece avoids chaos; Big Hurdles Loom”. To paraphrase Pete Townsend, meet the new chaos, same as the old chaos. It is worth pondering how acceptance of the Troika’s program (even if cosmetic adjustments are made) will help hospitals get access to essential medical supplies, whilst the government persists in enforcing a program which is killing its private sector by cutting spending and not paying legitimate bills, and an unemployment rate creeps towards 25 per cent and 50 per cent for youth.

Prior to the June 17th vote, Greek voters were intimidated with a massive number of threats of what would happen if they didn’t vote “the right way” (i.e. anybody but the “radical leftists” in Syriza). Even then, the conservatives just led the vote count against their main anti-austerity rival. Amazingly, New Democracy leader Antonis Samaris suggested in his victory speech last night that the results reflected a vote for “growth.”

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Not so Super Mario Brothers

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From left to right: Mario Monti, Prime Minister of Italy; Mario Draghi, President of the European Central Bank; Angela Merkel, Federal Chancellor of Germany

This week Italy was carted into the spotlight of the Eurozone crisis as its benchmark 10 year borrowing costs moved above 6 percent for the first time since January and with Italy now beginning to suffer as contagion spreads from the currency block’s other problem areas it is clear that tensions are rising in the Euro area.

From left to right: Mario Monti, Prime Minister of Italy; Mario Draghi, President of the European Central Bank; Angela Merkel, Federal Chancellor of Germany

In a further sign of disunity between the Eurozone’s Latin bloc and other EMU member states on Tuesday, Italian Prime Minister, Mario Monti, was forced to reject claims from the Austrian Finance Minster that Italy would require financial assistance. Italy is now seen as the final battleground of the euro project with any bailout for Italy likely to be the final nail in the coffin of the Eurozone.

Having been widely praised for his reform agenda, including the modernisation of antiquated labour laws as well as unprecedented public pension cuts, it appears that the wheels are starting to fall off. Two unconvincing auctions of short and long term debt this week underscored Italy’s need to go further to ensure the confidence of the markets. Battling with public debt levels of 120 percent of GDP, a contracting economy and resentment to reform, a sense of urgency is increasing as Monti’s government tries to distance itself from the other weak periphery countries.

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Germany’s Constitutional Conundrum

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French President Nicolas Sarkozy with German Chancellor Angela Merkel during the G20 Summit in Cannes, France. F. de la Mure / MAEE

Hans-Werner Sinn, President of Germany’s Ifo Institute and the Director of the Center for Economic Studies at the University of Munich, has taken to the pages of the New York Times to explain why Berlin is balking on a further bailout for Europe.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy with German Chancellor Angela Merkel during the G20 Summit in Cannes, France. F. de la Mure/MAEE

Amongst the points that Sinn makes against German sharing in the debt of the euro zone’s southern nations is a legal one: “For one thing, such a bailout is illegal under the Maastricht Treaty, which governs the euro zone. Because the treaty is law in each member state, a bailout would be rejected by Germany’s Constitutional Court.” Sinn also argues that Germany’s counterparty credit exposure already exposes the country to immense credit risk: “Should Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain go bankrupt and repay nothing, while the euro survives, Germany would lose $899 billion. Should the euro fail, Germany would lose over $1.35 trillion, more than 40 percent of its G.D.P.”

Let’s leave aside Sinn’s broader rhetorical points (“Has the United States ever incurred a similar risk for helping other countries?” Umm, yes, it did – there was that little matter of World War II). Levity aside, professor Sinn does raise a huge potential conundrum as far as Germany and its broader relationship to the Eurozone’s institutions go. In fact, recent German Constitutional Court rulings on bailouts could well blow apart the European Monetary Union. This is because the potential unlimited liabilities to which Germany is exposed under Target 2, the ELA, and various other lender of last resort facilities adopted by the European Central Bank do on the face of it run afoul of the court’s ruling, which argued that any future bailouts had to be limited and subject to the democratic consent of Germany’s Parliament. What happens, for example, if someone in Germany were to challenge the very legality of Target 2 on those grounds?

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The Tide is Turning

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French President François Hollande. Source: Ministère des Affaires étrangères

French President François Hollande. Source: Ministère des Affaires étrangères

Recent elections in France and Greece have generated a good deal of comment, suggesting that the years of center-right governance in Europe may be coming to an end. The defeat of President Nicolas Sarkozy of France by the Socialist candidate Francois Hollande, and the collapse in Greece of political parties that allowed unrestrained capitalism and chaos to take hold, are major developments. But whether they represent a turning-point likely to return Western Europe to social democracy cannot yet be taken for granted.  Certainly, public opinion has become radicalized to an alarming degree.

European societies are undergoing a process of atomization as confidence in mainstream political parties and their leaders collapses. In the midst of a severe continental crisis, millions upon millions of people feel that their leaders are both unwilling and unable to look for solutions to help the most vulnerable.  The masses have become disgusted with professional politicians after giving them many opportunities. Recent national and regional elections in Greece, France and Germany are proof of voters walking away from mainstream parties whose political labels and programs are deceptive. The same trend has been repeated in the recent local elections in Britain.

Unfortunately, when a government loses, the victor picks up where the defeated left.  Callous disregard of the masses, and obsession with the accountants’ jargon of “balancing the books,” are behind the austerity imposed on ordinary citizens throughout the European continent. The result is the collapse of traditional politics and the rise of groups on the extremes.

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Europeans Have Rejected Austerity Madness: Will the U.S. Get the Message?

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French President François Hollande. Source: Ministère des Affaires étrangères

So the voters of Europe have spoken, and surprise, surprise: they are not too keen on fiscal austerity.

French President François Hollande. Source: Ministère des Affaires étrangères

France’s president, Nicolas Sarkozy, became the first incumbent to lose since 1981. In Greece, the mainstream parties that have been happily participating in the country’s national suicide were soundly rejected by the electorate (who finally had a say on the country’s economic course after being the unwilling recipients of a European Union/International Monetary Fund-sponsored financial coup d’etat over the last several months).

Governments in Europe have been caught up in the fiscal austerity narrative that the neo-liberals imposed on failing economies everywhere. They believe that if they demonstrate misguided “fiscal responsibility” through the maniacal pursuit of a budget surplus, the electorate will reward them for being good managers. However, as the Greek and French elections vividly demonstrate, the electorate is more concerned about real income growth and employment opportunities and they are clear that the current strategy is undermining both.

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