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Nicolas Sarkozy

Tag Archives | Nicolas Sarkozy

Is it a ‘Euroquake’? European Far-Right Parties Rise in European Parliament Elections

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Gerry Penny/EPA
Gerry Penny/EPA

Gerry Penny/EPA

Some 400 million eligible voters, 751 seats, 28 countries: a portrait of true democracy at work – unless they held an election and nobody came. Average voter turnout in the weekend’s European Parliament (EP) elections was an estimated 43.09%. That’s a stunning 0.09% improvement on 2009.

In the least-developed areas of eastern and southern Europe, enthusiasm for democracy is waning. In Croatia, which joined as recently as July 2013, turnout was an apathetic 25.06%. In Slovenia, it was under 21%; in Romania, 32.16%. Despite having their bank deposits frozen in 2013, only 43.97% of Cypriots showed up at the polls, compared with 59.4% in 2009. Greek voters, fired up by two years of harsh austerity, produced a modest turnout of 58.20%.

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Hollande, Obama and Monticello: When Empires Forgive

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President Barack Obama and President François Hollande of France hold a bilateral meeting in the Oval Office, Feb. 11, 2014. Pete Souza/White House

It is true that French President François Hollande had been in a touch of bother back home – at least in the relationships department.

President Barack Obama and President François Hollande of France hold a bilateral meeting in the Oval Office, Feb. 11, 2014. Pete Souza/White House

France had been preoccupied with the President’s overactive libido, a petulant figure who was now freed of his First Lady’s presence. French leaders have, in recent years, taken the chance to travel to the New World freed of their spouses or partners – Nicolas Sarkozy did it in 2007 before heading to Washington; and Valérie Trierweiler is conspicuously absent on this visit. That libidinal atmosphere has even rubbed off on one French paparazzo, who claimed that President Barack Obama had also partaken in other affairs of state. On this occasion, the smut searching Pascal Rostain was convinced that Obama and Beyonce Knowles had gotten it on. The Washington Post did not bite, while Le Figaro had a tentative nibble.

The emotional baggage was not, in the state setting, as significant as the statements coming forth from the White House. The official visit has provided a good occasion to reminisce about power – France, faded yet still anxious to pull punches in Africa and the Middle East; the U.S., the gloss removed from its splendour, limping and tilting towards other areas of the globe, notably the Asia Pacific. The continuous theme to this gathering: that mutual trust had been restored between the countries.

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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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Stephen Harper: Statesman of the Year?

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Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Source: Facebook

On Thursday September 27th, while most of his colleagues were across town taking part in the opening of the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was at Manhattan’s opulent Waldorf Astoria Hotel accepting an award for “World’s Statesman of the Year” from the Appeal of Conscience Foundation.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Source: Facebook

The award was presented by former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who characterized Harper as a leader who has not only his own views but also “the courage to affirm them even when they are not shared by all of the consensuses that exist.” Another supporter, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, characterized Harper as “a great champion of freedom,” and a “real statesman.” According to the foundation, Harper was honoured for his unwavering support of Israel, tough stance on Iran, and creation of an Office of Religious Freedom (which will be housed in the Department of Foreign Affairs, but has yet to take any tangible form). Past recipients of the award include former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.

Strong support for Israel, and criticism of Iran have come to be characteristic features of Canadian foreign policy in the Harper era. A few weeks ago Canada severed diplomatic ties with Iran, a regime Harper has characterized as being possessed by a “fanatically religious worldview.” As Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressed the opening of the General Assembly Canadian diplomats walked out, in what’s become an annual tradition. The justification, according to Foreign Minister John Baird, because Canada doesn’t “want to be associated in any way, shape or form with the ramblings of an anti-Semitic hate monger.”

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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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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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Boomerang

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Nicolas Sarkozy, the former president of France at a party meeting. Source: UMP

Nicolas Sarkozy, the former president of France at a party meeting. Source: UMP

Toulouse, Europe’s aerospace hub in the southwest of France, has hit the headlines for the wrong reasons. A twenty-three-year-old French citizen of Algerian origin, Mohamed Merah, went on a shooting spree last month, killing seven people and terrorizing a million residents for ten days before a police sniper’s bullet ended his life. Among his victims were three unarmed soldiers, a rabbi and three children at a Jewish school. According to prosecutors privy to negotiations with Merah during the thirty-hour siege where he met his end, his only regret was “not having claimed more victims.” Mohamed Merah reportedly said that he was proud of having “brought France to its knees.”

Mohamed Merah had many more years to live had it not been for his final act. Life was, however, not important to him. He claimed to have been motivated by the Palestinians’ plight, the presence of French troops in Afghanistan and the law banning the full veil in France. These issues challenge the conscience of many people. But a young man depriving fellow citizens of life, and throwing away his own, cannot constitute a solution.

What is known about Merah’s short life does not suggest that he was particularly religious. He frequented bars and nightclubs in his home town. He had displayed other imperfections of a disturbed youth––petty crime, driving without license and fistfights. In this light, Merah’s assertion of belonging to al Qaeda is more likely to have been an exaggeration or empty boast than a serious claim to infamy. It has prompted some sections of the media to run with speculation, without much evidence, that Merah was affiliated to al Qaeda and the Taliban. French police are investigating whether he visited Afghanistan, but indications of any ideological twist are thin. For Mohamed Merah was not a devout Muslim.

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Saudi Arabia and Qatar Ratchet Up Pressure on Assad

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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attending the Friends of Syria group in Paris with other foreign ministers to plot a path forward

Running counter to the wishes of the United States and other western nations, Saudi Arabia and Qatar recently announced that they are taking steps to arm the Free Syria Army (FSA).

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attending the Friends of Syria group in Paris with other foreign ministers to plot a path forward

Despite the significance of this step, it is unlikely to shift the civil war in favor of the rebels. The FSA, armed with light weapons, suffered a number of strategic setbacks. Their tactical retreat from the Baba Amr neighborhood in Homs paints a picture of a rebel group that lacks the operational capacity to challenge the Assad regime directly. Even with more equipment and firepower supplied by the international community, without a no fly-zone, similar to Libya, the FSA is likely to face more strategic losses.

“The Free Syria Army don’t (sic) have heavy weaponry, and without them, I’m not sure they can survive,” said the FSA’s Mulham Jundi. Still, despite the reservations that the Obama administration has for arming the rebels, the United States is keeping its options open. While meeting with Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt in the Oval Office last month, Obama reiterated the position of his administration: the international community must continue to send Assad the message that he must step down from power, and the United States, with allied support, must use every available tool to “prevent the slaughter of innocents” in Syria.

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There Will Be Blood

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Stephen Jaffe
Stephen Jaffe

Stephen Jaffe

Another week to go before the euro blows up, or so we’re told again for the thousandth time. More likely is that the ECB does barely enough to keep the show on the road, fiscal austerity continues and riots intensify on the streets of Madrid, Athens, Rome and Paris. Like the film, “there will be blood” before there is any likely change toward a sensible growth oriented policy in the euro zone.

Given the travails of the euro zone, why has the euro remained relatively robust? Surely, a currency that is supposedly within weeks of vanishing should be trading closer to parity with the dollar? Yet one continues to be struck by the divergence of opinion and actual market action. For all the talk about the euro possibly vaporizing by Christmas, it is striking that it remains stubbornly stable at around $1.34 to the dollar, substantially above the low of $1.20, which was reached in May 2010 (when predictions of parity with the dollar were rampant).

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Iran and the West

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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks at the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks at the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility

Perils of brinkmanship with Iran are now on open display. As Libyans struggle after the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi, and the conflict at least partly fuelled by Western powers continues in Syria, the campaign of sanctions against Iran has triggered events which echo the 1980s crisis between post-revolution Iran and the West. The recent International Atomic Energy Agency report, a controversial document that censured Iran, caused Britain to severe links with Iranian banks. Further straining relations between the West and Iran were sanctions imposed by France, Canada and the United States.

The Iranian parliament retaliated by downgrading relations with Britain and ordering the new British ambassador to leave. Following that action, angry protesters stormed two British embassy compounds in Tehran. Property was damaged and documents were reported to have been taken away. What secrets they may contain is a matter of speculation. If revealed, they are likely to fuel Iranian anger and embarrass the British government.

Aware of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, the Iranian foreign ministry expressed regret and promised to protect the British diplomatic staff. But Ali Larijani, speaker of Iran’s parliament, said that the student protesters’ action reflected anti-British sentiment in Iran. Other Iranian MPs expressed similar views. Within 48 hours, the British government had little choice but to withdraw its staff and order the closure of the Iranian embassy in London. Britain’s announcement falls short of a complete break, but relations between the two countries have surely sunk to the lowest point in more than three decades. The British Foreign Secretary William Hague says that he wants to remain engaged with Tehran on the nuclear issue and on human rights, an astonishingly hypocritical position to take.

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NATO’s Unending Mission in Libya

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As Libyan rebels make incremental advances NATO is recognizing that achieving success in Libya will require increased involvement.

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen testify at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee on operations in Libya

A concerted assault against Qaddafi’s forces by the rebel forces, supported by coalition warplanes, is the only available option in order to remove the regime from power. NATO is in an awkward position because UN Resolutions 1970 and 1973 do not instruct NATO and others to pursue regime change. However, in order to avoid a protracted stalemate, Qaddafi either must step down or be forcibly removed. Despite some setbacks, the rebels have made concrete gains in Benghazi, the Tunisian/Libyan border town of Dhiba, Ajdabiya and Tobruk. However, in Misrata, due to a lack of coalition air cover, there has been heavy shelling by Qaddafi’s forces that has resulted in the deaths of Restrepo director Tim Hetherington and Pulitzer Prize-nominated photographer Chris Hondros.

Under pressure from European allies, Obama has authorized the use of Predator drones against Qaddafi’s forces. This increased U.S. involvement places the United States in a striking capacity against government forces. Until recently, the U.S. chose to remain in a support capacity after handing off control of the Libyan no-fly zone to NATO. However, after Qaddafi’s forces readjusted their tactics to avoid air strikes by coalition warplanes, the U.S. military command recommended the deployment of armed unmanned drones.

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Europe Rising, French and British Engagement in Africa

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In the past, Europeans and Americans have viewed the efficacy of hard power versus soft power in starkly different terms.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy greets British Prime Minister David Cameron at the Elysee Palace in Paris April 13, 2011

British and French military intervention in Libya and French intervention in Côte d’Ivoire demonstrates that Europe is willing to reconsider the use of military power to achieve stated objectives. Western European views about the use of hard power are evolving. Rather than participating in the Libyan no-fly zone, Germany withdrew tertiary support and instead offered to increase its presence in Afghanistan. It was announced that several hundred German personnel are to be transitioned to Afghanistan to offset the NATO efforts in Libya. “This will alleviate NATO and it’s also a political signal of solidarity in the alliance with respect to the mission in Libya,”

Thomas de Maiziere, Germany’s defense minister argued in defending Germany’s decision. “It must be possible in an alliance that you can have differing opinions on individual questions or that you don’t take part in certain activities…You can’t take part a little bit, either you take part or not at all.” Germany, along with Russia and China abstained on the UN Security Council authorizing the no-fly zone. Outside of Europe’s limited spheres of influence, instances of European abstention in military interventions outnumber examples of European participation in military operations. Compared to continental Europe, the British have been more willing to consider the use of hard power as a realistic option to deal with threats. Through Tony Blair’s decade in power he developed very clear lines of distinction when hard power should be used and under what circumstances.

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Evolving Russian-Western Relations

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President Obama talks with Dmitry Medvedev in France. Pete Souza/White House

Russia has recently emerged as an important ally of the United States. Not only does the United States need Russian assistance in dealing with uncooperative states and in a supporting role in Afghanistan, but Europe is also finding Russian cooperation to be extremely useful. As the United States and NATO seek Russian assistance in several global regions, these states and institutions are recognizing that Moscow is no longer as dependent on their support as it once was.

President Obama talks with Dmitry Medvedev in France. Pete Souza/White House

However, these states and institutions are learning that relying on Russian assistance around the globe does have a price. For example, due to Russian objections, the United States canceled its land-based missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, in favor of a sea-based system. Europe is paying more for natural gas from Russia, and in some cases access to natural gas is limited in the wake of payment disputes between Russia’s Gazprom and Ukraine.

Since 1945, Russia has been an important global player, due to its immense size, nuclear arsenal and permanent membership on the U.N. Security Council. While Russia endured severe growing pains following the collapse of the Soviet Union, it has since rebounded; and, in some situations, directly challenges the supremacy of the United States and NATO. Failed economic transition, along with the weight of IMF and World Bank loans, created the stage for a structural economic policy implemented in the 1990s by Boris Yeltsin, which involved the state selling off managing shares or whole industries, in order to add liquidity to the Russian economy. This policy had far-reaching ramifications. The oligarchs gobbled up nearly all state industries.

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