Sarkozy’s victory is a defeat for the old ideological Left that has been appearing to many French voters as increasingly obsolete since the collapse of the communist Soviet Union.
Sarkozy’s victory also marks a crushing defeat for the extreme anti-Semitic Right and for all the extremists in the Muslim world, and sounds a clear warning to all who violate law and order among the immigrants in France.
This is a victory for the sober and liberal Center-Right that advocates real reforms in French society and in Europe with an emphasis on the developing world economy, the free market, and globalization.
Sarkozy opposes the enlargement of Europe and especially the inclusion of Muslim Turkey; instead he has spoken about a union of Mediterranean countries that are to form an economic community.
For Sarkozy, both the U.S. and France face the very same security challenges from international Islamist terrorist organizations.
If Israel can cultivate ties judiciously with Sarkozy while not subjecting him to a bear hug, he will undoubtedly respond by being an advocate for Israel. Clearly, the change in France’s Middle East policy will not be drastic and Paris has many interests in the Arab world and will preserve them.
There are many in Paris who see the victory of Nicolas Sarkozy as a celebration of the values of democracy and French patriotism, as well as an impressive achievement for an immigrant’s son who with determination reached the prized position of the French presidency. Globally, the Sarkozy victory is being viewed as a potential political earthquake that may fundamentally change many of the foundations of French foreign policy that were enunciated over the last fifty years. The editor-in-chief of Le Monde Diplomatique, Alain Gersh, told Islam-online.net: “We are witnessing the emergence of a new ally to the U.S. in Europe.”1
Nicolas Sarkozy was born on 28 January 1955 when socialist and colonialist France was licking its wounds from the defeat in Vietnam, bogged down in the war in Algeria, and struggling against pro-independence agitation in Morocco and Tunisia. That same year, the government of Pierre Mendès-France fell and Winston Churchill resigned from political leadership in Britain. At the same time, across the Iron Curtain, the Warsaw Pact was signed and in the Middle East tension mounted at the Egyptian-Israeli border. Colonel Nasser threatened to nationalize the Suez Canal and boasted about the flow of Russian weaponry to the Arab countries. These were the defining events for a generation of politicians that ruled France for the next 50 years.
Sarkozy comes from a very different historical context and background than his predecessors. He is coming to power as France and the Western Alliance, as a whole, are engaged in a war on Islamist terror. His personal story is that of the son of a Jewish immigrant who defied conventions in a conservative and Catholic country. Sarkozy’s grandfather on his mother’s side was a Spanish Jew from Salonika, and his father was from a prominent Hungarian family. He was raised by his mother and, as a result, spent a great deal of time with his grandfather who converted to Catholicism, but nevertheless had to hide during World War II because of his Jewish roots. At the end of a difficult childhood in which he was a mediocre student in a gymnasium, he became a fervent member of the Gaullist Party’s young guard. Instead of the classic path that leads through the aristocratic hothouse of the prestigious ENA school, he chose to study law and political science like other students from the general population, financing his studies by selling ice cream.
In 1983 when he was only twenty-seven, he was elected mayor of Neuilly (an upscale suburb near Paris). For ten years he built up his status and gained sympathy among the local Jews as he often visited the synagogue. He identified with the struggle against anti-Semitism, and his first visit to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem strengthened his resolve against racism and reinforced his sympathy for Israel.
In 1993 he was appointed government spokesman and minister of budgets. Notable for his use of clear, no-nonsense language, he showed himself a man of action who kept his promises. A decade later when he was only forty-seven, he announced to the French on television that he was running for the presidency and, overnight, became a staunch and uncompromising opponent of his political rivals including outgoing president Chirac.
A Defeat for Socialism
This is the third consecutive presidential race that the French Socialist Party has lost. Indeed, Sarkozy’s victory is a defeat for the old ideological Left that has been appearing to many French voters as increasingly obsolete since the collapse of the communist Soviet Union. Sarkozy’s victory also marks a crushing defeat for the extreme anti-Semitic Right and for all the extremists in the Muslim world, and sounds a clear warning to all who violate law and order among the immigrants in France. This is a victory for the sober and liberal Center-Right that advocates real reforms in French society and in Europe with an emphasis on the importance of the developing world economy, the free market, and globalization. Sarkozy takes clear positions and favors a free and unified Europe that will wield political weight and spread principled messages in the world. He opposes the enlargement of Europe and especially the inclusion of Muslim Turkey; instead he has spoken about a union of Mediterranean countries that are to form an economic community.
A Pro-American Attitude
The new president of France also does not hide his sympathy for the democratic values of the United States and its policy of resolving conflicts in the world, though he opposed the military intervention in Iraq. He is not ungrateful like his predecessors, often mentioning America’s contribution to France’s liberation from the deadly yoke of the Nazis. He spoke openly about this friendship with America in his victory speech. For Sarkozy, both the U.S. and France face the very same security challenges from international Islamist terrorist organizations.
If Sarkozy seeks to improve U.S.-French relations, this will undoubtedly affect his policies toward the Middle East. In the past, Washington and Paris had serious differences over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Iraq, in particular. While Sarkozy will not back the Bush administration with acarte blanche, the U.S. is likely to sense a reduction of political pressure from Paris over its traditionally more pro-Israeli positions.
In the coming months Sarkozy will seek to unify the ranks and head a small, compact, fresh government. Next month that government will aim for an overwhelming victory in the parliament, thereby attaining a solid majority for implementing his policy. To achieve that kind of parliamentary majority, Sarkozy has been willing to reach out to the political left as well. He has considered the appointment of Hubert Vedrine as foreign minister despite his anti-American and anti-Israeli policies in the past. Another Socialist candidate for foreign minister, who was reportedly approached by Sarkozy more recently, is Bernard Kouchner, a former minister of health who founded “Doctors Without Borders.” He headed the UN Interim Administration in Kosovo and has been one of the strongest international advocates of humanitarian intervention against dictatorships. Whatever he decides, it should be remembered that Sarkozy, as president, will ultimately control French foreign policy directly from the Elysee Palace.
There is no doubt that a new era has begun in France, and the voice of Paris will be heard loudly and clearly in Europe and the world.
A New Opportunity for Israel
The Israeli government needs to exploit the momentum to strengthen relations with France and with its sincere friend, Nicolas Sarkozy, while improving its image and its poorly articulated positions in the world. If Israel can cultivate ties judiciously with Sarkozy while not subjecting him to a bear hug, he will undoubtedly respond by being an advocate for Israel. Clearly, the change in France’s Middle East policy will not be drastic and Paris has many interests in the Arab world and will preserve them. Presumably the French foreign ministry will pressure the new president to continue the same policy as his predecessors.
One thing, however, is now clear: France will no longer speak in two voices and will no longer practice the sort of diffident, hypocritical, ostrich policy conducted by the previous five presidents of the Fifth Republic. Sarkozy has unequivocally affirmed the State of Israel’s right to live within secure, recognized, and defensible borders. He also, unlike his predecessors, calls for border adjustments and a solution in the framework of a united Jerusalem. He favors the establishment of a “viable” Palestinian state on condition that it must recognize Israel and fight corruption and terror. He has repeatedly reiterated that the security of Israel is not negotiable.
Sarkozy is well acquainted with French Jewry, which voted for him by an overwhelming majority, and with the French citizens in Israel, and he will continue to preserve French Jewry’s identity and provide it with maximal security. In sum, a new leadership has arisen in France that will work diligently along with the United States, Israel, and the Western countries for a world that is free, stable, democratic, and uncompromising in the struggle against global terror and the Iranian threat.
Since the establishment of the Fifth Republic in 1958, France’s foreign policy has not fundamentally changed. General de Gaulle devised an ambitious policy for an independent European power without American tutelage. He split France off from NATO’s military command and took isolationist positions with an emphasis on “the greatness of France” in the world. He preached morality to all world leaders and even warned that whoever went against his views was errant and misleading and for this “would be punished.” This occurred regarding Israel on the eve of the Six-Day War, when he made his unfortunate decision to slap an embargo on arms shipments to the Middle East. All four presidents who came after him adopted his policy, not least during the twelve-year tenure of outgoing president Jacques Chirac.
This policy has failed. It has weakened France in the international arena and caused a deepening confrontation with the United States.
Sarkozy can be expected to try to amend the distortion. As a charismatic leader with a pro-Atlantic worldview, he will base French foreign policy on the two factors that have changed international, and particularly French, diplomacy: the end of the colonialist era, and the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The events of 9/11 in the United States have intensified the struggle against global terror, and only close cooperation in the intelligence domain among all the countries of Europe, hand-in-hand with the United States and Israel, can deter the extremist organizations from carrying out attacks. Sarkozy, having served as internal security minister, has rich experience in this field and undoubtedly will implement his operational plans while consulting more with Israel and the United States. Unlike his predecessors, he sees Hizbullah and Hamas as terrorist organizations.
A visit to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem in December 2005 strengthened Sarkozy’s resolve to fight racism, anti-Semitism, and Holocaust denial. He can be expected to take energetic action and to institute an information campaign, especially among young people.
The Iranian nuclear threat will undoubtedly be the issue that greatly occupies him as president. He agrees with the Americans that all resources must be used to stop Iran from having nuclear weapons, and he will work in Europe for the adoption of a harder line. In his first speech after his election, Sarkozy warned Iran, Syria, and Libya that they could no longer play the game of using Europe against America.2
With Tony Blair’s resignation from the leadership of Britain, Sarkozy will become the main advocate for greater pro-Americanism in Europe and for enhancing cooperation between the two blocs. He will receive backing for this new policy from German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Undoubtedly the Berlin-Paris axis will gain strength, and countries formerly under Soviet rule like Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and the Baltic states will take an even more pro-Atlantic line. Sarkozy, who is an enthusiastic champion of work, diligence, a free economy, and globalization, will find attentive listeners in these countries. He will also work to prevent the entry of new countries into the European Union and, as noted, will strongly oppose the accession of Muslim Turkey, currently undergoing difficult tests. Finally, he hopes to keep NATO a Euro-centered organization in which European and American capabilities compliment one another.
The new president of France, who will soon visit Washington, will speak in simple and clear language. Unlike his predecessors, he will not preach morality. He knows that despite legitimate disagreements, France and the United States are in the same camp and in the same battle to raise the flag of freedom and democracy in the world.
1. “Is Nicolas Sarkozy Europe’s New Blair,” The Journal of Turkish Weekly, May 11, 2007.
2. Amir Taheri, “Pro-American Turn in French Foreign Policy,” Arab News, May 12, 2007.
Ambassador Freddy Eytan, a former Israeli Foreign Ministry senior advisor who served in Israel’s embassies in Paris and Brussels, was Israel’s first Ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. He heads the Jerusalem Center’s Israel-Europe Project, focusing on presenting Israel’s case in the countries of Europe. His books include La Poudriere (The Powder Keg) (1991), Shimon Peres – Biographie (1996), Keren Or (Ray of Light) (2004),France: Le Double Jeu (Double Game) (2004), and Sharon, A Life in Times of Turmoil (English and French, 2006).