The Times's France-blogger Charles Bremner speculates about the motivations behind France's recent overtures to Russia, which include an elaborate state visit to Paris by President Dmitry Medvedev, a gas deal between GazProm and France's GDF Suez, and the planned sale of four Mistral warships to Russia:
Sarkozy's calculations are simple, they make sense for France and they are being welcomed by both left and right. Sarkozy's overtures to Barack Obama have failed. The American leader looks down on him -- though he has finally invited him for his first White House visit later this month. Sarkozy received nothing from the Americans for resuming full Nato membership. Germany has so far beaten France hands down in reaping benefit from trade with Russia. So France is reverting to the old Russia card that was first played by President Charles de Gaulle in the 1960s.
A longtime Sarko-watcher, Bremner also suspects the president finds Medvedev easier to deal with than the pricklier Vladimir Putin.
For a very different take on the Mistral sale, see Georgian National Security Advisor Eka Tkeshelashvili's inverview with FP from last week.
Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has, in the past, shown little interest in discussing the darker periods of French history. His summed up his attitude while visiting former colony Algeria two years ago, saying:
"Young people on either side of the Mediterranean are looking to the future more than the past and what they want are concrete things. They're not waiting for their leaders to simply drop everything and start mortifying themselves, or to beat their breasts, over the mistakes of the past because, in that case, there'd be lots to do on both sides."
But in the last two weeks there have been some signs that Sarkozy may be tentatively softening his relentlessly forward-facing outlook. Visiting Haiti last week to announce a debt cancellation package, Sarkozy had this to say about France's legacy of slavery, colonialism, and economic dominance over the country:
"Our presence did not leave good memories,'' Sarkozy conceded outside the still-standing French Embassy in downtown Port-au-Prince.
"The wounds of colonization, maybe the worst, [and] the conditions of our separation have some traces that are still alive in Haitian memories.''
Visiting Rwanda today, Sarkozy didn't exactly apologize for France's conduct during the 1994 genocide, but at least took note of his country's faults:
"What happened here is unacceptable and what happened here forces the international community, including France, to reflect on the mistakes that prevented it from anticipating and stopping this terrible crime."
Asked what he felt those mistakes had been, the president cited a seriously flawed assessment of the situation in Rwanda as the genocide unfolded and a UN-mandated French military intervention that was "too late and undoubtedly too little".
But reflecting a thaw in relations, Sarkozy said he hoped the future would enable the two countries to "turn an extremely painful page" on a past fraught with mutual distrust. "Off the back of all these mistakes … we are going to try to build a bilateral relationship," he said.
Granted, this isn't much -- certainly less than the Rwandans were expecting and much weaker than the apologies Bill Clinton and Kofi Annan have made -- but it's a new style from Sarkozy, whose rhetoric has never exactly been known for its sensitivity.
PHILIPPE WOJAZER/AFP/Getty Images
It's not very smart (or legal, or moral) to patronize underage prostitutes. If you do engage in such behavior, it's not very smart to write about it in your memoir. If you do write about it, it's not very smart to then seek political office. If you do somehow reach political office, it's not very smart to use your position to defend someone else from child sex charges.
Frederic Mitterrand is apparently not very smart.
When the French culture minister -- who is the also the nephew of former French President Francois Mitterand -- led the French government's charge in denouncing the arrest of director Roman Polanski, he might have thought about the fact that his own autobiography, published before the former television presenter went into politics, contains details of his paying for sex with young boys in Thailand. A sample:
"All these rituals of the market for youths, the slave market excited me enormously... the abundance of very attractive and immediately available young boys put me in a state of desire."
Opposition leaders are calling for Mitterand to resign (unfortunately, the campaign is being led by the far-right National Front, which puts the Socialists in an awkward spot) but this does seem like an inevitable scandal that Sarkozy's government could have easily avoided. Comment dit-on "vetting" en Français?
DAMIEN MEYER/AFP/Getty Images
Al Qaeda's newest suicide bombing tactic -- cellphone activated explosives hidden inside the bomber's rectum -- has French security officials worried:
French anti-terrorism chiefs are expected to recommend widening examinations already used to catch drug smugglers after President Sarkozy’s new domestic intelligence directorate (DCRI) learnt of an attack in Saudi Arabia in which the bomber detonated such a device in his rectum.
Al-Qaeda gave video publicity to its new method tested by Abdullah Hassan al-Asiri, a 23-year-old terrorist, who blew himself apart at a meeting in Jeddah in late August with Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the Saudi anti-terrorism chief. The Prince was slightly injured in the blast, but al-Asiri, who used a mobile telephone to trigger the bomb, was ripped into 70 pieces, the DCRI report said.
Such a blast, though limited in force, could be catastrophic in a pressurised airliner, say experts. Counter-measures would be draconian. As well as taking off shoes and handing in liquids, passengers could be subjected to X-ray screening or be required to hand in all electronic devices because they could be used as detonators, police commanders told Le Figaro newspaper.
Given that shoe removal has become an integral part of the "security theater" in U.S. airports since shoe-bomber Richard Reid's botched operation in 2002, one shudders to think where we're headed in response to the "keister bomber," as the Times calls him.
Normally I'm all for government transparency. But it seems like "body-bombing" is generally not a very effective tactic, since most of the explosion is absorbed by the bomber himself, but it could be very effective on a plane. Why exactly did French authorities choose to publicize this fact?
"If there is no concrete decision, I will leave," the paper quoted Sarkozy as saying.
It did not describe the context in which the remark was made but Sarkozy's chief of staff Claude Gueant told RTL radio that the president was "extremely determined" to secure a deal.
This seems like an odd thing to take such a drastic stance on. The G20 is already moving toward the type of regulation Sarkozy wants and it seems unlikely that French bullying is going to get the job done.
Nicolas Sarkozy's government is rolling out a "revolutionary" new economic indicator:
France plans to include happiness and well-being in its measurements of economic progress, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Monday, beckoning other countries to join in a "revolution" in the way growth is tracked after the global economic crisis. [...]
France — whose growth has lagged its peers in recent decades according to standard measures — will also try to convince other governments to change their economic tracking, Sarkozy said
"A great revolution is waiting for us," he said. "For years, people said that finance was a formidable creator of wealth, only to discover one day that it accumulated so many risks that the world almost plunged into chaos."
"The crisis doesn't only make us free to imagine other models, another future, another world. It obliges us to do so," he said.
One minor quibble: Sarkozy should really give some credit to King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck of Bhutan, the true pioneer of gross national happiness.
Skeptics can (and will) look at this new innovation as a ploy for France to "juke the stats," since its short workweek and social benefits look a lot more impressive than its GDP growth.
That aside, the transformation of Sarkozy's economic message has been pretty astounding. The president came to power promising privitization and economic modernization and was lambasted by French left-wingers for his attachment to "Anglo-Saxon" economic models. But since the economic crisis (and his own popularity crisis) he's made a habit of attacking the Anglo-Saxons for their free-market orthodoxy and consulting with market-skeptics Amartya Sen and Joseph Stiglitz on new economic indicators.
Where have you gone, Sarko l'Américain?
MICHEL EULER/AFP/Getty Images
Are voters more inclined to pitch their support to a candidate who looks comfortable kissing babies? It sure seems to have worked for Obama. But what about candidates who have babies?
Rumors that French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his lovely wife Carla Bruni are planning to have their first child together in 2011 are spreading around France. The more vicious slant of this gossip is that the couple is orchestrating the pregnancy to secure Sarkozy's reelection.
The chatter comes from the French magazine Voici, which claims the story "has been circulating for several weeks" and that France's first couple is going to use the "'pregnancy card' ... to ensure public sympathy ahead of the next presidential campaign in 2012."
That's quite a charge, even for France's most amorous couple. Both Sarkozy and Bruni have children from prior relationships and while neither has announced plans for a pregnancy -- let alone such a well-timed delivery -- Bruni has said in the past that she'd love to have another child, and is open to adoption. (At 40 the former model has acknowledged conceiving may not be possible.)
There is something to be said for children and their ability to boost a candidate's image, painting him as the warm "family man." Some of the most beloved and iconic images to emerge from any president's time in the White House are those that feature the Kennedy children romping around the Oval Office. Sasha and Malia have certainly taken the world by storm with their adorableness and J.Crew ensembles.
Perhaps Paris will soon hear the pitter-patter of little Sarko-Bruni pieds. But whether or not they'll be dancing to the tune of an election victory may rest on more substantial political matters. Or at least we can hope...
PHILIPPE WOJAZER/AFP/Getty Images
Frenchmen from both sides of the political aisle are united in support of a day of rest, as President Nicolas Sarkozy's plan to open French shops on Sundays faces fierce opposition in the French parliament.
Parliament is due to pass a Bill tomorrow to ease France’s strict trading laws, but hostility to it is so widespread that some MPs in Mr Sarkozy’s own centre-right camp predict that it could unravel before becoming law.
The President’s plan to abolir le dimanche is being resisted by an unlikely coalition of interests, including the centre and left-wing Opposition, the Roman Catholic Church, the trade unions and small shopkeepers who fear losing their existing Sunday business to supermarkets. Up to 60 per cent of the public, according to polls, are also against a scheme that will reverse the century-old right to a day of rest.
The President has made Sunday shopping a personal crusade since he promised it in his 2007 election campaign under his slogan of “work more to earn more”. He pillories France as a backward exception to the rest of Europe and has said that he was ashamed when Michelle Obama wanted to take her daughters shopping in Paris on a Sunday last month — he had to arrange a special opening for her at a Left Bank boutique.
Interestingly, while Sarkozy claims France's laws to be backwards, Sunday shopping is still nonexistant or a novelty in many other European countries:
Although most shopping centres and non-food shops are closed, the French already work more on Sundays than most Europeans. Limited Sunday trading has been allowed in big French cities and tourist areas since 1993. Many other EU countries restrict Sunday shopping more or as much as France. Germany and Austria are only just getting used to the novelty of Saturday afternoon shopping. Belgium, which Mr Sarkozy has cited as a model, allows Sunday trading in only limited areas.
The only EU countries that allow unlimited Sunday opening are the Czech Republic, Sweden and Romania."
The Times of London could not resist adding, "Britain has restrictions but its citizens still manage to put in more work than in any other EU state." Thanks for letting everyone know.
BORIS HORVAT/AFP/Getty Images
Last November, Sudhir Venkatesh over at the Freakonomics blog predicted that France was due for more youth riots. Somebody give him a prize:
French riot police firing teargas and plastic bullets have struggled to contain three nights of rioting and arson by youths on suburban estates in the Loire, amid protests over the death of a 21-year-old in police custody.
High-rises in Firminy, a small town bordering countryside on the outskirts of Saint-Étienne, saw running battles between police and youths in the early hours of this morning after Mohamed Benmouna, a local supermarket cashier, was taken from his police cell in a coma and died in hospital.
Benmouna, who had been arrested on extortion charges, died on Wednesday. Police said he attempted to hang himself in his cell and fell into a coma. His Algerian family, sceptical of the official story, have filed a lawsuit to establish the circumstances of his death and whether police violence was covered up[...]
For three nights, youths have taken to the streets of Firminy to riot over the death, burning local shops, torching dozens of cars and stoning police, despite repeated pleas for calm from the family. Last night the family and 200 locals staged a peaceful sit-down protest outside their block of flats. But later groups of youths began torching buildings and cars and stoning police. The local bakers, chemist, tobacconist and hairdressing salon were razed. Two hundred riot police were brought in to control rioters with teargas and plastic bullets. Six arrests were made.
As The Guardian says in the article, the riots are merely the latest clash in a long-running fight between urban minorities and the French police. Numerous reports in the last year have shown the police force using ethnic profiling and human rights violations against minorities, and racial problems are not just limited to law enforcement, either. As NPR noted in January,
Today, the French political, academic and media establishments are lily-white. In France, it is illegal to gather data according to race and ethnicity, so it's impossible to measure the minority population's exact size. It is estimated at between 10 percent and 15 percent of the total 63 million.
There are black parliamentarians from overseas territories, but only one from continental France and hardly any blacks or people of Arab origin among 36,000 mayors.
There are no minorities among the military brass, in the foreign service or judiciary."
It's a long walk backwards from when France was a haven for African-Americans.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images
Nicolas Sarkozy may want to keep his opinions to himself next time Benjamin Netanyahu comes to Paris -- that is, if he ever wants to come back.
Israel's foreign ministry has accused France of unacceptable meddling in its internal affairs over a reported comment by President Nicolas Sarkozy.
He was quoted by Israeli TV calling for Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who leads a far-right party, to be sacked.
The plea, which has not been confirmed nor denied by officials, was allegedly made during a meeting with Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu last week.
Israeli Arab leaders have accused the foreign minister of anti-Arab racism[...]
Israeli Channel Two reported that President Sarkozy advised Mr Netanyahu to "get rid" of Mr Lieberman during their meeting in Paris.
He also suggested that his predecessor Tzipi Livni be restored to the post, according to the report.
"You need to get rid of this man... You need to remove him from this position," Mr Sarkozy reportedly said, to which Mr Netanyahu replied that "in private [Mr Lieberman] is pragmatic".
Sarkozy also compared Lieberman's private pleasantness to French far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has often been attacked for anti-Semitic comments. Regardless, given that the meeting was private, it would be interesting to learn who leaked the details to Israeli TV.
GERARD CERLES/AFP/Getty Images
French fishermen do not normally cross paths with the stars of stage and screen, but recent environmental fights have put these mismatched groups at odds:
At stake is the survival of the bluefin tuna, a single specimen of which can be sold for tens of thousands of dollars - a price that has seen stocks decline in some areas by up to 90%.
This month Sienna Miller, Elle Macpherson, Jemima Khan, Sting and others signed a letter to Nobu, a famous upmarket restaurant chain part-owned by Robert De Niro, threatening a boycott of their favourite haunt. Stephen Fry, one of the celebrity campaigners, wrote: "It's astounding lunacy to serve up endangered species for sushi. There's no justification for peddling extinction, yet that is exactly what Nobu is doing in restaurants around the world."
The restaurant has so far refused to take it off the menu, citing its cultural importance in Japan and "enormous demand", but the battle goes on. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the Atlantic bluefin will be wiped out in three years unless radical action is taken.
With fishermen's revenues falling due to drastically smaller catches, at the same time they're being cast as "social pariahs," the workers have grown resentful. Do not fear, though: the French navy is on the case:
And they are now being closely watched. When this year's season ends next week, France's fleet of tuna boats will have fished less than its quota of just over 3,000 tonnes. After seriously exceeding limits in previous years, a huge operation involving French navy ships, observers and constant monitoring of a boat's position and catch has meant "total control and total transparency", according to Bertand Wendeling, spokesmen for the 11 tuna boats working out of the French port of Sète.
One could almost say it's a case of (metaphorically) big fish protecting (literally) little fish.
GAVIN NEWMAN/AFP/Getty Images
There were probably quite a few places Nicolas Sarkozy would have rather been than at Omar Bongo's funeral today. Not only did the late Gabonese dictator have an astonishing 40-year record of human right abuses and corruption, but at the time of his death, a French court was investigating him for embezzlement, which always makes things awkward, not to mention the fact that the French government had been accused for years of protecting Bongo from prosecution.
"Go home we don't want you, leave," chanted the protesters. "Timber, petrol, manganese, we've given you everything. If France is what it is, it's thanks to Gabon. We don't want this anymore. We want the Americans and Chinese," said one.
Chirac was a close friend of Bongo (and, if you believe Valérie Giscard d'Estaing, received money from him to fund his 1981 presidential campaign); Sarkozy paid him lip service but Bongo was outraged that the French leader had failed to crush a legal complaint about where his family got the money to pay for 39 luxury properties in France and various flash racing cars. A court order to block some of his France-based bank accounts further irked him.
All of this raises the question of why Sarkozy allowed himself to be humiliated like this. Chirac got a lot of flack for not attending the funeral of former Senegalese President Leopold Senghor in 2001, but Senghor was a genuine democrat, anticolonialist icon, and major Francaphone literary figure to boot. Bongo: not so much.
I know France has economic interests to protect in Gabon, but given that the French president Bongo actually liked was going anyway, I'm sure Sarkozy could have gotten away with a sympathy card.
At Saturday's D-Day commemoration, French President Nicolas Sarkozy shared a podium with U.S. President Barack Obama, with predictable results. Yes, that's a stool underneath the French leader, adding another height bump to his custom-made elevator shoes.
As someone who's bumped his head on many a doorframe, perhaps I'm not the best person to ask this, but will France and the rest of the world ever get over its fascination with Sarkozy's height? Probably not - the Times of London's Charles Bremner notes that Sarkozy has never ignored the role of height in his public image:
It's part of his view of himself as a scrappy outsider who had to fight harder than anyone to reach the top. During his 2007 election campaign he took pride in describing himself as "un petit Français de sang mêlé" -- a little Frenchman of mixed blood. Petit in this sense also means ordinary, but is still carries the image of height. Sarkozy likes to surround himself with small lieutenants, men such as Bernard Kouchner, the Foreign Minister, and Jean-Louis Borloo, who heads a super-ministry covering the environment and transport. His arch enemies, Jacques Chirac and Dominique de Villepin, Chirac's former Prime Minister, are of tall, aristocratic build. Sarkozy always chooses tall women. All three of his wives have been taller than him. The latest one, Carla Bruni, a former super-model, wears flat-soled ballerina shoes and stoops in order to minimise her superior five-inches.
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
Our long international nightmare is over. The U.S. and EU have reached an agreement to end the world's most entertaining trade dispute, which began with George W. Bush's lame-duck decision to raise import duties on Roquefort cheese:
The new US administration has now agreed to drop the import duty threat, due to come into force this week, and which would have affected to a lesser degree a range of EU products, from truffles and mineral water to chewing gum.
Under the provisional deal, the EU will keep the hormone-treated beef ban, which it claims poses a health threat, but will quadruple imports of non-hormone treated American beef in four years.
Cheese farmer and lefty icon Jose Bove (above) described the deal as evidence that the U.S. has "accepted that health is more important than trade," even though this is actually an expansion of trade and between all this beef and cheese, I'm not sure who's getting healthy.
But in any event, kudos to negotiators for ensuring that neither American populism nor European ludditism will bring down the transatlantic alliance. Time for a celebratory cheeseburger.
JACQUES DEMARTHON/AFP/Getty Images
Nothing says "let's be friends!" quite like opening up a corruption case against your buddy in Magistrate Court. Right?
A French court approved a probe yesterday into the assets and dealings of three African presidents, who are, rather awkwardly, some of the country's best allies on the continent. Omar Bongo of Gabon, Denis Sassou-Nguesso of Congo Republic, and Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea will face scrutiny for charges brought by the French branch of Transparency International. The leaders are accused of embezzling funds from their impoverished countries for luxury homes and cars. Politics considerations are urged to be left aside.
While perhaps embarrassing for the African presidents, I imagine this investigation should be even more scandalous for France -- and not just because France has commercial ties in each of the accused presidents' countries. France surely knows that its property market boasts owners among Africa's elite (and, in these cases, corrupt); it has been that way since colonial days. That it has taken so long to "notice" this trend is not likely a matter of innocent oversight. And in terms of the this friendship, the truth does indeed hurt.
PATRICK KOVARIK/ ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images
An epidemic of "bossnapping" is sweeping France as employees at French subsidiaries of Sony, Caterpillar, 3M and a Hewlett-Packard have in recent weeks taken their bosses hostage to protest cutbacks. The AP's Greg Keller writes:
So far none of the boss-nappers has been prosecuted and none of the bosses hurt. Workers sometimes even make efforts to make their boss' night at the office more comfortable.
During his boss-napping in March, 3M manager Luc Rousselet told reporters "everything's fine," and workers brought him a meal of mussels and French fries for dinner. [That's him enjoying his meal in the photo above.]
Seizing bosses is not a new tactic in France, with examples of boss-napping dating back decades in a country famous for its strikes and known as a place where workers aren't afraid to put up a fight.
But the phenomenon has jumped to the front pages of French newspapers in recent weeks as the Europe-wide recession has sparked a fresh wave of boss-napping episodes.
Average Frenchmen and women seem to take a forgiving view of the practice. A poll earlier this month showed 55 percent of them judged "justified" boss-nappings, factory and road blockades and other "radical and violent social acts."
French bosses aren't going to take this lying down though:
The phenomenon has sparked a cottage industry in advice for executives worried they could be locked up. One Paris management consultant has begun promoting a "survival kit" for potential boss-napping victims, including a cell phone pre-programmed with the numbers of family, police and a psychologist, and a change of clothes.
Niel is giving his clients a list of "10 anti-boss-napping tips," which include gauging your staff's mutinous instincts beforehand and choosing a neutral observer to calm things down if and when a boss-napping does break out.
I imagine a good number of our readers are sitting at work right now. If your boss is looking at you funny, it's possible he or she might just be "gauging your mutinous instincts."
ALAIN JOCARD/AFP/Getty Images
French President Nicolas Sarkozy is under fire for comments about a number of his fellow world leaders that he allegedly made at a closed-door lunch with members of parliament. The comments were, not surprisingly, leaked to French newspaper Liberation. Sarkozy on Barack Obama:
Obama has a subtle mind, very clever and very charismatic... But he was elected two months ago and had never run a ministry. And he is not always up to standard on decision-making and efficiency."
On Angela Merkel:
Once she realised the state of her banks and her car industry, she had no choice but to come round to my position."
Worst of all, on Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero:
Perhaps he's not very clever but I know people who were very clever and who did not make the second round of the presidential election."
Not sure that Sarkozy's in the best position to commenting on anyone's cleverness right now.
Today, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released a frankly horrific set of numbers. The unemployment rate hit 8.5%, the highest in more than 25 years; 663,000 workers lost their jobs in March alone; 25 million are underemployed; and over the course of the recession, the U.S. has bled more than 5 million jobs.
Certainly, the U.S. has fewer social safeguards against the disruptions of unemployment than many other high-income economies, meaning fewer protections against lay-offs and less-generous unemployment benefits. (FP looked at the best places to lose your job last month.) This generally means more volatility in the unemployment rate.
But is the U.S. really doing worse than, say, France and the United Kingdom, countries with historically high unemployment?
The short answer is yes; the U.S. recession has gone on for longer and is deeper than in Europe, and therefore has sapped three times as many jobs. The unemployment rate in the U.S. is higher than in the U.K., and close to France's. (The U.K. and French numbers above are estimates.) And the job-losses are accelerating faster in the U.S. than in other countries.
Here's hoping for it to bottom-out soon.
After all of France and Germany's sturm und drang over the need for new financial regulations, it looks like the major regulatory measure that will come out of this week's G-20 summit will be a new crackdown on tax havens.
While not completely irrelevant, in the context of the financial crisis, tax havens seem pretty small-fry compared to hedge funds or credit-rating agencies and it's an issue Germany, in particular, has been keen about for years. Is this really what Nicolas Sarkozy's hardball diplomacy was all for?
The tax haven issue seems tailored to allow Sarkozy and Merkel to claim a political victory without actually enacting the tough new international financial oversight they said they were pushing for, but that the United States objected to.
ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images
Unless left-wing parliamentarians can pull off some last-minute procedural wrangling, French far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen will chair a European Parliament session in July. As the oldest member, Le Pen is entitled to chair the body between June parliamentary elections and the election of a new president.
Le Pen is notorious for, among other things, calling the Holocaust a "detail of History" and was once suspended from the parliament for assaulting a political rival. All the same, the Green Party's explanation for the rule-change they're trying to enact is a little weak:
The Greens co-president, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, said "we would like to see the youngest deputy open the session, not because of Le Pen, but because it's a sign of the future".
Yes. Nothing to do with Le Pen, I'm sure.
To be fair to the Europarl, a similar custom is how the United States wound up with an 92-year-old ex-klansmen, albeit a reformed one, as president pro tempore of the senate and third in the line of succession for the presidency.
FREDERICK FLORIN/AFP/Getty Images
Despite his flailing approval ratings, Nicolas Sarkozy must be doing something right. Today in Paris, the French president survived a Parliamentary vote of confidence over his plans to fully rejoin the NATO alliance after 40 years away. Sarkozy's penchant for rip-roaring foreign policy deals shows no sign of halting.
As Judah Grunstein points out on FP this week, "rejoin" is an odd phrase for a country that contributes troops to NATO missions and shows up at all the big meetings and events. But France is not involved in the NATO command structure that designs and coordinates the alliance's missions. That seperation was an idea of Charles de Gualle, who worried about compromising French sovereignty.
Now France is back, but Sarkozy promises not to lose a smidgen of the country's independence. In fact, as Grunstein argues, rejoining NATO will make the French (read: Sarkozy) even stronger. And if the president's love of the spotlight is any indication -- I suspect that's a promise he can follow through on.
Via Matthew Yglesias, it seems that there's at least one U.S. politician brave enough to fight for Americans' God-given right to enjoy fancy French cheese. Minnesota Congressman Jim Oberstar has written a letter to the president protesting the United States's relatiatory tariffs on Roquefort cheese:
“Freedom fries and “freedom toast” did serious damage to U.S.-French relaions. We both want to reestablish America’s moral authority in the world under your presidency; a very noble gesture toward that goal would be to remove or reduce this mean-spirited and unproductive punitive duty on Roquefort cheese.
Though I am a supporter of “buy American”, it is for unfairly subsidized foreign products when they are identical or comparable to ours. Roquefort cheese is not in this category. I know from my own experience that if such retaliatory action were taken on products produced in small communities in my district, as Roquefort cheese is in a small French town, it would have a serious adverse local economic impact.
Even here at Passport, we realize that the Roquefort controvery is not one of the more pressing issues Obama faces. But all the same, it's impressive when a congressman from an agricultural state is willing to come out against counterproductive protectionism, and for something French. Though a quick Getty Images search reveals that Oberstar is a longtime French sympathizer.
The Times' always-worth-reading France blogger Charles Bremner tells the story of how the unfortunately named town of Eu is having a hard time transitioning into the Internet age:
Eu, which is close to the coastal town of Tréport has been suffering from a drop in holiday visitors and they think they know the reason: the internet. People booking on line are not directed to the town's fine hotels and inns because search engines fail to recognise a two-letter place name which is the same as the past participle of the verb avoir (J'ai eu, pronounced like the letter U in English, means I had). It also does not help that EU stands for European Union in English. Further complicating Eu's problem is the fact that two other French words are pronounced in identical fashion: eux, meaning them and oeufs, meaning eggs.
After making only 7,700 euros in hotel visitor tax instead of the expected 24,000, Marie-Françoise Gaouyer, the new Socialist Mayor of Eu (above), has set out to add a few more letters. She has an extra good reason for doing so. Try saying her title in French. La Maire d'Eu (The Mayor[ess] of Eu) is pronounced the same as La merde (sorry for spelling out what will be obvious to most here).
After several futile searches to find a photo of Eu to go with this post on Getty Images, I have to say I understand how this could be a problem.
According to the New York Times's Marc Santora and Alan Cowell, yesterday's meeting between Nouri al-Maliki and French President Nicolas Sarkozy is a sign that the Iraqi leader is looking to "gradually diminish American power over Iraqi politics and increase ties to other Western powers."
This was reinforced by a swipe at U.S. Vice President Joe Biden:
“The time for putting pressure on Iraq is over,” Mr. Maliki said in answer to a reporter’s question about Mr. Biden’s remarks. “The Iraqi government knows what its responsibilities are. We are carrying out reform, and we are in the last step of reconciliation.”
If Maliki thinks his country would be better off with France, he clearly hasn't been reading my blogging colleague David Rothkopf or he would know that they're not always the most dependable friends. Then again, Iraq's on Rothkopf's list of America's worst allies too.
Speaking of Rothkopf, this is just about the best thing I read today:
Why is it that people treat foreign policy like it is semi-theological when the bullshit factor in making policy about hugely complex issues is so high and duplicity, deception and grotesquely self-serving behavior are so prevalent? Why do they practically write about it in an English accent? I literally do not know of a single respectable intellectual pursuit that is founded more on generalization, speculation, and guessing than even the most "serious" practice of foreign policy professionals.
Then he smacks down an uppity commenter and starts talking about Rihanna for some reason.
Photo: Iraqi Prime Minister Office via Getty Images
In a new book of interviews, former French Socialist leader and presidential candidate Segolene Royal doesn't exactly mince words about her rival Nicolas Sarkozy, describing his "lack of morality" and "bulimia for money":
Describing a meeting with Mr Sarkozy at the Elysee palace in the wake of the 2007 election she lost to him, Miss Royal said he came across like a puffed-up child.
"I found his behaviour pretty mediocre," she said. "There was no grandeur, no allure, no momentum, no sense of fair-play. His energy is impressive, but he really is a show-off. A little boy happy to be surrounded by his new toys. With his little sheriff's star and his plastic gun, his cowboy outfit. As if he had climbed up on the biggest horse in the merry-go-round, and plucked down the prize."
She claimed that Mr Sarkozy spent their meeting "badmouthing journalists, flashing his watch at me, telling me how, sure, he was here now, but he could just as well have been elsewhere making 'loads of cash'.
She added: "In fact he is much duller than people think.
This follows last week's revelation from Royal that she "inspired Obama, and his team copied us." Looks like France might have wound up with a "show-off" either way.
Sean Gallup/Getty Images
Those cheese-eating French are already giving Barack Obama a hard time. No...really.
Apparently one of George W. Bush's last acts as president was to triple tariffs on French roquefort cheese. This was meant as retaliation for the longstanding French ban on U.S. beef imports. But as Charles Bremner notes, many French were quick to see it as Bush's final shot at the "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" who had so aggravated him during the run-up to the Iraq war.
French roquefort producers, including anti-globalization icon and dairy farmer Jose Bove, are protesting the move to "hold roquefort hostage" and are demanding that Obama reverse Bush's decision. The French parliament is debating a measure to slap tariffs on Coca-Cola in "symbol against symbol" retaliation. As a not-so-subtle hint, the governor of the roquefort-producing Mid-Pyrenees region even sent Obama a deluxe box of roquefort (shown above) as a welcoming gift. Repealing the beef ban is out of the question for health reasons, say officials.
The last thing Obama wants right now is to get into a trade war with France over a last-minute decision by his predecessor, particularly when he's looking for French cooperation on far more pressing issues. But even the farmers seem to realize that the "cheese wars" are not particularly high on Obama's list right now. "The boy must have a lot of priorities," acknowledged the head of one agricultural union.
Umm...yeah. I would say so. And you probably shouldn't be calling him "boy" either.
Photo: PASCAL PAVANI/AFP/Getty Images
When Nicolas Sarkozy named Bernard Kouchner as France's foreign minister, we all wondered whether the Médicins Sans Frontières founder could reconcile his passion for human rights with the exigencies of raison d'êtat.
Now, it seems, he's admitted he can't:
"I think I was wrong to ask for a ministry of state for human rights. It was a mistake," Dr Kouchner told Le Parisien newspaper. The remarks were particularly shocking, coming from the co-founder of Médecins Sans Frontières and proponent of the "right to intervention" in countries that abuse human rights.
The reason for Dr Kouchner’s regrets? "There is a permanent contradiction between human rights and the foreign policy of a state, even in France," he said.
Photo: ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images
I doubt this is true, but it is funny:
The subdued Ms Merkel, who loathes Mr Sarkozy's bravura, has been watching videos of the late Louis de Funès, a manic comic actor and Gallic institution, for clues to understanding the ever-agitated President.
Here's a representative sample of M. De Funès's work:
Last Friday Vittorio de Filippis, former publisher of the left-wing Libération newspaper, was - according to press reports - seized at his home before dawn, handcuffed in front of two young boys and whisked off for interrogation by an investigating magistrate. Police told him he was "worse than scum" and kept him for five hours in a cell with no access to a lawyer. Oh, and he was strip-searched twice and subjected to "body cavity" examinations.
Haiti? Côte d'Ivoire?
One of Andrew Sullivan's readers sends in the following photo from Paris:
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