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European-American Topics - Editorial - France

A New Foreign Policy for France?

By Dr, Stan Lai, Spokesperon for the Formosan Association for Public Affairs Europe
Posted July 9, 2007

     French president Nicolas Sarkozy campaigned for a clear pledge to break with the policies of the past.  Those that voted for him hope that he can reform France's bureaucracy and kick start the stagnating French economy. But for democracy and human rights activists throughout the world, there is hope that Sarkozy can articulate a foreign policy that is vastly different from that of his predecessor, Jacques Chirac. 

    France has long prided itself in being a model democracy that is an example for other nations to follow.  But Chirac's foreign policy during his 12 year tenure has left this reputation in doubt.  Chirac's friendships with African dictators have been criticized heavily both by Sarkozy and socialist presidential candidate, Segolene Royal.  The bulk of France's foreign aid to Africa has ended up in the hands of corruptautocrats, rather than helping alleviate the poverty of ordinary African citizens. 

    Chirac's coddling of corrupt dictators was most apparent during the 2003 Franco-African summit, when he welcomed Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe with open arms, despite an EU travel ban on Zimbabwean officials for atrocious human rights violations and rigged elections. 

    Human rights advocates were disappointed again in 2005, when Chirac pushed for an end to the EU arms embargo against China imposed in 1989 after the Tiananmen Square massacre.  Chirac's proposal evoked strong opposition from other EU states, the US, Japan, and human rights groups.  His stance was particularly perplexing as China had neither renounced the use of force against Taiwan, nor improved its human rights situation. 

    In addition, Chirac went out of his way to chastise democratic Taiwan for holding a referendum initiated by its elected government.  The referendum, which was seen as key to consolidating democracy on Taiwan, was labeled a "grave error" by Chirac during a state visit to Paris by Chinese President Hu Jintao in 2004.  Such willingness to align himself with these dubious dictatorships has damaged much of France's credibility. 

    Sarkozy, however, has an excellent opportunity to transform France's foreign policy. France is supportive of democratic development on the international stage, positioning itself as a steadfast advocate for the liberty and human rights of all peoples.  He can start by redirecting foreign aid to African nations that do not suffer from rampant corruption and whose governments are elected by democratic mechanisms.  He can also push concrete measures at the UN to help end the genocide in the Darfur region. 

    Sarkozy can also use France's influence to press China to renounce the use of force against Taiwan, to respect Tibetan autonomy, and to stop the ruthless persecution of political dissidents.  He should push the EU to support Taiwan's inclusion to the World Health Organization, so that the island's 23 million citizens are involved in the international fight against epidemic spread and disease prevention. 

    In his acceptance speech, Sarkozy declared, "I want to launch an appeal to all those in the world who believe in the values of tolerance, freedom, democracy, humanism.  To all those who are persecuted by tyranny and dictatorship, I want to say that the pride and the duty of France will be to be on their side."  Such words are welcome in a world in need of strong human rights leadership.  The entire world will be watching to see whether Sarkozy remains true to his promise.


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