Directory Free Newsletter Contact Log in


France’s Unwelcome Welcome
By Theda Braddock, Correspondent in Paris, France

Posted December 19, 2007


Ingrid Betancourt

     President Nicolas Sarkozy of France recently welcomed what may end up being one of the most controversial visitors during his term.  Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi, the Libyan leader classified as a dictator for years arrived in Paris December 10, coincidentally International Human Rights day.  Qaddafi is known for his appalling human rights record established during the 36 years he has been in power, the third longest for a dictator.   

     Sarkozy invited Qaddafi to France five months after the liberation of the Bulgarian nurses who had spent 8 years locked up in Libya, accused of intentionally infecting 438 children with the HIV.  The conditions of the release are still a bit mysterious as Sarkozy has not openly stated the figure he paid for their release. The liberation was a victory for human rights organizations and independent observers who had contested the imprisonment.  For Sarkozy the liberation was an achievement, a sign that early on in his term he was already fulfilling his campaign promises.  

     This time around it was France that was rewarded as Sarkozy signed a ten billion euro contract including several Airbus planes, army planes, and collaboration for a factory to extract salt from seawater with the help of a nuclear reactor. The French president used these successful contracts to defend his acceptance of the Libyan leader.  Sarkozy broadcasted a message of promise for the French saying this was for the “employment and growth of the French. So that things are clear, I’m also here to fight on the side of French businesses so we can get contracts and orders that others would be happy to have”.   

     But the French were more concerned with the Qaddafi’s human rights record.  Fifty two percent of French claimed to be against the visit according to a poll taken at the end of the five day visit.  Sarkozy’s own Human Rights Minister, Rama Yade, openly stating her discontentment in a highly controversial article, published on the first day of the visit. “Colonel Qaddafi must understand that our country is not a doormat on which a leader, terrorist or not, can come and wipe the blood of his crimes off his feet. France should not receive this kiss of death,” she said. Other members of Sarkozy’s UMP party were more discreet but absented themselves from various meetings with the Libyan leader.  The opposition Socialist party assailed the visit and ripped into Sarkozy for welcoming Qaddafi for his first visit in over three decades. 

     Although Qaddafi has renounced his actions, given up his nuclear arms and paid compensation for the French and U.S. mid-air plane bombings, his future intentions remain unclear.  Sarkozy highlighted the fact that the only way to progress was to be open to discussion with leaders, whoever they were.  He promised to raise the issue in his meetings and after Monday’s first encounter proclaimed that they had made advancements. 

     But Sarkozy got a nasty slap in the face when Qaddafi denied any discussions about the subject and went as far as condemning France for their own record.  In a UNESCO address he focused on the treatment immigrants received in his host country, notably in the suburbs, an obvious reference to the riots in 2005 and just a few weeks ago.   

     For the French president to have worked so hard to convince politicians and the public that this was the right things to do, this forthright criticism is likely to hurt his reputation.  As for Qaddafi, well, he’s off to Spain so we’ll have to see what the next visit holds in store. 


© 2006 All content property of European Weekly unless where otherwise accredited