The French Perspective on European and Global Affairs

France and A New Confident Diplomacy: In Europe and Beyond

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6. France and A New Confident Diplomacy: In Europe and Beyond
The election of Jacques Chirac as President of France in 1995 seemed to usher in a new shift towards a stronger and more nationalist foreign policy (Zic 2000): indeed, his policies have sometimes been dubbed as 'De Gaulle II', i.e. an attempt 'to resist US domination of Europe while pursuing policies that reflected France's continuing global aspirations' (Petras & Morley 2000, p54). Prior to this, there had been a period of 'cohabitation' between a socialist Prime Minister (Mitterand), and a more conservative Prime Minister (Edouard Balladur) and Foreign Minister (Alain Juppé), due to the different electoral cycles of the parliament and the presidency (Sutton 1995, p135). When Alain Juppé became Prime Minster on 17 May 1995, however, he represented a more coherent element of government, which largely allowed President Chirac to maintain a strong role in foreign policy. From mid-1997, there was a return to cohabitation, with Chirac coupled with the socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin. Chirac was re-elected again as President in 2002, suggesting a certain likely ongoing coherence in French foreign policy. This was strengthened even further in national parliamentary elections in early June 2002 which saw a decided swing towards the Right, suggesting that the period of cohabitation will be over, allowing a conservative Prime Minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, to take office, though his electoral credentials seem to drop through 2003-2004, leading to some claims that of finance minister Nicolas Sarkozy could challenge Chirac’s leadership in future (Wilson 2002; Vinocur 2002).
In large measure, there are many signs of coherence and continuity in foreign policy (Sutton 1995, p136), which in any case had veered towards nationalist and the practical, and away from more ideal forms of internationalism, during the 1990s. It is possible, however, that President Chirac hoped to secure internal and external support by foreign affairs initiatives, because the internal economic requirements for France remain constrained and difficult, which had to trim some its social agenda as it approach deeper integration within Europe after the Maastricht treaty (Moïsi 1995, p8). In large measure, France has sought a measure of independence from American initiatives, while at the same cooperating within the wider European and trans-Atlantic setting. Specific tensions have emerged over economic and cultural politics, e.g. over the growing penetration of U.S. economic and diplomatic policies in parts of Africa. However, in the long term France has sought to maintain a cooperative but independent voice in global politics.
Until the late 1990s, Economic goals were hard to attain. The government had hoped to cut the public sector deficit percentage of GDP to 4% in 1996, a goal which involved heavy spending cuts (Moïsi 1995, p13). This led to attempts to contain government spending, with a direct impact on areas such as the civil service. Contentious disputes and crippling strikes forced the government in 1996 to somewhat reduce its cuts. Like Germany, France has had to engage in serious government cost cutting to reach the requirements for European Monetary Union – this involved the aim of reducing 'the combined budget and social security deficit to 3 per cent in 1997' (Straits Times 1996). The current government had hoped to gain a mandate in the mid-1997 elections for the harsh economic policies needed to achieve convergence to the requirements of the EMU. The socialist government under Lionel Jospin had reiterated its commitment to EMU at a conference held in Amsterdam in June 1997, suggesting that the French government needed to aim at a 3% deficit for the following years. This unchanged stability pact, demanded by the German government, meant that the European nations headed towards a new European Union Treaty which might include the notion of qualified majority voting, rather than absolute unity on all major policies (Henning 1997) - this would make an EU enlarged with Eastern European members more manageable. The Jospin government had hoped to arrange for a major release of EU controlled funds for job creation programmes, but instead had to settle for a future conference on unemployment issues. These tensions were eased by increased strength in the French economy from 1998 onwards, but remain a contested issue with France (Hayward 2003, p41). From June 2002, the new conservative government needed to struggle hard to cut income tax by 5% (as it promised), as well as maintain a balanced budget by 2004, a commitment made to EU partners (Wilson 2002). The deficit for 2002 was 1.3%, and may rise to 2.5% (Vinocur 2002). Growth was low in 2003 (0.2% of GDP) in 2003, and only mild through 2004, estimated at 1.8%, while unemployment was sustained in the 9.3 to 9.4% range (DFAT 2004). This means that high growth will not be expected to solve these pressures on France.
In this context, it is not surprising that the French Minister of Industry signalled that the French government would need to 'intelligently reinterpret' the rules for budgets that the European Commission like to impose (James 2002). The Head of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, replied 'that the commission would not hesitate to issue a formal warning against any country that relaxed the economic discipline that guarantees the stability of the euro' (James 2002). These tensions were part of a slowing in the global and French economies: -
Economic growth slowed to 1.2 per cent in 2002 from 1.8 per cent in 2001. Growth is anticipated to improve only marginally during 2003. Inflation is predicted to drop only slightly from 2 per cent in 2002. The deterioration in economic activity in France has also slowed job creation. The unemployment rate is rising from 9 per cent in 2002 and is expected to average 9.4 per cent in 2003. Tax cuts and increased public expenditure from last year's budget appear likely to push France's government deficit above the 3 per cent GDP deficit ceiling imposed under the Economic Monetary Union (EMU) Stability and Growth Pact.' (DFAT 2003)
Another major issue for the French government has been whether it can gain more political influence in the European Central Bank (Henning 1997), rather than just allowing policies of economic rationalism dominate future Europe-wide fiscal policies. This resulted in complex manoeuvring over the leadership of the Central Bank through April-May 1998. Mr. Jean-Claude Trichet, governor of the Bank of France, warned the French government in June 1997 that any tendency to back away from EMU criteria could undermine its fight against unemployment (Owen 1997). If France is unable to meet such criteria, Trichet argued, there might be ‘the loss of national and international confidence’ and an ‘increase in our interest rates’ which would weaken the economy (Owen 1997). In general, the European Central Bank has pursued the path of being strongly apolitical, but this has not always led to strong leadership globally for the currency. In 2000, France sought to gain greater control by the Finance Ministers of Europe over the Central Bank but this was ‘repelled as a threat to its independence’ (Hayward 2003, p39). Through early 2003, controversy surrounded the future leadership of the bank: French government's official candidate, Bank of France governor Jean-Claude Trichet, has had his hopes 'stymied by a trial in which he is accused of complicity in falsifying the accounts of former State-owned bank Credit Lyonnais a decade ago' (Tieman 2003). However, by the 20th of June 2003 he had been acquitted, opening up his rile as President of the ECB through 2004.
In general, France’s current posture supports the expansion of the European Union eastwards. However, the current government will need 'to ensure that this enlargement takes place under conditions that serve not only Germany's but also France's interests' (Sutton 1995, p136). Likewise, difference in the future structure of the EU have emerged between Germany and France, with French leaders critical of any move towards a truly centralised, federal European system (Daley 2001). In fact, this tension in viewpoint goes back as far as the 1960s, suggesting that it may be a long-term issue that will not be easily resolved as Europe expands to take in new members (Adréani 1998). This has begun to change through the 2002-2003 public 'Convention' on the future of the European Union and its formal discussion by governments through 2004. Former President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, who has been deeply involved in this process, ‘neatly sidestepped any reservations or opposition from the 105-member drafting convention’, proclaiming ‘virtually unanimous support’ for a document outlining a more integrated Europe, but such a program would need active formal support before it could be ratified through 2006 (Watson 2003), an issue that has become controversial for European publics through 2004.

France's interests in stabilising the Mediterranean as a whole, and ensuring positive political outcomes in North Africa also need to be considered. During the early 1990s there have been a number of international conferences on these issues, and European aid to the Middle East and North Africa has remained quite high (planned to increase to two thirds the EU aid levels for East Europe, during the period 1994-1999; Pierre & Quandt 1995, p143). Through 1997, France in world terms became the second largest giver of direct development aid. France has also supported new associational and trade agreements being negotiated with Morocco, Tunisia, and Israel (Sutton 1995, p137). Some would see here a division of labour between Germany and France, with Germany having a stronger role in stabilising Eastern Europe, and France looking more to the south and Mediterranean programs (via the Barcelona process, from 1995). In part this ha been run through the ongoing Euro-Mediterranean meetings (with a total of 27 states involved), with the meeting in May 2003 allocating ‘57 million euros (63 million US dollars) to the Mediterranean region to reinforce cooperation with it in 2003. . . The fund would be provided under the Mediterranean Regional Program of the European Union (EU)’, with ‘Middle East Peace Projects (MEPP) 2003, accounting for nearly 15 percent of the total funding’, including peace projects and civil society support (Xinhua 2003b). This is one part of a wider policy, including hopes for a stronger Algeria, as a source of natural gas, and an origin for migrants (documented and non-documented), remains of direct concern to French and EU ‘southern’ policies. Of the 5 million Muslims in France, some 537,000 were legal residents from Algeria in 2001 (Economist 2003).

Likewise, within France, the demands of public security forced France for a time to control its borders within the European Union, a move which has virtually closed with the freedom of movement negotiated under the Schengen agreement (Moïsi 1995, p11). This was concern was based on fear of terrorism, the movement of drugs and people from Eastern Europe, but also concern about the far right (and the National Front), which opposes the Schengen agreement (Economist 1995) Governments in Europe are generally concerned that violence in Algeria could prompt more immigration into Europe, and that radical political parties in Algeria might seek to radicalise minority groups within European countries (Pierre & Quandt 1995, p131). Since 1992, these conflicts have claimed up to 100,000 lives. Unrest continues in Algeria through June 2001, with clashes between security forces and pro-democracy demonstrators, this time from the Berber ethnic group (Meftahi 2001). Through 2000-2002 debate has raged in France about revelations concerning the use of torture by the French army and the Algerian government, bringing up a wider discussion of France's colonial legacy (Grandmaison 2001; Inter-Press 2002). Through 2003, President Chirac attempted to turn this perception around, with when during a March visit he ‘also proclaimed before the Algerian parliament "a shared vision of a tolerant Islam" and then signed, with President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, a "declaration of Algiers", forerunner of a formal treaty to underline the two countries' "special partnership".’ (Economist 2003)

In summary, France's foreign policy will include the need 'to pursue France's special interests in the Francophone world but with greater European cooperation on Africa; to consolidate France's Great-Power status in the framework of the UN Security Council and the G-8 (from 1998, the G-8); and to strengthen the European Union in the aim of giving France and other member states a collective say in world equal to that of the United States' (Sutton 1995, p136). In doing so, this would create automatic balances with Germany and UK as useful partners. France specifically emphasises its use of aid, humanitarian intervention, and support for human rights as part of its role as a European and global power. More specifically, there have been signs in 1995-2004 of a more assertive French foreign policy, indicating a wish to gain greater prestige in world affairs, even if this was loosely correlated with wider European concerns. For a short period in early 2003 it seemed that France, Germany and Russia might form a kind of foreign-policy ‘troika’ in opposition to US and UK policies. However, there are debates about how long such a troika could be maintained, and by June 2003 Russia seemed to have repaired an coordinated their cooperation, even though differences over Russia’s technology trade with Iran remain problematic. This axis of cooperation remains important between Germany and France, but there are signals of some differences in viewpoint, e.g. certain tensions also emerged over unilateral French plans to overhaul their defence policy, including a shift to an all-professional army through the year 2002 (with personnel reductions of 40% but with the same firepower), and reductions in the weapons budget (Lindeman & Buchan 1996). Generally, France has been unwilling to increase defence spending in the late 1990s, but it is not certain that Germany will be willing to spend enough to support a truly profession and modernised force. French defence spending proposed for 2003-2008 of 2.6% of GDP remains in European terms quite strong, but will require increased military efficiency to meet its equipment and training needs (Sparaco 2001). Closer cooperation with the UK has made the European Defense Identity, but there is no guarantee that this grouping could handle a major crisis without NATO support (to be discussed in later lectures).
In general, Chirac has been willing to use military action 'as an essential instrument of diplomacy' (Moïsi 1995, p9). On this basis, he has also been more willing to take sides on issues, such as his firm statement that the responsibility for aggression remains most heavily with the Bosnian Serbs, thereby shifting the emphasis of action away from the supposedly neutral UN forces. France was therefore also able to support humanitarian intervention in Kosovo in 1999, in spite fierce internal criticism of how this was done. This debate reached fruition in November 1999 with a document issued by the French defence ministry which was highly critical of the United States led air-attacks against Serbia, some of which it argued were outside 'the strict framework of the Atlantic Alliance' (Rouleau 1999). It has been argued, however, that in the long run France will be unable to resist the dominance of the U.S. in strategic and political affairs (Petras & Morely 2000; Frank 1998), and that France as part of the EU will have to accommodate itself to the emerging international regulation of global trade and investment (see Bulard 1999). Through 2001-2004 France has remained actively involved in Kosovo and supported the Afghanistan peace process including limited NATO deployment of peacekeepers, but has only gradually through mid 2004 supported some minor role for NATO training to help with the stabilization of Iraq (see Ames 2004).
This factors suggest a France which is willing to adapt quickly to changing international circumstances. Whether this role of enhanced prestige can be supported, however, depends precisely on the success of the EU process in providing a more stable and vigorous European context. It will be interesting to see if in the next decade these notions of humanitarianism, socialism, and nationalism can be sustained without serious internal contradictions. At present, it seems that this unique French vision of its role in world affairs can be sustained only the conditions of a successful and prosperous Europe, and thereby a strong France (in a comprehensive and balanced sense). Whether France will retain this balance of integration with its sense of unique national identity will dependent in part of careful management of the European agenda over the next decade.

7. Bibliography and Further Resources
Le monde diplomatique, which reflects one critical French orientation to European and world affairs, has a large number of articles in English, many of which are in a free searchable archive. The English edition will be found at
A range of factual information about France and French policies will be found at the French Embassy (Australia) website at
A range of official publications can be found through a French foreign affairs website, including a magazine on current affairs, located through
Those of you who can read French will find Le monde a useful newspaper with detailed coverage of France and Europe, located at
Further Reading
CALLEO, David P. "Europe: Ambitions and Dilemmas: The Strategic Implications of the Euro", Survival, 41 no. 1, Spring 1999, pp5-19

De ANGELIS, Richard A. " A rising tide for Jean-Marie, Jorg, and Pauline? Xenophobic populism in comparative perspective (1)", The Australian Journal of Politics and History, 49 no. 1, March 2003, pp75-93 [Access via Infotrac Database]

GUYOMARCH, Alain et al. France in the European Union, N.Y., St. Martin's Press, 1998

KNAPP, Andrew & WRIGHT, Vincent The Government and Politics of France, London, Routledge, 2001

MILNER, Susan & PARSONS, Nick (eds) Reinventing France: State and Society in the Twenty-First Century, Basingstoke, Palgrave, 2003

PETRAS, James & MORLEY, Morris "Contesting Hegemons: US-French Relations in the 'New World Order'", Review of International Studies, 26, 2000, pp49-67 [Access via Bond University Library Databases]

PRICE, Roger A Concise History of France, Cambridge, CUP, 1993

SHAPIRO, Jeremy & SUZAN, Bénédicte “The French Experience of Counter-Terrorism”, Survival, 45 no. 1, Spring 2003, pp67-98

References and Bibliography
AFX “Socialists Clear Winners in French Vote”, 14 June 2004 [Access via Nexis Database]

AGUIRRE, Mariano "Guerres de civilisations?", Le Monde Diplomatique, Décembre 1994 [Internet Access]

AMES, Paul “: U.S. and France clash over Iraq, Afghanistan and Turkey - signaling tough times ahead for NATO”, Associated Press, 29 June 2004 [Access via Nexis Database]

ANDRÉANI, Gilles "The Franco-German Relationship in a New Europe", in CALLEO, David P. & STAAL, Eric R. (eds.) Europe's Franco-German Engine, Washington, Brookings Institution Press, 1998, pp21-37

ARENDT, Hannah On Revolution, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1990

Australian "US, France in Secret Nuclear Deal", 18 June 1996, p9

BENNETT, Ray & PRYOR, Pter “EU to Defend Protections for Its Film, TV Industries”,

BONIFACE, Pascale "France: The New Channels of Power", Label France, no. 38, January 2000 [Internet Access via]

BUCHAN, David "France Presses on with Peace Efforts", Financial Times, 20 April 1996 [Internet Access]

BULARD, Martine "What Price the 35-hour Week?", Le Monde diplomatique, September 1999 [Internet Access]

CALDWELL, Christopher "The Crescent and the Tricolor", Atlantic Monthly, 286 Issue 5, November 2000 [Access via Ebsco Database]

CALLEO, David P. & STAAL, Eric R. (eds.) Europe's Franco-German Engine, Washington, Brookings Institution Press, 1998

CHIPMAN, John (Director) The Military Balance 1999-2000, London, IISS, 1999

DALEY, Suzanne "French Premier Opposes German Plan for Europe", The New York Times, 29 May 2001, pA6

De ANGELIS, Richard A. " A rising tide for Jean-Marie, Jorg, and Pauline? Xenophobic populism in comparative perspective (1)", The Australian Journal of Politics and History, 49 no. 1, March 2003, pp75-93 [Access via Infotrac Database]

DE BRIE, Christian "French Immigration Policy on Trial", Le Monde diplomatique, November 1997 [Internet Access]

DFAT "France - Country Brief", Canberra, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 2003-2004 [Internet Access at]

DOYLE, William Origins of the French Revolution, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1988

Economist "The Return of Triangular Diplomacy", 4 November 1995, p56

Economist "A Matter of Priorities", 359 Issue 8223, 05/26/2001-06/01/2001, pp10-11 [Access via Ebsco Database]

Economist “Partners Again”, 8 March 2003, p50 [Access via Ebsco Database]

ELLWOOD, David "'You too can be like us:' Selling the Marshall Plan", History Today, October 1998 [Internet Access via]

ESCALLE, Marie-Christine Kok “Reinventing Everyday Life in France: The Reduction of Working Time”, in MILNER, Susan & PARSONS, Nick (eds) Reinventing France: State and Society in the Twenty-First Century, Basingstoke, Palgrave, 2003, pp143-155

EWING, Jack “The Lazy Men of Europe No More? Germany and France are showing welcome signs of working harder”, Business Week, 7 June 2004, p32 [Access via Infotrac Database]

FIELD, Heather “A Common European Culture?: Citizenship, Culture and Government in the European Union”, Paper Presented to the Culture and Citizenship inaugural Conference of the Australian Key Centre for Cultural and Media Policy, Griffith University, Brisbane, 30 September - 1 October 1996 (Vertical File)

Finance CustomWire “G-8 Vows Utmost to Strike Global Trade Accord by End of July”, 11 June 2004 [Access via Ebsco Database]

Financial Times "France Presses Middles East Peace Role", 1 May 1996 [Internet Access]

Financial Times “Polish Minister Tells Farmers to Apply for EU Subsidies”, 26 May 2004 [Access via Nexis Database]

FORBES, Jill "Cultural Policy: The Soul of Man under Socialism", in MAZEY, Sonia & NEWMAN, Michael (ed.) Mitterand's France, London, Croom Helm, 1987, pp131-165

FRANK, Thomas C. "France, an Unforgivable Exception", Le Monde diplomatique, April 1998 [Internet Access]

GAUNT, Jeremy "Greece Pledges to Step Up Terrorism Fight", Excite News, 9 June 2000 [Internet Access]

GORDON, Philip H. A Certain Idea of France: French Security Policy and the Gaullist Legacy, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1993

GRANDMAISON, Olivier Le Cour "Torture in Algeria: Past Acts that Haunt France", Le Monde diplomatique, June 2001 [Internet Access at]

GRANT, Robert P. “France’s New Relationship with NATO’, Survival, 38 no. 1, Spring 1996, pp58-80

GUYOMARCH, Alain et al. France in the European Union, N.Y., St. Martin's Press, 1998

HAGSTROM, Jerry “France Considers WTO Action Over U.S. Beef Import Ban”, Congress Daily, 1 March 2004 [Access via Ebsco database]

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