Europe's Sole Military Force Giving France Respect Where It Is Due

French troops are fighting in bloody conflicts around the world, most recently in the Central African Republic. Other EU members, including Germany, say they will now provide support for these deployments. It's high time.

A Commentary by in Brussels

French troops line up in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic.

French troops line up in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic.

In Germany, you often hear people asking if France, our neighbor, should still be taken seriously. First the country refused to undertake needed reforms, despite rafts of negative economic data. Then it came out that President François Hollande's favorite pasttime during the crisis appeared to be traipsing about Paris from one tryst to another -- at least if you go by accounts in the French tabloids.

That kind of behavior in France, long referred to as the "Grande Nation" for its culture and special role in the world, led to collective eye-rolling in Berlin political circles. Not so in other capital cities, like Bagui in the Central African Republic or Bamako in Mali. There, reactions to France are far different. In Damascus, Tehran, Tripoli and even Washington, Paris is taken very seriously indeed.

France may be timid when it comes to economic reforms, but it is clear that the country remains a grand nation when it comes to foreign policy ambitions. Even advisors to US President Barack Obama describe French foreign policy as "bold".

The country, for example, largely coordinated the deployment in Libya against ex-dictator Moammar Gadhafi. It has been prepared to take action in Syria. It has also shown itself to have a strong backbone in difficult nuclear negotiations with Iran. It deployed its troops in Mali to restore stability there. And it has provided indispensable help in the Central African Republic, where more than a million people are believed to have been displaced in a bloody sectarian war between Christians and Muslims.

At their meeting in Brussels on Monday, the EU foreign ministers agreed on military aid for the missions in Mali and the Central African Republic in what is an important and overdue decision. To be sure, some efforts by the French also help to draw attention away from domestic standstill. And foreign deployments, particularly in Africa, help to fuel the belief of French people