The World From Berlin: 'Rambo in the Elysée'

French President Nicolas Sarkozy made his first major foreign policy speech Monday, in which he set forth his thoughts on the EU's growing membership and its changing role in world affairs. German commentators take a look.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy makes a foreign policy address at the Elysée Palace in Paris Monday. Some Germans question whether he is the right person to be shaping the debate on EU membership and goals.
AP

French President Nicolas Sarkozy makes a foreign policy address at the Elysée Palace in Paris Monday. Some Germans question whether he is the right person to be shaping the debate on EU membership and goals.

Delivering his first major foreign policy speech on Monday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy repeated his opposition to Turkey's joining the European Union, but said that accession talks with Ankara should go ahead. At the same time, he suggested that the EU should convene a committee of 10 "wise men" to think about how the union should be composed in 2020.

In the speech, he also called on the European Union to adopt a more unified and bolder security strategy. He suggested that he might support Germany's bid to be secure a seat on the United Nations Security Council. He also chided Russia for using a "certain brutality" in its political use of energy supplies, and he urged the international community to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear arms.

Sarkozy will have a greater opportunity to voice his opinions about the EU next year when France assumes the six-month rotating EU presidency.

In their responses, German editorials generally pointed out that France's vision for itself in the EU might be larger than the role appropriate for a mid-sized power. A number also criticized Sarkozy's style as a bit strident and suggested that he still had a few things to learn about international diplomacy.

In an editorial entitled "Rambo in the Elysée," the business daily Handelsblatt writes:

"The more poorly he speaks about certain things, the more seriously he takes himself. The speech that the head of state formulated yesterday was simply a manifold claim for French leadership, both in Europe and across the globe. The EU should formulate a security strategy under French leadership and one that will also reform NATO. Under Sarkozy's personal leadership, the UN Security Council should find solutions in September for the crisis areas of Africa."

"But despite this show of omnipresence, Sarkozy has also learnt some lessons. He has had to accept, against his will, that the accession talks with Turkey are going to go ahead. The troublesome reality of France's mid-sized power when it comes to foreign policy will catch up with this president, too."

The conservative daily Die Welt writes:

"The aim is clear: With the help of a strong EU, which will be led decisively by France, Paris wants to assert itself as a player on the global stage. One can interpret his attempt to extend the European Union toward Africa as an answer to Germany's increased influence following its reunification and EU expansion. The desire to secure a place for Germany on the Security Council belongs to the realm of rhetoric. It will stir the Germans up, but in the end it won't lead to anything."

"In Paris, nothing has changed -- or almost nothing. In one area Sarkozy is making some adjustments: He is working hard to improve France's relationship with the US, which was so strained under Chirac. If his plan works out, he will benefit the entire West."

The left-leaning Tageszeitung writes:

"Sarkozy's verbal support for a permanent seat for Germany on the UN Security Council rings hollow and will at best provoke a pained smile in Berlin."

"Sarkozy demonstrated a few weeks ago just how lacking in credibility his demand for a 'strong Europe' in terms of foreign policy is. When it came to the freeing of the Bulgarian nurses from Libyan incarceration, Sarkozy was merely following French economic interests."

"It would all be merely posturing and hot air coming out of the Elysée Palace were it not for Sarkozy's new pre-condition for resuming EU accession talks with Turkey. In this way, he should meet opposition to Turkish membership of the EU."

"Merkel cannot express her opposition as clearly and publicly as Sarkozy in deference to the other positions within the ruling coalition as well as to the large (and partially voting) Turkish population in Germany."

The center-left Berliner Zeitung writes:

"(With his speech) Sarkozy freed even himself from the illusion that he is strong and consistent. Now he is just feeble and volatile like all the others. Now you can say that the disappointed have themselves to blame because they believed in the unbelievable. The joke is that it's always going to work that way, because people always want to believe that there is somebody who will be able to change everything and because people actually usually disappoint themselves with their grand pledges."

"In his inaugural speech, incidentally, Nicolas Sarkozy spoke mostly about devoting his foreign policy efforts toward the Mediterranean. Now he says that the development of Europe is his absolute priority. Now, to combine both of these ideas, that would be something interesting."

The Financial Times Deutschland writes:

"Sarkozy's style is so refreshing, but he will fail as a foreign minister if he really thinks he can force things. Domestically, within the French political system, it is possible to assert oneself in a dispute. When it comes to foreign policy, a mid-sized power like France will only have influence if it follows the rules of diplomacy: set your priorities and have staunch allies."

"Sarkozy does not follow these rules, and a clear path is not recognizable. The only thing that is clear is that France will embroil itself in many international conflicts under his leadership. To what end is unclear, unless of course it is just about gratifying Sarkozy's craving for recognition. With refreshing clarity, the president has distanced himself from Russia and China. At the same time, he is trying to dispel the impression, which he brought about himself, that France's foreign policy will be closer to that of the United States."

"Sarkozy wants to completely realign the EU so that accession talks with Turkey meet his conditions. He will have to learn that European politics don't work that way. Regarding his idea to make the EU a strong player in global security politics, he will soon have to learn this lesson: Several of his EU partners will quickly rebuff the New Guy in Paris and his plan."

-- Josh Ward, 4:15 p.m. CET

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