In his editorial for this Thursday, February 3, Paul Sugy, journalist at Le Figaro, returns to foreign policy which could have an impact on the speeches of the candidates for the presidential election.
No offense to the grumpy people who try to make us believe that we are witnessing a mediocre and low-ceilinged campaign, each new week comes a little better to deny this trompe-l’oeil vision. And this week, in fact, Romain, the likelihood of a Russian attack in Ukraine or the dismissal of our ambassador in Mali invite the candidates to express themselves on their vision of France’s place in the world, on its ability to influence the international scene as well as on the strategic alliances that it should favour. We have so far regretted that the subject is left in the background.
In reality, it is not that the various candidates had nothing to say about French foreign policy, but rather that a relative consensus seemed to emerge between them on the major questions that this policy raises; consensus which is partly the result of a policy of balance led by Emmanuel Macron, a sort of diplomatic “at the same time”, or to put it in the language of the Fifth Republic, of Gaullo-Mitterrandism. In five years, the President of the Republic has certainly increased the budget of the armies, but he has not launched the country into new risky military interventions, and he makes a point of establishing diplomatic contacts in all directions, with a view to of France a balancing power.
It is perhaps on Europe that Emmanuel Macron’s vision will have left the most traces, in particular with the recovery plan which has historically increased relations of interdependence between States, but here again the cleavage on these issues is less lively today than yesterday: need we remind you, no candidate is proposing a pure and simple exit from the European Union, and since the start of the French presidency of the European Council, we have more discussed symbols (the flag affair) than substance. While this time, two divisive questions are posed to the candidates: should France align itself with NATO or leave it? Is Mali becoming a new Afghanistan? Should we definitively renounce any military presence in West Africa?
Important topics for voters?
We say it, it’s true, and yet we are wrong to think so. Firstly for a very simple reason: the presidency of the Republic is the symbolic incarnation, in the eyes of the French, of the sovereign State. And without all being seasoned constitutionalists, all know that the president decides on French diplomatic and military policy, which voters commonly recall when they ask themselves “to whom am I going to entrust the nuclear codes?” “.
That is to say that voters expect a future head of state to have a vision for France and to embody a form of seriousness with regard to these subjects: remember, in between the two rounds of 2007, the impression of amateurism raised by Ségolène Royal who was unable to say during her debate with Nicolas Sarkozy, how many nuclear submarines France had…!
To sum up, questions of defense and geopolitics do not win an election, but they are enough to make it lose. In December, a poll showed that three-quarters of French people believe that a candidate’s foreign policy is “important” to them. And three-quarters too, moreover, believe that France should question its alliances if necessary.
Who can win, who can lose?
In this same survey, three-quarters of French people also believe that France should question its alliances if necessary. In summary, there is a very strong demand for independence and sovereignty from France: in this context, neither the humiliation of French power nor the impression of vassalization that would result from too strong an alignment with American interests would not be accepted.
All the more so since six months earlier, the submarine crisis had ridiculed France on the international scene. In this context, Emmanuel Macron plays big on both counts, Mali and Ukraine. In ambush, the right-wing candidates will easily reproach him on these files for having accelerated the “French downgrading”, to use the thesis of Georges Malbrunot and Christian Chesnot in their latest book, on the loss of diplomatic influence of the France in the Maghreb and the Middle East.
Finally, those who have the most to lose are the bad students, those who have not learned their lesson well! Anne Hidalgo, caught out on the Ukrainian file, who could only stammer a few agreed words on European defense, or yesterday Marine Le Pen and Valérie Pécresse who asked Macron to send the Malian ambassador back to France then that the position has been vacant for two years… would do well to ponder the lesson.