In the midst of a post about the challenges facing Nicolas Sarkozy as he approaches the end of his first year as president, Art Goldhammer of French Politics maintains that:
The reconciliation with the United States has yielded a major new obligation (in Afghanistan) without tangible improvement in French influence, stature, or diplomatic reach.
I’m not sure I’d agree with that, though. It’s true that, following Sarkozy’s initial dynamism that helped push through the Lisbon Treaty, Germany has become the decisive power in intra-European affairs, as demonstrated by the folding of Sarkozy’s Mediterranean Union into the EU’s Barcelona Process (Union for the Mediterranean).
But Sarkozy has, it seems to me, managed to reposition France as the fulcrum in European-American relations. If you look at the dossiers that have demanded some sort of joint position, France has been on the winning side each time, both in instances that have gone the “Atlantists” way (missile defense, Kosovo, Iranian sanctions, Afghanistan force generation), but also a significant one that didn’t (NATO MAP’s for Ukraine and Georgia). On Iran, in particular, I’d argue that France has really been the decisive factor in holding together the fragile EU 3 + 3 coalition, and with regard to Russia’s cooperation with NATO’s Afghanistan supply routes, that was if not the result of, certainly solidified by a 2+2 meeting between Bernard Kouchner and Hervé Morin and their Russian counterparts.
With the EUFOR Chad mission, Sarkozy has also managed to push through a modest but significant political victory for European defense, which among other things is a result of the repair work he did on the French-American relationship. There’s also the engagement with England, represented symbollically by the powerful imagery of his visit to London, and more concretely by the nuclear energy collaboration between the two countries.
So while Sarkozy does indeed have his work cut out for him, especially for France’s EU presidency beginning in July, I give him more credit for improving France’s stature in the broader trans-Atlantic and global arena.