OPINION

Sarkozy’s bold overture to the USA

Despite the exceptional progress that has been achieved in unifying the European Union – we must not forget that these are states that were at war with each other a generation-and-a-half ago – our continent continues to be overwhelmed by a «poor cousin» syndrome; this role essentially consists of complaining to Washington and then either yielding to its decisions or keeping quiet. And then came French President Nicolas Sarkozy – the politician who would make all old Marxist intellectuals passionately convinced that history is only written by social circumstances and processes, not by individuals, tear up their doctorate certificates. What is it that Sarkozy has done that has caused such waves? Chiefly, he has raised the issue of France possibly rejoining NATO’s military command – an initiative that no doubt has the historic French President Charles de Gaulle turning in his grave and the majority of the French population trying to play down its significance. However, for France to return to this role, Sarkozy has set two conditions for the Americans: firstly that France assume a very high position in the alliance’s military structure and, secondly, that this should occur alongside the creation of some type of European section within the alliance, the exact nature of which would be determined during negotiations. The USA has shot down all timid proposals aimed at such a development in the past. But this is the whole point: Sarkozy is not timid. He speaks to the Americans like an equal and no doubt feels that way. But Sarkozy differs from de Gaulle in the sense that he is not trying to leave the game but to enter it, both as a French leader and a European one. If Sarkozy’s terms are accepted – which is considered quite likely – and France returns to its previous military role within NATO, this will constitute a huge boost both to Euro-Atlantic ties but also to Europe’s profile on the international stage. Sarkozy is likely to throw all France’s – significant – weight into Euro-Atlantic activities and to do so in a way that will boost Europe’s ability to play an important role in shaping the global security agenda, instead of just complaining to the Americans or trotting behind them. In view of this, Sarkozy’s proposal is unlikely to face any opposition in Washington or London. However, despite his intention to boost Euro-Atlantic ties, Sarkozy is also approaching the Americans directly and honestly on a whole range of issues. It is rare that one sees this. What is most impressive is the fact that he is able to do this – and this is what really distinguishes Sarkozy from other European leaders.