The Presidential Candidates Agree on the Need to Diversify France’s International Alliances
Alexandra de Hoop Scheffer published an op-ed in Le Monde on March 21 right after the first presidential debate. In her op-ed, she analyzes the foreign policy visions of the French presidential candidates and what it might mean for Europe and transatlantic relations.
She argues that the 2017 elections are both uncertain and decisive for Europe's future. Germany is most concerned by the results, as it relies on France to relaunch the post-Brexit European project and to weigh in on the Trump administration. International events, from Brexit to the resurgence of Russia and the so called Islamic State group, and Trump's election, have forced the candidates to react and to take a position on foreign policy issues. In fact, Europe, Trump, and the approach to globalization, remain the main dividing lines in this campaign, with the debate about France's "independence" in the center, i.e. independence vis à vis European institutions (and Germany), U.S. foreign policy, and traditional alliances. If presidential hopefuls Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Marine Le Pen call for a "renationalization" of French foreign policy, a potential exit from the EU and NATO and protectionist measures, their rivals François Fillon and especially Emmanuel Macron promote a strong French-German relation, including on defense.
Regarding transatlantic relations, de Hoop Scheffer argues that if European leaders want to be a credible interlocutor for Washington, they cannot limit themselves to the "European way of security," perceived by Washington as a pretext to not meet the 2% military spending of their GDP. The new French president might find some convergence with the Trump administration who has committed to intensifying the war against terrorism. Finally, the novelty of the French presidential debates lies in the shared consensus that tactical rapprochement with Russia is necessary (at varying degrees) and that France needs to rethink its traditional alliances, in particular in the fight against terrorism, by partnering with powers like Russia, Iran, Turkey, and the Gulf states. This shows that the presidential candidates acknowledge that the international balance of power has shifted in favor of regional and local forces, and the necessity to work with them, at a time when U.S. strategic posture is being redefined. France should seize U.S. diminished diplomatic profile to step up its own diplomatic role, especially in the Middle East.