Leaving the hot summer holidays behind, President Nikolas Sarkozy is faced with a bit hotter political situation at Elysee, Paris. Prime Minister Fracois Fillion is doing his best to defend the internal security policies elaborated by Sarkozy earlier: still he is facing immense difficulty in persuading majority of the Members of Parliament on this polemic issue.
The forced deportation of a thousand Roma Community members to Romania and Bulgaria by chartered plans after Grenoble episode has strained France relationship with EU and UN Human Rights forums and stained the image of France as righty put by Dominique de Villepin.
France’s crackdown on its foreign Roma population came under fire from all sides of the political and social spectrum recently as pressure mounted on the government to abandon its plan to repatriate hundreds of Roma people to their native countries.
European Commission against Racism and Intolerance expressed its deep concern over France’s tactics of exclusion of Roma. The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), of United Nations has called on France to stop the mass returns of Roma. The interior minister, Brice Hortefeux, however shrugged off the criticism by terming it opposition from a left-leaning elite of Paris which is out of touch with the mood of mainstream society.
Foreign Minster Bernard Kouchner defended the policies earlier, but after deep resentment and strong protests by the European Commission and UN watch dog on Racism, he seems to be helpless. Frustrated of course, he is thinking about resigning as it is becoming difficult for him with every passing day to defend the internal and sometimes external policies carved out by Sarkozy. The fact that most of the French support these so-called security measures of the government as confirmed by peoples opinion poles, make it difficult for world community to pressure it to refrain from such moves.
Moreover, the policy of penalizing parents for the delinquents youth, revocation of the citizenship of foreigners who deliberately attack the police force and persons involved in polygamy, has also caused widespread criticism. The full veil or Burqa issue is on the back-burner for the time being, as ban on complete-veil has been adopted in the National Assembly earlier and waiting to become a law after a vote in Senate.
In the wake of mounting pressure from the main opposition Party PS on the issue of security, the prime Minster has confirmed that there are some problems with the security policies adopted by the government and seems difficult to defend some them. Matine Aubry, the First Secretary of the Socialist Party (PS) is on offensive by introducing her own version of soft approach of prevention, dissuasion and sanction, to reduce crimes in French society. Resistance to the changing of retirement age from 60 to 62 years by PS is another issue which divide the two main parties. Political Analysts term it a preparation for the Presidential elections of 2012 for which Martine Aubry has emerged as a strong candidate against Nikolas Sarkozy. Left-leaning PS believe in empowering the police and Judicial system rather than resorting to repressive measures resulting in alienation of public.
On diplomatic front, the August 25, Foreign policy speech at the 18thConference of Ambassadors, Sarkozy reaffirmed French commitment to remain in Afghanistan, despite pressure from certain circles on account of deaths of French soldiers and completely strange and difficult conditions in Afghanistan. Lack of experience and communication with region make it difficult for French soldiers to work effectively. Concern was expressed on the double timing of Pakistan on the war on terrorism, which has resulted in big human and material losses for Allied forces in Afghanistan. France with a 3750 strong army, fighting shoulder to shoulder with American and allied forces is committed to fight terrorism in all its forms.
On the issue of Nuclear civilian energy transfers to countries in need, he made it clear that France is not against the transfer of civilian nuclear technology for peaceful purposes under the supervision of IAEA. Despite American concerns regarding civilian nuclear technology transfers, France’s soft-attitude on this sensitive issue is largely due to the fact that she is interested in civilian nuclear technology co-operation with a number of countries like UAE, with which it has signed Mega-deals. France expects to sign more deals ranging in billions of Euros. But, countries like China and Pakistan can object to such deals, as both the countries have signed an agreement for two nuclear power plants to be constructed in Pakistan. Americans have objected to this deal, sighting security concerns and lack of transparency.
The French head of the State expressed his hope that a peace deal is possible between Israel and Palestinian Authority within a year. This shows France’s commitment and interest for the peaceful resolution of this conflict. He confirmed firmness and sanctions against Iran but expressed France’s readiness for dialogue. Sarkozy outlined the French priorities and proposals for changes into international financial instruments and frameworks at the G-20 forum. France is expected to head G-20 in November this year.
The economic crisis which has affected the world and Europe has forced France to take austerity measures in different sectors. Cut in allocations for foreign missions have created anxiety and un-ease in the diplomatic corps of France. Feeling the pinch hard, One Ambassador of France in Senegal has already resigned and others are in apparent un-ease as government has reduced the budgetary appropriations to Embassies abroad. Government funded French cultural Centres are facing eminent closure and scholarships for foreign engineering students have been slashed, which will damage the French political and cultural influence in the African countries considerably in the long run. Non-utilization of such instruments will result in receding French influence in face of the strong cultural offensive of Chines and German foreign missions in this continent.
The foreign policy evolved during Sarkozy’s mandate as head of the state is under attack as he laid out his new priorities in an emphatic speech of August 25, lacking substance: a routine annual stunt. Critics have termed it a policy lacking strategic thinking and full of errors. The internal security policy, heading in the wrong direction is under fire both by political analysts and PS, the main opposition party of France.