Photo: AP Images
French President-elect Francois Hollande has been portrayed in the media as the complete opposite to incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy, which has led world leaders to question whether Hollande will modify or overturn any of Sarkozy’s foreign policy initiatives.”His lack of experience [only four points of his 60-point manifesto talk about foreign policy] will make him listen to advisors, will make him very, very cautious,” John Gaffney, a France expert at the Aston centre for Europe, told Haveeru.com. “The hallmark of Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidency was exactly the opposite — a capacity for swift action,” according to Thomas Klau of the European Council on Foreign Relations.
Experts agree that while existing policies may not change substantially, there will definitely be a difference in style. With meetings with NATO, the European Council, the G8, and G20 coming up, these are some international issues where Hollande’s stance is being closely watched:
Afghanistan and NATO
While Sarkozy had already announced he would pull French forces out of Afghanistan by the end of 2013 (a full year earlier than expected), Manuel Valls, Hollande’s communications director, has confirmed he would soon announce “the withdrawal of its forces from Afghanistan between now and the end of the year ,” according to The Telegraph.
NATO and President Obama have said they will try to change his mind, but given that even his predecessor had promised early troop withdrawal, it will probably be more a question of how early as opposed to whether or not it will happen.
World leaders can breathe easier when it comes to Hollande’s veiled threat of leaving NATO. While he questioned the benefits of Sarkozy’s 2009 decision to rejoin NATO after 40 years of independent French defence policy under Charles de Gaulle, disengaging would “make a very bad first impression with his NATO allies,” Stephen Flanagan of centre for Strategic and International Studies told CNN.
“He’ll [Hollande] be a classic French president: ally of the U.S. but not emotionally involved like Sarkozy, whose attitude toward the U.S. was like a hiccup in French foreign-policy history (which has traditionally rejected U.S. hegemony in world politics),” Francois Heisbourg, chairman of the Institute for Strategic Studies, told BusinessWeek.
Hollande has also said he and Obama have a number of ideological similarities. “We will try to avoid being an element of trouble”, Hollande said at a press conference. “Even if we have several differences… we are aware that we’re friends and, therefore, partners.”
But the relationship will be complicated. Hollande has already expressed reservations about the U.S.-backed missile defence shield in Europe and could oppose French participation in it.
The Arab world and Israel
Hollande has not criticised Sarkozy’s tough stand on Syria. In fact, during his campaign, he even announced he would participate in a military intervention in Syria if it was sanctioned by the U.N., Frederic Castel writes in McClatchy.
It seems unlikely Hollande will soften France’s stance on Tehran. The only possible difference could be France’s response if Iran ever did build a nuclear weapon. “We won’t support an Israeli or American military action in Iran,” Jean-Louis Bianco, a Socialist Party lawmaker, told Bloomberg. “An Israeli strike won’t prevent the Iranians from continuing” their program.
If Iran perceives a difference in Hollande’s approach (and that of Europe in general) from that of Sarkozy, “who was completely sold to the American-Israeli pattern of coercive policy”, it could lead to a breakthrough in negotiations, Kaveh L. Afrasiabi, an expert on Iranian foreign policy, told Asia Times.
Hollande will also likely embark on a major PR initiative to counter the effect of what were seen as xenophobic overtones against Muslims in Sarkozy’s campaign speeches; especially since 93 per cent of Muslims voted for Hollande.
When it comes to Israel, the jury is still out. While the European Jewish Congress have given Hollande the thumbs-up, there are those that worry about the Left’s traditional anti-Israel stance, which could influence Hollande’s attitude towards Israel.
Foreign Military Intervention
Sarkozy was unafraid of to deploy the French military abroad: be it in Libya, the Ivory Coast, or Afghanistan, Sarkozy always seized on events that would put France in the driver’s seat.
Hollande might be more circumspect. While Bianco has said force would be used if it was U.N.-sanctioned, “…in practical terms [Hollande] would probably be more multilateralist in the sense of not bending the rules [and not getting out ahead of his EU colleagues],” Nicholas Dungan, a senior fellow with the Atlantic Council told Al-Jazeera.
NOW WATCH: Briefing videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.