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The end of French diplomacy?

The end of French diplomacy?

Presaging the apparently-imminent departure of Michele Alliot-Marie from the Quai d’Orsay, a recent op-ed in LeMonde written anonymously by current and former French diplomats is sounding the death knell of France’s diplomatic influence. “Africa is drifting away, the Mediterranean region wants nothing to do with us, we’ve been tamed by China and Washington ignores us!” they write. On this last point, they add, many potential partners have been put off by France’s “sycophancy” toward the U.S, and the decision to rejoin NATO has eroded the country’s visibility.

Most of this they blame on President Nicolas Sarkozy’s administration, which they accuse of “amateurism, impulsivity and obsessive media exposure.”

The group maintains that during the Cold War France enjoyed a unique international profile, promoting its own brand of third-wayism, but that recent Elysee policies have undercut the diplomatic corps’ ability to influence foreign governments.

A rebuttal op-ed, also anonymous but purportedly written by another group of diplomats, appeared Thursday in LeFigaro. It accuses the Marly camp of reaching for a mythical past when France could not exist but in opposition to U.S. policies, and that its “special” non-aligned stance was effectively followed by no one.

It is undeniable that French foreign influence has waned, and this is not a recent development. But is strange that the Marly piece makes no reference to the EU’s foreign affairs office. Because the best way for France to preserve its influence would be to make a power play for High Commissioner. Just as the Germans wind up calling most of the shots in EU’s financial decision-making, France could play a similar role in the realm of diplomatic relations.

As I’ve noted previously, the performance of High Commissioner’s office has been far from sterling. But whatever their history, France’s legacy ties to major countries remain considerable. If it wants to preserve a uniquely French diplomacy, France’s diplomatic corps can start by channeling its resources toward Brussels.