Resurgent France has to get its house in order

Resurgent France has to get its house in order

THEY used to be dismissed in right-wing American circles as "cheese-eating surrender monkeys", a limp-wristed nation seemingly incapable of using force even when this was in defence of its own interests.

But no such accusations are now levelled at France from any quarters. For this year alone, the French have single-handedly dispatched troops to Africa in hot pursuit of international terrorists.

They have also been in the forefront of demands for a military intervention in Syria. And they held up a nuclear deal with Iran until yesterday, because the initial draft agreement did not provide enough guarantees that the Iranians will not resume their quest to become a nuclear power at a later stage.

There is no question that France has regained its historic role as a major player on the international scene. The snag is that, just like those wonderful, fragrant Camembert French cheeses, the outer skin of France's policies may be impressively hard and crusty, but the internal contents remain soft and runny.

Unless France fixes its domestic problems and particularly the parlous condition of its economy, it will not be able to sustain its current activist foreign policy for too long. And that may be a pity for global security.

Despite their huge historic and cultural differences, the French and British have always been quite similar in their foreign and security aspirations. Both cherish old links with their former colonies, and see their colonial past as a positive experience. Both are nuclear powers and permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.

And among all Europeans, only the French and the British have both the global political vision and the military capabilities required for deployments around the world. The idea that Britain remained a martial nation while the French turned into some shrinking violets unwilling to intervene around the world was always nonsense: For decades, the French had more troops permanently deployed overseas than the British.

Nor is it true that ordinary Frenchmen are instinctively anti- American. For, notwithstanding the superiority and sophistication of French cuisine, the reality is that France also represents the most profitable European market for McDonald's: burgers are eaten by Frenchmen more frequently than foie gras.

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Francois Hollande
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