Paris Perspective

Paris Perspective

RFI English
24 episodes


Conversations with contemporary analysts, commentators and icons about their personal relationship with France, the French and how their lives have been influenced by Gallic culture. Paris Perspective features one-on-one discussions, round table debates and exclusive interviews with those who can see the world from a French context, and France’s position on the international stage.




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16 May 2022

Paris Perspective #29: Sanctions, oil and the Iranian experience - Ardavan Amir Aslani

RFI English
Paris Perspective looks at what Iran's history of Western sanctions can tell us about similar meaures against Moscow, and whether embargos on Russian oil and gas can ever succeed in ending President Vladimir Putin's war in Ukraine. The European Union recently announced a sixth sanctions package against Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine in February. However, Moscow hopes to split EU resolve on the bloc’s importation of Russian oil and gas, with Hungary and Slovenia looking for exemptions over two years. The EU depends on Russian gas for 45 percent of its imports and 40 percent of its consumption. Twenty-five percent of oil imports to Europe also come from Russia. There are doubts, however, about how successful economic pressure on Russia will actually be. To date, Moscow has weathered the litany of embargoes uncomfortably, but resiliently enough. So what lessons can be learned from Iran, which was brought back to the negotiating table following severe sanctions imposed by the Obama administration in 2011. The talks between Iran and the P5+1 eventually led to the 2015 JCPOA nuclear agreement, which allowed Tehran a limited uranium enrichment programme in return for sanctions relief. Iran has been battle-hardened by various levels of sanctions for over four decades, but how have international sanctions impacted the people on the ground?  Lawyer, author and Middle East defence specialist Ardavan Amir Aslani tells RFI they have "transformed the daily lives of normal Iranians into hell". "People have been suffering, unemployment has been on the rise, inflation has been on the rise, and hopes for the betterment of the economy are non-existent," he says. "However, the government is still in place as strong as ever, and going through this with great degree of ease. "As history has proven, beginning from the Cuban situation since 1962, sanctions, no matter how severe ... have never resulted in forcing submission upon that sovereign state at hand." Sanction relief does little to help And even when sanctions are eased – as with a 2013 interim relief deal for Iran ahead of the final JCPOA agreement – the benefits were "too insignificant and came too late to have any meaningful impact on the economy," Amir Aslani says.  Yet Iran and its theocratic regime have survived the ebb and flow of international embargoes and ostracisation by Western governments. So what mechanisms has the country used to circumvent direct access to international markets and finance? Iran, it appears, has become an expert in sidestepping international sanctions. "They are experts as far as shipping oil internationally through sham corporations that they incorporate on a daily basis," Amir Aslani says. "Sometimes during the voyage of an oil tanker, they change ownership and the flag of that vessel five times before it reaches its ultimate destination. They know the tricks of the trade." But ultimately what matters is finding a buyer for sanctioned oil and refined products – the most difficult part. This is as true for Russia as it is for Iran. For Amir Aslani, people must understand what's happening with regards to the Russian situation. "It's not the entire world against Russia. It is the OECD – western Europe, Japan, South Korea," he says. "India, China, a vast majority of Arab countries and Africans are not in love with the sanctions story, which means that they are willing to do business with Russia ... the biggest buyer being China. "China has been constantly acquiring Iranian oil in substantial quantities over the years." Investors were prepared Yet the difference between today's sanctions against Russia and past sanctions against Iran is the speed of their implementation. Also, the Moscow stock market was and is more globally connected than its equivalent in Tehran. Amir Aslani agrees there are substantial disparities between the two. "First of all, the Iranian currency has been cut off from the international financial market for four decades. It has been many years that you can't actually transfer any funds to or from Iran – this was not the case with the Russian ruble," he explains. "The huge difference [with Russia] is that it seems as if the entire investing community was well prepared for imposing these sanctions – as if they were expecting some major invasion, and the corroborating legal documentation for the imposition of sanctions was already in place. That was a huge mistake for Putin, Amir Aslani adds, because the Russian leader underestimated the West's resolve regarding Moscow's invasion of Ukraine. "He thought that the West would react as they did in 2014 [following the] annexation of Crimea ... this was not the case. And immediately those sanctions were imposed," he says. That's why Russia is having so much difficulty, and it's why the ruble crumbled. "The Russian economy is in the process of being totally strangled." Paris Perspective #26: Russia, NATO and the future of European sovereignty - Serge Stroobants Paris Perspective #24: On thin ice - Europe, Ukraine and a new Cold War - Marie DumoulinSanctions have never achieved the their goals But Europe will end up playing a much higher price for cutting ties with the Kremlin and weaning the continent off its reliance on Russian oil and gas. So, in the mid-to-long term, who will come out on top?  The Western sanctions playbook seeks to apply targeted measures on elites close to power, freezing financial assets and imposing severe limitations on access to international finance. But how effective was that same strategy in bringing Iran to the negotiating table ahead of the 2015 nuclear deal? "Not very effective at all" Amir Aslani says. "The [Iran] negotiations have reached a stalemate: the Iranians are not showing up; the Americans are not showing up; the entire operation is in a state of inertia." This, he adds, is due to the US refusal to remove the Iranian Revolutionary Guards from the foreign terrorist organisation list. "Nobody seems to be under any particular pressure to push the other one to come to the negotiating table," Amir Aslani says, adding the same is true for Russia. "This recourse to sanctions is basically something that has never delivered the political results that the opposing countries are looking for." Consequently, it's the people who suffer on the misguided premise that the population will revolt against the governing authorities because of their hardships. Iran has gone through this entire process for the last 43 years, yet nothing has happened. "You've had revolts here and there, but that they haven't managed to destabilise the regime in Iran," Amir Aslani says. And the same rings true with Russia, he adds, all the more so because the people there are not even inclined to revolt, because they're in agreement with the position of the President [Putin]." Russia has yet to demonstrate its true power Initially some pundits said Putin would run out of money after six weeks. Now 13 weeks into the war, Russia shows no sign winding down the conflict in Ukraine. But what other markets can Russia turn to in order to offset the eventual closure of the European market for oil and gas? Firstly, for Amir Aslani, Russia hasn't even demonstrated its power over the markets. "We keep on talking about the dependency of Europe to Russian oil and gas – which is a fact – which cannot be replaced overnight," he explains. Even if you had alternative options, as far as liquefied natural gas is concerned, the countries that are in dire need in eastern Europe don't have the infrastructure for unloading LNG. France, where energy supply is 70 percent nuclear and 30 percent gas, is not going to be massively impacted.  "Is that the case of Poland?" asks Amir Aslani. "Is that the case for Germany? If these countries are supposed to be cut off from Russian oil and gas as we get closer to winter six months from now, how are they going to survive?" He underlines that you can't build an LNG downloading facility in six months. And the power of Russia goes even further than that, by forcing the United States to re-establish relations with a Venezuelan regime it has sought to overthrow since the days of the socialist-populist president Hugo Chavez. Russia's real power is the repercussions for the global economy of a complete cessation of oil and gas production. If Russia decided not to export any of its 12 million barrels a day, that would "push the economy of the entire planet into a total recession," Amir Aslani says, pushing the cost of a barrel to more than $300. "That is the power of Russia that hasn't been utilised," he says, adding the same "mechanism of sanctions busting", and circumventing international sanctions that Iran used will also apply to Russia. "So is the economy going to go down the drain? Certainly. Will that compel the regime from changing its course? I don't think so." For Amir Aslani, Putin has two options. "Either capitulation – that's not going to happen because it's the fall of the Russian regime and the fall of the President of Russia. Or a radicalisation of the regime." It seems that is what will most likely happen if the existing course of action continues. Watch full video here. Written, produced and presented by David Coffey. Recorded and edited by Steven Helsley and Vincent Pora Ardavan Amir Aslani is a lawyer, author and Middle East defence expert based in Paris.
22 April 2022

Paris Perspective #28: Foreign policy and the rise of French populism - Robert James Oliver

RFI English
As France heads to the polls this Sunday for the second round of the presidential election, with incumbent Emmanuel Macron facing a strong challenge from far-right contender Marine Le Pen, Paris Perspective looks at the rise of populism in France and how it might effect international relations, particularly with the United States.  Since the beginning of Putin's war in Ukraine, NATO, the transatlantic alliance founded to contain any war on the European continent, has been resurrected as Washington's bulwark against Russian aggression. Only recently, President Macron called the organisation "brain dead". Le Pen called it a "Cold War relic" and the entire organisation was facing an existential threat until the Ukraine invasion. Now NATO has invited itself back into the presidential debate, and become a focal point of the foreign policy platforms of each candidate. If she were to win the French presidency, Marine Le Pen says Paris would repeat France's 1966 move of leaving NATO's integrated military command all while adhering to its key article 5 on mutual protection. Once the war in Ukraine comes to an end, she says, there should be a "strategic rapprochement" between NATO and Russia. A French exit would essentially withdraw the only EU nuclear power from the command structure of the US-led military alliance of 30 countries. State of play between France and the United States As France looked "across the pond" during the United States 2020 presidential elections, many were expecting a massive re-set in relations between traditional European allies and the White House when Joe Biden beat the mercurial Donald Trump, but that didn’t really happen. The world looked aghast at Biden's shambolic withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, and France had a diplomatic meltdown in August 2021 when a submarine deal with Australia was undercut by a US-UK nuclear deal, the so-called AUKUS fiasco.  So eight months later, and a potential reset of France's agenda in the Elysée Palace in play, how do relations stand between Paris and Washington?  "They're going pretty well in everyone's opinion," says Robert James Oliver, political analyst and active member of Republicans in France. "Just a few months ago we had the Vice President Kamala Harris visiting Paris. But relationships aren't necessarily between countries as much as they are between the individuals running them. With somebody like Biden he's not all that offensive." However, the seismic shift in international diplomacy and the rejuvenation of traditional alliances didn't happen, and the last 18 months have seen the Biden administration maintaining the status quo on US foreign policy.  Oliver says that it's not exactly the status quo inherited from the Trump presidency but the transatlantic relationship is a bit warmer than it was. "I would say that's because of the personalities that are involved. The United States has come out of a long period of apologising to the rest of the world. People in the US want their jobs back. So they are still "America First" and there are still people who don't believe that they should have to give up everything for for a foreign country." Paris Perspective #27: Fear and loathing on the campaign trail 2022 - Gérald Olivier Paris Perspective #26: Russia, NATO and the future of European sovereignty - Serge StroobantsDespite EU concerns, the USA calls the shots Despite the shuttle diplomacy prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine - spearheaded by President Macron - the European Union was quite unsettled by being side-lined by both Washington and Moscow in the negotiations. Was that a calculated snub from the Biden administration to the technocrats in Brussels or just normal US foreign policy tactics when dealing with Putin? Oliver believes it's a little bit of everything. "You have the European Union, which is about 400 million people scattered through 27 states, some sharing a currency, some not. Each state is a sovereign country with its own its own military force - NATO is an amalgamation of them." "The United States, which is individual states, under one sovereign government under one currency that's guaranteed by the federal government,is different. "Who guarantees the EU? What is it backed up by? It's the same thing with NATO. What's backing up NATO? NATO is essentially 400 million people in Europe plus 350 million in the United States, with the United States being a far stronger power, with atomic weapons."  So when it comes to dealing with potential aggressors, Washington will lay claim to have the upper hand in negotiations.  "NATO was created by the United States so that wars would be contained in Europe," Oliver underlines. So if France were to pull out of NATO’s military command, as suggested by Marine Le Pen, how would that wash with Washington? "You mean if France were to pull out again?" Oliver laughs. "And so France is back in NATO. Really? Can we have our next discussion at the French NATO base here in France? Can we have our discussion there? Because I don't think we're going to find it!"  The political analyst believes that France's role in NATO remains hazy. "We don't know what kind of a player France is in NATO. They've been very supportive militarily. But in actually stepping up to the plate, that's questionable." Unlike the Norwegians who are very much involved, and have been since the end of World War Two.  "I was recently in Norway in September," Oliver explains "and I saw their exercises and what they do. They showed me one of the fjords where they have sonar plates to specifically catch the Russians when they sneak in. So they're a very, very strong ally." "Today we have this situation where Europe is forced to defend Europe with the backing of NATO once again. But the whole [Ukraine invasion] is backfiring on Putin rather than weakening Europe. "He's actually strengthened it with countries that never before wanted to be a part of NATO like Finland actually speaking about joining", Oliver says.   Political repercussions Following her comments on NATO and her continued Euroskepticism, if Marine Le Pen manages to unseat Macron, how would her rise to power be greeted by the Biden administration? "I don't know how similar Trump and Le Pen are today! To tell you the truth I'm not sure she will unseat Macron but if she does, you still have a congress, you still have a parliament here in France - a very strong parliament. "It's doubtful she'll get everything she wishes for, but she will scare the daylights out of people for a while! Her image is not a good one in the world," Oliver asserts. However, will the rise of far-right populism in France have any effect on the Trumpist factions of US society in the run-up to mid-term elections in November?  For Oliver you first have to distinguish between the politicians running Washington and the average person in the street. "When you start to talk about the average guy in the street, they don't know anything about French politics. "The people on the street understand France from a perspective, when there's an issue of whether France is on our side or not on our side", says Oliver. When France refused to join the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, "there were people in front of the French Embassy on Fifth Avenue, pouring bottles of French wine down the drain. We were laughing with friends while taking a French class then at Alliance Français," quips Oliver. "These people are so stupid! They already bought the wine, why didn't they just drink it and not buy anymore?" Any lessons learned from Trump and Brexit? When it comes to the French electorate, many are asking how the far-right has risen so far in the polls, despite the brutal lessons learned after four years of Donald Trump in the White House.  For Oliver, a lot of Le Pen's rhetoric is "hot air". Following the lines of Brexiteer Nigel Farage won't work for Le Pen, when she mentions "restructuring" the European Union as an association of sovereign states.  "We can see the similarities, but will Le Pen actually pull out of the EU?" Oliver questions.  No matter who wins the election on Sunday, Franco-US relations will remain top of the presidential agenda over the next five years. Oliver says that underlining France's support for the United States remains central to everything, and is more important than France's internal politics.  "Brexit had no effect on Americans. If you're going to fly on a family vacation to London, you're still going to pay in pounds, whether or not England is part of the EU," says Oliver. "But NATO would be something Americans would pay a lot of attention to, as they did when De Gaulle took them out in the 1960s. That would be a shock," concludes Oliver.  And making sure that France and the US are still on the same page when it comes to tackling Russia or any threat to NATO would be paramount.  Watch full video here. Written, produced and presented by David Coffey. Recorded and edited by Vincent Pora and Erwan Rome Robert James Oliver is a political analyst and active member of Republicans in France based in Paris.
04 April 2022

Paris Perspective #27: Fear and loathing on the campaign trail 2022 - Gérald Olivier

RFI English
With only a few days to go before approximately 48 million registered voters are invited to cast their ballot in France’s first round of presidential elections, Paris Perspective looks at the polemics that have shaped the campaign trails to date and the probabilities of the outcome of round one on Sunday 10 April.  In the final days ahead of France's first round of presidential elections, all 12 contenders are tightening their resolve to convince the electorate that their vision of the future is the best for France and its people. However, both the Right and Left of France’s political spectrum have found it difficult to find a “silver bullet” that can take down Emmanuel Macron’s track record over the past 5 years – like navigating protests, pandemics and Putin – without such criticism blowing up in their face and compromising their campaign. When the aspirations of political contenders started making the headlines over 6 months ago, there was plenty of chatter about the staging of American-style primaries and open debates to solidify individual candidates' chances.  Most of the veterans on France's right-wing outright refused to be drawn into what they saw as televised grand-standing, which would be a divisive rather than unifying force. On the splintered Left, a “People’s Primary” plebiscite held in late 2021 has done more damage than good for the democratic process, let alone France's left-wing, when veteran Socialist minister Christiane Taubira came out on top of the “popular primary”. However, the directors who organized the process gave their backing to far-left France Unbowed leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon instead, leaving many disillusioned and angry at the whole experiment, begging the question - where will France's Left turn after after the 1st round of the presidentials on 10 April? No more "American-style" primaries  First and foremost, says author and political strategist Gérald Olivier, the whole affair has been "the final nail in the coffin of French primaries, that just don't work." "Primaries are meant for the general population - like a pre-vote before the vote. It may work for the US because of the size of the country and the way parties are structured there, but it does not work here," Olivier explains.  So what we have seen at the end of this process is a Left which is completely scattered, split and divided.  For the two front runners on the Left - Socialist candidate Anne Hidalgo and France Unbowed contender Jean-Luc Mélenchon - their combined percentage points have them hovering at 20%, meaning a left-wing candidate in the second round is incredibly unlikely.  It is true to say, with the benefit of hindsight and empirical knowledge, it is very difficult to unseat an incumbent from office in time of crisis. So with Macron chairing the EU presidency while the continent is reeling from Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent economic fall-out from the conflict, is it a given that the leader of La République en Marche will waltz back into Elysée Palace? Olivier agrees that this is the outcome most people expect, but it's not a foregone conclusion. "It's pretty clear that he will be on the second ballot," he says. "And he might be facing Marine Le Pen again. He might be facing Valérie Pécress from Les Républicains ... There was a time when everybody thought that Eric Zemmour was going to be the major surprise of this election [but] I think the conflict in Ukraine brought down his hopes." The far-right contender held a very positive opinion of Vladimir Putin until the February invasion and has seen his numbers drop in the polls. In the second round - in a scenario that would play to Macron's advantage - "we might have simply a repeat of 2017," Olivier says, when Le Pen lost the presidency. French Presidential Elections 2022 - The candidates and the policies - Part 1 French Presidential Elections 2022 - The candidates and the policies - Part 2Digging for dirt that just won't stick Emmanuel Macron has been running an extremely short 40-day campaign. The question is whether there is any political ammunition that could be used against the President between now and 10 April and thus could be detrimental to his re-election? A recent senate inquiry into up to €1 billion of tax payers money being paid to consultancy groups - dubbed "The McKinsey Report" - threatened to rattle the Macron re-election campaign over rumblings that zero taxes were paid on the consultancy groups' earnings.  "Too little too late," Olivier jibes. "The bottom line is, though these things matter, they might be explored after the vote but it's not going to change [the outcome] of the vote in just 10 days' time." Many French people are indeed disappointed with Macron, but he holds the advantage of the incumbent. "He does not need to campaign as the front runner - the other guys need the attention; the other guys need the limelight. All he has to do is hold his ground, and he's holding it very well", Olivier adds. "Macron is basically waiting to see who he will face for the second ballot, and on the night of 10 April, he will change or adapt his stance according to who that person is. "But right now, it is running to his advantage for him to be presidential and not to be a candidate, especially in a time of international crisis ... when you look at it, the events of the past few weeks have worked in his favour." The political price of pro-Putin politics  The Ukraine crisis has hit the main far-right candidates hard – Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour both caught out by their previous expressions of admiration for Vladimir Putin. Despite recently archived footage of an ebullient Le Pen being given the red-carpet treatment during a visit to the Kremlin, it is Zemmour's standing in the polls that that has been most affected. According to Olivier, Zemmour's credibility has been "tremendously" impacted. For Le Pen and Zemmour, they have two messages, says the political strategist: "The number one message is the same: anti-immigration, pro-French identity, pro-security, and they hit the same voters on that line." When you look at the international politics proposed by Eric Zemmour, he has a vision of a new world order - moving beyond NATO - where Russia would have its place as a legitimate world power and France would be freed from US foreign policy. "That message was perfectly acceptable until Putin changed the rules", Olivier underlines, reminding the world that he believes violence and military force are the right way to resolve political conflict.  Putin has crossed a line 'that has not been broken since World War Two. Putin has brought the world back to a Cold War era where it is not acceptable to stand with the bad guy. He's the bad guy," Gérald Oliver asserts.  War in Europe and the shift in voter priorities Even for Macron, a reorientation of election campaign priorities has had to be undertaken since his shuttle diplomacy to avoid an invasion of Ukraine ultimately failed. Keeping in mind that the incumbent's reform plans for his first mandate were derailed by the Yellow Vest protests that were put on hold due to the Covid-19 pandemic, sky-rocketing fuel and energy prices have returned centre-stage due to the sanctions against Russia.  This, however, is a problem for everyone, says Olivier - not just Macron.  "His [Macron's] presence is more reassuring and this is something in his favour. But what we can see is the complete change in priorities when you listen to voters. "All of a sudden, the two priorities that are on people's mind are energy and food. "Forget the climate, forget global warming, even immigration. Immigration is now number four or number five in voters' priorities, because the war in Ukraine has changed everything," Olivier underlines. It is curious to say, but for the first time in decades the potential result of a French election could be decided by events outside of France's national borders. Energy autonomy and food security have risen to the top of the electorate's concerns. "People are worried about having bread", concludes Olivier, "which is something that has been completely unheard for at least for the past eighty years." Watch full video here Written, produced and presented by David Coffey. Recorded and edited by Vincent Pora, Nicolas Doreau and Erwan Rome Gérald Olivier is an author and political strategist with the IPSE Institute in Paris
21 March 2022

Paris Perspective #26: Russia, NATO and the future of European sovereignty - Serge Stroobants

RFI English
This edition of Paris Perspective looks at the implications of Russia’s decision to invade a neutral, sovereign European democracy, and at the likely impact of Vladimir Putin's war in Ukraine on the future of peace on the continent.  What is Russian President Vladimir Putin's endgame? From the war with Georgia over South Ossetia and Abkhazia in 2008, to the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the recent suppression of dissent in Belarus and Kazakhstan, the question of President Vladimir Putin's long-term strategy remains open. Was the decision to invade Ukraine a suddenn reaction to a perceived threat, or part of a well-nurtured plan to reestablish Russia as a global superpower? Questions have been raised about Putin’s mental state, especially in the wake of the Covid pandemic, which gave many people plenty of spare time to think out their own personal ambitions, dreams and goals. Could the same be said of the man in Moscow? In the run-up to the 24 February invasion, French president Emmanuel Macron was in the vanguard of European diplomacy with Putin, promising to keep “channels of communication” open with his Russian counterpart. But was there ever a chance that Macron could have succeeded in mediating with Russia and preventing the invasion, or was it a foregone conclusion that underscored the impotence of the West to engage with Putin? Lessons from history For international security consultant Serge Stroobants, we have to consider recent history since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. When we analyse the attitude of the West towards Putin we need to look at the past three decades, and what we allowed the Russian regime to get away with in the realm of international relations. "For the past four or five years, we have been witnessing a shift from a liberal approach to international relations - where peace is at the heart of economic interconnection. What is at heart of this individual is a more competitive world based on a more offensive approach to international relations," Stroobants asserts.  "That's an evolution of the past two to three decades. I think the decision to invade Ukraine is something that was always there as an idea that started to crystallise by early September with a new strategic defence pact between the United States and Ukraine." Western inaction Indeed, with the permanent support by the European Union and NATO for the self-determination of the Ukrainian people and their political leadership, these are all elements that led to an acceleration of Putin's decision to wage war. However, there are precedents from the past that could be seen as crucial to Putin's gambit in invading Ukraine, specifically those emanating from the United States. The Obama administration declared the use of chemical weapons in Syria as a line that could not be crossed, yet nothing was done by Washington once chemical weapons were deployed in Idlib province killing dozens of civilians.  So with Putin's manoeuvres, the West appears to be paying the price for inaction and apathy.  According to Stroobants, when you look at the narratives that have been used by both President Putin and his foreign ministry to explain why this war is being waged, we hear rhetoric from the Kremlin about Russia's responsibility to protect against the presence of nuclear, bacteriological or chemical weapons. "We also heard the word 'terrorist' [being used] countering terrorism or a fascist or Nazi regime. A lot of those arguments have also been used in the past 20 to 30 years to start operations in Iraq or in Libya. We're basically getting back the arguments that the West gets a UN Security Council resolution to intervene in countries. And it takes away from the political arguments to refute what Russia is saying today," Stroobants says. The cost of war There is of course the question of money to finance the invasion of Ukraine. As Russian troops are being drawn further into a theatre of urban warfare, the financial cost increases exponentially. Sanctions notwithstanding, Stroobants believes Putin has been looking at Russia's accounts. "There was about €650 billion ready for him, but with the sanctions that have been imposed, I would say about 80 percent is now frozen somewhere. So he cannot access that anymore. "After the sanctions have been applied, there is about €30 billion left for him really in cash to use. But what I think we need to look at is the effectiveness of the sanctions on him from a positive perspective, but also from a negative perspective. "I would say what really struck me in the past weeks, is this self-sanctioning of the private sector, basically disengaging completely from Russia. This has been really hurtful for the economy.  "But we mostly need to look at the dependency on Russian oil and gas, and coal in Europe. This is still flowing and this exchange is something close to about €700 million a day. So that's also a figure we need to take into account," Stroobants reminds us.  As the Russian advance and supply trains have been bogged-down over the past 20 days, Russian have relied heavily on missile attacks. If the war continues to be drawn out could the Kremlin resort to a war of attrition? Again, says the security specialist, we must refer to recent history. "Look at Russian military interventions in Afghanistan in the 80s, but also in Chechnya and in Syria. Basically, this is the worst-case scenario in Ukraine - urban warfare, street by street, house by house. "For example, we have also looked at spikes in terrorism as a tactic used in an insurgency. We have seen those spikes, after the intervention in Georgia in 2008 and after the taking over of Crimea in 2014," says Stroobants, so we should expect to see a rise in terrorist tactics.  Macron: Russia's invasion of Ukraine gave NATO an 'electric shock' Paris Perspective #24: On thin ice - Europe, Ukraine and a new Cold War - Marie DumoulinUkraine's relationship with the West  However, there are accusations of hypocrisy against NATO and Europe when one looks at the downfall of the Libyan dictatorship in 2011 and the appeals from Ukraine to implement a no-fly zone.  The wave of outrage in the West and promises of support for the people of Ukraine has been moving, but in the face of Russian military aggression this has been compared to being the equivalent of sending “thoughts and prayers” after an automatic rifle massacre in the USA, while refusing to repeal gun laws. Stroobants maintains that two different things need to be taken on board before going that far.  We need to look at "the collaboration before the conflict and the support within the conflict", he says.  "In both cases, before the conflict [we had] the Strategic Defence Cooperation with the US. Ukraine is a NATO partner. There has always been an exchange between NATO and Ukraine," Stroobants says. "Now in the conflict, there is still the support both from the United States but also members of NATO and the EU individually - in a bilateral way - [delivering] lethal and non lethal and logistic support to Ukraine. This war, however, will not be won militarily and diplomacy will have to prevail, but at what cost remains to be seen. No matter what the outcome, with Putin still in charge, many analysts are convinced we are going to enter a new Cold War that will be much worse than the previous one.  Firstly, says Stroobants, we did not start a new opposition. "The Ukrainian conflict has been going on for a long time. And it's not only Russia. So we clearly see an evolution of two different approaches to international relations, to the norms and values of international relations," he says. How power is managed in 2022 There are also the different approaches on how counties in the modern world use their power to maximise their influence on other countries or regions. "That's something that has emerged. Conflicts have multiplied and there has been a definite decrease in levels of peacefulness worldwide." New blocs are forming, as can be witnessed at the UN General Assembly -  "the good guys, the bad guys and the non-aligned". But what is really painful for Europe especially is that the economic interdependence that was a guarantee for peace on the continent over the past three decades has now become a liability in a non-peaceful world. "From my perspective," says Stroobants, "when you see the evolution of the past decades in the lives of peacefulness, what is happening now is the level of civil unrest going up...not to mention the environment or climate change.  "We are basically entering a new world order that is multipolar, therefore less stable with more competition. And this competition is now at the heart of international relations. And that's something that we need to adapt to." So those who think that, after Covid, we will just go back to normal life are wrong "It's Covid along with a lot of other crises," Stroobants concludes, "that have created a new world to which we need to adapt. Those are the difficulties that we are facing at the moment." Watch full video here Written, produced and presented by David Coffey. Recorded and edited by Vincent Pora. Serge Stroobants is an international security consultant with the Brussels-based Institute for Economics and Peace
21 February 2022

Paris Perspective #25: Exile, Islam and the shifting sands of migration - Brigitte Adès

RFI English
The past decade has witnessed a tsunami of refugees fleeing conflict, making the journey towards Europe in search of a better life. Reaching its peak in 2015, the welcome refugees received was mixed, as fears of Islamist infiltration permeated the anti-migrant debate. The result was a the rise of populist movements across the EU. Paris Perspective looks at exile, Islam and the shifting sands of migration through the prism of political realities, historical truths and contemporary literature. Migration has become one of the most hotly debated political issues of modern times. From the building of the wall along the US-Mexico border to the razor-wire fences rolled out across Eastern European frontiers, arguments over how a deluge of traumatised migrants will impact the status quo of affluent states have been divisive. Proponents of the universal declaration of human rights are squarely pitched against a fearful indigenous population who see the influx as an existential threat.  The fear of radical Islam taking hold in Europe was compounded by a series of terrorist attacks across the continent, one of the most notable being the 13 November 2015 attacks across Paris in which 131 people were murdered.  So can Islam coexisit in the liberal democracies that emerged from the ashes of World War II?  The novel Exiles from Paradise explores the confrontation between enlightened Islam and radicalism. Author Brigitte Adès, who is London bureau chief with Politique Internationale, felt compelled to put pen to paper after the 9/11 attacks on the United States, as Western societies found it difficult to distinguish between radicalised Islamists and the Muslims that have been living in Western counties for generations.  "I felt that it was very unfair, and it was going to lead to a lot of problems," Adès remarks. "So I thought the best way was to write a story to show their their side of the story, their side of the problem of identity, [what] they feel when they were coming to live here, or were born here." This sense of "disconnect" is a common thread when looking at integration into European democracies. "They felt neither from there, neither from here," says Adès. "And they had to find a place in their societies. And our part was very important to play ... our part to actually welcome these people. And so the best way was to get them to be understood. And the best way to do that was to write a novel." Multi-culturalism and intergration The key for the author is to make people understand migrants' culture and where they come from. Exiles from Paradise is a tale of two Franco-Iranian friends, Farhad and Reza, who take diverging interpretations of Islam and the historical divergences the religion has taken. It looks at the challenges of what being marginalised means in a Western society.   Yet when dealing with migration, France and Britain have two very distinct approaches that have been the subject of debate for decades.   Multi-culturalism in the UK versus full integration in France. Both models are flawed, but does one system work better than the other? First and foremost, says Adès, Muslims in Britain are much better off. "I have lived in both countries for a long time," she says "so I see the communities that we create in the UK. [It may be] very comfortable for Muslims, but they feel that they're living in a minute Islamabad. "They are totally ostracised from the rest of the population. They're tolerated. They're welcome. But they're not integrated. As a result, it leads to problems." And there is still a discrepancy as to whether the French experience or the UK experience works for Muslims. "It doesn't work very well," Adès asserts. No matter where you are, the author says, "if you feel that you're completely ignored ... some individuals become totally mad. And they'd rather do bad deeds than [do nothing] at all. And that's what leads to extremism." Politically liberal, religiously radical? Adès finds that Muslims in France are much more traditional in their approach to Islam. As a result, integration takes longer because there is a lack of openness. Speaking anecdotally about a conversation with a Muslim taxi driver in Paris: "He was a very mainstream man. And we're talking about everything. We agreed in a lot of things on politics and international politics. But when discussing the arrival of an Islamist regime in Pakistan, he believed the implementation of brutal laws made the country better: "He was saying they now the cut off the hands of thieves; they cut the throats of rapists. That's what should be done in France!" "So you see," Adès continues, "this man who had a fantastic [liberal insight] became very extreme." Paris Perspective #15: The future history of Jihad - Wassim Nasr Paris Perspective #6: Libya, human trafficking and the French connection - Jérôme Tubiana Getting to the crux of this duality between modern democracy and radical narratives among Muslims brought Adès into the heart of Islamic communities where the insidious nature of radicalization in ‘normal’ mosques became apparent.  "I wanted to research about Islam and the way it was preached, because I thought it was cool. And I was in the UK. So I went to a lot of mosques. And I went to bookstores at the mosques," she says. "I saw that Sunni and Shiite were talking to each other, they were very friendly, and everything was fine. Then I realised that a lot of the books that were there were very subversive. "There were books about jihad, the fact that you shouldn't be integrating - because if you integrate, you're a bad Muslim - and things that I thought were very subversive because these Muslims are there to stay. "They have to be integrated, they have to be part of the UK." She also points to the fact that there are spies in the mosques who report what is being preached to their financial backers. If the "money men" - usually Saudi-linked proponents of Wahhabism - don't like what they hear, the Imam will lose his job.  Echoes of exile Brigitte Adès' family history is itself steeped in stories of displacement and migration. So as a French writer and journalist living in London, does she identify as a migrant?  "I feel like an expat because I feel very profoundly European and French. But it took a while, as I was a third generation Sephardic Jew living in France. "The French are very welcoming when people are assimilating, which my grandparents did. But my grandparents were still migrants. My parents were born in France, so they were more ingrained into French system and the culture was totally French. "We have no idea of speaking Greek - because we came from Rhodes, Greece, but also [going back to] 1492 after Spanish Jews were expelled by Isabella the Catholic." she explains.  Adès still feels French but is still affected by her family history of exile: "I really feel for these people, I really want them to understand the concept of the society where they are in now. To be able to feel comfortable."  When it comes to a sense of belonging in France, how does the anti-migrant shift to the far-right in French politics make her feel? "I'm upset by the way it's using the fear of a migrant invasion to play for their own benefit. And I think it's sad," Adès laments. "I think it's sad that it works. I see that Brexit occurred because there was this horrible poster pretending that there would be hoards of migrants from Syria - and [Britain] was not even in Schengen. So it was ridiculous that they were doing that but it it worked. "I think there is a big problem," Adès concludes. "I don't think it's a just and fair game, it's actually dangerous. But it works and that's what I'm upset with, especially someone like Zemmour who comes from an immigrant background himself. "He's using fear and is pushing the right buttons."  Watch full video here Written, produced and presented by David Coffey. Recorded and edited by Vincent Pora and Erwan Rome. Brigitte Adès is the London bureau chief with Politique Internationale and author of “Exiles from Paradise” published in English by Arcadia Books.
07 February 2022

Paris Perspective #24: On thin ice - Europe, Ukraine and a new Cold War - Marie Dumoulin

RFI English
It seems that every move Russian President Vladimir Putin makes has Western powers ever more perplexed as to what his intentions are when it comes to Ukraine. As French president Emmanuel Macron embarks on a diplomatic mission to Moscow and Kyiv, Paris Perspective looks at what's at stake amid the standoff between the Kremlin and its Cold War adversaries, and if France can deliver a solution.  Following a flurry of high-level diplomatic talks throughout January – from Geneva to Brussels, to Vienna and Paris – the meetings achieved next to nothing and Russia continues its military build-up on Ukraine’s eastern border. This Monday, Macron kicks-off a whirlwind tour of lightning diplomacy to Moscow and Kyiv, playing multiple roles: international mediator, level-headed negotiator and de facto leader of the European Union.  It's a heavy, hydra-headed performance for even the most seasoned political player in their prime, let alone a 44-year-old rookie looking to secure a second, five-year mandate this April.  Macron's latest attempts to lower tensions between Putin and Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky are, however, consistent with the two main features of French foreign policy since he came to power in 2017. 'Diplomacy of audacity' vs realpolitik Macron has always argued the European Union should take greater charge of its own defence and security, and has sought to push France forward on the international stage with what he describes as a "diplomacy of audacity". However, his noble efforts at deal brokering to date have not borne fruit: Libya is still in chaos, Iran continues its uranium enrichment and Lebanon's political system is as byzantine as ever – despite Macron's good intentions.  Yet with France holding the rotating EU presidency, Macron's diplomatic intervention may pack a bigger punch when he hits the tarmac in Moscow.  As he wades into the fray, one of the first points of rhetoric to be addressed relates to a 1999 agreement between Russia and Western governments that states that "no country can strengthen its own security at the expense of others". This is a key issue that Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov maintains is at the heart of the Ukraine crisis, amid Russian fears of Nato expansion.  Instead of dealing with the EU as a whole, Russia has appealed to individual states who were signatories to the document to test the temperature. Paris Perspective #22: France, Europe and the EU presidency - Yves Bertoncini Paris Perspective #12: Putin, Paris and power - Oleg KobtzeffDivide and conquer? So is Russia actively trying to undercut the European bloc by appealing to individual states bilaterally, in a bid to further divide a fractured Europe?  Marie Dumoulin director of the Wider Europe programme at the European Council on Foreign Relations, says Russia's overtures are open to interpretation.  "Yes, it's probably a way to feed divisions among Western countries, and not only the European Union but all the Western allies. But you also have a very legalistic vision of this [approach]. "These countries signed up to these commitments as OSCE participating states. And the OSCE is not the kind of coherent organisation like the EU or Nato. So it's really as individual states that these commitments have been signed. And that's why he addresses them individually," Dumoulin explains.  But to counter this rhetoric, the OSCE charter says countries should be free to choose their own security arrangements and alliances. And Ukraine's right to choose whether to join Nato or not is central to the current standoff with Moscow. Does that not, in itself, undercut any Russian complaints of self-determination when looking for international recognition of Ukraine's separatist regions, such as Luhansk and Donetsk?  Hypocritical perhaps. Paradoxical? Definitely, says Dumoulin: "Russia is saying you're not respecting this commitment that security should not be guaranteed at the expense of the security of another state. "But at the same time, Moscow pressures Ukraine and the West by threatening Ukraine's security. So it's doing what it reproaches the West of doing. "Another paradox is that Russia is appealing to this 1999 OSCE declaration, but at the same meeting, Russia made commitments to withdraw its troops from a number of territories where they are stationed – including Transdniestria and Georgia at the time," Dumoulin underlines.  Nato in post-Soviet Europe Ukraine was not of concern when the 1999 accord was signed, but it it can be considered as another example of a "Russian presence" without the compliance of a neighbouring country. Since the escalation of the latest post-Cold War expansion spat, the finger pointing has gone both ways, with the steady absorbtion of former Soviet states into the military alliance over the past 20 years.  There is indeed controversy over Nato encroachment into Russia's sphere of influence, says Dumoulin, especially over what promises Nato actually gave Moscow at the time.  "Russia says there was a clear promise back in the 1990s, that Nato would not expand, and there is this 1997 act and they want to go back to this period. "At the same time, Nato countries say there was never a clear commitment not to expand and expansion has been also a consequence of Russia's behaviour. "Neighbouring countries need to have some sort of security guarantees," Dumoulin adds. "And if Georgia and Ukraine want to join Nato, it's precisely because they feel threatened by Russia." Securing Europe's place at the table Many of Macron's detractors say the young president is naive about France's status on the international stage, failing to grasp the country's limitations as a middle-ranking world power. So taking on board what is at the centre of the maelstrom, and the self-righteous interpretations that can be used as ammunition on both sides of the dispute, can Macron's diplomacy prevail where previous negotiations floundered?  Dumoulin remarks that initially Russia only wanted to deal with the US and wasn't interested in engaging with the EU. "They didn't want to start or launch new talks in the framework of the Normandy Format, where France and Germany play a mediation role," she says. "Now, it seems that they have changed their approach and they accepted a first meeting of the Normandy Format in Paris recently ... And definitely Putin has talked to a number of European leaders – among them Macron – with whom he's had regular contact for the last five years." Since Chancellor Merkel left office, Dumoulin concludes: "Macron is probably one of the European leaders who has the closest relationship with Putin, so he's trying to make use of this relationship, whether it brings added value and allows for de-escalation? It remains to be seen." Watch full video here Written, produced and presented by David Coffey. Recorded and edited by Vincent Pora and Erwan Rome. Marie Dumoulin is the director of the Wider Europe programme at the European Council on Foreign Relations' Paris bureau.
31 January 2022

Paris Perspective #23: Taking the temperature of the French electorate - Bruno Jeanbart

RFI English
With just two months to go before presidential elections in France, the media swingometer continually points to a concrete shift to the right. On this end of the political spectrum, candidates are rallying the electorate with identical battle cries: more security on the streets and playing hard on immigration. Paris Perspective looks into the issues that matter most to the French electorate.  France is entering into uncharted waters in the run up to April polls, as the intractable power of social networks and the tacit political manoeuvering of media outlets finally catch up with French politics.  On the face of it, one would be forgiven for thinking the hard-right was comprehensively in the ascendant with tough talk on immigration and security cramming the airwaves, internet and "twittersphere". With all sides taking stock of the paradigm shift in US politics in 2016, and the vulnerability of the democratic process to cyber-meddling, France is bracing itself for a bumpy ride on the hustings peppered with populism, patriotism and paranoia.    In these cynical times, no matter what the realities are on the ground, political spin doctors will claim that pre-election polls are open to interpretation and statistics can be manipulated.  The state of play ahead of the elections As things stand, if the French were to vote next weekend, President Emmanuel Macron remains solidly in front, hovering around the 25 percent mark. On his heels are far-right National Rally's Marine Le Pen and the more moderate right-winger Valérie Pécresse, who are both vacillating around 17 percent. And among the panoply of left-wing candidates, only the far-left firebrand Jean-Luc Mélenchon makes any blip on the radar, but still fails to score double-digits.  But two months is an eon in politics, as the vice president of pollsters Opinion Way Bruno Jeanbart explains. "We have to be careful about the data for the moment because we are still far from the election. The closer we are to the vote, the better the polls will be when comparing with the final result," he says. "Fifty days before the election is too far away to be sure that what is shown by the data is going to be what will will occur at the polling station." But amid the inevitable campaign-trail cries of "fake news" and "false polls" that the world has become used to since 2016, Jeanbart maintains the statistics are usually sound: "I don't think it's possible [for polls] to be manipulated, but they can be wrong." Breaking the rules in 2017 In the past, French presidential elections were traditionally quite predictable, with the ultimate dichotomy falling in favour of either the centre-left or the centre-right. But all that changed in 2017, when Macron hit the scene, breaking all the rules.  To make it to the top in France, says Jeanbart, you routinely needed a history in politics: "You needed to have a long political career, to have been elected before – as a mayor or as an MP – you needed to be supported by a political party." And none of that was the case for Macron. Jeanbart reckons what happened in 2017 was the consequence of a rejection by the population and voters of the traditional left and right. And for Macron, a young former investment banker, the political stars aligned in his favour after president François Hollande imploded the traditional left by not standing for a second term, while the centre-right Les Républicains collapsed in the wake of a nepotism scandal that put an end to front-runner François Fillon's political career. Macron went on to take the laurels for the Elysée Palace, decisively defeating Le Pen in the second round of the presidentials.  The social divide on France's right Fast forward to the 2022, where the battle to dethrone Macron is being thrashed-out among the right-wing candidates playing hard-ball with immigration and security portrayed as the pivotal issues. While Le Pen and Pécresse clamour to win the hearts of both the moderate and more extreme elements of the right, little appears to distinguish the two candidates at first. The key in distiguishing them, says Jeanbart, is the socio-economic status of their core electorate. "The difference between Le Pen and Pécresse is the base that they have as voters. Le Pen is very strong with blue collar workers, people with low incomes, low levels of education. "This is not the case with Pécresse, who is a much more traditional, conservative candidate, strong with white collar workers, people with high levels of education and with older voters. "Le Pen is much stronger with young voters." What is Macron's Achilles' Heel?  And with a solid shift to the right ahead of April's polls, French nationalism is playing its part, as candidates promise a crusade to "clean up" ghettoised areas, reclaim “non-French” neighbourhoods and to reconquer "no-go" zones. But is that really what scores highest on the agenda for the average French voter? Jeanbart recognises its importance, but when he looks at the data the most important issue (for now) is purchasing power. "The increase in prices tops the bill with the French population, followed in second place by the rise in crime," he says.  "Immigration is fourth. But it shows that traditional right-wing issues are very, very important among the French population, and this explains why we have this high level of voter intentions on the far right. "Le Pen and Zemmour are both gathering about 30 percent of voters' intentions, which is incredibly high." Essentially right-wing candidates have taken control of the narrative, concentrating on emotional issues that can be presented as Macron's Achilles' Heel. "It's more difficult to attack him on the pandemic crisis or the economy," Jeanbart adds. Covid notwithstanding, France has recorded an unprecedented 7 percent growth in its economy, not seen since the end of World War II. Paris Perspective #16 - Let the games begin: The race for the Elysée 2022 - Gérald Olivier Paris Perspective #4: The future of populism and the French far rightChaos on the Left works well for the Centrists One thing that does play in Macron's favour is the disarray amongst France's left-wing parties.  Despite suggestions of a "grand coalition" regrouping all the Socialist, Communist and Green candidates into a left-wing confederacy, the concept appears to be doomed from the outset.  "It's mess on the left," with all eight candidates collectively polling an exceptionally low 25 percent.  "The one thing the left doesn't accept is ... that a strong part of their [voter base] are still voting for Emmanuel Macron." These were the ones who brought Macron to power in 2017, "and they are still supporting him now". The best and worst case scenarios for Macron's re-election But with Macron's first five-year mandate eclipsed by Covid, it was also shaken to its foundations by the Yellow Vest movement, which exploded onto the streets of France over the rising cost of fuel. From late 2018 until the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, the increasingly violent demonstrations underlined the ever-widening chasm between urban and rural France. So what is the best case scenario for Macron to regain the confidence of the electorate in 2022? And indeed, what is the worst case scenario for the incumbent?  Jeanbart maintains the best case is for Macron to maintain the status quo he created that brought him to power, "which is gathering the traditional parties – the centre left and centre right – together." These voters are the ones who are pro-European, pro-business and who will stand with him in the face of rising populism. Securing a second round run-off against Le Pen is the best way to present himself as 'the reasonable candidate against the populist". The worst case scenario is that Pécresse beats Le Pen in the first round of the presidential election, and qualifies for the run-off against Macron.  "If she gets in on the second round, she has a pretty good chance of beating Macron," Jeanbart says. Macron is in a strange situation as an incumbent, he adds, with very strong support from a small base of 25 to 30 percent of the population. "But also a lot of people hate him." If Pécresse makes it to the second-round, Macron will lose a lot of votes – not because the far-right is convinced by Pécresse," says Jeanbart, adding they think she's too moderate. "They would prefer Pécresse rather than see Macron re-elected for a second term." Watch full video here. Written, produced and presented by David Coffey. Recorded and edited by Cécile Pompeani and Erwan Rome. Bruno Jeanbart is the vice president of Opinion Way, a research and polling agency based in Paris.
10 January 2022

Paris Perspective #22: France, Europe and the EU presidency - Yves Bertoncini

RFI English
France has taken over the presidency of the Council of the European Union for the first time in 13 years. Under a banner of "relaunch, strength, belonging", President Emmanuel Macron will have to find common ground across the 27 member states on several key issues. Paris Perspective looks at what France will put on the table between now and the end of June. France took over the revolving presidency on 1 January with a great deal of fanfare by the Macron administration and discussion in the French media. As a founding member of the European Union, France could be forgiven for taking the 2022 chairmanship of the bloc with resolve, as Paris comes to the table with a packed agenda, ranging from a plan for a common policy on migration and a strategy to deal with sabre-rattling Russia. It also aims to regulate digital platforms and develop a common EU approach to post-pandemic economic recovery. All of this provides a showcase for Macron's leadership in an election year.  Finding consensus among a divided Europe is key to the success of France's six-month mandate. After Germany's Angela Merkel stepped down from her role as chancellor and the EU's de facto leader after 16 years in office, the limelight is now set on Macron to step up to the plate.  But can the French President match Merkel's talent for compromise and concession on an EU level, while avoiding potential criticism for using the EU presidency for national political gain?   "First of all ... this presidency in an electoral context is detrimental for Europe," says Yves Bertoncini, president of the Movement-Européen France and former director of the Jacques Delors Institute in Paris. "It should have been avoided ... but Macron decided to maintain [the election] calendar." According to Bertoncini, holding the EU presidency in an election year means Macron will become a target when it comes to European affairs. "Even if he does positive things, he will be negatively targeted by his opponents."  Finding an elusive consensus on migration  Even so, the French presidency of the European Union is an opportunity for France to set the agenda on crucial issues such as migration, an issue that Paris has put at the top of its agenda with a view to getting eastern European and Mediterranean countries on board with a common policy. Many of the so-called "front line states" who bore the brunt of the 2015 migration tsunami from the Middle East and North Africa feel abandoned by Brussels, and have expressed their anger at the ballot box, giving rise to populist, anti-EU administrations.  Ahead of 1 January, Macron met with Hungary's ultra-nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Budapest to test the temperature with his political opponent. So, can the EU under France's guidance find common ground with Orban on migration? Pressure to deliver as Macron takes EU helm ahead of French elections For Bertoncini, the main issue is one of perception: "For some Europeans, migrants are victims – to be backed and to be welcomed. Not all of them, but some of them. "For Orban and some other leaders, migrants are threats. So as long as you have such a divide in the perception of the migrants, it's very difficult to find a common ground except on the fact that you need to control the external borders of the Schengen area," he says. "So on this at least you can have consensus in Europe, including between Macron and Orban. "However, once you take back control of the flow of migration and accept the migrants on Europe soil, the divide still remains.  "The new coalition in Germany is open to migration. Orban remains very opposed, because for him, it's a political trick. The reality is that no migrants want to settle in Hungary, but it's in his interest is to show that there might be an invasion and I'm afraid that France is caught in the middle." Coordinated European defence strategy Another concern at the top of France's EU to-do list is European defence as the spectre of a Russian invasion of Ukraine – and a direct confrontation with the West – looms large over the geopolitical landscape.  The last time France held the rotating EU presidency in 2008, the agenda was dominated by relations with Russia over its intervention in the Georgian province of South Ossetia and subsequent conflict with Tblisi. With all the preparation France has put into setting the programme during its tenure of the presidency, is there a possibility the schedule could be derailed by Moscow's machinations? Bertoncini says that even if you have a consistent, water-tight programme set for the EU presidency, realpolitik could push everything in another direction.  EU leaders threaten Russia with 'massive consequences' over Ukraine "It's difficult to predict. For Sarkozy back in 2008 it was a presidency struck by crisis – the global economic and financial collapse, the invasion of Georgia plus the constitutional 'No' in a referendum in Ireland – so you never know exactly what might happen." To date, Macron has had to face the Covid-19 pandemic crisis. If Russian aggression comes to the fore in the coming weeks, he will also have to face that too and find an EU common stance against Moscow, in tandem with the United States. Bertoncini points out that a common European defence strategy has been a holy grail in France in past four decades. This policy even goes back as far back as the time of General De Gaulle.  "Macron has made the right moves recently to show that we need to try and have a more conceptual European approach [to common defence], but with the Americans – even more precisely with Nato." A Nato summit is set to be organised at the end of this spring. This means that as France concludes its presidency of the EU, Macron will be able to say that he has at least made the effort.  Watch full video here Written, produced and presented by David Coffey. Recorded and edited by Vincent Pora and Erwan Rome. Yves Bertoncini is president of the Movement-Européen France and former director of the Jacques Delors Institute in Paris.
13 December 2021

Paris Perspective #21: France, China and relations in the Indo-Pacific - Antoine Bondaz

RFI English
France's influence in the Indo-Pacific came under the spotlight this autumn when a Franco-Australian submarine contract was dropped by Canberra in favour of a security alliance between the US, UK, and Australia: AUKUS. This edition of Paris Perspective looks at France's overtures towards allies in its former colonial neighbourhood and the state of relations between Paris and Beijing. The poor handling of the AUKUS submarine deal in September left France clutching at straws when it came to asserting its presence in the Indo-Pacific. China called the US-UK-Australian security pact “irresponsible". Since then, France has been making diplomatic overtures to other regional powers - such as Indonesia, Vietnam and Korea - to push for more influence. For Antoine Bondaz, research fellow with the Strategic Research Foundation in Paris, you have to look into the history of France's pivotal role in the Pacific that still endures today to understand its current position.  "I think it's very important to remind everyone about French interests in the region. France is not an observer in the Indo-Pacific. France is a resident power," Bondaz says. "We have more than 1.7 million French people living on French overseas territories, from Réunion Island to French Polynesia. "It [represents] more than 92% of the special economic zone and maritime domain of France and we have more than 7,000 soldiers permanently deployed in the region." According to Bondaz, when it comes to the Indo-Pacific, France's role is about sovereignty not just business or cultural interests.  France's strategy in the Indo-Pacific Yet following the very public diplomatic meltdown among regional allies that came in the wake of the AUKUS pact, many observers found it difficult to pin down France’s strategy in the Indo-Pacific and how Paris plays off Beijing when trying to counter China's passive-aggressive dominance in its traditional sphere of influence.  "France decided to lay out its Indo-Pacific strategy a few years ago in 2018, when President Macron visited Australia," Bondaz explains. "And that strategy was very security and defence focused.  "That explains why [France's] ministry of the armed forces in 2019 were the first ministry to release its own Indo-Pacific strategy - it was a security strategy." Then, between 2019 and 2020, says the researcher, that strategy diversified to include business interests, cultural interests and global interests. The whole initiative was updated and presented in July of this year focusing much more on trade relations.  The AUKUS bombshell landed just one month later. Paris Perspective #20: Franco-US fallout and the Biden dilemma - William Jordan Paris Perspective #14: The fall of Kabul and new world order - Gérard Chaliand So has the US-UK-Australian security deal called into question the whole structure of France's Indo-Pacific strategy? No, says Bondaz: "It forces France to be clear and recalibrate. Australia was one of the three key strategic partners with France in the region along with India and Japan..  "Australia is no longer a strategic partner. Relations have deteriorated to an all time low and [that's] not going to change in the foreseeable future." According to Antoine Bondaz, every cloud has a silver lining and the AUKUS deal made France rethink its strategy, reach out to other Indo-Pacific countries. "We're not going to leave the Pacific," he says. "We're still going to keep the Indo-Pacific strategy, but it's going to evolve a little bit." The diplomatic dance between Paris and Beijing When it comes to China, France has been running with the hare, and chasing with the hounds. Paris might have taken a firmer stance with Beijing recently, but France also needs to cooperate with China regarding the Paris Climate agreement, protection of biodiversity, and reform of the World Trade Organisation. So where do things stand when it comes to direct relations between Paris and Beijing? "It's ambiguous," says Bondaz. "French diplomats would call it tri-dimensional. The idea from a European view is that China is both a cooperation partner, an economic competitor and a systemic rival. "It means that we are fully aware that we have to cooperate with Beijing on many issues from climate change to preventing the next pandemic," he adds.  Engagement with China "disappointing" However, relations are always complicated between any EU state and China as all players have to try and balance their relationship with Beijing.  When Macron was running for the presidency, he had two priorities: "The first was to rebalance economic relations with China that are very unbalanced with huge trade deficits," Bondaz says, adding that very little has been achieved on that front, apart from the lifting of a beef embargo. The second dimension was climate change. "Some might say that, thanks to France, China stayed in the Paris agreement," quips Bondaz. But it’s not because of France - it's because the US under the Trump administration pulled out of the climate deal, giving China a more vested interest in staying wtihin the Paris Agreement. But for Bondaz, the results of Franco-Chinese relations since the beginning of Macron's presidency have been mixed "and a little disappointing." Watch full video here. Written, produced and presented by David Coffey. Recorded and edited by Cécile Pompeani and Erwan Rome. Antoine Bondaz is a research fellow at the Strategic Research Foundation in Paris.
30 November 2021

Paris Perspective #20: Franco-US fallout and the Biden dilemma - William Jordan

RFI English
The transatlantic friendship is still on shaky ground almost a year after Joe Biden swept to power with the promise of stamping out four years of vitriol from the Trump presidency. Paris Perspective probes why the Franco-US honeymoon was so quickly extinguished, and what steps are being taken to repair the centuries-old alliance. During a time when new alliances and friendships are being forged, France feels it’s losing out, explains former US diplomat William Jordan, now based in Paris. Complicated post-Brexit British ties with the EU, Australia's stunning about-face over a lucrative submarine deal and the US's desire to also build up strategic partnerships with other countries has created a geopolitical jigsaw that's making it hard for France and the US to find the pieces that will enable them fit comfortably in the bigger picture.   When France recalled its ambassador from Washington after Australia dumped Paris in favour of a three-way submarine defence deal with the US and Britain, Biden was quick to dispatch Vice President Kamala Harris to the French capital to hurriedly work things out. Pulling out the ambassador was a dramatic move, and the first time France had done so in its 243-year frienship with the United States. While the Harris visit was an important first step, the "subgate" betrayal – which France unequivocally descibed as a "stab in the back" – is still far from forgotten, Jordan told RFI.   "They [Harris and Macron] met in the met in Rome at the G20, and it was very clear that the French position was to make the Americans grovel a little bit more," he says. "But what I've heard from the American embassy here, is that everybody believes the visit by Kamala Harris was positive. "If an American official visits Paris, participates in all the meetings, sticks to predictable talking points, doesn't sulk and doesn't refuse to attend certain things because they're afraid they're going to be beaten up by all the other participants ... well, then it's a success." Rival pact Australia, the US and Britain this month formally embarked on their controversial deal, the AUKUS security alliance, to equip Australia's navy with nuclear-powered submarines.  France remains infuriated by the secretive way in which the three countries collaborated to ditch the French deal to supply Canberra with traditional diesel-powered submarines. AUKUS allows for the exchange of sensitive "naval nuclear propulsion information" between Australia, the US and Britain in a bid to confront strategic tensions in the Indo-Pacific region. Biden has admitted that AUKUS was handled clumsily and "was not done with a lot of grace".  For its part China, has called the agreement “extremely irresponsible”. New alliances? In response to the switch of allegiances in the Indo-Pacific, France has also shifted its focus. Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian paid a two-day visit to Indonesia to follow up on a defence deal and the sale of 36 Rafale jets. Paris is seeking to strengthen its ties in the region via high-level meetings in countries ranging from Japan to India and Vietnam. When listing regional allies ahead of the Jakarta trip, Le Drian made sure not to count Australia among them.  Yet when it comes to facing down China, French policy in the Indo-Pacific is "ambiguous, to say the least", says Jordan. "The French made a big deal [on the internet] about having sent a nuclear submarine on a worldwide patrol that included going through some of the disputed waters in the South China Sea." Paris Perspective #14: The fall of Kabul and new world order - Gérard Chaliand Paris Perspective #16 - Let the games begin: The race for the Elysée 2022 - Gérald Olivier However, every time the US has tried to get France and other European countries on board against China, the reaction has been uneasy. The big question, says Jordan, is to what extent is France plans to go it alone. "Is this going to be woven into some larger Western initiative?" he asks. "And if that's the case, where exactly does Europe as a whole fit in? Because at the moment, the last thing one can say about Europe is that it has a cohesive, coherent or consolidated policy." Filling the Merkel void Indeed with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the way out, Europe finds itself with no collective leadership. For the Biden administration, Jordan says, the EU has to "get its act in order", adding there wasn't much enthusiasm for French President Emmanuel Macron to step into Merkel's role as de facto head of Europe. "What we're seeing here is the defining of a post-Brexit Europe. Britain used to play an important role in the past, and is now no longer part of it," Jordan adds. It's a pivotal time for Europe, and for the US as Biden makes decisions on how to deal with Nato – an alliance that faces challenges of its own – as well as China, Russia and Ukraine. When Biden said America was "back", it was thought that he would take steps to restore ties with America's longtime partners. "That hasn't happened," Jordan says. "Washington is looking for European leadership, and trying to find out who to engage with." The Russian challenge, however, underscores that for the last 15 to 20 years, Nato is no longer the greatest alliance that ever existed.  With Russian troops reported to be amassing on the border with Ukraine, the role of Nato and how the alliance stands to shape transatlantic ties will be significant. This will be particularly important given the Soviets had long sought ways to sow division among Nato allies, Jordan adds. "The short- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles were only for use against Europe," he says. And having risen through the ranks of the KGB during the Cold War, Vladimir Putin has a lot more levers at his diposal that the Europeans do to fight back.  "[Putin's] looking to see how far he can push things. And is the West prepared to go into a hot war on behalf of a country that isn't part of Nato?"  Unlikely.  Despite drawing a line in the sand regarding the integrity of Ukraine during a recent telephone conversation with Putin, Macron has more pressing issues on the home front as France gears up for presidential elections in April 2022. To be continued. Watch full video here Written, produced and presented by David Coffey Recorded and edited by Thibault Baudel William Jordan is a former US diplomat based in Paris and president of the Association of Americans Resident Overseas.