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France

Sarkozy pushes military contract, political ties during visit

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2009-09-07

France's president is in Brazil for a two-day visit that coincides with the country's independence day celebrations. Nicolas Sarkozy is expected to back Brazil's quest to act as a world power and to push for the sale of French fighter jets.

In an interview with major Brazilian newspaper O Globo on Sunday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy put the potential sale of French fighter jets into the context of developing relations between the two nations. On his way to attend Brazil’s independence celebrations, the French president told the newspaper that "the relationship between Brazil and France is not one of supplier and client, but one of partners".

 

It was not the first time that Sarkozy showed his desire for France and Brazil to cooperate more. In December, he announced his support for Brazil’s bid for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, an elite club of which France is already a member. The previous February, Sarkozy was in Brazil to inaugurate the construction of a bridge to French Guiana. At that time, the two leaders also shared strategies on combating illegal gold mining and trafficking in their border region.

 

This time, however, Brazil is sending its strongest signals yet of being ready to accept France’s overtures. On Thursday, the Senate in Brasilia sealed a 6.1-billion-euro deal in which France will help Brazil build 50 helicopters and a nuclear-propelled submarine.

 

France says the sale of a batch of its Rafale fighter jet could return an extra five million euros. To sweeten its bid and fend off the challenge of competitors, France has offered to share highly sensitive military information with Brazil. The French aviation firm Dassault says it would let Brazil access decades of technological secrets behind the Rafale. Until last month, US bidder Boeing had refused to add a technology package to its proposal.

 

However, analysts caution that Brazil may not be so interested in developing ties with Paris in particular, but rather more generally with Europe and beyond. “[German Chancellor Angela] Merkel was tremendously well-received in Brazil at the beginning of this year”, Christian Girault, a Latin American geopolitics specialist at France’s National Centre for Scientific Research, told FRANCE 24. “The United States is traditionally Brazil’s strongest ally. But now [Brazil] is looking to diversify its partners… because the economic crisis has dented the prestige of the United States.”

 

In any case, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva did express his openness to Paris being a strategic partner in the French paper Le Monde this weekend. He said that out of France, the United States and Sweden – the three countries with manufacturers competing to sell fighter jets to Brazil – the one “that will be best placed to meet our conditions will have the best chance – and you know which country I'm talking about”. Lula reportedly smiled as he said it.

 

“Brazil wants the latest technology, and wants more than anything to be able to build [the fighters] themselves,” says FRANCE 24’s Brazil correspondent Marc Burleigh. “Brazil sees itself as a rival to the US politically, economically, and now militarily.”


France is also scrambling to sell its jewel fighter jet for financial reasons. The country has invested nearly 40 billion euros in the plane’s development, but as yet has not exported a single unit. Hundreds of Rafales are already in service in the French military.

 

Dassault executives are not the only ones hoping to reap the benefits of Sarkozy's trip. The French president is also accompanied by representatives of a number of other leading French companies, including GDF Suez and Alstom. Both of these firms are key players in the energy industry, a segment on which Brazil is hoping to build its clout as a 21st century global heavyweight. Alstom, which also manufactures high-speed trains, is in the race for the contract to help build a high-speed rail link between Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.

 

Talk of economic and military cooperation is set against a backdrop of celebrations for the anniversary of Brazil's independence. As this year's guest of honour, Sarkozy will attend the independence day parade in Brasilia on Monday. The French president is, in fact, returning the honour; Lula was present at France’s Bastille Day festivities back in July.

Date created : 2009-09-07

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