Some 200 French ambassadors and diplomats from around the world have gathered for their annual address from the president Wednesday, at the “ambassadors’ conference” in Paris.
It comes just a week after French-supported opposition forces in Libya took control of Tripoli.
And its theme has been carefully chosen: “Diplomacy in a changing world, France as an agent of change”.
Pauline Simonet, political journalist at FRANCE 24, says the past year has indeed “marked a radical change in French foreign policy”. The country has shown a stronger inclination toward interventionism through its military operations in both Ivory Coast and Libya.
In past decades, that was not the case. Paris preferred to support Arab regimes in power, whether they were authoritarian or not. It was considered “the best way to keep Islamists out,” says Simonet.
Today, the French president is careful to stress that France supports Arabs “in any struggle”, but only if that struggle is for “for democracy and liberty”.
“With the Libyan revolt,” explains Simonet, “Sarkozy saw an opportunity to praise France’s efforts during the Tunisian and Egyptian revolts”.
France was the first country to recognise Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC) in March, and will host an international “Friends of Libya” conference to address the country’s democratic transition on Thursday.
Difficult times ahead
France is also eager to address the Middle East peace process and is also readying for the 66th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York on September 13. The Palestinian Territories is expected to ask for UN recognition and its acceptance as a member state, a demand which is nervously awaited by France and a number of other countries.
Paris has vowed to push for talks between Palestinians and Israelis, and to “avoid a diplomatic confrontation (at the UN), which would be counter-productive”, Bernard Valero, French Foreign Ministry spokesman said last Friday.
In June, France tried, unsuccessfully, to relaunch peace talks when Foreign Affairs Minister Alain Juppé attempted to act as a mediator between Jerusalem and Ramallah.
“This promises to be a very difficult question for France, but also for the United States,” says Pauline Simonet. “But while the US position – not recognising a Palestinian state – is clear, France’s more ambiguous.”
It might be hard for France to define it clearly as the EU is divided on the topic. Sarkozy’s pledge to support any Arab people fighting for democracy could make France's stance all the more delicate, says Simonet.