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French lament a shrinking role on the world stage

A new poll shows that 81 percent of the French think France’s importance on the international stage is declining. After a widely criticised reaction to uprisings in the Arab world, the survey is the latest bit of bad news for French diplomacy.


In the wake of a reaction to anti-regime uprisings across the Arab world that was criticised as both sluggish and clumsy, there are further signs that French diplomacy is losing a bit of its sheen. A new poll has found that a decisive majority of the French think their country’s role in the world is diminishing.

The survey carried out by polling agency TNS Sofres for French TV channel Canal+ found that 81 percent of French people think France is becoming less important on the international stage. Only 7 percent believe the country is becoming more important, while another 7 percent say that there has been no change.

The trend revealed by the poll is consistent across political party lines; the opinion that France’s diplomatic weight is waning is shared by 90 percent of far-right respondents, 65 percent of those on the right, and 86 percent of those who consider themselves left-wing.

Sarkozy’s unpopularity rubs off

French foreign policy has had a rough ride lately. France’s perceived closeness with toppled Arab regimes – notably those of Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak – coupled with controversial statements and uncomfortable revelations coming from recently resigned Foreign Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie, seem to have taken their toll.

According to former French diplomat Jean-Christophe Rufin, the poll results are also a reflection of a broader dissatisfaction with Sarkozy. “President Sarkozy essentially incarnated French foreign policy, and his popularity has been on the decline”, Rufin told, “so one affects the other”. Indeed, when Sarkozy was first elected, a survey showed that roughly half of the French population thought France’s role in the world was becoming increasingly important.

On Sunday night, Nicolas Sarkozy announced a new, more plainly pro-democracy approach to the Arab world to be led by a new foreign minister, seasoned centre-right politician Alain Juppé. Rufin thinks the appointment of Juppé will result in a certain change in how foreign policy is conducted in France. “I think there will be more of a sharing of roles with Juppé”, Rufin said. “Sarkozy will lead on some fronts, but Juppé will offer his own voice, and will be more able to relay the opinions of diplomats so they are heard and taken into account by the presidency.”

Juppé himself seems eager to reassure the French not only that the country’s diplomatic reputation is safe with him, but also that the pessimism reflected in the new poll is not entirely justified. In a statement Tuesday, the new foreign minister said that he would “continue to make France’s voice heard, because it is already strong”.

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