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France - Foreign Relations

The political class and many voters have long worried about France's relative decline in power and influence – the ominous "déclassement" – in an increasingly globalised world. This tendency is seen by many analysts as part of the explanation for strong support for the far-right party of Marine Le Pen, whose rhetoric is tinged with nostalgia for the past. Since World War II, French governments have always had a strong industrial policy which has seen the promotion and protection of national champions to rival "les anglo-saxons" in Britain and America.

President Emmanuel Macron made clear that vigorous French engagement on the world stage would be a priority of his administration, declaring in no uncertain terms that “France is back.” And he had largely succeeded in reversing France’s waning influence after just a year in office, according to Christian Lequesne, a specialist in French foreign policy at Sciences Po university in Paris. “We went from being a country in decline to a country that’s moving forward, full of energy.”

Pushing for a resurgence in the use of the French language worldwide emerged as one facet of Macron’s bid to expand Gallic influence. On his November 2017 trip to Burkina Faso, Macron appealed to young Africans not to reject French in favour of English, predicting that the language of Molière would be making a comeback. "To refuse the French language in order to make English fashionable on the African continent is to be blind to the future," Macron said. "If we go about it right, France will be the first language in Africa – and maybe even the world – in the coming decades.” This linguistic revival was in the pipeline. In March 2018 he unveiled a strategy for promoting the French language globally, particularly in Africa.

The International Francophone Organisation (Organisation internationale de la Francophonie) estimates that the number of French speakers in the world will surpass 700 million by 2050 as a result of population growth, and 80 percent of them will be in Africa. The proportion of French speakers would correspondingly rise from 3 percent to 8 percent of the global population.

In his first-ever annual address to France's 170 ambassadors in August 2017, Macron reiterated plans to keep the African continent at the core of his foreign policy, stating his conviction that “the future of the world will largely be played out in Africa". He has also established a new Presidential Council for Africa, whose 11 inaugural members will advise him on African issues and help him prepare for visits to the continent.

Since World War II, France has played a leading international role, transforming itself from an major colonial power to the earliest and strongest advocate of European integration, as well as a strong supporter of broader international cooperation. France's most important bilateral tie since the 1960s has been with Germany. France views Franco-German cooperation, as well as the development of an independent European defense capability, as the keys to enhanced European security. In the mid-1990s, relations between Paris and Berlin became somewhat strained when German reunification altered the two countries' balance and Germany's leaders were less prepared than their predecessors to subordinate Germany's interests to French political leadership. Germany also sought to reduce its contributions to the European Union (EU) budget, a large share of which goes to subsidizing French agriculture. The two countries, leaving aside such frictions, took a common stand in opposing U.S.-led military action against Iraq in 2003.

Franco-German relationship, described as the "tree of life" of European construction by Jacques Delors, remains central to the European project. Both countries leave often of different approaches, both on institutional issues (Jacobin State French-style centralized vs. German federal model), on economic issues (German ordo-liberalism vs. emphasis on the state and public policies in France), on diplomacy and defense (voluntarism and French interventionism vs. German "civil power"). When they manage to overcome their differences, their compromises form the basis of consensual positions: cf. creation and the management of the single currency around the balance of responsibility (management rigorous public finances) / solidarity (aid to countries in need).

Conversely, when Paris and Berlin do not get along or come into conflict (see the Berlin European Council in 1999, on the question of the European budget, and that of Nice in 2000, on the reform of the Treaties and the re weighting of votes in the Council), any Europe is suffering the consequences. Hence the decision in 2001 to accelerate and intensify the Franco-German consultations (“Blaesheim process”) after a period of strong tensions.

In other regions of the world, France plays a significant role through commercial activities, extensive development assistance programs, and defense agreements. French influence is especially strong in francophone Africa and to a lesser extent in the Arab world. In the Middle East, France has been active in urging the establishment of a Palestinian state through a multilateral peace process and has provided significant assistance to the Palestinian Authority. France also has significant commercial and political relations in East Asia and Southeast Asia, as well as growing participation in regional organizations there. In Southeast Asia, France was an architect of the 1991 Paris Accords, which ended the conflict in Cambodia. In China, France is currently stepping up commercial competition with U.S. business. In Latin America, France has actively backed efforts to restore democracy to Haiti.

Spreading the French language is a priority for French diplomacy. French, with 220 million speakers, shares with English the distinction of being the only two languages spoken and taught on all five continents. French is ranked as the sixth most widely spoken language in the world, after Mandarin Chinese (over a billion speakers), English, Hindi, Spanish and Arabic, and ahead of Portuguese (between 178 and 240 million speakers). French is taught in education systems the world over, making it the second most widely studied foreign language after English with close on 120 million students and 500,000 French teachers outside France.

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Page last modified: 13-04-2022 18:24:26 ZULU