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Jaw, Jaw Not War, War

Robin Copland

There are interesting changes afoot in the relationship between France and the USA now that President Sarkozy - more of a Bush man than an Obama fan - has been replaced by President Hollande.  He and Obama have much in common, including their centre-left persuasion and their shared background as university teachers.  That said, one is American and the other is French so culturally there is much that separates them.

Hollande was elected on a left-wing agenda that included an earlier than planned withdrawal from Afghanistan and some new thinking on "growing" France out of the Euro-crisis.  This has put him in direct conflict with his right-wing allies, David Cameron in the UK and Angela Merkel in Germany.  It was informative that he made an immediate bee-line for Merkel in an attempt to shore up the Franco-German Euro axis - the Germans have it clear that they are unhappy with some of the policies that Hollande espoused during his campaign and it was right that he tried to make his peace.  There was no hiding the awkward pauses and stilted body language between the two leaders.  It is never easy to have your every word translated - that doesn't help things - but nonetheless what you saw were two leaders dancing around each other, desperately trying to "spin" each other's words for the benefit of their own constituents.

What is clear is that all of the rhetoric in the world will stand for nought if they attempt to persuade each other of the "rightness" of their individual policies.  Hollande may eventually have to give way; the French signed a binding agreement when they agreed to the austerity measures and a change in leadership counts for nought in a treaty.  If the French persist though, the Germans may use a negotiating ploy called putting a price on demands.  It is designed as a blocking tactic and if it becomes clear that the French are adamant, the Germans may put a very high price indeed on their demands.  I imagine that a new trade treaty may be negotiated, for example, tying France into purchasing German products over a long period of time.  Any loans between the two countries - France's economy is struggling - will come with higher than average interest rates attached.

They need to tread with care, mind you.  The Allies applied the technique after the First World War - it was called the Treaty of Versailles.  It was so penal that it led to a resumption of hostilities 19 years later.

Already too, the language of negotiation is being used when it comes to the Franco-American spat over the early French troop withdrawals from Afghanistan.  I read in the Guardian today (17 May 2012) that "it would be wrong to think that the social-democrat, consensus-style pragmatist Hollande marks a return of cheese eating surrender monkeys out to make trouble for Washington".  The article continues, "there could be a compromise on the wording, substance and staggered timings of a withdrawal, not as a capitulation to pressure from the US and other unhappy NATO partners but to deal with the tricky logistics of a fast exit".

Let's put that another way.  Hollande's original proposal caused a bit of a problem for the USA.  All it needed was a bit of tweaking - some word-changes here and re-timing there.  USA inhibitions have been addressed and the subtle re-packaging of the original proposal ensued.  Hollande's constituents are happy that he has brought the withdrawal forward and the USA can quietly accept that its issues have been met as well.

If Monsieur Hollande had only thought to pick up the phone to my French colleague, Hans Petersen, he could have saved himself some time, some trouble and maybe even a mid-air lightning strike!

Robin Copland

Robin Copland
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