Nicolas Sarkozy, France's former Finance Minister and now Minister of the Interior, will be a strong candidate for France's President if he wins his UMP Party's primary against acting Prime Minister De Villepin. He has given an interview to the French newspaper Le Monde that I think deserves full translation here. (The original article is here
LeMonde: How do you respond to your adversary's criticisms that make you into a pro-American candidate?
Sarkozy: If, after twenty-five years of political life, the only serious reproach one could make against me is being too close to a country with which we have never been in war, to a country with which we have fought in the past to eradicate Nazism, with which we fight today to vanquish terrorism, I think I'm capable of assuming it. Here you have a country that has experienced full employment for going on fifteen years now, a country where economic growth each year is superior to ours by a point to a point and a half, a country where democracy manages to fuse power rotation with political stability; and, finally, a country that is an example to the world regarding integration: half of the [American] Nobel prizewinners are of foreign origin.
I am not a blind fan of the US; but any impartial observer must consider that this is not am embarrassing record, and that we have no reason to be angry at the American people.
LeM: Must a candidate be anti-American to win over the French voter?
S: That is a preconceived notion propagated by a small French elite who are disconnected from reality. I am not as persuaded as you seem to be that the French detest America. The French, and especially the young, like American movies, music, the American way of life. They are full of admiration for it. TF1 [a French TV channel] just replaced the traditional Sunday night movie by an American series. And then you try to explain to me that being a friend to America is a problem in France? Now that I've said that, I will probably incur the bitterness of those who believe Russian or Chinese society is more amenable.
LeM: You can't deny that Irak has profoundly affected the French-American discourse.
S: The crisis of 2003 was, in my opinion, the most important that France has seen with the US since 1966 and the departure of the Americans from their French military bases at the request of General DeGaulle. The crisis caused by the war in Irak was serious, because it was emotional. The Americans felt they were abandoned by a nation with which they had felt close historical ties and shared values.
LeM: Exactly, should they have provoked this crisis?
S: I will not judge their methodology. But I will say that on principle I approve Jacques Chirac's warning to the international community and to the Americans concerning the risks if a war in Irak. Today, we see one of the consequences: liberated from its historical rival, Iran is now developing into a regional power that I couldn't exactly call reassuring!
LeM: When one is an ally, should one veto an American decision?
S: The threat of veto was useless, first because there would never have been a majority on the Security Council in favor of war, and secondly because it led to a feeling of humiliation in the US. Be that as it may, it is not because we are fundamentally friends that we have promised to agree with everything. Ally does not mean conjoined. This is precisely the reason for our misunderstanding. In the end, we have very similar ambitions. Both France and America have placed the universality of their values at the heart of international strategy, both considering that these values are so fundamentally just or so fundamentally reasonable that the world should be irrigated with them. I realize that the Americans' tendency to proselytize can be aggravating; but we are too when we trumpet "le triomphe de la raison."
LeM: How to weigh on America? Through dialogue or through confrontation?
S: I would rather plead for complete autonomy and verbal freedom. France should be the vassal of no one; however, the more we manifest fundamental disagreement, the more we should be careful of the form the manifestation takes. I believe democracies should be allied. What happened on September 11, 2001 in New York could have happened in Paris.
LeM: Has that crisis had an influence, for example with security?
S: During the worst moments of the crisis, our respective information agencies collaborated in an exemplary fashion. This was therefore proof that we were on top of things. But this crisis was so blown up in the media that it left deep scars, of that I'm well aware. It's all the more deplorable since France is the second largest investor in the US, with 150 billion dollars (120 [b]illion euros), there are 3,000 French companies present on US soil, that employ directly or indirectly some 600,000 American workers, and each day 1 billion dollars are exchanged between France and the US.
LeM: Is the Europe that you defend enfeoffed to the US?
S: No way! How can you ask me such a thing? Who wanted to see Turkey in the EU? President Bush. And you ask me if I am aligned with the Americans! It is you who is aligned with the Americans, you Le Monde, when you treat me as a populist because I was against the entry of Turkey into the Union. There you have a major point where I am in the exact opposite position to American strategy -- because I am attached to the political Europe. Does that mean I should refuse to visit the US, just because George Bush confuses NATO with Europe? A country does not boil down to the personality of this or that of its leaders, and it is not abnormal for a person with a political mission to want to know, understand and dialog with our natural allies.
LeM: Are you inspired by the American presidency?
S: America is a functioning democracy. Term limits give it a certain fluidity, once again, as well as a way of rotating the political class that we should integrate into French politics. The American Congress, to which the president must answer every year, has a veritable power of control and inquiry. There are only fifteen cabinet members [the equivalent of the French ministers, of which there are something like twenty-five] for a country with 300 million inhabitants, and the ministries don't change titles at each change of political party.
LeM: What would you like to import from America to France?
S: I like the energy and the fluidity of America. The sentiment that everything is possible. This impression -- perhaps artificial -- that great stories are possible, that you can start at the bottom of the ladder and climb very high, or perhaps the opposite. The Enron affair is fascinating and it has a moral. The US not only cultivates successes like Bill Gates, it also punishes mistakes.
LeM: And what don't you like?
S: The [government-imposed] minimum standard of living doesn't permit millions of people to live decently. [Translator's note: Oh-oh, here we start to part company; but that's normal; he's French -- Robespierre and all.] I dislike this harshness. Nor do I identify with their systematization of their roots. Communities tend to assemble on the basis of a flag, a hymn and images, but not of a Republic. Americans possess all the symbols of a nation, but do they still have the same convictions? Finally, I dislike their lack of interest in world affairs, next to which each French person could pass for a foreign affairs specialist. [On that, he's 100% right.]