Thursday, 8 November 2007

Sarko fever: catch it!

Sacre Bleu! I can’t get over these headlines today from the US about Sarkozy’s visit. “We love America, Sarkozy tells Congress” screams ABC. “Bush, Sarkozy stand on common ground” says the LA Times. “Sarkozy -- a Frenchman conservatives can love,” declares the Baltimore Sun. “French President Says America Can Count on France,” contorts Voice of America.

Head to the other side of the Atlantic and the coverage is very different. The BBC focuses on the disaster Sarkozy heads back to today with the headline “France divided as Sarkozy woos US”. Reuters highlights the distaste Sarkozy’s reception in the US will leave with most French people saying “Sarkozy returns from US to skepticism” And the Belfast Telegraph notes that “Sarkozy's warm words mask deep divisions with US.”

Were they watching the same speech?

Certainly, anyone watching Sarkozy’s address to the US Congress would have assumed Sarko and Uncle Sam were in deep deep l’amour. There were several standing ovations from congress, and both Republicans and Democrats were practically falling over themselves to gush about how wonderful Sarko is and how Frenco-American relations were now officially healed. But as the international media have pointed out, this conclusion seems to be a one-way street. America has decided they are no longer mad at France, so now they are friends once again. Hooray, French fries for everyone! Oh wait, did anyone ask the French about all this?

Despite Sarkozy’s platitudes about his love of the American dream, his admiration for American values, and his thankfulness for the United States saving France in two world wars, the speech masked serious policy divisions. Virtually unmentioned in the US media is the fact that Sarko’s position on Iraq is identical to that of his predecessor Jacques Chirac, whose decision not to go along with the war enraged the United States and led to the infamous “freedom fries” name changes and the boycotts of French goods. Sarko maintains that the Iraq war was wrong and has ruled out France’s future participation in the reconstruction. Nor did the US media pick up on Sarko’s harsh words for the US’s failure on the front of global warming, which he said right there on the floor of congress!

Most notably, the US was mum on the issue which is most likely to lead to renewed hostility between France and the US, the continuting devaluation of the dollar. Perhaps the congress missed the startlingly frank words Sarkozy uttered in front of them when he launched into a full-blown attack on the Bush Administration’s monetary policies. "The dollar cannot remain solely the problem of others,” he said. “If we are not careful, monetary disarray could morph into economic war. We would all be its victims." Make no mistake about it, that was a threat.

Monetary policy is obviously a difficult concept to grasp, but I have to keep reminding my friend in the US that it is not fantastic news for Europe that the dollar is devaluing wildly out of control (the pound hit $2.10 yesterday). It might be good for me personally when I buy things in the states, but it makes exporting goods from Europe extremely difficult. Reports claimed a few weeks ago that Sarko desperately wanted to G7 meeting to come out with a statement on the problem but Bush blocked any attempts to do so.

European companies are already starting to suffer from the problem, manufacturing orders dropped 2.5 percent in September in Germany for example. The European Central bank is meeting today and may do something to stop the increasing spread between the dollar and the Euro, but they won’t be happy about having to do it, because as Sarko noted this is the US’s problem, and because the Fed is refusing to do anything about it it’s getting handed off to Europe. Of course the fed is in a difficult position. It can't keep rates high enough to fight inflation because of the sub-prime crisis. It’s a bad situation, and the US is just looking the other way because it’s so distracted by other economic problems.

Beyond the stern warnings that the US media missed, they also seemed to miss another major point. Sarko’s Atlantic leanings are deeply mistrusted in France, where he is routinely derided as “Sarko l”American” in French papers. In fact it would be hard to say which aspect of his personality is more unpopular in France, his hostility toward the unions or his fondness of America (keep in mind Sarko was barely elected in France and his election sparked huge protests). So in the end, the US Media is not only completely exaggerating Sarkozy’s pro-American leanings, but they are also presupposing that he speaks for the entire country, which he most certainly doesn’t.

"You cannot be content with looking into each other's eyes and declaring you love one another. You must transform that into a vision and action for the world," former Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, a Sarkozy rival, told RTL radio today. This has widely been the reaction to Sarkozy’s visit in France: derision, mockery and even anger.

So why the obsession back in the states with Sarko’s kind words, even if in the back of their minds Americans know Sarko’s words do not match the feelings of his citizens? Perhaps the Pro-government French newspaper Le Figaro said it best when it noted, "In a country which cannot get over being so ill-loved in the world, it was refreshing [for them] to hear a foreigner - one from the old continent - intone so sincere a hymn to the American dream, a dream so often denigrated but which appeared to acquire a new vigour coming from his lips.”

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