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March 26, 2008

Sarkozy proposes an ‘Entente Amical’ between Britain and France

France and Great Britain have historically been never quite friends for long and never quite enemies for long. Even during the Napoleonic Wars they had a grudging respect for each other. Voltaire, in the days of the Enlightenment, admired Britain, its constitution and its achievements and he and later intellectuals picked over and compared British experience and French experience in political, cultural and economic terms. The French Revolution started with hopes of being similar to the ‘Glorious Revolution of 1688’ and ended very differently. Today, Sarkozy, who is seeking reform in France along lines not dissimilar to those achieved by Margaret Thatcher a generation ago, is now making similar comparisons. Sarkozy was greeted by the Queen today in Windsor at the opening of the State Visit to Britain. What political changes in the relationship between Britain and France is Sarkozy proposing? How receptive will the British be to the changes?

Sarkozy’s State Visit to the United Kingdom is being treated as a very significant occasion. The President of the French Republic is being singularly honored by being given direct access to a joint meeting of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, a political platform that allows him to speak directly to every shade of represented political opinion in the country. Sarkozy has gone to Britain determined to make every opportunity count with respect to his political message count. France is changing. It is willing to praise Britain and learn from the British experience of economic reform and economic flexibility. Roughly 300,000 French citizens live and work in the UK where unemployment is lower and opportunities greater than in France. Sarkozy is willing to re-engage with the world, with the UK, with the United States and with NATO. France under his leadership is willing to send troops to Afghanistan. He talked about reforming the Common Agricultural Policy as well. Sarkozy wants Britain firmly attached to the rest of Europe and a closer alliance with France will help secure that. He wants a new ‘entente’ between Britain and France and he is willing to dedicate himself to bring this about. He will follow up these initiatives in his political meeting with the British Prime Minster, Gordon Brown to be held on Thursday. Sarkozy recognizes Britain’s special links with the United States but in a quote on the BBC web site he is reported as saying ‘Certain people in France call me Sarkozy the American. I’m proud of it. I’m a man of action. I do what I say and I try to be pragmatic’. The fact that he campaigned for French votes in London during the Presidential election was an early signal of change.

There is a price to pay for this for the UK for it is not admiration pure and simple that brings him to London. It is also pragmatism. Sarkozy has not spelled out what he means by Britain becoming more involved with France and with Europe. The Franco-German cooperation, though under some strain, will continue. Sarkozy wants a Europe with a military capacity within the NATO but distinct from it. He wants senior appoints within NATO to be French. The British want to strengthen the transatlantic aspects of the NATO relationship and fear that Sarkozy’s ideas may actually lead to a weakening of the Transatlantic Alliance. If he is to sell his idea to Washington, he needs to have UK support. If he wants to see an economically dynamic Europe and not simply a protectionist Europe, then Britain’s voice needs to be heard loudly. If he cannot sell his idea to Britain, he may just keep beating a path to doors of the White House. The offer of troops for Afghanistan is a sweetener, for Afghanistan is now a significant military problem, but also a measure of his good faith in the sense that France is back and willing to define anew its role in Europe and the world.

A 19th century cartoon in Punch carried the caption ‘fog in the channel, continent cut-off’. The British press has had bouts of anti-French sentiment over the years but especially during Chirac’s Presidency. Sarkozy is pointing out once again to the British public that France is on its doorstep and that France, modern and modernizing, wants a new relationship. He can point to an existing pattern of working with Britain. He more than anyone achieved the closure of the infamous Sangatte Immigrant Camp that was little other than a jumping-off point for illegal migration into the UK. It will be interesting to see if and how perfidious Albion succumbs to this current outbreak of French charm.

March 24, 2008

Pakistan moves forward.

The newly elected government in Pakistan has moved with speed to right one of the significant wrongs of recent months. The Prime Minister, Yusuf Raza Gillani has fulfilled a key desire of many middle-class citizens by demanding the release of the those judges still in detention as a result of decisions made by President Musharraf. The country’s Supreme Court was put under pressure because the judges had been about to rule that Musharraf’s re-election as President was illegal. Independently-minded Gillani has a reputation for integrity and loyalty to the aims of Benazir Bhutto. What is his reputation based upon? Will he achieve his desire to see parliament and the rule of law succeed in Pakistan?

No one would deny that politics in Pakistan have more than a hint of seediness. Gillani was convicted for corruption under Musharraf though he himself argued that the conviction was based upon concocted evidence and political intrigue to encourage him to desert the Pakistan People’s Party and throw his lot in with Musharraf. It is this stand which earned him his reputation for political integrity and loyalty. He is Prime Minister today as a result of remaining loyal to the PPP. He is trusted by the Party and by its leadership, particularly by Asif Ali Zardari, Bhutto’s surviving husband. Musharraf, whose hold on office must be less secure than ever, must be more than a little discomforted by having to work with Gillani. Gillani is an experienced Parliamentarian and politician and comes as did Bhutto from a politically active family tradition. He has not always been a member of the PPP and once supported Zia-ul-Haq the man who ordered the execution of Benazir Bhutto’s father. His demonstrations of integrity since joining the Party when Benazir Bhutto’s own political fortunes were at a low-ebb have been significant to his accession to the Premiership. By calling for the release of the remaining judges, Gillani has consolidated his standing as someone capable of doing the right thing. He stands in some contrast to Zardari who is known in some quarters in Pakistan as ‘Mr. Ten Percent’, a nick-name based on allegations of corruption.

There is some speculation that Gillani’s position is intended to be temporary. He is there because he is trusted by the Party Chairman (Zardari). According to the BBC there has been speculation that Zardari intends to seek a seat in Parliament in order to become Prime Minister. Like any Party in the developing world, or even in the developed world, the PPP is not always united and keeping it together and focused on the kinds of policies needed to rescue Pakistan from its institutional crisis will be hard going. Every element in government as well as in the Party will need to pull in one direction. This will require the return to proper constitutionality and the rule of law and the re-establishment of the authority of Parliament. The Government is a coalition government and that too will need to be handled with care. The institutional crisis, made worse by Musharraf, will have to be solved before a consolidated effort can be made to re-establish Government authority in the areas bordering Afghanistan. To do this he will need ot use the patronage in ht egift of the office, wisely and effectively. He will also need ot gently persuade. It is widely agreed that the undemonstrative Gillani is the man for the job.

March 3, 2008

National Accord in Kenya

Kenya’s reputation for political stability was dramatically shaken by a period of blood-letting and frustration, particularly, but not uniquely, between Luo and Kikuyu, after the Presidential election on the 27th December of 2007. The political crisis following the unexpected re-election of Kibaki was shocking and profound. To avert further disaster some sort of political reconciliation was needed. Under the highly experienced chairmanship of Kofi Annan, until recently the UN Secretary-General, several weeks of discussion have led to the signing of a power-sharing agreement. What is the content of the ‘National Accord’? How successful is the ‘Accord’ likely to be?

The two politicians in dispute were Mai Kibaki, leader of the National Unity Party and Orange Democratic Party leader Raila Odinga. Both men had cooperated in the electoral battle at the end of 2002 to remove the sitting and dominant-party government of President Daniel Arap Moi. The agreement made in the electioneering process failed to hold in the event of government when Kibaki did not appoint Odinga to an executive premiership. Odinga’s frustration increased when the presidential election results were announced and this frustration was popularly shared by other individuals and groups who felt marginalized by an election result that was widely suspected of being tainted. The issues are deep-seated, local and long-term. In the weeks that followed it became clear that under the existing outcome the country was ungovernable (many hundreds of people were killed in the violence and many communities were forced to become internal exiles) that for stability to be restored, some sort of national reconciliation was required. Personal history stood in its way and external mediation and pressure was needed.

Kofi Annan’s task was not easy. He was aided not only by his personal experience and status— he had developed the role of Secretary-General as one of high-level diplomacy— and by pressure from the international community. Even then, he forced the pace by suspending the talks near the end when it looked as if there would be no positive outcome. The international community, including the United Kingdom, made it clear that some sort of internal deal was essential to continued regime recognition and financial support.

The deal is based on the principle of power-sharing. Kibaki remains as president. A newly devised executive premiership will be taken it is presumed by Odinga but the constitutional principle will be that the post will go to the leader of the main party in the parliament. Two deputy-prime ministers will be appointed from parliament by the key members of the coalition government. The cabinet will be balanced out amongst the members of the coalition. Some of the elements of the agreement were there in embryo after the 2002 elections.

This is certainly a good outcome. The problem is with its stability. Odinga, a more radical figure than the ‘establishment’ Kibaki, has reasons to be suspicious given the history over the past five years. The accord still has to be approved of by the National Assembly though it has already been greeted with approval by many Kenyans. The National Assembly will meet on the 6 March. Internal political and social wounds will need to be healed by careful talking—the mood of the National Assembly will be significant in this respect— as well as by policy-development. Internal agreement will be re-enforced by external agreement. A Donor Conference, to be hosted by the UK, will put together a financial package that will assist with the development of policy programs to tackle land reform and regional and inter-ethnic inequalities. If stability is to be restored and international investment to continue, this deal needs to hold.