Interview: former French diplomat Hubert Védrine on China and a West 'in disarray'
Former Foreign Minister Hubert Védrine, author of 'History Strikes Back,' offers a realist view on a central challenge for Europe and the United States: the rise of China.
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Q. Middle East problems seem always with us. Does Europe still have a say there?Skip to next paragraph
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A: The question of the Near East remains of paramount importance. In this respect, I completely disagree with the American and Israeli right. The Israeli/Palestinian question has huge repercussions on the Muslim world and constitutes a permanent argument for terrorists all over the world. That is why our strategic, vital interest requires us to solve the issue.
Secondly, I think that no one has a real influence on the question. The Europeans certainly don’t have a say, out of cowardice and lack of coordination. The Israelis don’t care. The solution lies within Israel. The Palestinian are a state they have been put in by Israel, a state of chaos. The debate lies, in Israel, between those who want a two-state solution, now a majority of 60 percent, and those who refuse it. The only country in the world that matters is the US. The US president will need to push for a solution, and cooperate with an Israeli leader who has the courage to implement it and is then rewarded by the public for that. The Europeans can play a complementary role. They are not in a position to play a major role.
Q. Is France in a paradigm shift away from traditional Arab solidarity?
A: Sarkozy represents the old, anti-Gaullist French right. This inheritance is combined with another element, which is to do the opposite of everything [former President Jacques] Chirac did. And, since Chirac himself had contradictory positions on many things, it is hard to get something coherent from such a stance. Sarkozy wanted to embody “la rupture” [change] and show that France is America’s friend. The problem is that he displayed his friendship not to the US but to George Bush, which is the cause of his fraught relationship with the Obama administration. The latter thinks that there are no urgent problems to be solved in Europe, and that France is not a priority. That’s the starting point of our relationship with the US. Sarkozy has managed to correct a few things mainly thanks to his intuition. He managed to make a few intelligent deals. As a whole, Sarkozy’s policy is not all bad, but quite disjointed and hard to interpret.
Q. France pushed for a “Mediterranean Union” to solidify French and north African interests. But not much has happened.
A: The idea was ill-conceived from the start. First, with the EU as it is now, it is impossible to set up a big project involving only some European states and leaving Germany and the Commission outside. So there was an error of conception from the outset. Secondly, you can’t build a union between countries that are deeply divided. Comparing the UPM with the EU is folly. The UPM was a nice idea with no possible results in effect. It couldn’t work. It’s development is thwarted by the Gaza attack. What is working, however, is cooperation between both sides of the Mediterranean: NGOs, companies, investors, forged ties. But from an institutional point of view, it can’t work.
Q. Turkey is a more important regional player. Sarkozy opposes Turkey’s accession to the EU, as has Merkel. Is Turkey lost to Europe?