A group of journalists was on its way out of the office of Jean-David Levitte, diplomatic adviser to the French President. It was in December, toward the end of the French presidency of the European Union. As they made their way to the car waiting to pick them up at the Elysee Palace, a small, hunched figure trotted by slowly, face toward the ground, as if to say, "When will this nightmare called jogging be over?"
The guesses about what was going through the mind of the president of the Republic at that moment were not long in coming: Was he troubled by the new comic book, "Carla et Carlito," that describes him as being controlled by a crafty, manipulative spouse? Was it the voodoo doll in his image, that led him to seek a court order to stop its sale? Or did it have to do with the possibility, intolerable to him, that it was all but finished, and he would soon have to pass the rotating EU presidency to the Czechs?
Today it is clear: Nicolas Sarkozy has no real intention of leaving the stage that has given him the aura of being "king of the world." He has no intention of passing on the reins to a country whose GDP is less than one percent of the European GDP, that refuses to join the Eurozone and, worst of all, whose Europhobic president views European integration like a dangerous virus and refuses to fly the EU flag at the Presidential Palace in Prague.
Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, scion to an Austro-Hungarian aristocratic family, responded to the French activism with a wry comment - half-joke, half-complaint - say that if Sarkozy refused to step down he would have to challenge him to a duel. For his part, of course, Sarkozy is oblivious: The hyperactive president took advantage of the vacuum created by the death throes of the Bush administration in order to lay a claim in every possible area. He headed the mission to save the global financial system and prevent the collapse of banks. He put out the blaze between Russia and Georgia and prevented Russian President Vladimir Putin from "hanging [Georgian President Mikheil] Saakashvili by the balls." He inaugurated the Euro-Mediterranean Union (in which both Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Syrian President Bashar Assad are participating) and led the decision to drastically cut carbon dioxide emissions in Europe.
He made a lot of noise and always opted to further his personal aims, even at the expense of "the spirit of European partnership' and of France's relationship with Germany, its traditional ally and co-leader of the "European engine." Still, when his European presidency came to an end, there were few who did not applaud the "European Renaissance" Sarkozy had created. At the end of his EU presidency, Sarkozy declared that Europe must be based on "strong nations," a code word for the "strong nation" that he heads. In our own immediate context that same "strong nation" has already been active in two directions: organizing an international peace conference in Paris and softening the conditions that would allow Hamas to participate in the peace process.
"The United States is the greatest power, but it is not the only one," Sarkozy recently explained. The main question is whether the ambitious president will find in Barack Obama a partner who suits his own goals. Some say the window of opportunity afforded to Sarkozy and to Europe at the end of Bush's presidency is closing, that soon it will become clear that Uncle Sam is getting back to running the world. According to another view, the Americans - who intend to talk with Iran and who will be swamped with the economic crisis, the withdrawal from Iraq, fighting terror in Afghanistan and with their relations with Russia and China - would be happy to develop a genuine partnership with Sarkozy in dealing with global problems, including the Middle East.
Sarkozy is talking about "peace in half a year." Together with the United States, and with a little help from Israel he would like to believe that "Yes, oui can!"
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