French President Sarkozy arrived at Camp David yesterday to met with US President Bush on the topic of the financial crisis. He did, however, make a quick stop in Quebec City in which he changed two fundamental aspects of the Quebec-Canada-France love triangle.
First, let's remember why Sarkozy actually came to Quebec City. Celebrating the 400th anniversary of its founding, Quebec City is this year's host for the annual summit of the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (International Organization of Francophone States). Given the very nature of this institution committed to building bridges between French-speaking states, the French President has always been seen as its natural leader. However, ever since Mr. Sarkozy took office, the French government's interest in the institution and the promotion of the French language worldwide have waned.
Among the first policy review that it conducted, the new French government sent all Francophonie files from foreign affairs to international cooperation (a much less well funded department). Also, Mr. Sarkozy, in an apparent bipartisan gesture, took Bernard Kouchner, founder of Doctors without Borders, as his foreign affairs minister. This is the same Kouchner who said a few years ago that English would be the new language of work in the Francophonie.
Persisting up to this year, the low interest shown towards the Francophonie by this French government took a new step forward this last week. As foreign leaders gathered in Quebec City, Mr. Sarkozy, who at first insisted that he would be there, then changed his mind, then changed it again, finally settled for a quick stop before he would go see President Bush. The very fact that he only passed by shows how little he cares about the Francophonie. Also, his speech never mentioned the future of the French language; it only spoke on the ongoing financial crisis. To say that Mr. Sarkozy does not care about the Francophonie would be an understatement.
Second, in a press conference along side Canadian PM Stephen Harper, Mr. Sarkozy made a plea for Canadian unity, saying that "the world does not need more divisions", a clear reference to Quebec's sovereigntist movement. Of course, this was music to Mr. Harper's ears, but as much as it delighted the federalist side, this quotation spurred some outrage on the nationalist side.
Former Quebec PM Jacques Parizeau reacted by asking Mr. Sarkozy if unity was the goal, why did France abandon its colonial empire? Does Mr. Sarkozy believe that in the name of unity Algeria and Haiti should give up on their independence? He also pointed out that France recently recognized Kosovo's independence. Personally, I would have liked to ask the French President how he would feel if nationalist leaders from Quebec went to France and called on Corsicans to separate from France?
In this way, President Sarkozy changed yet another aspect of France's foreign relations. Ever since the 70s, France's position towards Quebec had always been one of support, regardless of the party in power or of the popularity of either political option. Now Mr. Sarkozy changed that by throwing all his support behind the federalists who are now in power in Ottawa and Quebec City.
Waning support for the Francophonie, important changes in the Quebec-France-Canada love triangle, all that in the few hours that he spent in Quebec City this weekend. It seems that to Mr. Sarkozy, restoring relations with the US ally is much, much more important than keeping good relations with its French-speaking cousins in Quebec, Central America, Africa and Europe.
My guess is, Mr. Sarkozy knows not one thing about what it means to be a national minority whose language is constantly threatened by the growing popularity of English.