France: From Gaza to Kiev

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Two subjects were on top of the list in the French media this week: The hot war in Gaza and the cold war between Kiev and Moscow over natural gas supplies.

Let's start with Gaza. Up until Nicolas Sarkozy's successful bid for the presidency in 2007, the French position on the Palestinian question seemed, at least from this shore of the Atlantic, mostly pro-Palestine. In fact, former president Jacques Chirac was widely perceived as pro-Arab. I need not mention the fact that among Israeli political elites, president Chirac's decision not to run for reelection in 2007 was greeted with sighs of relief. They knew that Sarkozy, the emerging leader of the UMP, was a lot more pro-western and that he had a very good shot at winning the presidency.

Even if I have yet to find a single piece of significant legislation passed by this French government regarding internal affairs, I must admit that Mr. Sarkozy's record on the foreign policy front is impressive. He harnessed France solidly into the Western bloc and it shows in the very moderate comments put forward by the Elysée regarding the situation in Gaza.

But this did not discourage left-wing parties and associations to organize rallies against what they call the "Israeli massacre". On Saturday, the biggest of these rallies so far too place, as organizers claimed the presence of up to 100,000 protesters. A lot of these rallies are taking place in other European countries, as it seems that pro-Palestinian groups are speaking much louder than pro-Israeli ones. But all in all, the only interesting story here is the change of tone that the Sarkozy foreign policy has imposed upon the debate. France can definitely be written off the pro-Arab list of countries.

Aside from the crisis in Gaza, the showdown between Moscow and Kiev regarding gas supplies was the other big story this week. As reported by Le Figaro, Ukraine and Russia did sign on Saturday an agreement regarding gas prices and accumulated debts by Kiev.

I would like to remind our readers that this is not the first time that Moscow has tried to bully Western Europe with its natural gas pipelines. The crisis did get jump-started by Kiev's decision to shut down deliveries to Western Europe, but this is mainly noise. We need to keep our eyes on the ball; the main narrative for this crisis is Moscow's will to bully neighbor countries. From a French perspective, we cannot say that president Sarkozy spoke in full force on this issue. As outspoken as he has been regarding the situation in Gaza, the crisis in Georgia in August 2008 or other topics, he has been remarkably mute regarding Moscow's actions and intentions.

Does the Elysée have a plan to diversify its energy sources in order to rely less upon Russian gas deliveries? Not sure; but if they do have one, we have not heard much of it yet.

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