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10/12/2016

French international influence in decline

Global Europe

French international influence in decline

Laurent Fabius, the French Foreign Minister, on a visit to the Netherlands.

[Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken/Flickr]

French influence in the world declined in 2014, according to the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR). Once ranked top in Europe for international affairs, France now occupies third place. EurActiv France reports

France’s military intervention in the Central African Republic and the initiation of the “Normandy format” negotiations between Russia, Ukraine and the West are tallied in the positive column of French influence. But the international relations think tank ECFR judged these events inadequate to halt the retreat of French influence in the world.

After a detailed analysis of 65 European foreign policies, the think tank concluded that Germany was the country to have exerted the most international influence in 2014. Berlin had held more negotiations than any other EU member on 17 of the policies examined.

Unlike France, which is classed as a “slacker” on the two subjects, Germany collected no negative points for its handling of the TTIP negotiations or the defence of human rights in China.

Relegation from 1st to 3rd

France has been criticised for keeping a low profile on human rights abuses in China. Paris even banned two human rights demonstrations during a state visit by the Chinese President Xi Jinping. The bans were later overturned.

The French ranking as the EU’s 3rd most influential country is down to the leading role it played in 11 of the areas studied. These include responses to the crises in Libya and the Central African Republic, where France emerged less as a leader than a lone ranger.

“France’s trailblazer style continued in areas of strategic interest, such as the Central African Republic and tackling ISIS’ advance, but it did not show the leadership across the board, including on aid, as the UK and Sweden did.”

But France has taken centre stage on a number of major subjects: Russian sanctions, aid to central Europe, the political and military response to Islamic State, economic relations with India, action against Ebola and the fight against climate change.

10 meaningless years, but greater unity

Beyond the assessments of individual countries, the ECFR revealed that European foreign policy had “pulled together” in 2014, and the bloc had shown a relatively united front against Russia. This may be a step forward for the Union, but the think-tank’s assessment of EU foreign policy in the past policy is scathing:

“The illusion of partnership and cooperation with Russia came to an end […] the meaningless compromise phrases on which EU policy had been based over the last decade were just that: meaningless.”

Background

France has maintained the image of a political heavyweight on the international stage, despite being tied to a national debt of over €2000 billion. This represents the country's second most important budget sector, after education.

According to the think-tank ECFR, successful French interventions in the conflicts in Mali and the Central African Republic do not outweigh its weak performance in other areas of foreign policy. 

Further Reading

European Council on Foreign Relations

Press articles