UNITED NATIONS. FRANCE'S FIRST FEMALE FOREIGN MINISTER. SUBSTANTIAL EXPERIENCE AND WINNING CHARM.

 

15 DECEMBER 2010

FRANCE'S FIRST FEMALE FOREIGN MINISTER. SUBSTANTIAL EXPERIENCE AND WINNING CHARM.

After the theatrical Bernard Kouchner comes the substantively efficient Michele Alliot-Marie. With the exquisite lady from Biarritz, the Quai d'Orsay may never be the same. The clique that exchanged jobs with one another in Paris and sought jobs for one another elsewhere now has a solid manager and an experienced politician to deal with. Indeed, she had twice turned down suggestions by former President Jacques Chirac to take over the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Perhaps now is a good time, when President Sarkozy needs a Foreign Minister who could really help him in crucial countries like Afghanistan, Algeria, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon, even Iran.

While Bernard Kouchner was very attractive -- and attracted -- to the media, the Velvet Iron Lady is very popular with senior officials. Worldwide, as she traveled to varied countries representing France, she projected a beautiful yet practical image of her country. Whether as Minister of Defense, Interior, or any other post, she held her own while displaying a charming respect for her foreign counterparts. During one visit by Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Defense Minister, Prince Sultan was so impressed that he announced: "I have never had a similar meeting." Incidentally, the present Kin Abdullah of Saudi Arabia knows her since the Seventies when he used to go for aqua-therapy at her home town of Biarritz.

Michele Alliot-Marie, who belongs to the traditional Gaullist wing of the recently-established Union Populaire, has a Doctorate in Law and was an university professor before joining politics. Her mentor, and later husband, Michel Alliot, was the Director of the Cabinet of Education Minister Edgar Faure. Although they separated, she continued to carry his name despite her many male admirers and suitors, especially a well-known member of the French Parliament, who in fact just joined her in the newly-formed government as Minister of Parliamentary Affairs.

Complaints by outgoing Minister Kouchner about interference by the President's Elysee staff in major foreign policy issues may become subdued due to the strong status within the party of his successor. Her smooth relations where it counts may help her country recover from a series of disappointments, like the postponement of a Mediterranean summit, inability to play a role in the Middle East, and -- most important -- failure to win a multi-billion dollar nuclear deal with the United Arab Emirates.