15 MARCH 2011


The Elysees is well known-it is the residence of the French President of the Republic. Café Marly is a fashionable, centrally-located French restaurant on top of the Louvre Museum where a number of Parisian 'literati' and 'glitterati' gather, especially over lunch or for drinks around sunset. Recently, a number of French diplomats, active, retired, and of various political persuasions, started meeting at la Marly, not just to enjoy the gourmet menu, but to discuss the status of French foreign policy. The diplomatic group, nicknaming themselves, "Marly," concluded that France's strategic interests were being threatened and eroded with the current foreign policy of the new President.

This collective opinion, therefore, resulted in an unprecedented decision to publish a comment in the daily Le Monde on 22 February. Marly's article, titled "The voice of France has disappeared in the world," identified impulsivity, amateurism, and media concerns in the short term as the main policy errors. They also admitted the "powerlessness" of Europe and frustration with being "ignored by Washington." Above all, Marly recognized inconsistency as the primary cause of ineffective and lapsed French policy, making political failures "unsurprising". They considered current foreign policy as "improvisation" and "successive pulses" that neglected obvious priorities based on domestic politics. Marly hence demanded consistent French foreign policy based on efficiency and discretion. They stressed the need to clarify objectives on key issues, including the borders of Europe's future, the Arab world revolt, goals in Afghanistan, and partnership with Russia. In the article's conclusion, Marly affirmed the "deep reflection" intended to refocus diplomatic values, solidarity, democracy, and respect of cultures, which are "often neglected in favor of a piecemeal without vision". While the article seemed to criticize President Sarkozy and his policies, the group stated they were prepared to apply their expertise in all loyalty to ameliorate French foreign policy.

A response soon followed, not directly by the President, but almost. One of his special advisers sought to make it look like an internal dispute among diplomats, rather than a clash between experienced old timers of the "Quai d'Orsay" and the Elysees. The diplomat who signed in defense of President Sarkozy was Henri Guiano, Special Adviser to the President and Head of the Interministerial Mission of the Union for the Mediterranean. Mr. Guiano is the successor of UN Under-Secretary General for Peacekeeping, Alain Le Roy, who worked at the first and only Mediterranean summit.

Mr. Guiano's response, titled "It is not for the diplomats to design the foreign policy of France," was written in an unequivocally condescending tone. He pinned the timeliness of the article on the "troubled times", which he saw as a "perfect time to take [a] risk". Professing himself a 'Gaullist", Mr. Guiano expressed disappointment in Marly and mocked them for confusing foreign policy and diplomacy. He notified the group that diplomacy is a technique, and foreign policy, "as the name suggests", is politics. In making this distinction, he reminded the diplomats their job is limited to "inform the decision and implement it, not take it". Further, in trying to demean the role of French diplomats, he called Marly to recognize that in the last two centuries, the "great French ministers have rarely been from the diplomatic corps". Mr. Guiano also replied to Marly's demand for "consistent" foreign policy, firmly stating it is not French's foreign policy that is disorderly; rather, it is the world. He concluded in calling Marly to go about their job "as best as possible with little heart, loyalty, sense of the state, or patriotism".

The French establishment has habitually fielded some of the best diplomats in the world. It has a great reservoir of diplomatic experience, stature, and culture. It is regrettable that diplomats of dignified posture were demeaned by the dismissive, rude response of Elysees' representative, Henri Guiano, who is not known for any diplomatic brilliance. Greater courtesy and sensitivity would have been expected, especially when replying to diplomats who had devoted their life in service to the Republic. Ambassadeurs du France, those who had served in various capacities and remain very highly regarded worldwide, despite their retirement, usually play a very effective role. There must be a serious problem at this point in time for the usually discreet and loyal diplomats to come out with such a public position. It is hoped that somehow the gap can be bridged through more flexibility and understanding. Incidentally, Guiano's Mediterranean project seemed to be going nowhere these days as its co-chairman, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, has left town and its other stalwart Zeiniddine bin Ali, has taken refuge in Jeddah. It remains for Mr. Guiano to shoulder the Mediterranean venture single-handedly, unless he's able to find another willing partner before Qaddafi leaves Tripoli.

Furthermore, it just so happens, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Michele Alliot-Marie, was caught in the La Marly versus Elysees crossfire while also being trapped in another controversy regarding her position on Tunis. It is regrettable that a very successful previous Minister of Interior and Defense, like Alliot-Marie, would appear so bungling in handling that assignment. In her two previous capacities, she was very popular with her counterparts around the world. Her success in the Foreign Ministry looked almost guaranteed. However, as it is already known, she lacked judgment in going to Tunis during the upheaval upon the invitation of someone close to outgoing President bin Ali and having her parents fix a real estate deal with her host. She also did not win the hearts and minds of Tunisians by suggesting that the "savoir faire" of France in police control of riots could be used by the Tunisian dictator to control popular demonstrations. Ms. Alliot-Marie looked like a perfect scapegoat and was quickly dumped by President Sarkozy, replacing her last week by former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Alain Juppe. Perhaps that outstanding graduate of ENA, the Establishment's revered training grounds, could help bridge the gap.

La Marly's "La voix de la France a disparu dans le monde" can be found at:
(French Version, click here)
(English Version, click here)

Henri Guiano's "Ce n'est pas aux diplomates de concevoir la politique étrangère de la France" can be found at:
(French Version, click here)
(English Version, click here)