France and the world
Who makes French Foreign Policy?
As a starting point, Foreign Policy may be defined as a set of political goals which seek to outline how a particular country interacts with the other countries on a global level. Foreign policies are mainly designed to help protect a country's own interests, security, and economic prosperity- and can occur through many ways. For example, peaceful cooperation with other nations, or aggression, war, and exploitation can be used as adjectives to describe certain types of foreign policies. France, herself, is one of europe’s oldest countries and describes her Foreign Policy as “faithful to the ideals of the 1789 Revolution: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity for all of humanity” and claims “the right to influence international affairs” in the quest to preserve democracy around the world due to her global Foreign Policy. This essay is going to examine the roles and divisions of power by individual decision makers of Foreign Policy through concentrating solely on the function of Présidents (current, and past), Premier Ministres and the Quai d’Orsay. This is going to be achieved through a close reading of sections of France’s constitution and comparing it with actual ‘real life’ political events from throughout the Fifth Republic.
Present day France’s roots can be found in the 1958 creation of the 5th republic, which marked the return of the 67 year old war hero Charles de Gaulle, described as “the founding father of the fifth republic” by Peter Morris. The disintegration of the Fourth Republic against the problematic decolonisations of Indochina and Algeria provided the war Géneral Charles de Gaulle the opportunity to serve this role as “founder” of the Fifth Republic. De Gaulle himself even prefered to be called “Mon Géneral” as opposed to “Monsieur le Président” and he “would have preferred the constitution to refer to him as ‘Head of State’ rather than ‘Président of the Republic’ ”. This is important to take into consideration when answering the question of who actually makes france’s Foreign Policy. It is important because it helps one to realise the amount of power held by a French Président, which is why Présidents may have the opportunity to retain great control over French Foreign Policy.
Firstly, the French constitution is a good starting point when examining who makes French Foreign Policy as it certain ‘Articles’ set out to directly dictate who is in charge of different aspects of France’s Foreign Policy. However, the French constitution is not precisely clear. According to Article 5 of the French constitution, the Président is “the guarantor of national independence, of the integrity of the territory and of respect for community agreements and treaties”. This sees the Président as having the role of “guarantor” in some fields that I have previously outlined as belonging to the domain of Foreign Policy such as international relations (i.e. “respect for community agreements and treaties”) and defense (for example, “guarantor of national indepence”).
However, “although he or she negotiates international treaties (Article 52), parliament retains the right to authorise any declarations of war (Article 35) and to ratify treaties (Article 53)”. This means that while the Président can negotiate the ratification of treaties, there are constraints on this power in that treaties must be countersigned by the Premier Ministre. However, the French Président has the power to call a referendum on issues, equating to a bypass of Assembly. For example, during the first period of cohabitation, Premier Ministre Chirac wanted to take part in the ‘American Strategic Defense Initiative’. Nevertheless was forced to back down after Président François Mitterrand threatened to call for a referendum by stating that “France will never participate as long as I am here. If you insist, I will make a referendum on this issue and I will win”- showing his power and greater impact upon French Foreign Policy than that of his Premier Ministre. Perhaps the dominance of the Président is noticeable here because of the difference in political parties between Socialist Mitterrand and RPR Chirac as “the ambiguities of the constitution lie dormant so long as the Elysée, the Hotel Matigon and the Palais Bourbon are in the same political hands”. This can be illustrated by the fact that periods of cohabitation have proved to be most fruitful for disputes over Foreign Policy. During the second period Mitterrand insisted that Conservative Premier Ministre Edouard Balladur consult with him over appointments related to defense and Foreign Policy and yet, “in 1994 Balladur earned the hostility of the Président when he spoke of ‘our Foreign Policy’". In 1986 Chirac wanted to be seen as of equal importance as Mitterrand at Tokyo Summit of the then G-7. He was, however, humiliated when Président Mitterrand “made it clear he spoke for France, and there were even problems of finding a seat for his Prime Minister” once again conforming to the idea that Foreign Policy is a most definite ‘domaine reserve’ for the Président of France.
Nevertheless, the idea of the Président controlling France’s Foreign Policy is rejected in David S. Bell’s Présidential Power In The Fifth Republic. Bell states that “Paradoxically the constitution of the Fifth Republic, and especially where it concerns the Président, is not ambiguous... In a legal contest to head the executive between the Président’s Elysée and the Premier Ministre’s Matignon, the Premier Ministre would win”, with this concept furthered by the description of the Président as “something of a gracenote”- i.e. merely decorational, such as a figurehead which is just there for decoration not purpose. There is another school of thought which sets out to establish that Premier Ministres have their own motive by conceeding Foreign Policy decisions to the Présidents. Chirac, by leaving much of France’s Foreign Policy to Mitterrand was able to centre his priorities mainly on domestic issues. For example, “Under cohabitation from March 1986 to April 1988, Mitterrand’s monopoly of the foreign and defense dossiers was only indirectly (and ineffectively) challenged by his Premier Ministre. Chirac’s punches were pulled by his own desire not to weaken the institution of the presidency, by his own awareness that the forthcoming Présidential election would be won or lost on his domestic record”.
Continuing this vein, Peter A. Hall’s Developments in French Politics addresses the question of who makes French Foreign Policy by stating that “It has long been a truism among commentators on French politics that foreign and defense policy constitute a domaine reserve which effectively offers the Président unrivalled power over policy, patronage and implementation”. This is shown, but also conflicted within the constitution as “although the Président is supreme head of the armed forces and chairs all the major defence committees (Article 15) it is the Premier Ministre who is responsible for national defense (Article 21)”. This brings about an ambiguity between the power held by the Président and the power of the government in regards to Foreign Policy. This, however, is contradicted highly with Article 16 of the French constitution. This Article gives the Président the power to assume exceptional emergency powers in the case of a national crisis. The Article has only been used once, during the 1961 military rebellion in Algeria, and was designed to deal with emergencies such as a nuclear war. There are strict criteria which must be met, including consultations with the Prime Minster, Constitutional Council and Présidents of the Assemblies. Par contra, this measure gives the Président extraordinary powers to deal with significant threats to national security or the functioning of the government. And while it requires the Président to consult with various officials, it does not require their assent for the invocation of Article 16. It reaffirms that, during times of national crisis, the executive, in the office of the Président, is superior to the rest of the government.
The Quai d’Orsay is the government ministry concerned with foreign affairs, and “it is often said that the Quai d’Orsay is a ministry without any real influence, the office holder acting as a kind of senior civil servant to the president”. This is a rather simplistic statement because the Minister is head of the diplomatic service which holds an influence worldwide. Also, under George Pompidou, a reform paper was conceived by the Foreign Minister, Michel Debré, which improved the organisational structure of the Quai d’Orsay. Another Foreign Minister, Michel Jobert “allegedly took advantage of Pomidou’s rapidly declining health to play a spectacular (albeit brief) role as Henry Kissinger’s principle godfly” with the two infamously meeting in December 1973 to discuss oil prices, U.S. attitudes towards Iran, and the question of military action against the oil producers. However, not all Foreign Ministers have been allowed such a wide berth. For example, Claude Cheysson- Mitterrand’s first Foreign Minister received “too much autonomy from the Elysée (the relationship between the two men has been portrayed as that between the fireman at the pyromaniac) led to the inevitable replacement of the Minister. Also under Mitterrand, in 1991, the decision to subscribe French forces to ‘Operation Desert Storm’ was a cause of much disaproval amongst various French politicians, such as the Foreign Minister. Furthermore, Jean-Pierre Chevènement, then the Minister of Defense, decided to resign from government in protest of the French deployment to the Gulf region and was “praised for his courage by the elder statesman Michel Jobert”.
The President “dirige les relations internationales de la France. La constitution lui en donne les moyens”. Yet, it is also interesting to examine the motives or reasoning behind the President’s choice of foreign policies. Who in particular has an influence over the choices he makes? There is definitive evidence to prove the dominance of the President in Foreign Policy, however “his views are shaped by numerous institutional forces. These range from maverick intellectuals such as Raymond Aron or Regis Dubray to vociferous lobbyists for the arms industry. No President can forget that French arms exports per capitum are the highest of any country in the world- three tims higher that the United States of America”. Perhaps powerful civil servants can exert an influence upon the President, or close political allies may advise a President upon Foreign Policy. It is also very important to remember that Foreign Policy is a two-way activity. Foreign Policy refers to the fact that there is ‘foreign’ parties involved, who also will want to have their own say in the process of policy making. For example, “external relations also depend on many constraining factors from outside the country.
Writing in 1964, Mitterrand even commented that: “There are Ministers in France. It is even rumored that there is still a Premier Ministre. But there is no longer a government. Only the Président of the Republic orders and decides”. This is a very extreme statement, yet in regards to Foreign Policy making it can be seen that “diplomatie, defense, institutions; voila trois domaines que l’on dit souvent reserves au President”. On many levels, France’s constitution empowers the President with a grasping control over the Foreign Policy decision making. However it is also important to take into account whether the President and the party in power have the same political aims, or if there ‘cohabitation’ in place. It is useful to consider that foreign policy making derives from “practise rather than constitutional cannon” which places an emphasis on circumstance, accounting for the many differences in Foreign Policy making throughout the fifth republic.