Thursday

22nd Feb 2024

Sarkozy announces France's return to NATO

French president Nicolas Sarkozy on Wednesday (11 March) announced the return of his country to the military structures of NATO, 43 years after general Charles de Gaulle left the alliance to mark Paris' independence of the US.

"The time has come to stop excluding ourselves. The absentees are always wrong," Mr Sarkozy said in a speech at the Ecole Militare in Paris.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Get the EU news that really matters

Instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • Nicolas Sarkozy wants to undo the 43-years old rift between Paris and NATO (Photo: European Parliament - Audiovisual Unit)

The president said he would formally notify France's allies of its return to the military structures during NATO's 60th anniversary summit on 2-4 April in Strasbourg/Kehl.

Apart from the two NATO military commands earmarked for Paris ahead of the announcement, French media reported that US president Barack Obama has also agreed to make a stop at the World War II Normandy landings beaches before the summit to underscore the history of the US-French alliance.

The breach with the 43-year old Gaullist tradition was highly contested by the Socialist opposition, as well as some circles within Mr Sarkozy's own centre-right party, the UMP.

Former premier Dominique de Villepin, a longterm Sarkozy rival, has criticised the decision as being a blunder that would dilute the independence of French foreign policy.

Socialist leader Martine Aubry spoke about "an Atlanticism that becomes an ideology," while centrist presidential candidate Francois Bayrou has called it an "amputation."

To raise the stakes within the UMP, which holds a large majority in both chambers of the French legislature, prime minister Francois Fillon has scheduled a confidence vote for next Tuesday (17 March) in connection with the return to NATO structures.

But it is seen as highly unlikely that even the most Gaullist of UMP members would vote against their own government and risk early elections over this issue.

France already an active NATO member

French defence minister Herve Morin underscored last week that the return will "change nothing, in concrete terms."

"We are in the contradictory position of France taking part in all NATO missions since 1995, of commanding NATO missions, of joining 36 of 38 NATO committees and yet continuing to talk as if we were some kind of exception," he added.

Despite general de Gaulle's surprise withdrawal from the military structures, France never left the overarching North Atlantic Alliance, which also has a strong political component.

Within a year the practical effect of withdrawing from the integrated command was also watered down. A secret accord between US and French officials, the Lemnitzer-Aillert agreements, laid out in great detail how French forces would dovetail back into NATO's command structure should East-West hostilities break out.

In recent times, French forces, the largest in Europe, with 259,000 regulars and 419,000 reservists, have been major contributors to NATO missions. More than 3,000 French soldiers have been dispatched to Afghanistan and, since Mr Sarkozy became president, have expanded their role to include combat missions.

"We send our soldiers onto the terrain but we don't participate in the committee where their objectives are decided?" he said on Wednesday. "The time has come to end this situation. It is in the interest of France and the interest of Europe."

Better EU-NATO co-ordination

France's return to the military structures will contribute to soothing EU-NATO relations, leaving the Cyprus-Turkey dispute as the only real problem for co-operation between the two organisations.

For a long time, Washington viewed France's strong push behind EU's own security and defence policy (ESDP) as an attempt to counter NATO's weight in Europe. At times, France had also discreetly thrown its weight behind Greece's support for the Cypriot cause in the dispute with Turkey, also to undermine NATO coherence, alliance sources told EUobserver.

Now, Mr Sarkozy predicted that the country's return to NATO command will also accelerate development of a European defence force, long a goal of French diplomacy.

Previously, he said, Britain and to some degree Germany and other countries were reluctant to co-operate with France on such a force out of fear it would be interpreted as a split from NATO. As a result, the idea of a European defence force was hailed repeatedly at European Union summit meetings, but has produced little in the way of practical results so far.

French parliament backs return to NATO

The French National Assembly on Tuesday backed France's return to NATO's military structures, despite claims from the opposition that this would reduce the country's independence and align it to the US.

Opinion

Blackmailing the Global South on EU carbon border tax won't work

According to the European Commission, CBAM is supposed to prevent "carbon leakage". In other words, it seeks to prevent European industries relocating to jurisdictions with less stringent environmental policies, while also incentivising carbon pricing and industrial decarbonisation abroad.

EU's €723bn Covid recovery fund saw growth, but doubts remain

The €723bn Covid-19 recovery fund, launched three years ago, has been a success, according to a mid-term internal review — but less effective than initially predicted. And according to one NGO, the commission painted an "overly positive picture".

Von der Leyen rejects extremist parties, leaves door open to ECR

Launching her campaign for a second EU Commission president mandate, Ursula von der Leyen rejected collaboration with extremist parties but left the door open to working with rightwing ECR — which may go from fifth to third-largest party in June.

Russian oligarchs failed to get off EU blacklist

Hungary failed to get three Russian and three Chinese names deleted, as the EU approved its 13th package of sanctions ahead of an anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Opinion

Blackmailing the Global South on EU carbon border tax won't work

According to the European Commission, CBAM is supposed to prevent "carbon leakage". In other words, it seeks to prevent European industries relocating to jurisdictions with less stringent environmental policies, while also incentivising carbon pricing and industrial decarbonisation abroad.

Latest News

  1. Blackmailing the Global South on EU carbon border tax won't work
  2. EU auditors: rule-of-law budget protections only partial success
  3. EU's €723bn Covid recovery fund saw growth, but doubts remain
  4. Von der Leyen rejects extremist parties, leaves door open to ECR
  5. Russian oligarchs failed to get off EU blacklist
  6. Podcast: Navalny, Ian Bremmer and "more Europe"
  7. Only Palestinians paying thousands of dollars leave Gaza
  8. Ukraine refugees want to return home — but how?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic Food Systems Takeover at COP28
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersHow women and men are affected differently by climate policy
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersArtist Jessie Kleemann at Nordic pavilion during UN climate summit COP28
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP28: Gathering Nordic and global experts to put food and health on the agenda
  5. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  6. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsThis autumn Europalia arts festival is all about GEORGIA!
  2. UNOPSFostering health system resilience in fragile and conflict-affected countries
  3. European Citizen's InitiativeThe European Commission launches the ‘ImagineEU’ competition for secondary school students in the EU.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region is stepping up its efforts to reduce food waste
  5. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  6. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA

Join EUobserver

EU news that matters

Join us