Who is France’s new foreign minister?
As expected, Bernard Kouchner’s tenure as France’s foreign minister has come to an end. The left-wing former human rights activist had been increasingly marginalized in the increasingly realist Sarkozy administration and at times appeared to have publicly given up on any pretense of reconciling human rights concerns with French foreign-policy interests. He will be replaced ...
As expected, Bernard Kouchner’s tenure as France’s foreign minister has come to an end. The left-wing former human rights activist had been increasingly marginalized in the increasingly realist Sarkozy administration and at times appeared to have publicly given up on any pretense of reconciling human rights concerns with French foreign-policy interests.
He will be replaced by Michele Alliot-Marie, currently justice minister, who has in the past served as minister of defense and minister of the interior. But while Kouchner was already well known before his appointment as the co-founder of Doctors Without Borders, Alliot-Marie is relatively unknown outside of France, despite being a fixture of the country’s political class and something of a trailblazer for women in French politics:
The right-wing Alliot-Marie became the first woman to lead a major French party in 1999, when she won the presidency of the Gaulist Rally for the Republic (RPR) party. Starting in 1986, she held a few low-level ministrial positions, but became the first female minister of defence in 2002, and the first female interior minister in 2007.
She has been described as fearless by the US business magazine Forbes, which reported that Alliot-Marie insists on being called “le Ministre,” using the French masculine form, rather than the feminine “la Ministre”. Forbes named her 11th most powerful woman in its 2007 world ranking.
Ahead of the cabinet reshuffle that saw her land in the foreign affairs chair, Alliot-Marie was even signalled as an outside contender for the prime minister’s job.
Alliot-Marie served as defense minister during the Chirac-Bush era low point in U.S.-French relations and while she worked to improve U.S.-French defense ties, she also hasn’t been above strident criticism of U.S. foreign policy:
"It’s easy to make war, especially with the means the Americans have," the defense minister once said at a Ramadan dinner at the Grand Mosque in Paris. "But it’s always harder to make peace."
On the other hand, in managing France’s relations with Muslim countries, Aillot-Marie may be called on to defend her strong support of France veil ban as Justice minister, which she called a victory for democracy and French values:
"Values of freedom against all the oppressions which try to humiliate individuals; values of equality between men and women, against those who push for inequality and injustice."
Aillot-Marie is likely to face an unenviable task in the coming months. The long and dysfunctional relationship between Sarkozy and Kouchner has only reinforced the perception of a country becoming increasingly irrelevant in world affairs. Can the staunch Gaullist turn things around?