Traditionally, French diplomacy has been dominated by almost exclusive representation of the French aristocracy who controlled the selection and promotion processes of French diplomatic service. It is interesting to note that rising up through this system was Jean David Levitte, currently the top advisor to President Nicolas Sarkozy, who became the first foreign born president of the French Republic. Jean David Levitte was encouraged to carefully conceal his religious identity (Jewish) in order to advance his career in international diplomacy. There appears to be a new variant emerging in French diplomacy, encompassing strong moral and ethical values, especially obvious in the French diplomatic reaction to the new Arab revolutions occurring in Egypt and Tunisia as well as the moral implications associated with France’s strong international advances in the Libyan conflict. This is in direct contrast to the principles of pure national “self-interest” which had dominated French diplomatic thought and policy, focusing on the access to and the exploitation of foreign national resources and continuing as an international power broker in the management of nuclear proliferation.

During my time at the G8, it became apparent that the salient issues of concern to the French, which will continue to be addressed at the G20 Summit later this year, were international nuclear safety issues, the Arab Spring, policy recommendations regarding the Internet, partnership with Africa and international peace and security, focusing on the situation in Libya and Syria as well as the resumption of the Middle East peace process.


At the summit in Deauville, the G8 member countries expressed strong support and solidarity with Japan in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster. The objectives proposed by the G8 members to address growing concerns by the international community over how to address safety standards related to the construction and operation of nuclear power reactors involved:

  1. Comprehensive assessment by the French of the safety of existing nuclear facilities and urging all G8 member countries to follow suit.
  2. Strengthening co-operation internationally which necessitates involving governmental authorities, regulatory, research and industrial bodies in an effort to develop a culture of accountability, safety and transparency.
  3. Promoting the role of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and international nuclear conventions along with improving the crisis management system.
  4. Encouraging all countries who develop nuclear energy to have infrastructure in place for development of their programs consistent with IAEA recommendations.

Consequently, Russia, in an effort to use its well-established nuclear industry to extend its global influence offered a more stringent proposal regarding international nuclear safety issues. Russia, the country with the smallest economy in the G8, a “junior partner in financial terms”, set forth a proposal to strengthen safety standards governed by the IAEA and make binding mandatory international safety rules subject to strict verification and compliance. While the G8 member countries had expressed interest in Russia’s proposal, which will be evaluated moving forward to the G20, France recognizes that advocating compulsory requirements and forcing countries to give up their sovereignty involving nuclear safety inspection will make countries very leery of binding verification.

At the G8, member countries promised $20 billion in aid to Tunisia and Egypt and held out the prospect of billions more to foster the Arab Spring and continue to assist the emerging democracies evolving from the popular uprisings. Sarkozy, invited the prime ministers of Egypt and Tunisia on May 27, 2011 to launch the Deauville Partnership with Egypt and Tunisia as they embark on democratic reform. The members of the G8 strongly support the aspirations of the Arab Spring as well as those of the Iranian people who are still struggling against an oppressive regime. The Deauville Partnership was created to support the economic and social reforms designed to “enshrine common values of freedom and democracy”. This Partnership is based on two fundamental principles. There is a political process designed to support the democratic transition and foster governance reforms, such as the fight against corruption and the strengthening of the institutions needed to ensure transparency and accountable government. There is also an economic framework for sustainable and inclusive growth. The Declaration is designed to support countries like Egypt and Tunisia in the economic and social reforms they will undertake in an effort to create jobs and follow the rule of law while, at the same time, ensuring economic stability during the transition to a stable democracy. International financial institutions, UN Agencies, the private sector and civil society were actively encouraged, moving forward to the G20, to work with the Deauville Partnership.

During my discussions with the spokesman for the Prime Minister of Tunisia, I tried to assess the role that China would play in the Deauville Partnership, moving forward to the G20. While China’s absence at the G8 prevented the spokesman from going into specifics, he openly discussed the close personal ties between Tunisia, Egypt and China and fully expects strong bilateral communications with Beijing in the very near future.

The EG8 summit, which had just recently concluded in Paris prior to the G8, was designed to create policy recommendations that the delegation of six technology chief executives, including Erick Schmidt of Google and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, would present to the world leaders in Deauville. This was designed to find ways to regulate the Internet that would be acceptable to both governments and industry. In Deauville, for the first time at the Leaders’ level, G8 member countries, moving forward to the G20, agreed in the presence of Eric Schmidt and Mark Zuckerberg, on several key principles. These principles included “freedom, respect for privacy, multi-stakeholder governance, cyber-security and protection from crime that underpin a strong and flourishing Internet.” The global CEOs who had been invited to attend the G8 strongly supported reviewing and analyzing these issues moving forward to ensure a safe and secure Internet.

In Deauville, G8 member countries renewed a strong partnership with Africa, building on commitments made over the last 10-20 years. There is strong belief among G8 member countries that Africa today is an emerging continent containing abundant natural resources with economic growth averaging 5%. In fact, the leaders of Algeria, Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa have been associated with the G8 for the past several summits as founding members of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development in an effort to forge working relationships with African states and G8 members countries. The G8 member countries emphasized mutual responsibilities and decided to be even more accountable regarding “commitments to development, peace and security.” Transparency and governance were also emphasized and the G8 member countries “welcomed the new dynamism of our African partners and the spread of democracy and committed to stand even more strongly side by side with people of the African countries.” At the G8, recognition was given to the democratically elected Presidents of Cote D’Ivoire, Guinea and Niger. For the first time, G8 member countries adopted a joint declaration “together with African leaders.”

The G8’s commitment to Africa, moving forward, can be seen in its concrete actions.

  1. The G8 has made “strong contribution to the cancellation of the poor countries’ debt since 1996.
  2. The G8 created the Global Fund to fight Aids, Tuberculosis, and Malaria in 2001 and has since provided the bulk of funding to supply HIV/AIDS treatment.
  3. In 2004, the G8 trained roughly 75,000 African troops for peacekeeping and security missions, mainly concentrated in Africa.
  4. The G8 provides a considerable share of bilateral official development assistance (ODA) to Africa (36% on average).

France is the number one G8 country in terms of the concentration of its aid in Africa. In 2010, 54% of its ODA was earmarked for the African continent. (4.2 billion)

The G8 member countries, including very comprehensive statements made by Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom and President Nicholas Sarkozy of the French Republic, emphasized that they would continue to act in support of peace and international security. The G8 became a forum for member countries to demand the immediate cessation of the use of force against civilians by the Libyan regime (Gaddafi) and support a political solution that “reflects the will of the Libyan people.” Both Cameron and Sarkozy support the continued and escalating presence in Libya as both leaders feel their respective countries have a moral obligation to stop a ruthless dictator and protect innocent lives.

The G8 member countries, at the urging of President Sarkozy, called on the Syrian government to stop using force and intimidation against the Syrian people and to engage in dialogue and broad reforms in response to the legitimate demands and desires of the Syrian people. It was further mentioned that the demand for change and reform clearly articulated by Arab intellectuals and young people is historic and makes the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict paramount. At the G8, both the Israelis and the Palestinians were encouraged to engage without delay “in substantive talks with a view to concluding a framework agreement on all final status issues.” At the G8, President Sarkozy reacted very favorably to Obama’s speech and his vision towards the Middle East in an effort to relaunch talks between Israel and the Palestinians and support the 1967 boundaries as per the UN resolution. Obama’s position aligns very closely with France.

Finally, during the G8, there was a constant buzz about Christine Lagarde’s candidacy as head of the IMF to succeed Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Both Prime Minister Cameron and President Sarkozy avoided any public endorsement of Lagarde’s candidacy, but sources close to the Diplomatic Courier at the G8 indicated that both of these leaders supported Lagarde’s candidacy, given her solid legal and financial background as well as the fact that she is European and would follow the normal progression of a European assuming the head of the IMF while an American heads the World Bank. This mindset has not found favor with countries like Brazil and South Africa who feel developing countries should have a greater role and voice in the G8 and now are actively opposing her candidacy.

However, Lagarde appears to have enough support in China, Europe and the United States to handily defeat any potential challenges to head the IMF. She is considered to be familiar with all of the substantive issues and is a great negotiator with good political instincts. As was discussed at the G8, the main obstacle to Lagarde’s nomination could be a possible judicial probe into her role in awarding a friend of President Sarkozy a 285 million Euro payout to settle a legal dispute. While Sarkozy has no problem with Lagarde being put under the microscope regarding her handling of this affair, my sources at the G8 indicated that Lagarde’s effectiveness as head of the IMF could depend on the manner in which this situation is resolved. Any sense of a backroom deal between the U.S. and Europe to choose Lagarde could leave some bad feeling that would undermine her. My sources indicate this would be true even though she has the backing of China, moving forward to the G20, which appreciated her handling of a controversy over the yuan’s exchange rate at prior G20 meetings.

Consequently, while Strauss-Kahn’s economic expertise was an asset during the global credit crisis of 2007-2009 and he was instrumental in putting together a comprehensive aid package to bail out Greece, Lagarde does not have a career path as an economist or civil servant at a national bank or finance ministry. My sources advise me that Lagarde would oppose bailing out Greece due to the increased costs of such a bailout to other European countries, yet she has not put forth any plan to deal with Greece’s inevitable default. Such an issue left unresolved through the G20 would compromise Lagarde’s credibility and that of the G8 as the G8 continues to play a significant role in the international global economy.

Ralph E. Winnie, Jr. is the Director of the Eurasian Business Coalition’s China Program at the Eurasia Center.