December 13, 2016
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France’s geopolitical power in Europe is unique. It combines a positive legacy of global leadership, a rich diplomatic network, universal aspirations, global military reach, cultural influence, and economic heft. The authors, Atlantic Council Senior Fellows Jérémie Gallon and Jeff Lightfoot, of this paper, “France: Europe’s Swing State: Foreign Policy Begins at Home,” argue that France is the pivotal swing state in shaping the contours of a stronger European Union (EU) and a reinforced transatlantic alliance at a crucial moment in the history of the West. 

 

However, despite its undeniable assets, Gallon and Lightfoot recognize that France’s influence is undermined—both at the European and global levels—by a series of major domestic weaknesses. Its economy is characterized by high unemployment, lack of growth, and flagging competitiveness. The country is best by a deficient “social dialogue,” volatile relations between the government and businesses, and unpopular and fractured political leadership. These elements have contributed to a strong spirit of defiance toward elites and a rise of populism throughout France that has been exacerbated by the outbreak of major terrorist attacks over the last few years.

France’s vulnerabilities matter far beyond the country’s borders. Both the transatlantic alliance and the EU would suffer from a declining France. By contrast, a reformed and more confident France is indispensable in the effort to reconnect European citizens with the European project. Current times offer an extraordinary opportunity for France to transform the EU into a more coherent strategic actor in a multipolar world, and to defend a rules-based international order. France’s unique voice is particularly needed at a time of great internal and external challenges to Europe and the violation of international norms around the world. In order for France to retain its rightful place of leadership in the world, it must first undertake difficult reforms at home.

This policy paper is part of a broader Atlantic Council effort to explore transatlantic policy recommendations to bolster effective cooperation between the United States and key countries and regions that have been historical drivers of European unity, peace, and prosperity. These relationships are critical to ensure a strong, stable, and competitive Europe allied to an engaged United States.
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