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“For government contracts in foreign policy?”. The chronicle of Frédéric Charillon

Emmanuel Macron was certainly not, as we heard from opponents on the evening of April 24, “the most poorly elected president of the Fifth Republic” (58.5%, and 27.8% in the first round…), nor “the most hated”. Let us remain serious, and remember the attacks against de Gaulle, the rejection of the personality of Giscard, the “Mitterrand fous-le camp” (“a poor rhyme”, had swept the interested party in a memorable reply), or the ” Super Liar” stuck to Jacques Chirac for whom some had called, in 2002, to vote “by blocking their noses”. On the other hand, several phenomena are observable.

Those disappointed with the aftermath of elections, in a democracy, tend more and more to refute the legitimacy of the winner. The increasingly difficult dialogue between two Frances, like there are two Americas or two Great Britains, makes it complex to develop a consensual relationship with the world. The gap is then growing between the assessments of a government’s action by outside observers, and the “perceived temperature” internally: The Economist where the FinancialTimes In vain will they demonstrate that France is efficient, nothing will help if the French are convinced of the contrary. All of this, one imagines, constitutes a headache for those who have the task of thinking about foreign policy. Perhaps it is time to make it more contractual, more collective, and less sovereign.

Legitimacy trial: what impact in foreign policy?

“We were robbed of the election”: bad loser, Donald Trump launched this populist fashion in the United States, going so far as to endanger democracy on Capitol Hill on January 6, 2021. A good part of Republican sympathizers continue to deny the defeat. In Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro hinted that if he is not re-elected in the fall of 2022, his opponent will have cheated. Is he prepared to call in the military to reverse an unfavorable result? In Turkey, how will Recep Tayyip Erdoğan behave if he is put in difficulty during the presidential election of 2023? Even in more established democracies, this trend is gaining ground. Part of the hatred dedicated to Emmanuel Macron, in France, came from the disappointment of a republican right which had initially judged the election “unstoppable” in 2017, as it still comes from the frustration of an extreme left which, by twice, came close to qualifying in the second round. Being disappointed with the defeat of your candidate is legitimate. Delegitimizing the verdict of the polls is newer.

The repercussions are also external. By defeating an adversary, we now want to erase his work, including in terms of foreign policy. Trump has constantly come back to Obama’s diplomatic achievements or choices, from the Iranian nuclear deal to the Paris agreement on global warming. And by discrediting a winner, he is denied the right to represent the country. Anticipating these risks, international partners tense up, which in fact creates a new situation. An electoral victory synonymous with the disqualification of the other is a sign of democratic deficit as well as social fragility which weakens the political credibility of a State internationally.

“In reality, ‘we are all Lebanese’: we are no longer talking about the same country and everyone is seeking salvation from a different foreign power”

Divided countries: what relationship to the world?

From the moment a country appears irreconcilable on the major political choices concerning its relationship to the world, what course of foreign policy can it still set? The “Leave” and the “Remain”, in the post-Brexit United Kingdom, no longer have much to say to each other. The partisans of isolationism and those of international engagement, in the United States, neither. Nor more than the classic realists (like the late John McCain or a Hillary Clinton) on the one hand, and the ultras on the other, whether white supremacists or woke. In France, how to represent both those who see Vladimir Putin as a despot, and those who venerate him? Those who advocate Europe and Franco-German understanding, and those who admire the Bolivarian revolution or the iron fist of Viktor Orban?

“We are all Americans”, said Nicole Bacharan the day after the attacks of September 11, 2001. In reality, “we are all Lebanese”: we are no longer talking about the same country and everyone is seeking salvation from a different foreign power. Let us listen, on this point, to the fears of many intellectuals of the Country of the cedar. For a long time, internal divisions more or less spared the debate on foreign policy. This is no longer the case.

Coalitions for diplomacy?

If everyone ignores what will happen after an upcoming election, then diplomacy is demonetized, international agreements become provisional and multilateralism impossible. How to avoid this danger? Undoubtedly through government “contracts”, which would allow several parties to agree on a foreign policy roadmap. The argument of a necessary unity, the vigilance of opinions on the matter can help. On the other hand, the tropisms of various party leaders in favor of such an external power, the battle for diplomatic appointments to key posts, constitute obstacles.

It is possible, to overcome the difficulties, to draw inspiration from several experiences. That first of the German coalitions, which set in advance after each election the main lines of political action to come, and stick to them. Then that of the cooperation (admittedly harsh) between an overhanging American president and a powerful Congress, particularly in financial matters. That also of some French cohabitations (Mitterrand-Chirac, Mitterrand-Balladur, Chirac-Jospin), where despite tense episodes, the defense of the interests of the country worked. The foreign policy of the “first Sarkozy”, who wanted to entrust Foreign Affairs to a minister from an opposition party (at the time Bernard Kouchner, but also Jean-Pierre Jouyet, Secretary of State for European Affairs) is also to ponder: more durable, it would have made it possible to create a precedent consisting in systematically showing that the diplomacy carried out was that of the country, and not that of a man or a party.

Other diplomatic governance engineering can be imagined. Provided that partisan rifts are not fatal to the national interest.

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