G20 Special coverage (1)
According to the French newspaper, Le Figaro, the Elysée Palace is not offended -at least officially- by the letter sent by Barack Obama to Jacques Chirac, a few days ago.
"In the USA, it is a tradition to show one's respect to former presidents", the Elysée Palace says.
However, in private, this is another story : Nicolas Sarkozy thinks Obama is really ungrateful (today's edition of Le Monde, another daily paper).
For months, the French president had stated his intention to fully rejoin NATO command structures ; and yet, what did his "pal" do ?
He wrote a letter to ... Jacques Chirac.
Sarkozy would have been so happy if he had received such a letter !
He would have shown it to everybody during international summits : "Look at the letter I received from my pal Barack... read it ... read it..."
Jacques Chirac was quite pleased : he said the letter was very "friendly" and he revealed its content just after the French Parliament approved Sarkozy's NATO plan.
This morning, French newspapers are wondering what could be the meaning of such a letter :
What did the American president mean, when he addressed this letter to the former president, whereas he should have sent it to the president in office ? If he wanted to pay a diplomatic tribute to Jacques Chirac, in particular to what he did when Bush invaded Iraq, the letter is quite unusual.
The French newspaper Le Monde remains very careful : maybe the letter was written because Obama admires Jacques Chirac, and nothing else.
The daily cannot imagine the unthinkable : Obama CANNOT have wanted to hurt Sarkozy (they write : "A great world leader does not do that to another great leader !).
The problem is that the newspaper seems to forget that Obama did not hesitate to humiliate Gordon Brown not so long ago. The new president of the USA does not really seem to know how to behave properly with other heads of states or of governments.
For sure, now, Nicolas Sarkozy has understood that his interest may be to be a little less indulgent with Obama.
And next time, he will be ready for a fight.
According to le Figaro, he will go to the G20 Summit ready to confront Obama and the USA.
"I will not participate to a world summit that will not take important decisions", he said during a rally of his party on Tuesday in the French city of Saint Quentin.
A few days before, he had seemed even more angrier : "I work with Merkel. If it does not work, we will leave [the summit]."
In reality, conflict has been brewing between France and the USA for several weeks.
Europe and the USA disagree on the attitude to adopt in order to solve the crisis.
Obama and Sarkozy will play the leading roles in the drama which will take place in London. And the atmosphere is likely to be tense between the two former "friends" !
In response to Sarkozy's demands, Obama explained his own objectives for the G20 Summit in his press conference on Tuesday.
For him all countries must make efforts, nobody must count on the others to get out of the recession.
In fact, Washington wants additional economic stimulus measures to be taken across the globe. The Europeans are preoccupied with a supra-national financial regulation structure.
And if Obama insists that Europe revive its economy soon, it is because Americans think that apart from anything else that might be done, the hundreds of billions of dollars they're injecting into their own economy will help European exports.
But the Old Continent is not seduced at all by the Obama model. Europe is not willing to increase its deficits
Nicolas Sarkozy has always made it clear that for him, the blame is to be put on the USA. "The financial crisis is an international crisis, and everybody knows where it comes from", he declared in November 2008, before the preceding G20 Summit. "The solution is to be found with the USA. We will not be satisfied with "Go ahead ! there is nothing to do about it."
On Tuesday, in Saint-Quentin, he insisted on the necessity for the London Summit to be a "political summit, not a technical summit".
But there hasn't been a word out of the mouth of the American president about financial regulation, while Nicolas Sarkozy makes this his priority for the G20 summit next week in London.
To put it in a nutshell, the big difference between the two countries is that in the United States - even with Obama, there's no question of "restructuring capitalism" or even of "moralizing" it, as much as these concepts please French ears. Over there [in the U.S.] it's a question of avoiding over-arching language and of finding a way to make the economy work better - but certainly not of changing the system.
And, last but not least, there is another motive for discord :
Mr Obama's also demands for more European boots on the ground in Afghanistan have already been rejected by the French and Germans.
Finally, the only glimmer of hope is the planned meeting between the two first ladies : Michelle and Carla are due to meet in Strasbourg.
Maybe the two wives will manage to reconcile the two former friends...