P5+1 and Opportunities for Francois Hollande

Monday, May 14, 2012

Mohammad Farhad Koleini
Former Iranian Ambassador to Armenia & Expert on Strategic Issues

As a key member of the P5+1 group of world powers, France recently held a significant presidential election. While there have arisen heated debates over the new “French” government’s future foreign policies, some ask the question whether this victory will exert any specific impact upon the results of the upcoming nuclear meeting between Iran and the P5+1 group in Baghdad. A group of experts believe that weariness of Nicolas Sarkozy’s populist but modern political behaviour, his unfavourable performance over five years of presidency and inappropriate economic policies are among the reasons the French people deprived him of a second term in office and thus raise many eyebrows here and there, as if they had not seen Sarkozy’s general performance as one becoming them.

In this writing, first, the potentials of the leftist victory for improving France’s political, economic and international situation as well as its relations with Iran, Syria and the Middle East in general will be touched upon and then the impact of Hollande’s slogans and policies upon relations between France on the one hand and Europe and the United States on the other will be examined. It seems that Hollande must first try to bring hope back to the hopeless French society in the first place and subsequently take the necessary measures to ameliorate the unstable and bleak economic situation bequeathed by Sarkozy and thus move to tackle the production and income inequalities in the country.

Given the slogans used by Hollande so far, it appears that he can manage, thanks to his clever choice of a rather different policy direction, to restore hope to the French youth, diminish the high costs of Sarkozy’s uncalculated risks in the area of foreign policy, and try to avoid repeating the mistakes committed during the era of “Sarkozyism.” Considering the unfortunate circumstances left behind by Sarkozy, Hollande will most likely run the country in a semi-crisis situation and will only be able to advance towards his objectives after one or two years.

The Sarkozy government invariably sought to adjust its relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran within the political framework of the European Union as well as in terms of nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 group while some other European countries have refused to follow such a scenario and maintained their ties with Tehran directly or indirectly. During the presidency of Sarkozy in France, one could witness the intensification of sanctions regime against the Islamic Republic, that is, he always tried to present himself as pivotal bulwark against Iran. It should be admitted that such an attitude was adopted more under the influence and in the interests of those lobbies that sought to bolster their influence inside the French government than in line with the national interests of France. As we approach the Iran-P5+1 nuclear negotiations in Baghdad, which are set to be held on 23 May, Hollande has the opportunity to revise France’s past policies towards Iran and take advantage of new opportunities.

The rise to power of Holland does not constitute an opportunity only for one side, but should be seen as an equal opportunity for all parties. In other words, the French elections have opened up an opportunity for the European Union to rectify its behaviour towards the Islamic Republic so as to create a new sphere for bilateral cooperation. In addition, one should not forget that Iran and France have had various types of interaction in the Middle East, Persian Gulf and the Caucasus and have, for instance, demonstrated a positive and parallel understanding of developments in the Central Asia and Caucasus. In the Middle East, however, because of the radical policies and attempts of some Arab governments to disrupt the Syrian political structure and undermine its national security, France has been influenced and even entrapped by the Salafi hard-liners’ analysis of the situation. With this in mind, now Hollande has found the opportunity to revive the French-Syrian relations, particularly given the history of France’s ties with the Syrian Ba’ath party. He also has the opportunity to reset his country’s relations with pivotal states in the Middle East and render positive its negative role in the region.

Moreover, considering the close relations between Tehran and Paris in the areas of industry and technology as well as the difficult circumstances prevailing in the European Union and France’s economic problems, now there has arisen an opportunity for defining a new set of economic ties between the two countries within the framework of a fresh modality that can been concluded between the Islamic Republic and the EU. This is precisely why the new French government should avoid falling into the trap of the lobbies which care only about their own interests rather than those of the French people. Hollande will be well advised to consider the new circumstances with a sense of positive vision and foresight and develop a constructive look view of the future regardless of the election sentiments. It should be stressed that such type of cooperation can be quickly established between Iran and France.

Hollande has not yet inaugurated his new administration, but we are witnessing different developments in various areas, among which is the devaluation of Euro due to concerns about the potential eruption of a rift between France and Germany over economic issues. Another cause for concern is the German authorities’ insistence that the new French government is supposed to live up to its former commitments and avoid seeking revisionist negotiations. After all, one should acknowledge that Germany is one of the major countries which will be influenced by Hollande’s decisions and policy choices. In a similar vein, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party will not be an exception to the rule and be affected by it. Some reports on the electoral defeat of the parties forming Merkel’s coalition government in the recent local elections for Germany’s northern state of Schleswig-Holstein prove the argument. The dominant attitude of German social democrats has always been to increase cooperation with France, which is why one can claim that Germany will also experience changes in its domestic political environment. In sum, it may be argued that given developments inside Europe, leftist currents and groups have gained more confidence and come to further believe in their capabilities and potentials.

Russia is another country that will be influenced by the election of Hollande in France. It is the Russian attitude towards the European Union in terms of energy supply, NATO’s missile defence shield in Europe, and Russia’s relations with NATO members that will prompt Moscow to try to find new opportunities for deeper interaction with Paris during the Hollande presidency. On the whole, the political course French socialists usually pursue in the case of relations with the United States will open up an opportunity for Russia to devise inventive ways of interaction with France.

Of course, as for countries like China, the election of Hollande as the next French president may have an effect upon their policies. Considering the interactions and agreement between Paris and Beijing, Chinese authorities are currently worried that changes in some policies, which may be initiated by the new government in France, may damage their interests. In general, we are witnessing the rise of new parties and currents in the West, which seek new faces and adopt new stances, given the traditional trend governing political rivalry in the European Union. In the French presidential elections, the nationalist group of Jean-Marie Le Pen presented itself as a third party, which demonstrates the fact that a third wave has been created all over Europe to define the new movements, a situation we also see in Germany, where the Pirate Party is growing and gaining popularity. During the recent local elections in north Germany, the increased number of votes for the Pirate Party did not allow the centre-right and centre-left parties to win the elections. This reminds us of the emergence of Tea Party in the United States in the past, which was accompanied by tacit Republican support. Today, however, the Occupy Wall Street as an independent and unaffiliated movement has emerged and put forward new demands.

Given that France is a major flag-bearer and coordinator in the European Union, Hollande’s victory will definitely exert considerable effects upon Europe’s general atmosphere to the extent that it will create a “new political puzzle” on the European scene. Before the latest French presidential elections, he voiced some criticisms about the role of France in Afghanistan and demanded a new framework for cooperation with the United States in the war-torn Asian country. Therefore, it seems that Paris will definitely not interact with Washington in the way it did before. It should also be pointed out that on its part the US leaders understand the divergence of policies and interests between Washington and its partners, trying to and overhaul its foreign policy behaviour in Afghanistan. From this perspective, one can claim that in the context of Afghan war, France will try to separate its role from that of the United States and notably the German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s assertion that the Western forces went to war in Afghanistan “together” and should pull out of it “together,” in fact refers to the need for France to consider and maintain Euro-Atlantic positions on the Afghan war. Some may raise the question, what will become of France’s commitments to the US, Europe and NATO?” In response, one may argue that the Hollande government is apparently trying to look at French-American relations with a new mindset. He may act a bit more moderately in connection with issues that concern his government’s relations with NATO and the European Union and try to opt for new courses in order to have more independence.


It seems that France during the presidency of Hollande will, in general, endeavour to pursue a balancing role in the United Nations Security Council and the multipolar international system. Put otherwise, the French foreign policy towards Britain, China, Russia and even the United States will enter a new phase in the new era, and in more precise terms, France’s “strategic game” with the US will undergo a significant change. As mentioned above, the election of Hollande in France has provided an opportunity for the European Union to reform its behaviour towards Iran. Hollande’s victory is not only valuable for the French people, but it can be useful for all other European countries. The question that jumps to one’s mind, however, is, will the French statesmen manage to take advantage of the new atmosphere to bring about a turning point in Paris-Tehran relations?

Key Words: Francois Hollande, P5+1 Group, France Presidential Election, Iran, Baghdad,  Iran-France Relations, Sarkozyism, Multipolar International System, Koleini

Source: Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA)
Translated By: Iran Review

More By Mohammad Farhad Koleini:

*Success of Iran-P5+1 Talks Hinges on Realism and Change in Attitude:

*What the Iranian Nuclear Issue Needs:

*Bonn Conference: A Security–Political Approach:

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