Nicolas Sarkozy’s Foreign Policy: Gaullist by Any Other Name

Justin Vaïsse
Justin Vaïsse Former Brookings Expert, Director, Policy Planning Staff - French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs

June 1, 2008


When discussing the foreign-policy orientation of French leaders, it is always tempting to distinguish between Gaullists and Atlanticists. Depending on which side of the debate – and the ocean – one is on, each label can be used to praise or vilify. The problem, of course, is that reality is much more about shades of grey, and if the neat division makes for great headlines, it does not provide for sound analysis.

Nicolas Sarkozy is a case in point. While he has been described, and has described himself, as an Atlanticist, there’s a good case to be made that he’s actually a Gaullist. Not only does this ambiguity show the inherent limits of using labels, it also has a direct impact on the future of French policy vis-à-vis the EU, the United States and the world.