France’s former Prime Minister François Fillon on Monday joined a growing chorus of conservative criticism of President François Hollande’s foreign policy.
In an opinion piece in Monday’s Le Figaro, Fillon urged Hollande to a “be a bit braver” and to “take some risks”.
His criticism focused on Syria, where he lamented that France “was doing the bare minimum”.
Fillon’s comments in the right-wing newspaper follow a series of broadsides against Hollande from leading members of the conservative opposition UMP party.
On Wednesday August 8 former President Nicolas Sarkozy broke a three-month silence to heap criticism on Hollande, whom he accused of taking a back seat on Syria.
Calling for French-led military intervention, Sarkozy compared Syria to the 2011 Libyan crisis, in which he led calls for international action that would eventually help the country’s rebels overthrow dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
Fillon, who is seen as favourite to be the conservative UMP party’s next presidential candidate, distanced himself from this position, warning that the military solution would not work in Syria.
“I have always believed that such intervention would be a very serious strategic mistake,” he wrote. “It would turn Syria into a new Iraq, to become a theatre of war between Sunnis and Shiites manipulated by Iran, a country that is the world’s number one threat to peace. It isn’t an option.”
Russia ‘the key’
Instead, he called on Hollande to engage with Russia – “’the key to unlocking the Syrian situation”
Russia – along with China – has resisted joining all international calls for Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad to stand down in the face of an 18-month-old uprising and maintains close relations with the regime.
Moscow, which maintains a naval base at the Syrian port city Tartus, felt betrayed during the Libyan crisis and believed that France and the UK had gone beyond the UN mandate by bombing targets in Libya and launching commando operations on the ground.
The Russians remain deeply suspicious of military intervention.
Fillon wrote that for any progress to be made in Syria, the French government had to work harder to understand Moscow’s fears about regional instability if Assad was overthrown.
That could only happen, he said, if Russia had to be brought closer to Europe in an atmosphere of trust and cooperation – and Hollande was making a mistake by not making relations with Moscow his top priority.
“If I was François Hollande I would take the first plane to Moscow, if possible with [German Chancellor] Angela Merkel,” wrote Fillon.
“France and Germany together can play a key role in making Putin change his position regarding Syria;
“The moment Putin lets go of the Syrian regime it will fall like the rotten apple that it is.”
Fillon finished by accusing Hollande of having an old-fashioned “Bourgeois” attitude towards Russia that smacked of Cold War paranoia, while hinting that the Socialist French leader was far too close to Washington.
This is a surprising accusation from Sarkozy’s former Prime Minister, who oversaw France’s return to the NTO command in 2008 and whose government was closer to the United States than any other French leader since Charles de Gaulle (1958).