President Sarkozy has unveiled his new government today. In what may be a sign of things to come, he has given the only Socialist member of the 15-strong cabinet, Bernard Kouchner, the role of Minister for Foreign and European Affairs. The new Prime Minister, François Fillon, will also be assisted by a Secretary of State for European Affairs, namely Jean-Pierre Jouyet, the ex-head of cabinet of Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, and, reportedly, a close friend of both Ségolène Royal and Socialist Party leader François Hollande.
Tellingly, Sarko has also scrapped the role of Trade Minister, rebranding Christine Lagarde as simply Minister for Agriculture...
As well as Kouchner’s well-documented humanitarian background, as co-founder of Médecins sans Frontières and UN boss in Kosovo, we also know that:
- During the debate on the EU Constitution in France, he helped form a “Committee of the Left for a yes”, launching a campaign for the Socialist Party to vote yes. Despite being an ardent ‘yes’ campaigner, in July 2004 he said in an interview with Le Parisien that he wasn’t “delighted with this Constitution, but so what?” (Le Figaro, 12 July)
- Before the French had even voted on the Constitution, he said French voters who were intending to vote no “are not responding to the question, they are responding to the questioner.” (AFP, 20 May 2005) Afterwards, he criticised the “treason” of opponents of the Constitution (Le Monde, 15 September 2004)
- He believes ‘European construction’ is “marvellous and insufficient” (AFP, October 26 2004)
- He was a member of the European Parliament from 1994 to 1997. In 2004, when he was thinking of running again in the European elections, he complained about the “lack of modern social-democracy in Europe” (Liberation, 2 March)
- In October 2005 La Croix reported that Bernard Kouchner’s priority was to re-launch Europe with simple projects and concrete proposals so that it is no longer, in his words, “This cold and disembodied monster” alienated from its citizens. “Why have we not yet created a European fleet of water bombers to fight against forest fires? Universal medical cover at European level? Let’s stop debating and start doing things together,” he said (4 Oct). As a doctor and former health minister, he once called for a global fund against infectious diseases.
- Kouchner famously criticised the French government for not aligning with Britain and the US over the war in Iraq. He was one of the few Frenchmen to support the invasion, but fiercely criticised US management of the aftermath. In March 2003 he said, “If we had been at their side, we could have avoided the war... The only way to avoid war was to be at their sides for a firm solution.” He said, “The English and the Americans have violated” multilateralism, because “we brandished the veto too early.” In Februrary 2003 he had an article in Le Monde arguing that, “By criticising George Bush, the Europeans are playing Saddam’s game.” He said, “The French have accentuated the fracture in Europe instead of healing it.” “We harnessed ourselves to German pacifism, it was a mistake.” (AFP 18 May 2007)