The geopolitical shifts of recent years, with Russia’s war against Ukraine, have created new challenges and opportunities for France in foreign policy.
France is aware of the need to rethink its role and strategy in geopolitics, adapt to new realities and seek new approaches to ensure national interests.
Paris has long seen Russia as an important partner in foreign policy, but it has finally become unmanageable and unpredictable for most world powers, including the United States. On the other hand, French influence is facing increasing challenges in Africa.
Let’s look at the foreign policy priorities set by President Emmanuel Macron for himself and France.
On 26 July, a military coup took place in Niger, which shook the Françafrique system, i.e. the historical influence of Paris in the former colonies of France and Belgium in sub-Saharan Africa, which helped France maintain its great power status.
However, Africa is not yet lost to France. Several coastal states, such as Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, and Gabon, are still ruled by elites friendly to Paris and maintain a French military presence.
Why is Africa important to France? It’s a vital resource of the natural resources of the African continent. For example, the uranium mines in Niger were lost to the coup (until recently, it was the third largest supplier of uranium to the EU and France behind Kazakhstan and Australia).
But the key change is that France is no longer the leading trading partner for most West African countries, as it was 20 years ago.
But the French strategy in Africa must now redefine its clear and long-term goal.
In the context of weakening positions in Africa, Paris is increasing its presence in another essential part of the globe – the Indo-Pacific region. French President Macron went on a historic tour to Oceania. He visited New Caledonia, Vanuatu, and Papua New Guinea over three days.
Paris’s interest in New Caledonia (an overseas territory of France) is explained by the geopolitical aspect and the economic one. The most important sector of the territory’s economy is the extraction and smelting of nickel ore. New Caledonia has about 10% of the world’s nickel reserves, essential for producing electric vehicle batteries.
From New Caledonia, Macron travelled to Vanuatu, an independent Oceania country with 300,000 inhabitants (the only one where French is the official language).
The attention of world leaders to small Pacific island states is growing. And in Papua New Guinea, real competition for influence is now unfolding between the United States, Australia, China, and India. France is trying to keep up, so Macron visited this country as part of his tour.
France has never focused its foreign policy on the United States. It has only considered Washington’s position, but its primary objective remains to complete national interests.
This approach is also reflected in the China vector of French foreign policy. This was clearly shown during Macron’s visit to China in April.
Although geopolitical issues, such as the Russian-Ukrainian war, were discussed at the meeting with the Chinese side, the trip’s primary purpose was to back the economic interests of France and the European Union. That’s why Macron flew to Beijing accompanied by the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.
Even with the current tensions between Beijing and Washington, Paris would like to see China as an influential but stable partner. Moreover, economic ties between France and China are growing stronger.
Macron has also expressed the EU’s reluctance to get involved in a potential conflict over Taiwan.
In recent years, cooperation with India has intensified, as the latter is looking to France for an alternative to Moscow, particularly in military and technical cooperation and energy.
Although France has indeed changed its attitude towards Russia during the Russian invasion of Ukraine, especially its vision of Ukraine’s role in Europe, it remains willing to become an intermediary and a link between Kyiv and Moscow if developments require such a mediator.
This wish also correlates with France’s aim to maintain autonomy from the United States and regain leadership in the EU. At the same time, Paris has been one of the strongest allies of Ukraine in Europe, providing financial, military, and humanitarian support to Kyiv. On this criteria, Paris has confirmed its leadership in the EU and its commitment to aid Ukraine and help it defend itself from Russian war aggression.
However, it seems that the decision to keep a dialogue with Russia is not included in the framework of France’s long-term strategy. It is only a situational goal to keep all channels open to find a solution to end Russia’s war against Ukraine, which is negatively affecting the whole of Europe and the global economy and food security.