Douste-Blazy: Maybe He is Not the Right Man for the Job

Posted by John Rosenthal

Or at least that is what would suggest this embarrassing incident  involving the French Foreign Minister that was first reported last week in Le Canard Enchainé.  Visiting the new Holocaust Museum at the Yad Vashem memorial in Jerusalem, Mr. Douste-Blazy is reported to have asked repeatedly about the fate of British Jews during the Third Reich: as if he did not know that Britain was never conquered by Nazi Germany and he was unable to assimilate the fact when it was pointed out to him.  

Supposing the report is correct – and the Israeli paper Haaretz claims in the article linked above to have confirmed it in interviews with Yad Vashem personnel – perhaps it is merely mean to call attention to the episode.  After all, it is not as if the Minister went to Yad Vashem and called Israel a “shitty little country” (to recall the immortal words uttered in 2001 by the then French Ambassador to Britain Daniel Bernard).  In France, far less charitable souls than ourselves have been known to refer to Mr. Douste-Blazy as “Douste Blah-Blah”.  But, to his credit I suppose, his public remarks during his visit to Israel and Gaza earlier this month showed more consideration for Israeli security concerns than one is used to hearing from French or, more generally, European diplomats.  (Our friends at Politique arabe de la France [link in French] note, however, that these sensitive words were not linked to any concrete demands upon the responsible Palestinian party, viz. Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority, actually to do anything about meeting Israel’s security concerns.)

But the Douste-Blazy faux pas is, nonetheless, notable for the light it casts on one of the most characteristic and for outsiders perplexing features of French governmental politics. Before being appointed Foreign Minister in June, Mr. Douste-Blazy was in charge of the French Health Ministry: a position for which, as himself an MD, he was no doubt eminently qualified.  But what makes a medical doctor a suitable choice to take charge of French foreign policy?  Such bizarre shifts between seemingly entirely unrelated responsibilities are typical of French cabinet reshuffles.  After making a name for himself as a hardnosed law-and-order Minister of the Interior, Nicholas Sarkozy was parachuted into the Economics Ministry – a position for which he had no obvious background – before being ejected from the government altogether and then appointed  as Minister of the Interior again in June.

Specific competencies seem not to play a decisive or indeed perhaps any role in cabinet appointments.  Michèle Alliot-Marie, for instance, has held on to her post as French Minister of Defense through both Raffarin governments and now under Dominique de Villepin. Readers of the old Trans-Int will remember her for her blustering denials and then back-down following the killing of civilian protestors by French troops in the Côte d’Ivoire last November.  Her previous government experience? She was Minister of Youth and Sport in the mid 1990s under Édouard Balladur.  Before being appointed to Defense in 2002, she was president of Jacques Chirac’s Gaullist RPR party. 

In general, the overriding criterion for appointments seems to be “are you reliably one of us?”  Though, of course, in the case of Sarkozy, the answer to this question is negative, which explains his particularly frenetic itinerary. 

(Hat tip Gudrun Eussner! [link in German])

Comments are closed.