Many U.S. votes gravitated to Donald Trump last week because they believed this country had been pushed around on the global stage, and they were not going to take it anymore.
What they did not consider is that Trump’s ascendancy is also motivating many world leaders to flex their muscles and respond to the President-elect in kind.
Take Nicolas Sarkozy, who is hoping to unseat his successor François Hollande next year. In an interview with the French television TF1, the former French president and once again presidential contender said that if Trump pulls the U.S. out of the global climate treaty agreed at last year’s COP21 talks in Paris, Europe should impose a carbon tax on U.S. imports. Meanwhile Sarkozy channeled Trump’s rhetoric as he said that France, and Europe, should no longer be “weak” or “naïve” when it comes to the offshoring of manufacturing.
This is quite a turnaround for Sarkozy, the son of a Hungarian immigrant who upended French politics when he won election as President of France in 2007. Although he disagreed with much of American foreign policy last decade, he was not shy about expressing his affection for the U.S. during his first presidential campaign. French voters warmed up to his blunt talk and brash style, and the center-right candidate won by a comfortable margin in the final round of that year’s election. But France’s economy sputtered, and voters got bored with Sarkozy’s behavior and chaotic personal life. In 2012 he lost his reelection bid narrowly to Hollande.
But Sarkozy is back with a vengeance, and is trying to win the nomination of his party, which ironically has rebranded itself as “The Republicans.” France’s political establishment is threatened by the ultra-right National Front as its leader, Marine Le Pen, has a strong chance at becoming one of the two final candidates in next year’s presidential election. Meanwhile, Sarkozy is trailing a former prime minister and current Bordeaux mayor, Alain Juppé, for his party’s nomination. Hence Sarkozy has made an even harder turn to the right, calling for a ban on Muslim headscarves, the end of pork-free student meals for religious minorities and is calling for a harder line on immigration.
Sarkozy has also backtracked on environmental policies, which he championed early during his first term but then abandoned as the economy soured and his approval ratings cratered. He was criticized for openly questioning whether humans had a role in climate change, saying during an interview that “The Sahara did not become a desert because of industry.” Last year, Sarkozy was also critical of France’s role in the COP21 talks, saying they imposed “incredible risks” upon France.
As we learned last week in the U.S., however, appeals to nationalism and populism are now winning messages. Hence Sarkozy’s outburst reflects a delicate balance to appeal to French pride while assuring Europeans that he is committed to a united continent. Sarkozy’s threat of such a carbon tax would probably not float very far if he became President of France again – and it does come across as an idle taunt when considering the country’s parliament shelved a carbon tax plan last month. Plus such a tariff is the decision for Brussels to make, not Paris. But the lesson for Trump is that when it comes to foreign policy, including matters related to global cooperation on climate change, the more he huffs and puffs, the more huffing and puffing he will foment worldwide. The U.S. business community may be on a current joyride, as seen in the recent performance of the stock markets. But if more uncertainty like this piles on, the sighs of relief may soon give way to exasperation.
Image credit: World Economic Forum/Flickr