Balanced approval spurred influence in Georgia and Gaza crises
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- After six months at the helm of the European Union, France this month hands over the reins of leadership to the Czech Republic. The changeover comes as the leadership of France enjoys a 40% median approval rating worldwide, which is higher than that of the United States (34%) and roughly on par with that of the United Kingdom (37%).
Gallup Polls conducted between 2006 and 2008 reveal that, compared with British leadership, French leadership shares comparably low approval ratings in the Americas. However, the leadership of France enjoys slightly higher approval ratings in Europe (42%) and significantly higher approval ratings in the Middle East/North Africa region (38%) when compared with British leadership ratings.
Over the past six months, the French government has translated this world approval rating into political influence. Shortly before beginning the country's EU presidency in 2008, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner stated, "The EU presidency's objective is not to impose our ideas, but it is about working on and putting forward the ideas of others." The statement proved ominous, for French President Nicolas Sarkozy soon brought unprecedented attention to the European Union as a global actor when he took a prominent role mediating crises in Georgia and Gaza.
France in the World: 2008
When conflict erupted between Georgia and Russia in August 2008, Sarkozy was quick to promote a cease-fire and began talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Gallup finds that France has enjoyed relatively consistent and balanced approval ratings in Georgia and Russia since 2006. Most recently, Gallup polled in Russia in May 2008 and in Georgia in June 2008, which was a few months before the crisis and French intervention.
Sarkozy is credited for helping to negotiate the end of Georgia-Russia conflict and preventing EU nations from splitting over their relations with Russia during the conflict. Following the cease-fire, Sarkozy criticized the Bush administration for not taking action as quickly as his government did. However, U.S. leadership did not enjoy the same balanced approval at the time of the crisis. A Gallup special report found that while Georgians held high approval of U.S. leadership on the eve of the conflict, Russians did not.
Not long after the end of the conflict in Georgia, the French and Egyptian governments took the lead in negotiating a cease-fire in Gaza between Israel and Hamas. Like in the Georgian conflict, French leadership enjoys relatively balanced approval from populations in the Palestinian Territories and Israel.
By contrast, approval ratings in the Palestinian Territories of the leadership of the United States and United Kingdom is abysmally low, which could likely hamper their influence to negotiate a lasting peace.
France in the World: 2009
Observers have generally seen France's EU presidency as a success, declaring that the global crises they confronted helped to "energize the EU as a whole." However, some critics are calling for a change to the six-month leadership rotation. This month, the Czech Republic assumes the presidency at a time when the conflict in Gaza is far from over. Further, the Czech leadership does not enjoy a high profile as Sarkozy does, which might undermine their negotiating capabilities in current and future crises. Sarkozy's dynamic leadership may have cemented the need for a strong, visible, and active EU leader.
Results are based on telephone and face-to-face interviews with approximately 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted in 2006, 2007, and 2008, in 143 countries and areas. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.