[INSTA-UPDATE: Paul Wells, who’s knowledge of French politics positively dwarfs mine, weighs in here.]
After Sarkozy’s abrupt dismissal of Quebec independence, you had to know this was coming. Jean-François Lisée, a former advisor to premiers Parizeau and Bouchard and a close collaborator of Pauline Marois’s, responds in today’s Le Monde by essentially telling the French president to piss off:
Quebec has now gotten a taste of the Sarkozy approach to foreign affairs. A mix of impulsiveness and opinions fed to him by his friends in the business sector. A tendency to sacrifice long-term strategic balances for immediate tactical gain. The replacement of de Gaulle’s “Vive le Québec libre!” by Nicholas Sarkozy’s “no to the division of Canada” took place while Sarkozy was trying to convince his host, Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, to join him in his project of a global summit on the refounding of capitalism. That was his immediate task. Quebec’s state of mind didn’t come into play.
The end goal, for the president, wasn’t for Quebec to be “free” or, even more simply, “free to choose.” The end goal was for Nicholas Sarkozy to be unburdened and free to give his opinion, whatever its consequences for the people of Quebec.
Le Devoir‘s Christian Rioux, who’s as good as it gets in Quebec journalism when it comes to France, is barely more measured:
France is not of a single mind and Nicholas Sarkozy even less so. This interference, imbued with a paternalism widely thought to have disappeared, is obviously influenced by the decline of the sovereignist movement. But it mostly announces that France’s politics will, from now on, oscillate according to polls, pressures, and opportunities. Will Paris now promote the virtues of autonomism tomorrow if Mario Dumont’s popularity grows or if it’s got its eyes on a lucrative contract in Rivière-du-Loup?
I’m not entirely sure what to make of the chill between Quebec and France over Sarkozy’s remarks. In my previous life as a grumpy and sloppy waiter, I spent a few months in Paris doing just that–waiting tables, grumpily and sloppily. (If any of you ever make it out to Café Justine on Oberkampf, tell them le québécois says hello.) And if my experience is any indication, France is hardly as concerned about Quebec’s place in the world as Quebecers–especially sovereignists–would like to believe it is. “Non ingérence et non indifférence” may have been the official line inside the Élysée regarding Quebec’s independence movement, but “non conscience” seemed to be a more accurate description of the mood outside of it. Neither Sarko’s stance nor Lisée’s riposte seems likely to change that.