Relaxed and extraordinarily frank, former foreign minister Bernard Kouchner willingly answered the central question put to him at a meeting with the AAPA on May 9: What’s it like being a leftist minister in a Sarkozy government?

“He decides – everything. Delegates all” to those responsible for domestic and particularly foreign policy, he said, noting the four “regal” ministries that count most for Sarkozy are the one he occupied nearly four years until last November, plus the defense, finance and interior ministries.

The meeting with the former Quai d’Orsay official lasted well over an hour and once again we were generously hosted by member John Morris in his spacious, cozy apartment.


Kouchner’s greatest achievement? Remaining at the Quai d’Orsay as long as he did, a record for longevity, he said. His biggest disappointment? Not being able to realize certain goals, such as convincing Sarkozy to drop his firm, continuing opposition to Turkey’s membership in the European Union. “I am not a politician,” said the medical doctor, former humanitarian leader, writer and consultant.

Asked about a widespread perception that in the latter  years of his tenure he had been sidelined by Sarkozy and others at the Elysée Palace from key areas – trans-Atlantic, EU relations; the Middle East and defense – and was unable, even indirectly, to influence presidential policies, Kouchner explained how the deep, conservatism of the Quai, with its 12,000 offficials, did not help. However, he noted he was able to create departments of “mondializaton” and religious affairs, despite initial opposition or indifference in France’s foreign policy establishment.

He firmly credited Sarkozy for initiating the “simplified” version of the EU Lisbon Tready, ensuring its approval by France, and applauded the president’s single-handed success in managing and leading the EU response to global financial issues, such as stronger, united economic regulation. Kouchner observed that international conferences have only limited value, turning the Quai and other, foreign ministries around the world, including in Britain and the U.S., into “travel agencies.” He noted that his successor, former prime minister Alain Juppé, spends several days a week in Bordeaux, where he remains mayor.

At 71, sidelined also by the Socialists in France for what he admitted was considered “treason” in entering the Sarkozy goverrnment, and having ended his controversial role as a consultant to the Total oil group, among others, Kouchner remained vague about his future. But he made it clear that among the Socialists being mentioned for presidential nomination in next year’s elections, Dominique Strauss-Kahn was the most highly-qualified in foreign policy, and by far.

-Axel Krause