Most symbolic foreign policy gesture of French president’s reign will reverse De Gaulle decision to walk out 40 years ago

Nicolas Sarkozy will today make the most symbolic foreign policy gesture of his presidency when he announces France’s return to the Nato military command structure.

The French president’s move will reverse Charles de Gaulle’s decision more than 40 years ago to walk out in protest at US domination.

Sarkozy’s decision to fully rejoin the alliance has sparked outrage from opponents on the French left and centre.

It has also angered Gaullists in his own party, who fear France risks losing its independence and ability to act as a counterweight to the US.

Critics say the move means Paris would no longer be able to pursue its own diplomatic alliances and stand apart from Washington, particularly in the Arab world.

The French parliament will debate and vote on the issue next week, with the prime minister, François Fillon, moving to limit dissent in his Union for a Popular Movement party by announcing that he would resign if the government lost the vote.

France has been playing an increasingly important role in Nato for several years, with French generals commanding missions in Kosovo and Afghanistan.

It is already the fourth biggest contributor of troops to Nato, and the government has stressed that nothing in the country’s foreign policy would change by it playing a full role at the top of the alliance.

Sarkozy hopes to convince the French public that returning to Nato’s inner sanctum is in the country’s interests. France wants to gain significant command posts.

"We took part in all the Nato operations in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, without taking part in drawing up the plans," the foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner said this week.

"France cannot carry on being the only film-maker who is not invited to the script development."

A poll carried out for today’s Paris Match weekly magazine revealed that 58% of French people are in favour of a return to the Nato command structure.

Source: The Guardian, 11 March 2009