France's left-wing opposition has accused President Nicolas Sarkozy of placing French "independence" at risk by seeking to rejoin Nato's integrated military command and by promising to send extra troops to Afghanistan.
Socialist, Communist and Green members of the national assembly combined to force the first vote of "censure" or "no confidence" of M. Sarkozy's presidency. Although the vote had no chance of succeeding, left-wing leaders said it was important to draw attention to a "dangerous turning point" in French foreign and defence policy.
The Socialist Party's first secretary, François Hollande, leading the charge in a two-hour debate, said the "whole of Europe will find itself aligned with the United States" if France "abandoned its right to make autonomous decisions".
He added: "This turning towards Nato is not only against [France's] interests but operates against the stability of the world."
President Sarkozy has said that he will take a decision at the end of this year on whether France should rejoin the integrated military command of Nato.
Although France has always been a member of the Atlantic alliance, President Charles de Gaulle withdrew France from the military structure in 1966, complaining of American domination.
A few traditionalist Gaullist members of M. Sarkozy's centre-right party, including the former prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, have attacked the President's decision to consider placing the French military under Nato command. However, they were not expected to vote with the opposition and the censure vote last night was merely a formality.
M. Hollande also criticised President Sarkozy's decision to send more French troops – believed to be about 800 – to help the Nato coalition against the Taliban in Afghanistan. He said that France risked being caught up in a "floundering" mission with no exit strategy.
In response, the Prime Minister, François Fillon, mocked the "gut anti-Americanism" and short memories of the French left. It was a Socialist prime minister, Lionel Jospin, he pointed out, who first committed French troops to Afghanistan in 2001.
Were the left now ready to tell the Afghan people that France was pulling out once the going became tough?
M. Fillon said that France would remain what it had always been, "an ally of Washington but not its vassal... supportive, but not subordinate".Reuse content