French President Sarkozy's government survived a confidence vote in parliament Tuesday prompted by plans to rejoin NATO’s integrated command, more than four decades after it pulled out in protest against US dominance.
France returns to the NATO fold after an absence of more than 40 years
Lawmakers voted 329 to 238 in favor of Sarkozy's foreign policy following a debate in the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament.
Conservative Prime Minister Francois Fillon proposed the no-confidence motion amid strong opposition to boosting ties with NATO.
But the challenge was unlikely to succeed given that Sarkozy's Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party holds a majority of 317 seats in the 577-member National Assembly.
Sarkozy wants France to have a greater say in NATO
Sarkozy had said that France's return to full NATO membership, which he announced March 11, would strengthen European defense capabilities by giving Paris a say in the alliance's mission strategies and planning.
"Now we have soldiers deployed on the ground ... but no influence on the missions in which they participate," Sarkozy said. "We have excluded ourselves."
Vocal opposition to move
The move, widely viewed as one of Sarkozy's most important foreign policy changes, prompted strong protest across France's political spectrum. Critics feared it would diminish the country's diplomatic influence and independence.
Four former prime ministers, including two from conservative ranks -- Alain Juppe and Dominique de Villepin -- publicly expressed opposition to the move, saying it would put France under Washington's thumb.
Many French lawmakers believed former president Charles de Gaulle was right to pull France out of NATO's military command and evict US bases from French soil in 1966.
"When you look at the basis of General de Gaulle's decision in 1966, it was taken because, with an eye to the future, he was opposed to the bipolar world and he was calling for a multipolar world," senior Socialist Laurent Fabius said during the debate in the National Assembly.
"Just as this multipolar world is within sight, you are clinging on to the logic of two blocs and ensuring that the alpha and omega of your position is the defence of NATO and of the West, and we do not accept this concept which is dangerous because it is the basis of tensions in the world," he added.
PM says change in line with reality
Prime Minister Fillon said on Tuesday rejoining NATO's integrated command was in line with modern-day reality, and that Paris would only benefit from the change.
"NATO is no longer the organization some people speak of. Forty years ago, General de Gaulle was withdrawing from a compact organisation, an organisation erected against the Warsaw pact and led exclusively by the United States," Fillon said.
"Since then, the notion of coalitions, of willing states and variable participation has imposed itself to the detriment of the rigid mindsets of the Cold War," he added.
France's return to the integrated command is expected to become official at a NATO summit in the eastern French city of Strasbourg and at Kehl across the border in Germany on April 3-4.
France is the fourth-largest contributor of troops to NATO and has some 2,800 soldiers deployed in Afghanistan. The decision would see French generals take charge of two NATO commands, though not in Afghanistan.