(KATAKAMI / FRANCE 24/ AFP) – France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy called Monday for US economic reforms, and in comments echoing Franco-American spats of the past, said Washington cannot “run the world” alone.
The French leader used a visit to New York, where he met with students at Columbia University, to deliver what he called “home truths” to his hosts.
Sarkozy, accompanied by his wife Carla Bruni, a former supermodel, was in New York a day before meeting President Barack Obama at the White House in Washington on Tuesday.
With his popularity diving at home and his party reeling from defeat in regional elections, the US visit is seen as a chance for Sarkozy to regain momentum.
Sarkozy has generally worked hard to rebuild ties with Washington, but his comments to Columbia students recalled a more prickly past.
Saying “there is no single country in the 21st century that can run the world alone,” he urged the United States to join Europe in “inventing the rules for the economy of tomorrow.”
Reiterating traditional European skepticism of US economic free markets, he said: “We need the great American people to understand that the absence of rules kills liberty.”
“The world economic regulations cannot go on as they are. We can’t accept a capitalist system without rules any more,” he added. Lack of rules, he said, “will be the death of capitalism.”
Sarkozy said he would discuss with Obama ways to stabilize commodities markets and to define “a new international monetary order.”
“The dollar is not the only currency in the world,” he said.
While he was careful to lavish praise on Obama, he appeared to have a less upbeat view of ordinary US citizens, pleading with them “not to lag behind” behind their Democratic president on financial regulations, defense and the environment.
Even his congratulations for Obama’s hard-fought victory in pushing health care reform through a divided Congress came laced with criticism.
“Welcome to the club of countries that does not dump its sick people,” Sarkozy said.
“But if you want me to be sincere, seen from Europe, when we see the US debate on health care reform, we find it hard to believe.”
France, he noted, had “resolved” the health care problem half a century ago.
Meanwhile, Sarkozy urged worldwide support for Russia following the deaths of 38 people in two suicide bombings in the Moscow metro.
The French president said the attacks were no different to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, which killed nearly 3,000 people, most of them in New York.
“Do you think there’s a fundamental difference between the lunatics who blew up innocent victims in the Moscow metro and the insane people who flew planes into the Twin Towers of New York?” he asked.
“When New York was attacked, all the world’s democracies were attacked. And when Moscow is attacked, we are all attacked,” Sarkozy said.
The direct comparison between 9/11 and Monday’s rush hour suicide bombings in Moscow was unusual for a Western leader.
The West has regularly condemned bombings and other terrorist attacks in Russia, many of them carried out by militants linked to Chechen rebels.
However, Western capitals have also been deeply critical of Russia’s anti-insurgency campaigns in Chechnya and other areas of the mostly Muslim North Caucasus over the last 15 years, in which tens of thousands of civilians have been killed and thousands have disappeared or been tortured.