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French Govt faces no confidence vote over NATO

world Updated: Mar 17, 2009 17:01 IST

AP
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French President Nicolas Sarkozy's government faces a no-confidence vote in Parliament on Tuesday prompted by its plans to rejoin NATO's military command, a move that lawmakers on the left and right fear would compromise France's independence. The conservative government is nearly certain to survive the vote, but the proposal of tighter ties with NATO has ignited political tensions in a country that has long taken pride in setting its own diplomatic and defense direction.

Charles de Gaulle pulled France out of NATO's military command in 1966 and booted American troops and the alliance's headquarters off French soil, seeking a less US-oriented policy during the Cold War and sovereign control over France's burgeoning nuclear force. Defense Minister Herve Morin insisted in a radio interview on Tuesday that moving back into the command will not mute France's voice in global affairs.

"France's independence is not being called under question," he said on RTL radio. "We will remain the masters of our forces within the Atlantic alliance."

France remained a member of NATO, has a large force in Afghanistan and has increased its involvement in the alliance in recent years.

But it has remained a part-time player. Rejoining the military command would allow France to make key planning decisions within the alliance and put French officers in charge of command posts. Sarkozy says it is time to climb back into NATO's control room, arguing that the end of the Cold War and cross-border threats such as terrorism have heightened the need for international military cooperation.

He does not need parliamentary approval to rejoin, and has said he will send a letter soon to NATO's command announcing his decision.

French legislators will get their say Tuesday during a debate in the lower house of parliament, which is dominated by the ruling UMP party. After the debate, the parliament will vote whether it has confidence in the government.

Sarkozy's plan to rejoin the NATO command will not be put to a vote, however. If it had, the vote might have been close, because a few dozen UMP members are opposed to the move.

But most of those UMP lawmakers do not want the UMP-led government to collapse, and so are expected to set aside their criticism of NATO to support Prime Minister Francois Fillon in the confidence vote.