Sarkozy sweet-talks European Parliament

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A determined Nicolas Sarkozy outshone his critics during the debate that followed his presentation of the French Presidency’s priorities in the European Parliament on 10 July. In a skilled address, the French President accused those EU leaders who are reluctant to proceed with the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty of “cowardice”. 

Europe in crisis 

A bold Sarkozy, who did not read from a written speech, called a spade “a spade” and the situation in Europe following the Irish negative referendum on the Lisbon Treaty a “crisis”. 

“We all have a heavy responsibility to get Europe out of its crisis,” he said, pointing to the need for unity in such a crucial moment. “There are here (in the EP) politicians from the left, from the centre, from the right, there are politicians from 27 countries. Today we must make our differences a force at the service of a suffering European Union,” Sarkozy pleaded. 

Mission to Ireland – no pressure? 

Sarkozy said his first visit abroad in his new EU capacity would be to Ireland, on 21 July, but stressed he was not going there to put pressure on the Irish government. “It’s certainly not a Frenchman who should make a judgement over the Irish ‘no’, since before there was a Dutch ‘no’ and a French ‘no’. I will go to listen, to engage in dialogue, to try to find solutions, and the French Presidency will propose a method,” he said. 

But despite insisting there would be no pressure, he stressed the urgency of coming up with a solution. “We must tell our citizens the basis on which we are going to hold next year’s European elections – on the basis of the Lisbon Treaty or the Nice Treaty,” he stressed. He further made it plain that there will be “no new intergovernmental conferences” and “no new treaty”, adding that he hopes for “a solution, in agreement with the Irish government, in October or in December”. 

Enlargement in exchange for Treaty – a fair deal

Linking the new treaty’s future to EU enlargement, Sarkozy stated that while the 2004 expansion had been a success, he personally regrets that Europe did not reform its institutions so as to be ready for the enlargement in advance. “Let us be clear – we cannot repeat the same mistakes again. If we stay with Nice, it will be Europe with 27 members,” Sarkozy warned. 

Indirectly alluding to the Czech Republic and Poland, which are still wavering on whether to approve the Treaty, the French President said: “The countries favouring enlargement the most cannot say ‘We don’t want Lisbon, but we want enlargement. It’s Lisbon and enlargement. It’s not about blackmail, because we don’t do blackmail in Europe. It’s a question of coherence”. 

Leaders accused 

Sarkozy complained that some political leaders are “unwilling to defend in public the choices they made in Brussels”. He went so far as to accuse some leaders of “cowardice”, adding that he had told the president of Poland that, since he negotiated the Lisbon Treaty, he has not just a political but a moral duty to sign it. 

No multispeed Europe 

Sarkozy strongly opposed the view that Europe could continue to function by allowing countries to engage in new, more advanced forms of co-operation should they so desire. “Europe paid a high price for letting itself be divided by a wall of shame. Let’s think twice before we leave countries behind,” the French President said. 

The priority is to protect 

Sarkozy said the common denominator of the French Presidency’s priorities is to protect the European citizen. He argued that Europeans have a right to expect “protection” from Europe but that this need not mean “protectionism”. 

Notably, on agriculture, Sarkozy said common sense must prevail in the perspective of a global population of nine billion by 2050. “This is not the time to scale down Europe’s food production,” he argued. 

He then spoke of the energy and climate package, saying “we are the last generation that can prevent disaster”. He urged Europe to set an example to the world and to find a solution for the new Member States, who consider the Commission proposals for CO2 emissions cuts as unfair (EURACTIV 02/06/08).

In the context of protecting the citizen, the French President dwelled on immigration, development and defence. He said that Kosovo is a European problem, but it cannot be handled by Europe if the Union does not establish the necessary instruments to apply the decisions which it has adopted. He rejected the idea that EU defence could undermine NATO. 

Freedom to criticise ECB 

Turning to monetary policy, he maintained that it was fair to ask ‘What is the right monetary strategy?’ and ‘What is the right exchange rate policy?” He said he is not challenging the independence of the European Central Bank but wants a more open debate on certain issues like interest rates, which the ECB has set at 4.25 compared with 2% in the USA. 

Critics rebuffed 

Questioned by several MEPs on his decision to attend the opening ceremony of the Olympics in Beijing, Sarkozy replied that he had consulted EU heads of state and government and has their unanimous backing. He explained that, in his view, it would be wrong to humiliate China, and also counterproductive to upset the Chinese leadership when Europe needs its co-operation on major international issues such as Darfur or Iran. 

The French President benefited from applause while answering questions from some of his critics, some of whom were booed by the audience. Turning to the leader of the French National Front Jean-Marie Le Pen, who attacked him on a number of issues, including his role in the recent liberation of French-Colombian hostage Ingrid Betancourt, Sarkozy said, not without sarcasm: “Listening to you, I was thinking that for years, France had the great misfortune of having the most powerful extreme right in Europe. But now I’m very happy to see that this is over.” 

PES President Poul Nyrup Rasmussen (Denmark) advised the French Presidency to invest in job creation. "Europe is losing jobs right now," said the PES President, adding that with "new coordinated investment" Europe could, together, create millions of new jobs. 

Joseph Daul, Chairman of the EPP-ED Group (France), criticised the Union for devoting so much energy to developing a better decision-making instrument at at time when European citizens' problems are constantly accumulating and getting worse. "This same energy could be put into creating employment, defending our interests, promoting our social model and our European specificity," said Daul. 

Graham Watson, leader of the ALDE Group (UK) chided Sarkozy for his decision to attend the Olympics opening ceremony: "France gave us the rights of man, now France must lead in their defence. Monsieur le président en office, n'allez pas à Beijing, jouez collectif," Watson appealed. 

Francis Wurtz, the French leader of GUE/NGL (the European United Left - Nordic Green Left Group) accused Sarkozy of hypocrisy, saying he was putting pressure on the Irish while "they had only expressed out loud, after the French and the Dutch, what millions other Europeans think in their hearts". 

He further added: "You criticise, rightly, the way the ECB has been managing the Euro from its ivory tower. But you never recommend re-examining the statutes which grant it all those powers, and even endow it with this mission! You state, on the subject of immigration, that you want to 'serve the values that are ours', but you supported the shameful directive, by all human rights organisations and by the European churches, precisely because it violates essential human values." 

Under the motto "a more protective Europe", France took over the rotating EU Presidency on 1 July with an additional challenge – getting the EU out of an institutional crisis triggered by the rejection of the Lisbon Treaty in Ireland. 

The Irish 'no' disrupted France's already busy six-month agenda, which initially planned to tackle four priorities - energy and climate change, immigration, defence and a review of the EU's farm policy. 

At a summit in June, European leaders made clear there would be no new treaty and agreed to give the Irish time to reflect and start exploring possible solutions at their next meeting in October 2008 (EURACTIV 20/06/08).

Sarkozy's persuasion and negotiation skills may prove uselful in this process. Together with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, he was instrumental in hammering out a new "simplified treaty" to replace the draft EU constitution rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005 - a process which led to the signature of the Lisbon Treaty in December 2007. 

In the meantime, Sarkozy plans to visit Ireland on 21 July to review the situation. 

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