European leaders react to Sarkozy’s election

As Angela Merkel, George W. Bush and Tony Blair lined up to congratulate Sarkozy on his victory in the French presidential run-off, in Turkey, a sense of foreboding prevails as his win threatens to upset already rocky EU-accession negotiations.

  • Economy 

Sarkozy is welcomed by Europeans as a man capable of pushing through the necessary reforms to revitalise the French economy, including putting an end to the 35-hour working week. However, his recent protectionist statements, in which he vowed to defend French companies against foreign takeovers and blamed the strength of the euro for France’s economic woes, have caused dismay in the Commission and the European Central Bank. 

Speaking to his supporters after his election, he warned that the European Union must not be “a Trojan horse” for globalisation’s ills. 

  • EU Treaty

Sarkozy has long pleaded for a ‘mini-treaty’ to replace the stalled EU Constitution. This new ‘tool-box’ – aimed principally at streamlining decision-making in Brussels so as to prevent bureaucratic deadlock in an EU of 27 members that will likely continue to grow – would not be subject to a fresh referendum. 

  • Transatlantic ties 

The victory of Nicolas Sarkozy – often described as “Sarko the American” by his rivals – comes as a relief for Washington, after years of tense relations with outgoing President Jacques Chirac over the war in Iraq. 

Before the elections, both Republican Senator Dick Lugar and Democratic Senator Charles Schumer said they preferred Sarkozy. “It would be nice to have someone who is head of France who doesn’t almost have a knee-jerk reaction against the United States,” said Schumer. 

Speaking after the results of the election were announced, Sarkozy told the US: “They can count on our friendship”, adding: “I want to tell them that France will always be by their side.” Nevertheless he added: “But I also want to tell them that friendship means accepting that friends can have different opinions…A great nation, like the United States, has a duty not to block the battle against global warming but, on the contrary, to take the lead in this battle, because the fate of the whole of humanity is at stake.” 

  • Enlargement and immigration 

Sarkozy’s victory however comes as bad news for EU-candidate country Turkey. Indeed, the President-elect objects to further EU enlargement, saying that it will dilute Europe’s identity and turn the EU into an unworkable institution. 

Furthermore, he has stressed: “Even if Turkey is a laic country, it lies in Asia Minor. I refuse to explain to French schoolchildren that Europe’s borders are with Irak and Syria.” 

He instead supports an EU-led “Mediterranean Union” that would include Turkey and other Muslim countries in North Africa and which would strive to solve problems such as immigration and poverty together. France and Africans will “decide on a policy of managed immigration together”, he said, although many believe that Sarkozy could harden immigration laws and perform mass expulsions. 

"This election has been very closely followed in Europe, because France matters in Europe," said Commission President José Manuel Barroso. "France has always been at the centre of European politics and a strong Europe needs a 'European' France," he said, adding that he had “all confidence in Nicolas play a key role in the resolution of the institutional issue". 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who currently holds the rotating six-month European Presidency, congratulated Sarkozy on his “convincing election victory”, adding: “In what is one of the crucial phases for Europe, it is important to continue the close, trusting and intensive cooperation between Germany and France.” 

British Prime Minister Tony Blair telephoned Sarkozy to congratulate him on his win, and Spain's Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero praised him as a "solid politician" incarnating an “open and modern right” that would help France "recover its self-assurance and keep being a part of the European locomotive in the 21st century". 

Speaking on behalf of US President George W. Bush, Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for the National Security Council said: “The United States and France are historic allies and partners. President Bush looks forward to working with President-elect Sarkozy as we continue our strong alliance.” 

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he hoped that Sarkozy’s election would not harm Franco-Turk relations. “Our heart-felt wish is that we won't hear the kind of statements made by Mr. Sarkozy during his election campaign in our bilateral relations, both in contacts between France and Turkey and in the EU process,” he said, adding: “Now we will see how he acts.” 

Bassirou Diarra, co-president of the Franco-Malian committee on migrations, said: “We hope that he will rapidly pronounce a speech that will appease the emigration dossier.” 

The President of the European Parliament Hans-Gert Pöttering said that he had “every confidence in the determination of Nicolas Sarkozy to relaunch in France the dynamic required for the European constitutional process”. 

Joseph Daul, French MEP and President of the EPP-ED group welcomed the French people’s “courageous and lucid choice for change”, adding that this choice had been awaited with impatience by other European countries. “With Nicolas Sarkozy, France will make the necessary reforms to become a major actor in Europe once again and to assume its full role in the globalisation process”. 

But Socialists said they feared Sarkozy will push the EU's agenda further to the right on economic reforms and on its immigration policies. “Social Europe has receded a bit today,'' said Belgian Socialist Senate chairwoman Anne-Marie Lizin, according to AP. “We see a map of Europe which is very much a conservative Europe, wanting to get rid of social protections.” 

Francis Wurtz, President of the leftist GUE/NGL group in the EP, warned: “This election has not changed the feelings of the majority of French women and men vis-à-vis a liberal Europe. The populist discourse by the main right-wing candidate and the lack of a clear alternative from the left has just simply led the debate astray. In France, as in many other European countries, the spirit of 29 May 2005 is still extremely topical." 

A Sarkozy victory in the final round of the French Presidential elections, on 6 May 2007, was widely viewed as the preferred option for the conservative-led European Commission, notably due to his support for economic reform and his desire to quickly push ahead with a solution to Europe’s ‘constitutional crisis’, after French voters rejected the proposed EU Treaty in a referendum in 2005. 

Nevertheless, European leaders remain split on what effect his victory will have in the EU and the world. 

  • 16 May 2007: Sarkozy officially comes to power and expected to nominate a Prime Minister to form a new government 
  • 19-20 May 2007: New French government expected to be formed 
  • 10 June 2007: Parliamentary elections
  • 21-22 June 2007: EU summit in Brussels

On 9 May, EURACTIV will launch its French version in Paris,
, that will publish EU news and policy positions localised in a French context. To find out more, read the 
interview of publisher Nathalie Lhayani on Toute l'Europe, the French portal on EU affairs.

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