In line with UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who yesterday called for a “new Bretton Woods”, French President and current EU presidency holder Nicolas Sarkozy strongly appealed for a global summit to be held before the end of the year to reform the world financial system.
Wrapping up a two-day EU summit in Brussels, Sarkozy made a passionate plea for world leaders to endorse bold reform of the international financial system to address the crisis without delay.
“Europe wants this summit before the end of this year. Europe wants it, Europe requests it, Europe will obtain it,” said a bullish Sarkozy.
The French President strongly rejected suggestions that the EU should wait for the new US administration to take office next year, warning that the momentum for reform could be lost in the meantime.
He and Commission President José Manuel Barroso will travel to the US to meet President Bush on Saturday (18 October).
“I’ve spoken several times to President Bush,” Sarkozy said. “He could perfectly well come to the summit accompanied by the economic team of the new president. On the contrary, this would add more value. For Europe also, it would not be a disadvantage.”
The French President admitted, however, that agreement over the exact agenda of the talks still needed to be reached.
“We Europeans have a number of ideas. For one, we said it’s unacceptable to have this summit without the Russians. But it’s not just them. There are the new emerging economies. And then: what do we expect from this summit? Europe will fight for concrete decisions, and not only for principles. Just for this, it’s already worth the trip, don’t you think?,” Sarkozy asked a crowded press room at the EU summit.
Sarkozy also voiced his intention to combat tax havens and hedge funds, as well as reform the IMF and introduce a global mechanism to supervise international financial institutions. His proposals closely match the views expressed by UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown in a paper circulated the day before (EURACTIV 15/10/08).
Speaking at a separate press event, Brown commended the French President. “He [Sarkozy] led the [summit] talks with a great deal of brilliance,” said Brown.
However, all sides do not appear to agree on every issue. For instance, Sarkozy said the French Presidency would “take initiatives” over the coming months to build stronger economic governance in Europe following the exceptional decisions made by the fifteen countries of the Eurogroup and the UK on Sunday to address the financial crisis. “The emergence of an economic governance of Europe should not be stopped here,” Sarkozy stressed.
He went even further, suggesting the crisis offerred “the opportunity, maybe, to reconcile the Europeans with Europe”.
“I am ready to take the bet that from the crisis, the image of Europe could emerge stronger,” the French President said, adding that public opinion could swing in favour of the European project if EU leaders showed they were acting to “protect” them.
European economic government taking shape?
Sarkozy took the opportunity to push for stronger European economic governance, to give political guidance to the European Central Bank in the same way that the US government is able to influence the Federal Reserve.
This idea is supported by the French political class across party lines, but opposed by Germany, which is suspicious of French interventionism and favours a fully independent ECB.
“Countries that share the same central bank and the same currency must coordinate economic policy,” Sarkozy said, adding: “If we managed to bring a coordinated response to the financial crisis in Europe, shouldn’t we also bring a coordinated response to the economic crisis in Europe?”
However, the French president admitted that unanimity was not around the corner.
“Do we want the same kind of coordination for the economic policies as for the financial crisis? From the point of view of the French Presidency, the answer is yes, yes, yes, yes. Do we have unanimity? No, no, no,” he said, amid laughs.
Sarkozy pointed to the crisis summit of 12 October, where ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet sat with Eurozone leaders and Commission President Barroso in the Elysée Palace, to illustrate his vision of more political governance of the euro zone.
“Seeing the president of the European Central bank discussing with heads of state and government of the euro zone, without anyone feeling its independence being threatened, I wanted to say: At last! At last!”
“Mr. Trichet did a remarkable job. It’s no secret that we have not always agreed on everything. But I am of the point of view that we must work together and the last thing we need is to display disunity […] And this [European] economic government that we want so much, it was taking shape, and this will not stop,” said the French president, adding that the French Presidency would take other initiatives in this respect.
Treaty agreement by December?
The French President also said he hoped that all countries – with the exception of Ireland – would have ratified the Lisbon Treaty by the end of December, indicating that he was preparing to travel to Poland on 6 December to push for quick ratification there.
A “roadmap” would then be proposed, which could be endorsed by an extraordinary EU summit to take place before the regular EU meeting on 11-12 December, he added.
Slovenia gets ‘wise men’ job
One of the last items to be agreed upon by EU leaders was the composition of a reflection group, headed by former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez, to ponder the EU’s long-term future up until 2030.
The summit endorsed a list of twelve people (EURACTIV 14/10/08), and gave in to a request from Slovenia to appoint a Slovene national at the head of the group’s secretariat general.