France’s EU Presidency objectives, primary among which is the much-vaunted ‘Union for the Mediterranean’ project, are so ambitious that the government may not have the means to implement them, Olivier Ferrand, the president of Terra Nova, a new progressive think tank, told EURACTIV France in an interview.
France assumed the EU’s six-month rotating presidency on 1 July 2008 and will remain at the bloc’s helm until the end of the year. It had identified energy, climate change, defence and immigration policy among its main priorities before the institutional crisis triggered by Ireland’s rejection of the Lisbon Treaty threatened to take centre stage (see our Links Dossier on the French EU Presidency).
Ferrand cites institutional hurdles such as the limited timeframe offered by an EU presidency as well as France’s tarnished international image as a result of its recent disappointing economic and social performance among the obstacles preventing French President Nicolas Sarkozy from presiding over major change.
What’s more, he suggests that the controversy surrounding many of Sarkozy’s proposals will hamper their chances of success, not least because many European capitals are currently “dragging their feet on European issues”.
The analyst cites the ‘Union for the Mediterranean’ as a prime example. Despite its status as “the big media event of France’s term,” most countries “do not want it,” he claims, starting with Germany but also including the EU’s southern partners.
Morocco in particular fears that the new union “could destablise all its relations” with the EU as a whole, while it is even unpopular with the European Commission, which feels sidelined by the project, Ferrand claims.
Nevertheless, he believes a re-examination of the Barcelona Process is necessary because “we do have a problem with the Mediterranean”. The stakes in the region are “real”, he argues, highlighting huge salary discrepancies between the northern and southern coastlines. Incomes in southern states can be as low as a tenth of those in their northern counterparts, he says, citing this as proof that “something [more] needs to be done,” particularly as the “bureaucratic” Barcelona Process “no longer has any money”.
Representing a break from tradition, the French Presidency’s decision not to prioritise social Europe is a “fundamental error,” believes Ferrand. “Institutional Europe must protect citizens from contemporary global economic development,” he argues, stressing: “The main protection required today is social.”
But “social Europe is currently blocked” at the institutional level because political Europe must come first, Ferrand laments, referring to the need for the Commission’s programme to be properly validated by voters at the urns. As for the current uncertainty surrounding the future of the Lisbon Treaty, he suggests it may be time to accept that some countries do not want to integrate as far as others and argues that the time is right to create a two-speed Europe.
Finally, addressing European defence policy is another issue dear to the French President. But the EU still “lacks military planning and command capabilities” in its own right as it remains tied to NATO, claims the analyst.
To read a full transcript of the interview with Olivier Ferrand on the EURACTIV France website, please click here.