Assessing the French EU Presidency

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

“[French] President [Nicholas] Sarkozy has shown how important and useful for all it is to have a strong and stable leadership for the Union,” argue the contributors to a European Policy Centre (EPC) commentary on the outcome of the outgoing French EU Presidency.

The “several crises that hit the Union since July have served to energise the EU as a whole,” argues the December paper.

Such energy resulted in a record number of EU summits convened by the French Presidency, proving Europe to be a “dynamic player, constructive partner and effective crisis manager,” the think tank declares. 

The EPC puts this down to President Sarkozy, arguing that he “displayed a remarkable, and almost un-French, degree of open-mindedness and adaptability in terms of action and reaction to unexpected events and developments”. 

For example, while dealing with the invasion of Georgia, he “prevented the EU 27 from splitting over relations with Russia as they had over the war in Iraq,” the paper recalls. 

Moreover, the EPC remarks that France’s management of the financial crisis was mainly “trial and error”, but praises its “readiness to consider and take on board new ideas from London and to project them onto the EU as a whole and the rest of the world”. 

The energetic style of the French EU Presidency led to “occasional spats with some capitals,” the paper admits, but Sarkozy managed to “appease them with concessions and derogations in order to seal a deal on the climate and energy package”. 

With regard to negotiations over the CAP, defence policy and the Union for the Mediterranean, there were “fears about France using the chair to pursue national interests,” the authors recall. 

But France’s more controversial ideas always met with resistance from other member states, and as it turns out, whenever France “tried to impose a national agenda onto its partners, it mostly failed,” the authors assert. “But whenever it managed to combine its agenda with other member states’ interests, it mostly succeeded,” the EPC observes. 

Finally, the paper asserts that Sarkozy partially managed to reconcile France with new EU member states by “listening to their demands and mostly delivering on them,” even though this meant “canvassing and cajoling their leaders [and] combining political pressure and formal recognition”. 

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