Seen from America : What to expect from the French EU Presidency

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

It remains to be seen whether the upcoming French EU presidency to be presided over by President “Sarkozy the European” will be successful, claims Justin Vaïsse of the Fondation Robert Schuman. 

The June paper claims the “temptation is to use the presidency to aggressively promote one’s country-specific interests rather than act in the European interest,” questioning whether the French president will remain the self-styled “Sarkozy the European” or become “the hyperactive defender of French interests”. 

Vaisse outlines the following main priorities to be addressed by Nicolas Sarkozy: 

  • Relaunching European Defence: Sarkozy’s will to strengthen the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) will encounter two main “obstacles”, says the author. The first problem is the way it is perceived by France’s European partners as being “built against NATO”. Thus the French President plans to make it clear that the policy’s intention is to “give the EU the ability to contribute to global stability and ensure its own security” while ensuring that NATO and the ESDP “are in no way competitors”, the author reports. 

Vaïsse believes the capacity issue is more serious as “most Europeans just don’t pay enough for their security”. To convince other EU member states, Sarkozy intends to establish “permanent structured cooperation” on defence which would involve “binding commitments”, writes Vaïsse, stating: “There is no doubt that Nicolas Sarkozy will be attacked at home for giving too much to NATO and America, without getting enough in return”. 

  • Energy and climate issues: When it comes to the national objectives set by the EU to increase the share of renewable energies, France and other member states “disagree” with the Commission. Vaïsse questions whether nuclear energy should be classed as ‘clean’ energy. 
  • CAP ‘Health Check’: Considering the changing international context as signified by food scarcity and rising prices, the CAP Health Check for 2008-2013 will take place under Sarkozy’s Presidency, believes the author. France’s “community preference” in agriculture, seen as “hidden protectionism”, casts doubt over the direction he will take, adds Vaïsse. 
  • Tightening immigration policy: The main issues here are the establishment of a common “asylum policy for all 27 member states,” “increasing cooperation on fighting illegal immigration” and facilitating an influx of high-skilled workers. 

The paper concludes that “the European construction presents a dilemma” for France because “on the one hand, it extends French reach and allows Paris to attain a critical mass”, but “on the other hand the deeper France integrates, the less French it becomes and the more compromises it needs to accept for a greater collective good”. 

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