The CER guide to the French Presidency

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

France’s EU Presidency “will have to focus on resolving the legal and institutional mess created by the Irish ‘no’ to the EU’s Lisbon Treaty,” says Katinka Barysch of the Centre for European Reform.

But the country will be faced with “some significant obstacles” in this regard, says the July paper. 

While French President Nicolas Sarkozy appears to be willing to find a way out of this “impasse”, the author recalls that the Czech Republic, Poland and even Austria could stop the ratification process. She adds that in this scenario, “pressure on Ireland would mount” if these countries refused to re-start the process unless the Irish vote again. But it will take longer for the Irish to hold another referendum than many European politicians would like, believes the author. 

Barysch says Sarkozy’s main task will be to “keep ratification going” in the other EU member states, but warns that his “forthright style and incessant activism” is making the German government “suspicious” and worrying other leaders, who question his “savoir faire to manoeuvre the EU”. 

On climate change, France must “forge an agreement […] with obligatory targets for individual countries” before the Czech Republic takes over the Presidency, because the latter is much less ambitious on this matter, says the author. She cautions that “if the EU fails to meet this timetable, it will find it much harder to extract concessions from other countries”. 

Barysch warns that some of the proposals in Sarkozy’s ‘European Immigration Pact” will have to be “watered down”, like the centralised EU system for processing refugee applications. Despite this, “most member states will be happy to sign up”. 

But the French President’s desire to strengthen European defence is “unlikely to be popular in Germany,” she says, as it would imply spending more on the EU’s military budget. 

As for trade, Sarkozy seeks a more “protective Europe”, a controversial issue among Scandinavian states, the UK and the EU’s newcomers, warns Barysch. 

On Sarkozy’s “pet project”, the Union for the Mediterranean, he is likely to encounter the same problems as the Barcelona Process, she warns. Indeed these are “already appearing”, such as “Arab opposition to deeper co-operation with Israel,” she points out. 

Finally, she believes it is unlikely that France will have time to build a new EU-Russia partnership and make progress on Ukraine’s accession in the EU in the face of opposition from some member states. 

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