France tones down EU presidency rhetoric

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French Secretary of State for EU Affairs Jean-Pierre Jouyet has played down expectations regarding the goals of its upcoming EU presidency amid rising tensions with partners over President Nicolas Sarkozy’s European policy. EURACTIV France reports.

The desire of the French government to adopt a more discreet approach to its EU presidency was first expressed by Secretary of State for EU Affairs Jean-Pierre Jouyet in Brussels on 23 January. 

Jouyet said that the France’s time at the EU helm would be “modest in its style, ambitious in its objectives, and realistic”. Moreover, he stressed that France wanted to convince its partners that the presidency would adopt a “collective” approach. “To win, a team must have a collective gameplan, even if that team has a star player,” he said. 

Moreover, the Elysée has indicated that the government will postpone any further significant announcements concerning the EU presidency until June to give Slovenia more room for manoeuvre. 

President Sarkozy’s official announcement of his government’s priorities for its presidency on 8 January caused some consternation among its European partners, coming at the same time as Slovenia was highlighting the goals of its own period at the helm. 

Sarkozy’s declaration that France wanted Europe to have new immigration, defence, energy and environment policies by the end of its presidency irritated some member states, with Germany believed to be particularly annoyed by his position on a number of key issues. 

Moreover, frequent comments by Henri Guaino, special advisor to the Elysée, concerning the EU’s “absurd” competition policy and a European Central Bank approach that “does not favour growth” are further antagonising France’s EU partners as well as the Commission. 

Finally, Germany and Slovenia have expressed their doubts over the Mediterranean Union project proposed by Sarkozy amid fears that it would lead to a split within the EU between Mediterranean and non-Mediterranean countries (see EURACTIV 13/12/07). 

French Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Michel Barnier reassured an EU Council meeting on 21 January that "France is not strong when it is arrogant, and it is not powerful when it is alone". 

French Secretary of State for EU Affairs Jean-Pierre Jouyet told Le Figaro newspaper that in France "we tend to make announcements in the morning and want to achieve them by the evening." 

Slovene Prime Minister Janez Janša told the European Parliament on 16 January that his country's presidency would not be as "grandiose as that of France", but it would "focus on substance". 

MEPs have also expressed their reservations about the French government’s approach to its presidency. Graham Watson (ALDE, UK) said that "not all roads lead to Paris". 

Stéphane Rozès, director of the CSA institute, said that French citizens see their time at the EU's helm as "the presidency of French interests in Europe." 

Specifically referring to France's plans for a Mediterranean Union, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told the Bundestag on 12 December 2007 that "Europe can only succeed jointly", adding that any specific co-operation with the EU "must be open to all member states". 

Moreover, Slovene Prime Minister Janez Janša warned that "what we don’t need is duplication or institutions competing with those of the EU." 

In response, French Secretary of State for EU Affairs Jean-Pierre Jouyet told Le Figaro newspaper that "we must be careful not to take any strategic decision in this area without involving all our partners". 

France is set to assume the six-month rotating EU presidency in June 2008, taking over from Slovenia, the current incumbent. French President Nicolas Sarkozy has already outlined a series of ambitious objectives in areas ranging from energy and the environment to immigration and defence (see EURACTIV 07/12/07). 

Although Sarkozy's role in the compromise reached over the Treaty of Lisbon and his post-election visit to Brussels had been praised in EU circles, the mood has soured recently amid concerns that France is stealing the limelight from Slovenia and adopting a self-centred approach to its presidency. 

Meanwhile, 61% of the French see the upcoming presidency as a means of strengthening the country's influence in Europe, according to a survey carried out by the IFOP institute in collaboration with Touteleurope.fr, a website. 

  • June-Dec. 2008: French EU presidency.

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