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Nicolas Sarkozy

Sarkozy's EU: between success and dampened ambitions

By Déborah Berlioz

It's already been three months since France took over the European Union's rotating presidency. If it's too soon to make a definitive evaluation of Sarkozy's work at the head of the Union, we can already try to review what has been done what still needs to be achieved. 

Last year, just after his election victory, President Nicolas Sarkozy had a lot of ambitious plans for his turn at the head of the European Union, from the Mediterranean Union to bringing the Lisbon Treaty into force or boosting European defence. But other EU capitals and Irish voters have forced him to scale down his aims.

Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel
Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel


Paris actually expected to overhaul the EU institutions to prepare the Lisbon Treaty's coming into force on January 1. But the Irish voter's rejection of the EU reform treaty in a June referendum scuppered any hope for Sarkozy to bring it into force on schedule. The french President had to look for a solution that could make it possible for the Irish government to call a new vote next year. Sarkozy wanted the Irish to vote again as soon as possible, in the aim to bring the treaty into force before the next European Election in June 2009. Another ambition which had to be scaled down. The Irish Minister of Foreign Affairs announced in September that another referendum would not be possible before Autumn 2009.

Sarkozy's other big project for Europe, The Mediterranean Union, was aimed to bring the sea's motley crew of residents together in one framework. But Germany and others did not really agree to the idea of France, Italy, Spain and Greece drawing on EU funds to finance a project that would not be open to EU countries without a mediterranean coast. Consequently, the initiative was downsized, its membership extended to all EU states, and was renamed "Union for the Mediterranean". However, this launch in July with more than 40 statesmen present in Paris was one of the presidency biggest event and success.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy
French president Nicolas Sarkozy


Other France's official priorities face obstacles. We can name the aim to broke an agreement to curb greenhouse gas emissions and promote energy source for example. The French President wanted to pave the way for a meeting in Copenhagen next year, to create a successor to the Kyoto protocol on climate change. But it's a particularly difficult task, since numerous countries layed down their own requirements. Paris's will to boost the European defence faces also obstacles, which come especially from Britain. Both sides agree on increasing the European maritime and air fleet, but London has resisted creating a new European military headquarters. Paris wants also to update the Common Agricultural Policy, but talks so far have made little progress.

There were however some successes, like the Pact on immigration and asylum, which was already approved by the ministers in charge of the file. But the biggest success of the French presidency until now is unquestionably the management of the crisis in Georgia. Sarkozy is not really famous for his diplomacy, but he deserves the credit for the speed with which the EU French presidency persuaded both Georgia and Russia to agree to a six-point plan for peace. 

However, since it is never good to judge too quickly, we'll wait three more months to do a definitive evaluation of France as the head of the EU.


The management of the present financial crisis might be one of Sarkozy's biggest challenges. 


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