Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

Looking back on the French EU presidency

My full answers to some questions from a French newspaper for an article due to appear tomorrow, as France’s time at the EU helm draws to a close.

(And no, I never heard another word about the “bloggers panel” that the French Ambassador’s press office approached me about back in the summer, in case you were wondering. Such a panel would, however, be a very good idea for the EU – its web presence and PR strategy remains truly dire… They could learn a thing or two from the likes of us. My consultancy rate is a very reasonable £50 an hour.)

What is your general feeling towards the French presidency of the EU?

To be honest, bar Sarkozy making a big deal about trying (and pretty much failing) to sort out the Georgia crisis back in the summer, I’ve hardly noticed it. Whatever plans France may have had before taking over the presidency (and those were never exactly clear), Georgia and the credit crisis seem to have fairly effectively knocked them off the agenda. As we come to its close, the EU seems no nearer to finding any solutions to the problems we had before the French presidency, and with the ongoing fall-out from the Georgia crisis and the credit crunch now has even more things to worry about than it did before. Not France’s fault, necessarily, but this has been another six months of stagnation.

Still, that’s better than the UK managed during its presidency back in 2005, when Tony Blair seemed to vanish into thin air for six months. At least Sarkozy seemed keen to adopt the EU mantle and has been fairly visible in the European media. But that may just be thanks to his wife…

Do you think Nicolas Sarkozy coped with the crises that struck Europe (Irish refusal to the Lisbon treaty, economical crisis, Georgian crisis)?

He did as well as could be expected – which is not very.

I put a fair bit of blame on Bernard Kouchner for the Irish No in the first place – his comments about how the Irish owed the EU a Yes after all the EU help Ireland has received were widely reported, widely ridiculed (even if he may have had a point), and caused a lot of anger. Now that it looks like Ireland is going to be made to vote again – with a few meaningless concessions and guarantees that are unlikely to do anything to change anyone’s mind – it could well be this French Presidency that ends up getting the blame for Lisbon’s failure, having not really done much to convince anyone that the treaty is a genuinely good thing for Ireland or for Europe as a whole. But then again, the Irish referendum result is something that should be left to Ireland to work out – for Sarkozy or other EU bigwigs to meddle too much is likely to do more harm to the Yes camp’s cause than good.

On Georgia, Sarkozy tried his best, and was fairly high-profile in his various attempts to get an agreement over a ceasefire. But in the end Russia pulled out in her own time having utterly ignored EU concerns, and Sarkozy also failed to get the US behind EU efforts at peacemaking. Hell, not even the whole of the EU was behind Sarkozy on this one, with various national politicians using the crisis as an excuse to prove their international status (such as the UK’s still fairly inexperienced Foreign Secretary David Miliband and Leader of the Opposition David Cameron, both of whom flew out (independently) to be photographed playing at international statesman), while others were undermining Sarkozy thanks to either their dependence on Russian energy (Germany backing Moscow and talking down Georgia’s NATO chances) or old Cold War animosities (Poland in particular making a bid thing of standing up to Russia by signing up to the controversial US missile defence shield a few days after the invasion). As an example of a united EU foreign policy, the Georgia crisis was yet another failure.

On the credit crisis, as far as I can tell the EU seems to have been following Gordon Brown’s lead more than Sarkozy’s. And it’s still far too early to tell if the measures taken are going to have the desired effect in any case.

Which decision satisfied you the most ? Which disappointed you the most?

The attempt to play mediator over Georgia was good, even if the end result was a failure. Nice to see someone try to use the EU presidency in an external context for a change – too often EU presidencies are inward-looking.

As for disappointment, it’s a definite shame that no attempts at genuine reform were even hinted at. No efforts to increase the transparency of the Council, no moves towards the long-overdue reform of the CAP or CFP. And then there’s the unsurprising disappointment that the efforts to ratify the Lisbon Treaty are ongoing despite the Irish No, and that no real effort has been made to understand just why the electorates of three very different EU member states have all seen fit to reject the contitution/Lisbon. Where are the attempts to find out what the people of Europe think about the direction in which the EU seems to be heading? Until we get some sign that the views of the people are valued, the stalemate that the EU’s been stuck in since the failed Treaty of Nice way back in 2000 is only going to continue.

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