A global success with a few weaknesses

The French Pres­i­den­cy was over­whelm­ing­ly con­sid­ered a suc­cess, main­ly because of the charis­mat­ic French Pres­i­dent Sarkozy, who was large­ly cov­ered by the press.[1] The Czech Pres­i­den­cy in com­par­i­son is debat­ed less and the expec­ta­tions are gen­er­al­ly rather low and ambigu­ous. The French Pres­i­den­cy was glob­al­ly asso­ci­at­ed on the one hand with three major “dossier” and on the oth­er hand, with the French Pres­i­dent, Nico­las Sarkozy.

First of all, the three main “dossiers” high­light­ed dur­ing the semes­ter were defense pol­i­cy, cli­mate and ener­gy, and Con­go. Con­cern­ing the defense pol­i­cy, it was rec­og­nized as a pri­or­i­ty for the French Pres­i­den­cy, but that was con­sid­ered as far too ambitious.[2] More­over, the Bel­gian polit­i­cal elite were rather divid­ed on that area. Some par­ties, such as the Flem­ish-speak­ing social­ists (SPA-VL.Pro) con­sid­er that defense is not a pri­or­i­ty for many mem­ber states and cer­tain­ly not a pri­or­i­ty for Belgium.[3] While oth­ers, such as the French-speak­ing lib­er­als (MR), claimed that the EU should progress in terms of a com­mon defense policy.[4]

Climate and energy package

Sec­ond, the cli­mate and ener­gy pack­age, is very impor­tant for Bel­gium. Dur­ing his bilat­er­al talks with the French Prime Min­is­ter Fil­lon and the French Pres­i­dent Sarkozy, the Bel­gian Prime Min­is­ter Leterme high­ly stressed that an agree­ment in Decem­ber was essen­tial. He also stat­ed that although Bel­gium agrees with the gen­er­al objec­tives of the pack­age, it should be bal­anced, and the effort should be equal­ly shared among the mem­ber states. He also claimed that the pack­age will cost 0.7 per­cent of Bel­gium gross domes­tic prod­uct (GDP), which is above the EU aver­age (0.45 per­cent of the GDP), jus­ti­fy­ing there­by the preser­va­tion of the exon­er­a­tion of the regime.[5] Before the Euro­pean Coun­cil of Decem­ber, the Prime Min­is­ter repeat­ed the deter­mi­na­tion of Bel­gium to reach an agreement.[6] On the nation­al scene, he faced some crit­i­cism from the Bel­gian Greens who think the prin­ci­ple and ambi­tions of Europe on that issue are wel­comed, but the final agree­ment remains min­i­mal to cope with the urgency of cli­mate change.[7] The press stressed the dif­fi­cul­ties and poten­tial obsta­cles dur­ing the nego­ti­a­tions: the high­ly diverse posi­tions of the 27 mem­ber states would make it hard­er to decide how to share the nation­al efforts of the mem­ber states in order to fight cli­mate change. More­over, the final agree­ment was rather bad­ly eval­u­at­ed by the media, as the pack­age was seen as weak­ened by the too numer­ous concessions.[8]

Congo

The last issue was the poten­tial EU mis­sion to the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Repub­lic of Con­go. It was exten­sive­ly cov­ered by the nation­al media as Con­go is a for­mer colony, and has always been a sen­si­tive ques­tion for Bel­gium. The alarm­ing infor­ma­tion on the sit­u­a­tion of East Con­go cre­at­ed a lot of polit­i­cal reac­tions and some of them con­cerned a more impor­tant involve­ment of the EU in the con­flict as Bel­gium can­not solve the prob­lem alone. The option of pro­vid­ing Euro­pean troops, via the Bat­tle groups struc­ture, was debat­ed in the Fed­er­al Par­lia­ment with Javier Solana, the EU High Rep­re­sen­ta­tive for the Com­mon For­eign and Secu­ri­ty Policy.[9] More­over, the Bel­gian Min­is­ter of For­eign Affairs Karel De Gucht, insist­ed sev­er­al times to send an EU mis­sion to the region to sup­port the Unit­ed Nation’s efforts. Final­ly, there was no con­sen­sus among EU mem­ber states, a sit­u­a­tion that was “deplored” by Karel De Gucht who felt iso­lat­ed among his EU colleagues.[10]

Evaluation of the French Presidency

Con­cern­ing the over­all eval­u­a­tion of the French Pres­i­den­cy, it was large­ly con­sid­ered as a suc­cess. The Prime Min­is­ter was deeply sat­is­fied with the French Pres­i­den­cy, that he described as “of high qual­i­ty”, espe­cial­ly with the cli­mate and ener­gy pack­age, the han­dling of the Rus­sia-Ukraine cri­sis and the reac­tion dur­ing the finan­cial crisis.[11] The jour­nal­ists fre­quent­ly referred to the “Sarko show” as an arro­gant but effi­cient style of man­ag­ing the EU.[12] They stressed the many con­crete achieve­ments of the Pres­i­den­cy such as the man­age­ment of the Geor­gia cri­sis, the cli­mate and ener­gy pack­age, the progress towards a Union for the Mediter­ranean as well as in asy­lum and immi­gra­tion pol­i­cy, the revi­sion of the Eurovi­gnette (road charg­ing) Direc­tive, the Eri­ka III pack­age and the strength­en­ing of the EU mil­i­tary capac­i­ties. They also empha­sized the ben­e­fits of the French Pres­i­den­cy for the EU, its future and its insti­tu­tions: the EU achieved to appear strong and unit­ed under ‘Super Sarko’ as he per­son­al­ized the Pres­i­den­cy, was very active and demon­strat­ed the impor­tance of the EU as a diplo­mat­ic power.[13]

How­ev­er, some weak­ness­es were also point­ed out. The ener­gy-cli­mate pack­age was seen as weak­ened by too many con­ces­sions; the French Pres­i­den­cy was con­sid­ered as too tol­er­ant and com­pro­mis­ing with Ire­land on the Lis­bon treaty. There was no progress towards a reform of the Com­mon Agri­cul­tur­al Pol­i­cy and the bilat­er­al rela­tions with Chi­na dete­ri­o­rat­ed. Although some jour­nal­ists can see the weak­ness­es as inher­ent in the search of any com­pro­mise, the Pres­i­den­cy was also judged on the basis of Nico­las Sarkozy’s per­son­al­i­ty. He was con­sid­ered as too impe­r­i­al, omnipresent and the coor­di­na­tion with the oth­er mem­ber states was insuf­fi­cient. The excess of pres­i­den­tial­iza­tion of the EU regime was per­ceived as a major threat to the insti­tu­tion­al equi­lib­ri­um in the EU, through a poten­tial weak­en­ing of the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion as a cen­tral polit­i­cal institution.[14]

Despite these few neg­a­tive ele­ments, the French Pres­i­den­cy was thus con­sid­ered as a success.

Czech Presidency

After this pos­i­tive pres­i­den­cy, the expec­ta­tions for the Czech Repub­lic are, in com­par­i­son, rather low. It is large­ly stressed that 2009 is a year of laten­cy with the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment elec­tions and the com­po­si­tion of a new Commission.[15]

The three main pri­or­i­ties: econ­o­my, ener­gy and Europe in the world (so-called 3 ‘E’) were wel­comed as they cor­re­spond to the ‘news’, i.e. the finan­cial cri­sis, the rela­tions between Ukraine and Rus­sia and the con­flict in the Mid­dle East. More­over, the theme of the Czech Pres­i­den­cy, “Europe with­out bar­ri­ers”, is seen as a good sym­bol to refer to two impor­tant Euro­pean anniver­saries (the 10th anniver­sary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the 5th anniver­sary of the largest EU enlargement).[16]

But two main poten­tial obsta­cles are point­ed out: the size of the coun­try and its Pres­i­dent. Indeed, the Czech Repub­lic is a small country,[17] and some con­sid­er it can be a weak­ness in inter­na­tion­al nego­ti­a­tions, par­tic­u­lar­ly with Russia.[18] Sec­ond, the per­son­al­i­ty of Václav Klaus is seen as the main poten­tial ‘prob­lem’ for this Pres­i­den­cy. He is indeed pre­sent­ed as an ultra-lib­er­al, euroscep­tic who likes provo­ca­tion which can affect the progress or eval­u­a­tion of the Czech Presidency.[19] Some jour­nal­ists even stat­ed that the Czech Repub­lic will have to try to have a suc­cess­ful pres­i­den­cy despite its President.[20] How­ev­er, it is worth notic­ing that the French Pres­i­den­cy made the task more dif­fi­cult through a cer­tain stigma­ti­za­tion of the fol­low­ing EU presidencies.[21]

 

 

[1] See Le Soir, 17 Decem­ber 2008, avail­able at: www.lesoir.be (last access: 12 Feb­ru­ary 2009).
[2] See Le Soir, 16 Decem­ber 2008, avail­able at : www.lesoir.be (last access: 12 Feb­ru­ary 2009).
[3] Les pri­or­ités de la Prési­dence française de l’Union européenne, Report real­ized for the Fed­er­al Advice Com­mit­tee in charge of Euro­pean Affairs, 18 Novem­ber 2008, Doc­u­ment 1593/001 (Cham­ber) and 4–984/1 (Sen­ate).
[4] Doc­u­ment 1593/001 (Cham­ber) and 4–984/1 (Sen­ate), « Les pri­or­ités de la Prési­dence française de l’Union européenne », Report real­ized for the Fed­er­al Advice Com­mit­tee in charge of Euro­pean Affairs, 18/11/08, Ibid.
[5] Le Con­seil européen de Brux­elles. 15 et 16 octo­bre 2008, Report real­ized for the Fed­er­al Advice Com­mit­tee in charge of Euro­pean Affairs, 27 Novem­ber 2008, Doc­u­ment 1616/001(Chamber) and 4–0985/1 (Sen­ate).
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] See De Stan­daard, 11 Decem­ber 2008, avail­able at: www.standaard.be (last access: 12 Feb­ru­ary 2009), Le Soir, 01 Decem­ber 2008, 04 Decem­ber 2008, 11 Decem­ber 2008, 12 Decem­ber 2008, 13 Decem­ber 2008, avail­able at: www.lesoir.be (last access: 12 Feb­ru­ary 2009); Le Vif l’Express, 11 Decem­ber 2008, avail­able at: www.levif.be (last access: 12 Feb­ru­ary 2009); La libre Bel­gique, 12 Decem­ber 2008, 09 Jan­u­ary 2009, avail­able at: www.lalibre.be (last access: 12 Feb­ru­ary 2009).
[9] Audi­tion of Javier Solana in the Com­mit­tee for Exter­nal Rela­tions and Defense and the Fed­er­al Advice Com­mit­tee in charge of Euro­pean Affairs”, report real­ized for the Fed­er­al Advice Com­mit­tee in charge of Euro­pean Affairs, 25 Novem­ber 2008, Report CRIV 52 COM 378 (Cham­ber).
[10] See Le Soir, 08 Decem­ber 2008, avail­able at : www.lesoir.be (last access: 12 Feb­ru­ary 2009); Knack, 07 Decem­ber 2008, 08 Decem­ber 2008, 12 Decem­ber 2008, avail­able at: www.knack.be (last access: 12 Feb­ru­ary 2009); Le vif l’Express, 31 Octo­ber 2008, 10 Decem­ber 2008, avail­able at: www.levif.be (last access: 12 Feb­ru­ary 2009); De Stan­daard, 12 Decem­ber 2008, avail­able at: www.standaard.be (last access: 12 Feb­ru­ary 2009); De Mor­gen, 12 Decem­ber 2008, avail­able at: www.demorgen.be (last access: 12 Feb­ru­ary 2009).
[11] See Le Soir, 13 Decem­ber 2008, avail­able at: www.lesoir.be (last access: 12 Feb­ru­ary 2009).
[12] See La libre Bel­gique, 13 Decem­ber 2008, avail­able at: www.lalibre.be (last access: 12 Feb­ru­ary 2009).
[13] See La libre Bel­gique, 13 Decem­ber 2008, 21 Decem­ber 2008, 29 Decem­ber 2008, avail­able at: www.lalibre.be (last access: 12 Feb­ru­ary 2009).; Le Soir, 04 Novem­ber 2008, 16 Decem­ber 2008, 17 Decem­ber 2008, avail­able at: www.lesoir.be (last access: 12 Feb­ru­ary 2009).
[14] See Le Soir, 13 Decem­ber 2008, 16 Decem­ber 2008, avail­able at: www.lesoir.be (last access: 12 Feb­ru­ary 2009); La libre Bel­gique, 29 Decem­ber 2008, avail­able at: www.lalibre.be (last access: 12 Feb­ru­ary 2009); Le vif l’Express, 06 Jan­u­ary 2009, avail­able at: www.levif.be (last access: 12 Feb­ru­ary 2009).
[15] See Le Vif l’Express, 31 Decem­ber 2008, avail­able at: www.levif.be (last access: 12 Feb­ru­ary 2009).
[16] La libre Bel­gique, 01 Jan­u­ary 2009, 07 Jan­u­ary 2009, avail­able at: www.lalibre.be (last access: 12 Feb­ru­ary 2009); Le Vif l’Express, 31 Decem­ber 2008, avail­able at: www.levif.be (last access: 12 Feb­ru­ary 2009).
[17] The lack of ade­quate prepa­ra­tion and of pro­fes­sion­al­i­sa­tion of polit­i­cal elites in the new mem­ber states were also point­ed out. See Face à l’info, La Pre­mière (radio sta­tion), 06 Jan­u­ary 2009, avail­able at: http://old.rtbf.be/rtbf_2000/bin/view_something.cgi?id=0160995_sac&menu=default&pub=RTBF.PREM%2fPREM.FR.la_taille.HOME (last access: 12 Feb­ru­ary 2009).
[18] See La libre Bel­gique, 30December 2008, avail­able at: www.lalibre.be (last access: 12 Feb­ru­ary 2009).
[19] See Metro, 08 Jan­u­ary 2009, avail­able at: www.metrotime.be (last access: 12 Feb­ru­ary 2009); Le Vif l’Express, 26November 2008, avail­able at: www.levif.be (last access: 12 Feb­ru­ary 2009).
[20] See La libre Bel­gique, 22 Decem­ber 2008, 31 Decem­ber 2008, avail­able at: www.lalibre.be (last access: 12 Feb­ru­ary 2009); Le Vif l’Express, 31 Decem­ber 2008, avail­able at: www.levif.be (last access: 12 Feb­ru­ary 2009); Face à l’info, La Pre­mière (radio sta­tion), 06 Jan­u­ary 2009, avail­able at: http://old.rtbf.be/rtbf_2000/bin/view_something.cgi?id=0160995_sac&menu=default&pub=RTBF.PREM%2fPREM.FR.la_taille.HOME (last access: 12 Feb­ru­ary 2009).
[21] Face à l’info, La Pre­mière (radio sta­tion, 06/01/09, Ibid., Knack, 17 Decem­ber 2008, avail­able at: www.knack.be (last access: 12 Feb­ru­ary 2009); Le Soir, 17 Decem­ber 2008, avail­able at: www.lesoir.be (last access: 12 Feb­ru­ary 2009).