A new approach to ‘Europe-building’

The Sarkozy per­for­mance at the helm of ‘Europe’ has been high­ly rat­ed in Greece, both in polit­i­cal cir­cles and through­out the media/public opin­ion, despite some sar­cas­tic com­ments about “a ‘show­ing-off’ of the French Pres­i­den­cy while the Com­mis­sion was hav­ing inten­sive lessons on how to man­age a crisis”.[1] Sarkozy’s ten­den­cy to come for­ward and take the lead was wel­comed, be it in the con­text of the glob­al (albeit US-ini­ti­at­ed) finan­cial cri­sis where he was instru­men­tal in organ­is­ing a ‘Euro­pean response’ (even if he had to con­cede the effec­tive helm of Eurogroup dis­cus­sions to – non-Euro­zone mem­ber – Gor­don Brown of the UK) or in the con­text of the turn-of-the-year Israel/Gaza strip bloody for­ay where he did not hes­i­tate to push aside the Czech Pres­i­den­cy and its (ini­tial­ly, at least) too hes­i­tant respons­es espe­cial­ly as it came just after the French Pres­i­den­cy. Indeed, the one thing pos­i­tive­ly rat­ed in the way the French Pres­i­den­cy was exer­cised was the lack of empha­sis on the insti­tu­tion­al aspects of things and the shift to a prag­mat­ic – ‘we have to get results’ – approach, which has been sore­ly lack­ing in EU life.

Com­ing close­ly after the fail­ure of the rat­i­fi­ca­tion pro­ce­dure of the Lis­bon Treaty, and giv­en the low expec­ta­tions for a fast recov­ery of the con­sti­tu­tion­al process (or some­thing close to it) in EU life, this change of polit­i­cal atmos­phere being derived from France – con­sid­ered a staunch sup­port­er of a fed­er­al Europe inso­far its elites are viewed, with no ref­er­ence to the Gaullist past – this prag­mat­ic activism has been hailed as a pos­i­tive sign of a new approach to ‘Europe-build­ing’. An approach priv­i­leg­ing action-tak­ing (and effi­cien­cy) over insti­tu­tion­al dis­course (and legal wran­gling) was appreciated.

Fur­ther to the insti­tu­tion­al aspects of the French Pres­i­den­cy, posi­tions and ini­tia­tives tak­en by France in the cru­cial weeks of the finan­cial-sec­tor avalanche of fall 2008 were close­ly fol­lowed in Greece. The abrupt shift of eco­nom­ic pol­i­cy ortho­doxy away from a deregulation/full mar­ket free­dom mantra and towards a re-reg­u­la­tion/­mar­ket-mon­i­tor­ing-cum-State-inter­ven­tion stance, has shift­ed favour back to the French tra­di­tion of (rel­a­tive) inter­ven­tion­ism as a more respon­si­ble and cri­sis-ade­quate modus operan­di in view of the biggest cri­sis the world econ­o­my has known over the bet­ter part of one cen­tu­ry. Also, France calls in favour of ‘eco­nom­ic gov­er­nance’ in an EU set­ting as well as ECOFIN/Eurogroup con­trol met with approval.[2] Also in his speech to a ses­sion of the Organ­i­sa­tion for the Study of Greek Soci­ety Problems[3], where he chart­ed the course of EU response to the glob­al finan­cial cri­sis from the (quite hes­i­tant) ECOFIN-ECB meet­ing in Nice (12 Sep­tem­ber 2008) to the Eurogroup-plus-UK meet­ing of 12 Octo­ber 2008 in Paris (where a num­ber of actions were sketched) and to the Novem­ber 11th Spe­cial Sum­mit in Brus­sels (where the future reg­u­la­tion of rat­ing agen­cies, the sur­veil­lance over hedge funds etc., were broached), lead­ing to the G‑20 meet­ing of 15 Novem­ber 2008.

European or American foreign policy?

The French Pres­i­den­cy (and Nico­las Sarkozy’s) record in the Georgia/Abkhazia issue has been met with less enthu­si­asm, since Rus­sia and this country’s stance and rela­tions with its “near abroad” have been gain­ing in favour in Greece over the (recent) years.[4] More­over, the Saakashvili regime clear­ly ben­e­fit­ed from vis­i­ble US encour­age­ment in its ini­tial moves in Abk­hazia, which has eas­i­ly brought to the sur­face neg­a­tive Greek reac­tions over Amer­i­can for­eign pol­i­cy in the wider region (cf. the US over-eager­ness to extend NATO mem­ber­ship to the FYROM, which was mir­rored in Geor­gian expec­ta­tions to get under the NATO umbrel­la; Greek hos­til­i­ty to both US ini­tia­tives move col­ors negatively.

In con­trast to the high regard in which the French Pres­i­den­cy was held in Greece (espe­cial­ly ex-post), expec­ta­tions from the Czech Pres­i­den­cy almost col­lapsed due to Prague’s very first steps in the open­ing days of 2009 – which coin­cid­ed with the bloody Mid­dle East events, i.e. Israel’s inva­sion of the Gaza Strip which was dealt with (at least ini­tial­ly) in a quite cav­a­lier way by the Czech Pres­i­den­cy. Thus, an essen­tial expec­ta­tion from the new pres­i­den­cy was for it to col­lab­o­rate smooth­ly with­in the group pres­i­den­cy (France, Czech Repub­lic, Swe­den) so as to estab­lish and-keep con­ti­nu­ity of Com­mu­ni­ty action, espe­cial­ly con­cern­ing the Euro­pean Neigh­bour­hood Pol­i­cy (ENP), EU-US and EU-Rus­sia rela­tions, the glob­al finan­cial cri­sis and ener­gy (espe­cial­ly fol­low­ing the Russ­ian-Ukrain­ian deadlock).[5]




[1] Costas Botopou­los (MEP of the cen­ter-left PASOK): “Leap for­ward or stale­mate for Europe?”, in Ta Nea, 21 Jan­u­ary 2009, p 6.
[2] See Costas Simi­tis: “The Cri­sis” (in Greek), Polis Pub­lish­ing, Athens 2008, pp. 89–90.
[3] As report­ed in Inter­na­tion­al and Euro­pean Pol­i­cy (in Greek), vol. 12 (Oct.-Jan. 08) p. 12 ff.
[4] See among oth­ers G. Voul­garis: “Glob­al­i­sa­tion and the Ghosts of ’1947’ and ’1914’” and Ino Afen­toulis: “Cri­sis in the Cau­ca­sus and the Euro-Atlantic/Eu­ro­pean Archi­tec­ture”, in Inter­na­tion­al and Euro­pean Pol­i­cy (in Greek), vol. 12 (Oct.-Dec. 08) pp. 139 and 143 respectively.
[5] See Nikos Fran­gakis: “The EU from the French to the Czech Pres­i­den­cy” (in Greek), in To Vima, 13 Jan­u­ary 2009, p. A7.