A presidency of crisis

The French Presidency’s assess­ment is quite bal­anced, depend­ing on the issues and the observers. The main suc­cess under­lined is the abil­i­ty showed by the French Pres­i­den­cy to deal with the two inter­na­tion­al crises that emerged dur­ing its term: the Geor­gian con­flict and the finan­cial and eco­nom­ic cri­sis. Accord­ing to Jean-Dominique Giu­liani, Pres­i­dent of the Robert Schu­man Foun­da­tion, the French Pres­i­dent dealt with the dif­fer­ent cri­sis in an absolute­ly bril­liant way, “allow­ing ambi­tious deci­sions to be tak­en by the EU and mate­ri­alised a Euro­pean will­ing­ness that seemed to ‘dis­solve’ into a dis­cor­dance culture”.[1]

The way it dealt with the Rus­so-Geor­gian cri­sis appears as one of the first and main suc­cess­es of this Pres­i­den­cy, almost unan­i­mous­ly recog­nised by French media. Accord­ing to “Les Echos”, Sarkozy man­aged to present a well bal­anced propo­si­tion, pre­serv­ing Euro­pean inter­ests, and helped Europe to medi­ate the con­flict in a way it had nev­er man­aged before.[2] Thier­ry Chopin (Pro­fes­sor at the Col­lege of Europe) and Lukas Macek (Sci­ences Po) con­sid­er that France man­aged to play a good medi­a­tor role in this cri­sis allow­ing, for the first time, Europe to end a con­flict on its own initiative.[3]

The man­age­ment of the finan­cial cri­sis has been assessed with more dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed view­points. French econ­o­mist Michel Agli­et­ta under­lines the fact that, even though the first G4 meet­ing has been a lit­tle chaot­ic, the French Pres­i­den­cy was able to con­vince all their part­ners – espe­cial­ly the Ger­mans – and to pro­pose a com­mon tool­box for the Eurogroup.[4] For­mer State Sec­re­tary for Euro­pean Affairs Pierre Moscovi­ci, how­ev­er, con­sid­ers this G4 not only as chaot­ic, but also arti­fi­cial, not to men­tion useless.[5] If Michel Agli­et­ta wel­comed the ini­tia­tive of call­ing for a G20 meet­ing aim­ing at reform­ing the world finance sec­tor, Pierre Moscovi­ci remains mod­er­ate con­sid­er­ing that, “if the ini­tia­tive is right, the results are uncertain”.[6]

The ‘plan to relaunch Europe’ has been crit­i­cised. Accord­ing to “Libéra­tion”, this plan is not that much Euro­pean, how­ev­er, it has more to do with dress­ing up a series of nation­al plans.[7] French econ­o­mist Jean-Hervé Loren­zi con­sid­ers this ’Euro­pean’ plan as “polit­i­cal­ly inter­est­ing” but too weak. Not only because of the lack of coor­di­na­tion between mem­ber states, but also because of a lack in def­i­n­i­tion, and espe­cial­ly its inabil­i­ty to choose between a sup­ply and demand orientation.[8]

A presidency of compromise

Apart from this cri­sis man­age­ment, French media wel­comed the fact that com­pro­mis­es have been found on many oth­er issues: over­com­ing the Irish ‘No’, the diplo­mat­ic suc­cess of the Mediter­ranean Union, and the ener­gy and cli­mate pack­age. Oth­ers tend to bal­ance this over­all suc­cess, high­light­ing the lack of con­crete solu­tion, and the fact that a num­ber of mat­ters have not pro­gressed at all. Accord­ing to Daniel Cohn-Ben­dit, MEP, the French Pres­i­den­cy has failed because the con­tent of the com­pro­mis­es it reached did not lev­el its declared activism[9] More­over, some observers con­sid­er that the Euro­pean project and insti­tu­tion­al bal­ance have under­gone many changes. Infor­ma­tion Web­site “Medi­a­part”, assumes that “with the com­plic­i­ty of the Euro­pean Commission’s Pres­i­dent José Manuel Bar­roso, Nico­las Sarkozy took the advan­tage of being head of the EU to unbal­ance a frag­ile equilibrium”.[10] Eco­nom­ic dai­ly news­pa­per “Les Echos” even assumes that the French Pres­i­den­cy has weak­ened the Com­mis­sion, which has been rel­e­gat­ed to the role of tech­ni­cal assis­tant to the Council’s presidency.[11]

French pub­lic opin­ion is divid­ed regard­ing ‘their’ pres­i­den­cy. Accord­ing to a recent poll, peo­ple seem to be gen­er­al­ly sat­is­fied: 44 per­cent con­sid­er it ‘rather a suc­cess’, and only 18 per­cent ‘rather a fail­ure’. The main rea­sons lead­ing to its qual­i­fi­ca­tion as suc­cess­ful are: the fact that it has been ‘strong’; its abil­i­ty to work under pres­sure and to deal with the finan­cial cri­sis and dif­fer­ent conflicts.[12] But tak­ing a clos­er look on each par­tic­u­lar issue, French pub­lic opin­ion is clear­ly torn in two groups. Con­sid­er­ing the finan­cial cri­sis ques­tion, 39 per­cent think that the French Pres­i­den­cy was able to pro­pose con­crete solu­tions where­as 40 per­cent think that it did not. On the Geor­gian cri­sis, the results are sim­i­lar (35 per­cent con­sid­er that con­crete solu­tions have been found, and 35 per­cent not). On the oth­er hand, only 28 per­cent think the pres­i­den­cy has led to some progress con­cern­ing the Lis­bon Treaty (34 per­cent no), and only 12 per­cent on the Com­mon Agri­cul­tur­al Pol­i­cy (53 per­cent no). A clear polit­i­cal cleav­age can be noticed on all the­ses ques­tions (80 per­cent of right wing sup­port­ers con­sid­er the French Pres­i­den­cy as a suc­cess, and only 25 per­cent of left wing sup­port­ers – a sim­i­lar divi­sion can be observed on almost all ques­tions). But the most strik­ing fig­ure is the num­ber of peo­ple with­out opin­ion: alto­geth­er, 38 per­cent of the inter­vie­wees. Such results show that one of the main fail­ures of the French Pres­i­den­cy might be the announced rec­on­cil­i­a­tion of the Euro­pean Union with the French cit­i­zens.

Fears surrounding the eurosceptic Czech Presidency

Even though there are some dis­agree­ments on the French Presidency’s achieve­ments, the activism of Pres­i­dent Nico­las Sarkozy and his abil­i­ty to place the Euro­pean Union back at the cen­tre of the inter­na­tion­al scene is unan­i­mous­ly recog­nised. In this con­text, the fact that the Czech Pres­i­den­cy might put a stop to the activism that char­ac­terised its pre­de­ces­sor is feared by the major­i­ty of French observers.[13] Thier­ry Chopin and Lukas Macek con­sid­er this tran­si­tion as a real test and a high risk sequence for the EU.[14] In this con­text, the pres­sure on the Czech Repub­lic is quite high. Accord­ing to the web­site “Touteleu­rope”, ded­i­cat­ed to Euro­pean affairs, the Czech Repub­lic “will have to lev­el with the French Pres­i­den­cy, which man­aged to make impor­tant pro­gress­es on a num­ber of impor­tant issues and to deal with unex­pect­ed crises, such as the Rus­so-Geor­gian conflict”.[15]

All media empha­sise the euroscep­ti­cism of Vaclav Klaus, the Czech Pres­i­dent. Accord­ing to “Le Figaro”, there is a real risk of the “EU plung­ing straight back into hibernation”.[16] French dai­ly news­pa­per also under­lines the fact that it is a par­tic­u­lar­ly bad moment to lose the impe­tus and ambi­tions trig­gered by the French semes­ter. Accord­ing to Chris­t­ian Lequesne, there is a gen­er­al lack of con­fi­dence in the Czech Pres­i­den­cy that is illus­trat­ed by Nico­las Sarkozy’s pres­ence in the Mid­dle East even though a mis­sion of the troi­ka (includ­ing Com­mis­sar Fer­rero-Wald­ner) has been sent there.[17]

French observers take note of the offi­cial top pri­or­i­ties for the Czech Pri­or­i­ties: ‘the three E’ (Econ­o­my, Ener­gy, and Europe in the World). On these issues, Daniel Cohn-Ben­dit expects that the Czech Repub­lic con­tin­ues what could not be decid­ed under the French Pres­i­den­cy. How­ev­er, there are more gen­er­al expec­ta­tions. Accord­ing to Chris­t­ian Lequesne, this Pres­i­den­cy is an oppor­tu­ni­ty for the Czechs to “relax with his­to­ry” and realise that Europe has changed since 1939 or 1968.[18]

 

 

 

[1] Le Figaro, 25 Decem­ber 2008.
[2] Les Echos, 23 Decem­ber 2008.
[3] Le Monde, 01 Jan­u­ary 2009.
[4] Eurac­tiv, 23 Decem­ber 2008.
[5] Pierre Moscovi­ci, online blog entry, 11 Decem­ber 2008, avail­able at: http://moscovici.typepad.fr/blognational/2008/12/fin-de-présidence.html (last access: 26 Feb­ru­ary 2009).
[6] Ibid.
[7] Libéra­tion, 25 Novem­ber 2008.
[8] Le Figaro, 29 Sep­tem­ber 2008.
[9] Eurac­tiv, 10 Decem­ber 2008.
[10] Medi­a­part, 29 Decem­ber 2008.
[11] Les Echos, 12 Decem­ber 2008.
[12] Sondage Opin­ion­way, “La prési­dence française de l’Union Européenne. Bilan”, 12 Jan­u­ary 2009, avail­able at: http://www.touteleurope.fr/fileadmin/CIEV2/article/OpinionWay_Metro_Perception_de_la_PFUE_-_12_janv_09.pdf (last access: 26 Feb­ru­ary 2009).
[13] Libéra­tion, 02 Jan­u­ary 2009.
[14] Le Monde, 01 Jan­u­ary 2009.
[15] Prési­dence tchèque du Con­seil de l’Union européenne, Touteleurope.fr, avail­able at:http://www.touteleurope.fr/fr/actions/construction-europeenne/presidence-de-l-union-europeenne.html (last access: 26 Feb­ru­ary 2009)
[16] Le Figaro, 30 Decem­ber 2008.
[17] Eurac­tiv, 07 Jan­u­ary 2009.
[18] Ibid.