France did a difficult job – Czech task is not less ambitious

Cyprus is clearly an EU member state that encourages the further deepening of the European Union. In this respect, Nicosia perceives other member states, such as Germany and France, as the core states which promote EU deepening policies and could sacrifice their national interest for the collective European interest.

During the last semester of 2008, France holding the EU-presidency, managed to effectively promote a series of priorities and also take up immediate actions on unforeseen events (like the Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty, the Russo-Georgian conflict and the global financial crisis) which have dominated current affairs.

As soon as the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, assumed duties, he announced four main priorities for the EU-presidency:[1] (1) tackling immigration with a view to adopting a European Pact on Immigration and Asylum; (2) reforming the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP); (3) making progress with the climate-energy package, with the aim of implementing the 2007 agreement to succeed by 2020 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent, increase the use of renewable energy by 20 percent and increase energy efficiency by 20 percent; and (4) reviving the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) by creating a commanding and planning unit for ESDP missions, revising the European Security Strategy and defining the rules governing permanent structured cooperation provided for in the Lisbon Treaty. A further fifth priority was later added, that of establishing the Union for the Mediterranean, which was launched in July.[2]

As diplomats from the Cypriot Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated, the French priorities were more or less maintained and important agreements were achieved.[3]

In regards to immigration, upon the adoption of the European Pact on Immigration and Asylum in October, President Demetris Christofias commented that the approved text takes into consideration the needs of specific member states, including Cyprus’ concerns.[4] Christofias stressed that Cyprus faces a serious problem in that respect due to the occupation of the northern part of the Republic and the illegal immigration occurring from the areas not controlled by the Republic’s government. He added that the problem will only be solved when the Cyprus problem is resolved.

The pact also engages member states to the establishment of a uniform asylum concession system by 2012 at the latest, something perceived by the Cypriot Ministry of Interior as a way to harmonise asylum laws throughout Europe so that asylum seekers cannot make simultaneous demands in a number of states.[5] The principle of repatriation of illegal immigrants is also mentioned in the pact, an issue which troubles the Cypriot authorities, especially for the illegal immigrants arriving in the island via the non-government controlled territory. The Ministry of Interior has often called Brussels for assistance in this matter and also called for EU’s intervention in calling the country from which the illegal immigrant has arrived to pay for his/her repatriation.[6] In any case, political analysts have argued that the Pact did not specify the bases of this standardisation, being an agreement only politically, but not legally, binding. They added that neither juridical restrictions nor an explicit engagement were contained in the pact.

Regarding the reform of the CAP, while it is clear that the policy needs to be radically reformed, France did not make much headway in debates on the topic. Analysts expressed the estimation that it is highly likely that there will be a new clash between France and Britain on the CAP when new negotiations on EU financing get underway in 2009.

The climate-energy package was also considered a major success of the French Presidency. The ‘20-20-20’ objectives were welcomed by the Cypriot government, which set up a national energy target for reducing energy consumption and promoting the use of alternative energy sources in accordance with the EU target.[7] Nicosia’s aim is to create a “competitive green economy” and, to this end, the Cypriot authorities will promote with various awareness campaigns and funding programmes the use of energy-friendly methods.[8]

The French Presidency’s priority of reviving the ESDP was perceived by our interlocutors at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a means towards a strong Europe.[9] The US need for a strong defence system in Europe, as explained by the American ambassador to NATO, Victoria Nuland, made 2008 a crucial year for Europe’s defence policy. The French President, taking advantage of this unique opportunity and having decided to reintegrate in to NATO, attempted to revive the ESDP. Unfortunately, the presidency’s objectives of establishing the commanding and planning unit, defining the criteria for permanent structured cooperation and revising the European Security Strategy, were not achieved. This was mainly due to opposition from the UK. Even though our interlocutors in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs believe that an ESDP is required to proceed towards “a more integrated, federal style European system”, the Cypriot government under AKEL, a party of the left, believes that any integration towards the specific field must be independent of NATO and its infrastructures.[10]

Concerning the Union for the Mediterranean, our interlocutors at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs argued that the Paris Conference was certainly a success and provided President Sarkozy with the opportunity to be seen as the principal EU actor in the region.[11] And yet, regarding the long term results of the undertaking, as long as the EU is not a principal actor in the resolution of the Mediterranean’s regional problems – such as the Cyprus problem and the Arab-Israeli conflict – any real improvement in the area is highly improbable.[12] In regards to the Union for the Mediterranean Summit, upon his return from Paris, President Christofias stated that the summit had achieved its goals.[13] The aim of the Union for the Mediterranean, Christofias said, is to promote peace and stability in the area by enhancing cooperation through joint programmes on climate change, alternative energy sources, sustainable development, and other fields. With the conclusion of the Paris Summit, all Cypriot political parties welcomed the French initiative for a Mediterranean Union.[14] Media reports also commented that Nicolas Sarkozy appeared to act according to political considerations, such as the desire to offer Turkey an alternative to EU accession.[15]

The Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty put an obstacle in the works for the French action plan. In addition, the Russo-Georgian conflict in August and the economic and financial crisis which soon followed, also called for swift action on the part of the French Presidency.

As the Cypriot diplomats told us, the Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty blocked the institutional changes due to come into force in 2007; thus, the French Presidency was forced to assume the task of managing the crisis which ensued.[16] During the December 2008 European Council, France’s role holding the EU-presidency was considered catalytic as it managed to bridge Ireland’s concerns in regards to controversial issues of the treaty, such as abortion, neutrality and fiscal policy, in exchange for a commitment on the part of the Irish government to hold a second referendum.

In regards to major issues like the Georgian crisis and the global recession, Cypriot political analysts expressed the belief that President Sarkozy’s actions placed the EU back on the geopolitical map, confirming that the EU is not just a large economic machine. They also added that Sarkozy was able to turn the conclusion of the George W. Bush era to his advantage by affirming the EU’s position on the international scene. In times of crisis, there has never been more need for political leadership coming from the EU. The EU was able to act swiftly and powerfully, to respond to major issues like the Georgian conflict and the global financial crisis, especially due to Sarkozy’s strong leadership at a time of difficulty. The French President’s role was deeply appreciated and, as Cypriot diplomats conveyed to us, Nicolas Sarkozy’s lead in the European Council was probably the most successful in the past two years.[17] The French handling was exactly what was required, to be able to speak as often as possible as a single entity in an increasingly complex, and already multi-polar world.

The Czech Republic took over the EU-presidency at a time when the continent faces an economic crisis, Israel was attacking the Gaza Strip, and Russia and Ukraine were embroiled in the natural gas row. ‘Europe without barriers’ was presented as the slogan of the Czech EU-Presidency and its main priority is the enforcement of the freedom of movement, people, goods and services within the EU. As stated by many Czech officials, during their country’s presidency the Lisbon Treaty would go into effect and efforts to strengthen EU’s foreign policy toward the Western Balkans will be enhanced. Our interlocutors said that the Czech Republic has a very difficult task in its hands, adding that the Czech government’s crisis management skills and mediation abilities will be tested to the full during its EU-presidency.[18]

The Republic of Cyprus, according to our interviewees at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is expecting from the Czech Presidency to call on Turkey to proceed with the immediate application of the Ankara Protocol and normalise its relations with the Republic.[19] Moreover, Nicosia expects that the EU-presidency will call on Turkey to actively support negotiations in Cyprus, while underlining that any solution in Cyprus must respect “the principles on which the EU was founded” and according to which it operates.

The Czech ambassador in Cyprus Jan Bondy, speaking in Nicosia, said that Turkey is trying to avoid recognising the Republic of Cyprus and opening its ports and airports, by claiming that such actions need to be deferred until the Cyprus problem is resolved.[20] Bondy expressed his country’s support for Turkey’s accession, provided it fulfils the necessary criteria. He further noted that the start of the direct negotiations procedure for the solution of the Cyprus problem is a positive step for the two communities and expressed the hope for a settlement this year. Turkey’s next progress report, he added, will be produced under the Swedish Presidency, in the second half of 2009.

 

 

[1] See the working programme of the French EU-Presidency, available at: http://www.ue2008.fr/ (last access: 25 January 2009).
[2] Joint Declaration of the Paris Summit for the Mediterranean, Paris, 13 July 2008, available at: http://www.ue2008.fr/webdav/site/PFUE/shared/import/07/0713_declaration_de_paris/Joint_declaration_of_the_Paris_summit_for_the_Mediterranean-EN.pdf (last access: 25 January 2009).
[3] Interviews conducted by Christos Xenophontos at the Cypriot Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Nicosia, December 2008.
[4] Demetris Christofias, President: Statements, Brussels, 16 October 2008.
[5] Interviews conducted by Nicoleta Athanasiadou at the Cypriot Ministry of Interior, Nicosia, December 2008.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Antonis Paschalides, Minister of Commerce, Industry and Tourism: Speech delivered at the “Save Energy Seminar”, Nicosia, 16 January 2009.
[8] Solon Kassinis, head of the energy department, Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism: Speech delivered at the “Save Energy Seminar”, Nicosia, 16 January 2009.
[9] Interviews conducted by Christos Xenophontos at the Cypriot Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Nicosia, December 2008.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Demetris Christofias, President: Statements, Larnaca, 14 July 2008.
[14] Political parties statements, Nicosia, 13/14 July 2008 (as reported by the Cyprus News Agency).
[15] CYBC TV, MEGA TV, ANT1 TV, SIGMA TV, PLUS TV: Main news bulletins, 13-15 July 2008.
[16] Interviews conducted by Christos Xenophontos at the Cypriot Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Nicosia, December 2008.
[17] Ibid.
[18] Ibid.
[19] Ibid.
[20] Jan Bondy, Czech ambassador in Cyprus: Statements, Nicosia, 8 January 2009 (as reported by all Cypriot Media and the Cyprus News Agency).