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).