French Presidency – positive impression of activism and coherence

The French Pres­i­den­cy of the Euro­pean Union is gen­er­al­ly regard­ed in the Unit­ed King­dom as a suc­cess, for its swift and active reac­tion to the Russ­ian mil­i­tary inter­ven­tion in South Osse­tia and Geor­gia; for its coor­di­na­tion of nation­al respons­es to the glob­al eco­nom­ic and finan­cial cri­sis; and for its facil­i­ta­tion of the pack­age of envi­ron­men­tal mea­sures adopt­ed in Decem­ber 2008. Admit­ted­ly, none of these ini­tia­tives is with­out its crit­ics in the UK. Some British com­men­ta­tors would have pre­ferred a more robust response to Russ­ian actions in Geor­gia; oth­ers claim that the French Presidency’s reac­tion to the wors­en­ing finan­cial cri­sis in Octo­ber of 2008 was con­sid­er­ably more effec­tive than its attempts to coor­di­nate nation­al macro­eco­nom­ic mea­sures between the Union’s mem­ber states; yet oth­ers are unsure about the gen­uine sus­tain­abil­i­ty of the pack­age of envi­ron­men­tal mea­sures agreed in Decem­ber 2008. Nev­er­the­less, the French Pres­i­den­cy has gen­er­al­ly left behind in the Unit­ed King­dom a pos­i­tive impres­sion of activism and coher­ence, the cred­it for which is nor­mal­ly giv­en to Sarkozy per­son­al­ly.

In a way that is per­haps unfair to the Czech Pres­i­den­cy, the per­ceived achieve­ments of the French Pres­i­den­cy have rein­forced an already exist­ing view in the Unit­ed King­dom that the Euro­pean Union func­tions best, par­tic­u­lar­ly in its exter­nal rela­tions, under the pres­i­den­cy of a large mem­ber state. It was a com­mon­place of British polit­i­cal dis­cus­sion in August of last year that the pre­ced­ing pres­i­den­cy, that of Slove­nia, would have found it much more dif­fi­cult to be tak­en seri­ous­ly by their Russ­ian inter­locu­tors than did the French. Much pub­lic­i­ty has been giv­en in the Unit­ed King­dom to the divi­sions on Euro­pean ques­tions between the Czech gov­ern­ment and the Czech Pres­i­dent, Václav Klaus. This has def­i­nite­ly low­ered expec­ta­tions of the Czech Pres­i­den­cy, which might any­way have found it dif­fi­cult to attain any great pub­lic pro­file as nation­al gov­ern­ments wres­tle with the con­se­quences of the glob­al reces­sion and await the out­come of the sec­ond Irish ref­er­en­dum.