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.