Looking back: evaluation of the French EU-Presidency’s results

The German evaluation of the French EU-Presidency ranges from “extremely successful”[1] or “breathless Presidency”[2], to a rather strong criticism about the lack of a Franco-German cooperation. Most observers underline that the originally planned priorities could predominantly not be dealt with – apart from the Energy and Climate Package. Issues like the future of the CAP and the planned defense union[3], were either not discussed in Germany[4] or of minor concern. Thus, unexpected events, such as the Georgian war and the global financial crisis, strongly attracted the attention of the French and then EU-President. Thus, the “political” French EU-Presidency that was announced by Nicolas Sarkozy finally became more relevant than it was to be expected:[5] Without the institutional setting of the pending future of the Lisbon Treaty, which designates a permanent President for the European Council, the EU in these times of crisis was in need of political leadership. Then EU-President Nicolas Sarkozy knew how to step into this blank position – a “stroke of luck”[6] as several politicians[7] and German newspapers concluded.

The subsequent general evaluation of the French EU-Presidency by German politicians as well as scientists mainly focused on the role of President Sarkozy himself, as he was interpreted as being the main figure of 2008’s second term. Sarkozy additionally was estimated being a welcome change to his predecessor in office,[8] Jacques Chirac, who proved to be rather undedicated to solving European matters, after the French referendum on the European Constitutional Treaty had failed in 2005. Although Sarkozy, compared to Chirac, slightly modified some of the typical elements of French European policy (i.e. the former moderate esteem for the European Parliament that now was demonstratively raised) he also stuck to a couple of well-known French patterns,[9] such as, for instance, the disapproval of the position of Central-Eastern European member states in some important contexts: among these rank the Polish-Russian relationship in times of the Georgian crisis, marginal consultation in matters of climate policy of those member states with carbon-based industries,[10] and open criticism of the upcoming Czech EU-Presidency.[11]

The fact that the French President had troubles in handing over the leading role to the Czech Prime Minister, Mirek Topolánek, became obvious in January 2009, when Sarkozy – although no longer leading the EU – travelled to Israel and Syria in order to mediate in times of crisis. It seemed as if he aimed to prevent the change by either assuming the chair of the Eurogroup or, which is shown by this example of diplomatic travelling, by largely interpreting his responsibilities in the context of the French Mediterranean Union (MU) Co-Presidency. This behaviour was generally not endorsed by German actors. The German Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, however, complimented the “creative interpretation”[12] of France’s MU Co-Presidency as being an interesting strategy of prolonging the French leading role.

The achievements of the French EU-Presidency seen by German actors

Towards the end of the French EU-Presidency a German Parliamentarian debate revealed the satisfaction with the French leading capabilities by most of Parliament members concerned with European matters.[13] It becomes obvious that its main achievements are rather linked to crisis management than to the fulfilment of the set presidency agenda.[14] Though, political actors stress the importance of the Energy and Climate Package:[15] According to them, the European compromise of December 2008 paves the way for the Copenhagen summit in December 2009 and for the EU being a role model in climate policy.[16]

In sum, the Energy and Climate Package agreement is the output that is estimated the highest by German actors. However, scientist give cause to concern that treating this issue was not directly linked to French desires but rather to external necessities, like the post-Kyoto-negotiations and the pressure to come to a conclusion before European Parliament elections in summer 2009.[17] Beside the completion of the Energy and Climate Package some observers find fault with the lack of ambitious objectives in the field of energy security and supply, something that now the Czech EU-Presidency will have to cope with. The start of the Russo-Ukrainian gas crisis showed that the French EU-Presidency did neglect these issues. According to Fischer, French actors could have prevented Europe from suffering that severely from the effects of the gas dispute if they would have had a more foresighted view on energy security issues in the context of Russia-Ukraine relations.[18]

The failures of the French EU-Presidency seen by German actors

Apart from a rather positive evaluation of the French crisis management, that also positively redounds upon the general action capability of the EU itself, some observers nevertheless criticise that Sarkozy’s actionist behaviour can not hide the missing long-term results of the six months period in 2008. In addition, German observers evaluate the lack of Franco-German as well as general consultation between Sarkozy and his EU-partners as another negative outcome. Especially because of his vivid and ad-hoc reactions, that were admittedly needed, the French President was not able to search for a compromise among all 27 in every case. Quite the reverse, the tensions between Paris and Berlin were not only attributed to the French administration but also to the Merkel government. It was criticised by the German opposition parties FDP and the Greens for its blockade policy during the financial crisis meanwhile Sarkozy promoted a European common solution to the financial crisis.[19]

Economic and financial policies generally remained a contentious issue between France and Germany during the six-month EU-Presidency:[20] Starting with dissent due to the French questioning of the European Central Bank’s independence, which is in contrast one of the main German concerns, and ending with disagreements about the old French idea of an economic government, an incentive which too has not been welcomed by German governments for years.[21]

Although not having been in French responsibility, German actors especially deplored the unfavourable start of the French EU-Presidency: the unfinished ratification process of the Lisbon Treaty due to the failed Irish referendum. They, however, still hope for a success of a second petition for a referendum in Ireland and expect it to take place early enough to let the Treaty enter into force before the end of 2009.[22] Regarding the agreement on the future of the Lisbon Treaty of December 2008, German politicians mainly criticise the French suggestion that would make the reduction of European Commissioners improbable.[23] Concerning the role of the European institutions, the German media interestingly observes the following:[24] During the French EU-Presidency the influence of the European Commission was reduced, owing to the strong leadership of Sarkozy himself, then being the President of the European Council, in times of political crisis.[25] Meanwhile the prominence of the members of the European Parliament was, from a French point of view, unusually augmented by two speeches of Sarkozy at this plenary and by honourably inviting some of its members to Paris.

Apart from economic governance and the Lisbon Treaty’s uncertain future, the third issue that left a bitter taste to German actors was the French approach of a MU – when it was thought of becoming an independent institution from the EU, and serving in the first place the deepening of French foreign policy vis-a-vis the African continent and the Middle East.[26] The Franco-German dissent about this idea exemplarily shows the general divergence between the partner countries regarding EU-enlargement and neighbourhood policy. Whereas the French administration geographically focuses on the Mediterranean neighbourhood of the EU, German political actors rather aim at integrating the Central-Eastern countries in the instruments of European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP). Thus, Sarkozy’s project of a MU was, in times of its first conception, critically evaluated by German politicians.[27] Only after a compromise was reached, that included not only the Southern but all EU member states in this new cooperation among Mediterranean countries (to be formally determined the prolonging and deepening of the already existing Barcelona Process), the German government agreed with the plans to foster this Union. Nonetheless, to German politicians and scientists the future prospects of the MU remain blurry.

The future balanced orientation of the ENP – the MU on the one side and the Swedish-Polish proposal for an Eastern Partnership on the other – is not only in the interest of France and Germany but also in the interest of other EU-member states. The second half of 2008 yet has proved that this bi-lateral agreement among the two partners is not the only necessary core within the EU but increased consultation with other EU-member states will be growingly needed in addition. Thus, German newspapers abundantly treated the question why the cooperation between the two country leaders Sarkozy and Merkel seemed to be that difficult during the French EU-Presidency: Was it rather due to the French administration’s desire to rather act unilaterally or in cooperation with differing EU-partners, i.e. with the British government in financial matters, or was it due to the divergences between the French and German administration in the context of political style – the deliberate Merkel government against the administration of “speedy Sarko”[28]?

Nevertheless, during the French Presidency, the continuous pattern of Franco-German cooperation – from crisis to conciliation and common management – led to the following results that were positively underlined by German politicians: a common article of Merkel and Sarkozy about European economic policy in a German and French newspaper (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and Le Figaro respectively), concrete plans for a Franco-German battalion in Provence or Alsace, as well as the mentioned compromise on the design of the MU.

Although the French EU-Presidency is estimated to have had a positive effect on international role and action capability,[29] it is doubted by German scientists and journalists whether the “breathless Presidency”[30] headed by the “wind machine”[31] Sarkozy, following a ‘zig-zag-pattern’ by touching several issues, will have long-lasting results.[32] As the Sueddeutsche Zeitung sarcastically puts it: “180 days of Nicolas Sarkozy are more than sufficient”[33]. German officials, in any case, seem to feel relieved to turn the page to a more pragmatic Czech EU-Presidency that is supposed to deal with less portfolios simultaneously.

Looking ahead: expectations of the Czech EU-Presidency agenda

German observers originally expected a rather solemn Czech EU-Presidency. Owing to the Gaza conflict and the Russian-Ukrainian gas crisis at the beginning of the year 2009 these expectations were not reached. Apart from the necessity to also be a crisis manager, the Czech government will nonetheless be less occupied than its French predecessor: Due to the approaching European Parliament elections no more legislative measures are to be anticipated. In addition, German officials underline that the French EU-Presidency was scything several fields such as climate, migration and defence policy so that there will be only little room for manoeuvre for the Czech responsibles.[34] German observers additionally point out that the agreement on the Energy and Climate Package was more likely under French than under Czech leadership. As the Czech Republic joined a coalition of Central-European EU-member states that were rather critical about the mechanism to achieve the Energy and Climate goals under the heading 20-20-20 any mediator position would have been more difficult to them.[35]

Owing to the Czech government, alteration and the opposition of the euro-hostile President Vaclav Klaus, German observers also consider the domestic pressure a serious obstacle to a Czech EU-Presidency capable of acting.[36] If these internal uncertainties remain, the Czech government is expected to be lapped over by other EU-actors in times when a quickly reacting EU-Presidency would be needed (just as Sarkozy acted, for instance, in the context of the Gaza conflict). Moreover, regarding the management of any economic concerns in times of the financial crisis, the fact that the Czech Republic is no member of the Eurozone could become a “stumbling block” to any Czech mediation in this field says Michael Roth, member of the SPD-faction of the Bundestag.[37]

On the contrary, some German actors estimate that a smoother Czech EU-Presidency is a necessary change to the stressful last six months of the French predecessors that urged the German government to quickly react on several and different European portfolios in a short series of time. Generally, the majority of German media and political actors expects a less leading capability of the Czech than of the French EU-Presidency due to its structural conditions:[38] A small member state with less skilled staff and less experience in European negotiations is expected to be less capable of holding all the necessary bi-lateral consultation that is needed before compromises at the (European) Council can be reached.[39]

With regard to the Czech EU-Presidency program, the German government especially appreciates the focus of the Czech Presidency on the Eastern dimension of the ENP as well as the announced balancing of transatlantic relations in times of the new administration and EU-Russian relations.[40]

 

 

 

[1] According to conference discussion: „Drei E´s für Europa – EU-Briefing zur tschechischen Ratspräsidentschaft“, 16 January 2009, Embassy of the Czech Republic, Berlin.
[2] Cf. Busse, Nikolas: Die Atemlospräsidentschaft, in: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 15 December 2008.
[3] Cf. Beer, Angelika, MEP: Ade Elysée!, 8 January 2009, available at: www.angelika-beer.de (last accessed: 20 January 2009).
[4] Cf. Institut für Europäische Politik (ed.): EU-27 Watch, No. 7, September 2008, Berlin, available at: http://www.eu-consent.net/content.asp?contentid=522, pp. 85-93.
[5] Cf. Von Randow, Gero: Danke, Sarko!, in: Die Zeit, 4 December 2008.
[6] Cf. ibid. and e.g. Schiltz, Christoph B.: Sarkozy sonnt sich im Schlussapplaus als EU-Ratspräsident, in: Die Welt, 30 December 2008.
[7] Cf. e.g. member of the European Parliament Silvana Koch-Merin: Sarko forever, 16 December 2008, available at: http://www.koch-mehrin.de/medial_blog_edit.php?id=381 (last accessed: 20 December 2008).
[8] Cf. Statement by EP member Martin Schulz (SPE): Rosen für Sarkozy – und Dornen wegen der Wirtschaftskrise, 18 December 2009, available at: http://www.martin-schulz,info (last accessed: 20 December 2008).
[9] Cf. Koopmann, Martin: Widersprüchliche Signale, Französische Europa-Politik zu Beginn der Pariser EU-Ratspräsidentschaft, in: DGAP Analyse Frankreich, Juli 2008.
[10] Cf. Von Randow, Gero: Danke, Sarko!, in: Die Zeit, 4 December 2008.
[11] Cf. Busse, Nikolas: Die Atemlospräsidentschaft, in: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 15 December 2008.
[12] Busse, Nikolas: Der Hansdampf vermittelt weiter, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 3 January 2009, p. 6.
[13] Cf. Deutscher Bundestag: Stenografischer Bericht, 193. Sitzung, Plenarprotokoll 16/193, 4 December 2008.
[14] Cf. e.g. statement by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, in: Deutscher Bundestag, Stenografischer Bericht, 196. Sitzung, 18 December 2008, p. 21128; Wöß, Christoph: Über Europa Frankreich aus den Augen verloren, in: tagesschau.de Kommentar, 19 December 2009.
[15] Cf. e.g. statement by MP Michael Stübgen (CDU/CSU), in: Deutscher Bundestag, Stenografischer Bericht, 196. Sitzung, 18 December 2008, p. 21133f.
[16] Cf. e.g. statement by MP Katharina Reiche (CDU/CSU, MP), in: Deutscher Bundestag, Stenografischer Bericht, 193. Sitzung, 4 December 2008, p. 20691; statement by Ulrich Kelber (SPD), in: Deutscher Bundestag, Stenografischer Bericht, 196. Sitzung, 18 December 2008, p. 21143.
[17] Cf. speech of Severin Fischer at the conference “The European Union 2020 on focus”, Representation of the European Commission in Berlin, 22 January 2009.
[18] Cf. ebd.
[19] Cf. e.g. dpa release: Steinmeier lobt Frankreichs EU-Präsidentschaft, 18 December 2008, available at: eu-inof.de/dpa-europaticker/143707.html (last accessed: 20 December 2008).
[20] The only faction of the German Parliament that openly supports the French proposal of an European economic government is the left party (cf. e.g. statement by Oskar Lafontaine, in: Deutscher Bundestag, Stenografischer Bericht, 196. Sitzung, 18 December 2008, p. 21136.
[21] Cf. e.g. statement by MP Thomas Silberhorn (CDU/CSU), in: Deutscher Bundestag, Stenografischer Bericht, 193. Sitzung, 4 December 2008, p. 20698; statement by MP Angelica Schwall-Düren (SPD), in: Deutscher Bundestag, Stenografischer Bericht, 196. Sitzung, 18 December 2008, p. 21138; Gero von Randow: Danke, Sarko!, in: Die Zeit, 4 December 2008 and Christophe Strassel: Eine Wirtschaftsregierung für Europa: französische Utopie oder europäische Notwendigkeit?, Frankreich-Analyse, edited by Friedrich-Ebert fondation Paris, Januar 2009.
[22] According to a German Official at the German chancellery, Berlin, 15 January 2009.
[23] Cf. e.g. statement by member of the European Parliament Jo Leinen, according to press statement by the European Parliament: Bilanz des französischen Ratsvorsitzes, 16 December 2008; statement by MP Markus Löning (FDP), in: Deutscher Bundestag, Stenografischer Bericht, 196. Sitzung, 18 December 2008, p. 21142; statement by MP Michael Roth (SPD), in: Deutscher Bundestag, Stenografischer Bericht, 196. Sitzung, 18 December 2008, p. 21148.
[24] Cf. e.g. Gammelin, Christoph: Großes Solo vor dem Schlussakkord, in: Sueddeutsche Zeitung, 19 December 2008; Berschens, Ruth: „Sie haben sich als Pro-Europäer geoutet“, in: Handelsblatt, 16 December 2008.
[25] Cf. e.g. Nikolai, Hans-Hermann: Der bewegte Mann: Sarkozy möchte Antreiber der EU bleiben, in: EU-info Deutschland, 30 December 2008, available at: www.eu-info.de/dpa-europaticker/144024.html; Heinen, Nicolaus: Tschechiens Ratspräsidentschaft: Weniger Glamour, mehr Kontinuität, in: Deutsche Bank research, 5 January 2009, available at: http://www.dbresearch.de/PROD/DBR_INTERNET_DE-PROD/PROD0000000000235985.xhtml (last accessed: 20 January 2009).
[26] Cf. Institut für Europäische Politik (ed.): EU-27 Watch, No. 7, September 2008, Berlin, available at: http://www.eu-consent.net/content.asp?contentid=522, pp. 85-93.
[27] Cf. ebd.
[28] Lehnartz, Sascha: Die Windmaschine Sarkozy hat der EU gut getan, in: Die Welt, 29 December 2008.
[29] Cf. e.g. press release of the European Parliament’s EPP group, by Nassauer, Hartmut: Einigungen in erster Lesung, Selbstkasteiung des Parlaments, 16 December 2008.
[30] Busse, Nikolas: Die Atemlospräsidentschaft, in: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 15 December 2008.
[31] Lehnartz, Sascha: Die Windmaschine Sarkozy hat der EU gut getan, in: Die Welt, 29 December 2008.
[32] Cf. conference discussions („The European Union 2020 on focus“, Berlin, 22 January 2009; „The French Presidency: A Transforming Moment for the European Union?“, CERI-Science Po, Paris, 4-5 February 2009) and Von Randow, Gero: : Danke, Sarko!, in: Die Zeit, 4 December 2008.
[33] Kröncke, Gerd: Zurück in den eigenen Garten, in: Sueddeutsche Zeitung, 31 December 2008, p. 3.
[34] According to conference discussion: „Drei E´s für Europa – EU-Briefing zur tschechischen Ratspräsidentschaft“, 16 January 2009, Embassy of the Czech Republic, Berlin.
[35] Cf. speech of Severin Fischer at the conference “The European Union 2020 on focus”, Representation of the European Commission in Berlin, 22 January 2009.
[36] Cf. conference discussion “The European Union 2020 on focus”, Representation of the European Commission in Berlin, 22 January 2009.
[37] Cf. speech of Michael Roth at the conference “The European Union 2020 on focus”, Representation of the European Commission in Berlin, 22 January 2009.
[38] Cf. Busse, Nikolas: Der Hansdampf vermittelt weiter, FAZ, 3 January 2009, p. 6; Kröncke, Gerd: Zurück in den eigenen Garten, in: Sueddeutsche Zeitung, 31 December 2008, p. 3.
[39] Cf. speech of Daniela Schwarzer and and Michael Roth at the conference “The European Union 2020 on focus”, Representation of the European Commission in Berlin, 22 January 2009.
[40] Cf. e.g. statement by Angelica Schwall-Düren (SPD), in: Deutscher Bundestag, Stenografischer Bericht, 193. Sitzung, 4 December 2008, p. 20690; statement by Rainder Steenblock (Green party), in: Deutscher Bundestag, Stenografischer Bericht, 196. Sitzung, 18 December 2008, p. 21145.