Mixed evaluations regarding French Presidency

The French Pres­i­den­cy had to deal with many cur­rent events, like the Irish ‘No’, the finan­cial cri­sis and the Geor­gian cri­sis. The gen­er­al eval­u­a­tion of the French Pres­i­den­cy tend­ed to be mixed. One com­mon point, how­ev­er, was how per­son­alised in Sarkozy the French EU-Pres­i­den­cy had been, for good and bad. On the one hand, europhiles in par­tic­u­lar, saw a French Pres­i­dent open­ly deal­ing with exist­ing prob­lems and try­ing to make Europe rel­e­vant on the inter­na­tion­al stage. And in terms of both putting the Lis­bon Treaty back on track, pay­ing renewed atten­tion to the Mediter­ranean with the new Union for the Mediter­ranean, and sign­ing the Euro­pean Pact on Immi­gra­tion and Asy­lum, some of its key aims were achieved. More­over, these pol­i­cy pri­or­i­ties were large­ly in accor­dance with Por­tuguese offi­cial pri­or­i­ties, as the gov­ern­ment made clear at the start of the French Pres­i­den­cy. Euroscep­tics, could see in Sarkozy some­one who chal­lenged some tra­di­tion­al sacred cows, notable the bound­aries of the role of the state in the econ­o­my and the man­date of the Euro­pean Cen­tral Bank.[1]

On the oth­er hand, there were seri­ous con­cerns in Por­tu­gal – rein­forced by the part­ing words of Sarkozy to the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment to the effect that “larg­er Euro­pean coun­tries do not have spe­cial duties, but they do have spe­cial respon­si­bil­i­ties” – regard­ing the appar­ent French attempt to affirm a ‘direc­toire’ of larg­er EU mem­ber states, a notion that is anath­e­ma in Por­tu­gal. These crit­i­cal views of the French Pres­i­den­cy were rein­forced by Sarkozy’s actions dur­ing the Czech Pres­i­den­cy. And even if the lat­ter was also crit­i­cized, name­ly for its ini­tial stance dur­ing the Gaza cri­sis, still, the Czech response that there was only one pres­i­den­cy of the EU at a time was applaud­ed as a nec­es­sary reaf­fir­ma­tion of the prin­ci­ple of the equal­i­ty of EU mem­ber states in all mat­ters, includ­ing rights and responsibilities.[2]

The pre­dom­i­nant expec­ta­tions in Por­tu­gal regard­ing the Czech Pres­i­den­cy tend to be guard­ed. There is a great deal of con­cern among the europhile elite that, espe­cial­ly because of the well-known euroscep­ti­cism of the Czech Pres­i­dent, Václav Klaus, the vital rat­i­fi­ca­tion of the Lis­bon Treaty will be fur­ther com­pli­cat­ed. His open sup­port for the “Lib­er­tas” euroscep­tic move­ment that led the cam­paign for the Irish ‘No’ con­firmed their worst expectations.[3] He may find some sym­pa­thy, how­ev­er, in the more lim­it­ed euroscep­tic cir­cles. Still the pre­vail­ing mood in Por­tu­gal regard­ing the Czech Pres­i­den­cy seems to be deter­mined by the strange­ness in light of Por­tuguese polit­i­cal cul­ture, of this kind of open­ly par­ti­san, frac­tious polit­i­cal involve­ment of the Head of State of the Czech Repub­lic in cur­rent affairs, inter­na­tion­al of oth­er­wise. This is very much not the norm in Por­tu­gal, where tra­di­tion­al­ly the Head of State is seen as hav­ing the duty to rise above every­day polit­i­cal strife.




[1] See Bruno C. Reis/Mónica S. Sil­va: Report for Por­tu­gal, in: Insti­tut für Europäis­che Poli­tik (ed.): EU-27 Watch, No. 7, Sep­tem­ber 2008, Berlin, avail­able at: http://www.iep-berlin.de/fileadmin/website/09_Publikationen/EU_Watch/EU-27_Watch_No_7.pdf (last access: 25 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[2] Isabel Arria­ga e Cun­ha: Dile­ma…, avail­able at: http://eurotalkiac.blogspot.com (last access: 18 Decem­ber 2008).
[3] Lusa (press agency): UE/Presidência — Trata­do de Lis­boa refém do sis­tema anti-mís­sil na Repúbli­ca Checa, news release, 18 Decem­ber 2008.