Omnipresent French Presidency followed by too eurosceptic Czech President

In con­cert with many oth­er news media, the lead­ing French left-of-cen­tre news­pa­per “Le Monde” enu­mer­ates the French Presidency’s vic­tims: “(There are) two vic­tims of Sarkozy’s Pres­i­den­cy: Luxembourg’s Prime Min­is­ter Jean-Claude Junck­er, who pre­sides over the Euro­zone finance min­is­ter group and Javier Solana, the Euro­pean respon­si­ble for for­eign pol­i­cy. Their posts were shad­ow posts of the Euro­pean coun­cil pres­i­dent. Sarkozy showed that his per­son­al expe­ri­ence grew dur­ing the French Pres­i­den­cy of the EU and that he did a strong showing”[1].

Lux­em­bourg did not like the French Presidency’s pro­pos­al to offer a per­ma­nent Com­mis­sion­er to Ire­land. Sarkozy want­ed to weak­en the Com­mis­sion; the Com­mis­sion has been rel­e­gat­ed to a sec­re­tari­at of the Coun­cil. Every mem­ber state should have a rep­re­sen­ta­tive in the Com­mis­sion to push for­ward its inter­ests. This way the gov­ern­ments can hope for a bet­ter under­stand­ing of their view­point. This com­pro­mise pro­posed by Sarkozy to sat­is­fy the Irish demands was reached “by killing a cer­tain Euro­pean spirit“.[2]

The French pro­pos­al of a Euro­pean eco­nom­ic gov­ern­ment was not met with a pos­i­tive response in Lux­em­bourg either. Even if the French eco­nom­ic news­pa­per “Les Echos” blames the Sarkozy admin­is­tra­tion for not hav­ing “informed the Pres­i­dent of the Eurogroup beforehand”[3], Junck­er had known about the French plans for some time, but he could rely on the strong Ger­man oppo­si­tion against these plans. Even the Lib­er­al polit­i­cal group in the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment opposed Sarkozy’s ideas.[4]

The ten­sions between the French Pres­i­den­cy and the Pres­i­dent of the Eurogroup seemed to have reached a cli­max when Junck­er refused to assist to a meet­ing deal­ing with the so-called ‘tax heav­ens’ in Paris, on 21 Octo­ber 2008. After air­ing a “ten­den­tious report”[5] denounc­ing the “tax heav­en Lux­em­bourg” spe­cial­ized in mon­ey laun­der­ing, French TV news anchor David Pujadas tried to desta­bilise Lux­em­bourg Prime Min­ster Junck­er in a live inter­view on 21 Octo­ber 2008, dur­ing the high­ly attend­ed 8 o’clock evening news.[6] René Koll­wel­ter (social­ist mem­ber of the “Lux­em­bourg State Council”),[7] many French blog­gers and thou­sands of French TV view­ers saw in the whole oper­a­tion a mere­ly hid­den manoeu­vre of the “Élysée” to harm the Eurogroup’s President’s pub­lic image in France.[8] A pub­lic out­cry com­ing from many French com­muters work­ing in Lux­em­bourg as well as from Juncker’s fel­low cit­i­zens fol­lowed this ‘very spe­cial’ TV news show.[9] Final­ly Arlette Chabot, the head of the infor­ma­tion depart­ment of French TV “France 2”, pre­sent­ed her excus­es to the Lux­em­bourg Prime Minister.[10] The inci­dent was closed, but left a very bad aftertaste.

Although the French Pres­i­den­cy was suc­cess­ful in many points: e.g. the Lux­em­bourg Lib­er­al leader Charles Goerens liked the French President’s quick reac­tion in the Geor­gian conflict[11] – no doubt about it – it did not sat­is­fy the expec­ta­tions of the major part of the Lux­em­bourg polit­i­cal observers.

Expectations for the main priorities of the Czech Presidency

Tra­di­tion­al­ly, Lux­em­bourg and the Czech Repub­lic have very good rela­tions going right back to the Mid­dle Ages, when Lux­em­bourg princes made out of Bohemia a cul­tur­al and polit­i­cal cen­tre in Europe. In mod­ern times, sol­i­dar­i­ty with the vic­tims of the 1968 Sovi­et inva­sion was deeply felt in Lux­em­bourg. Václav Hav­el, the first Pres­i­dent of the Czech Repub­lic, was also very pop­u­lar in Luxembourg.

Most recent­ly, how­ev­er, the Lux­em­bourg press as well as the rep­re­sen­ta­tives of polit­i­cal par­ties tend to be very scep­ti­cal about the chances of a suc­cess­ful Czech Pres­i­den­cy. For­mer Min­is­ter of For­eign Affairs, the Lib­er­al MEP Lydie Polfer, did not even stick to the tra­di­tion­al diplo­mat­ic restraint politi­cians tend to adopt when she pre­dict­ed the fail­ure of the Czech Pres­i­den­cy already in Novem­ber 2008.[12] Espe­cial­ly the rep­u­ta­tion of the actu­al Czech Pres­i­dent Václav Klaus is already very low – most cer­tain­ly since his last state vis­it to Lux­em­bourg, where he deliv­ered a strong ‘anti-europeist’ speech – and his pop­u­lar­i­ty fell even low­er due to his manoeu­vres to tor­pe­do the Lis­bon Treaty’s rat­i­fi­ca­tion by the Czech Repub­lic, a reac­tion which was not appre­ci­at­ed at all in Luxembourg.

The very first actions of the Czech Pres­i­den­cy deal­ing with the Gaza cri­sis seem, in the eyes of many Lux­em­bourg observers, to con­firm these rather mixed expectations.[13] The two most influ­en­tial nation­al news­pa­pers, “Tage­blatt” and the “Lux­em­burg­er Wort”, try to ele­vate the Czech image by pub­lish­ing inter­views with very sym­pa­thet­ic Czech Min­is­ter of For­eign Affairs Karel Schwarzenberg.[14] Where­as the Com­mu­nist news­pa­per “Zeitung vum Lëtze­buerg­er Vollek” could not find one pos­i­tive point in the pre­sen­ta­tion of the Czech Presidency’s pri­or­i­ties by the Czech ambas­sador to Lux­em­bourg, Kathe­ri­na Lukesova.[15]

 

 

 

[1] Le Monde.fr: M. Sarkozy a orchestré un retour à l’Europe des Etats, 14 Decem­ber 2008.
[2] Les Echos.fr: L’Europe prési­den­tielle de Nico­las Sarkozy, 15 Decem­ber 2008.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Tage­blatt: Franzö­sis­ch­er EU-Ratsvor­sitz zieht Bilanz der ver­gan­gen sechs Monate, 17 Decem­ber 2008.
[5] Le Jeu­di: J’ai eu honte by Nathalie Gries­beck French MEP, 30 Octo­ber 2008.
[6] See: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x75e1i_france-2-vs-jcjunker_news (last access: 23 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[7] Lux­em­burg­er Wort: Jean-Claude Junck­er et le piège de la télévi­son française, 25 Novem­ber 2008.
[8] See: http://www.arretsurimages.net/vite.php?id=2219 (last access: 23 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[9] Tage­blatt: Les spec­ta­teurs de France 2 s’insurgent, 23 Octo­ber 2008.
[10] Midi libre: France 2 s’excuse après un reportage sur le Lux­em­bourg, 24 Octo­ber 2008.
[11] Cham­bre des Députés: Compte-ren­du des séances publiques, 11 Novem­ber 2008.
[12] Lëtze­buerg­er Jour­nal: Echec annon­cé de la prési­dence tchèque by Lydie Polfer (Lib­er­al MEP), 13 Novem­ber 2008.
[13] Tage­blatt: Tschechiens EU-Rat­spräsi­dentschaft inter­na­tion­al auf dem Glat­teis, 7 Jan­u­ary 2008.
[14] Lux­em­burg­er Wort: Europa darf nicht unin­ter­es­sant wer­den, 23 Jan­u­ary 2008; Tage­blatt: Ein Diplo­mat der kein­er ist, 31 Decem­ber 2008.
[15] Zeitung vum Lëtze­buerg­er Vollek: Es muss etwas geschehen, 8 Jan­u­ary 2008.