Sarkozy’s combination of activism and pragmatism, concerns about Czech Presidency

Con­cern­ing the French Pres­i­den­cy, both Ital­ian politi­cians and pub­lic opin­ion seem to agree that it was help­ful to have such strong lead­er­ship in the past six months in which the EU, like oth­er inter­na­tion­al actors, faced many chal­lenges. As rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the press not­ed, the French Pres­i­den­cy semes­ter took place in a very dif­fi­cult moment for both Europe and the world: it start­ed just after the Irish ‘No’ to the Treaty of Lis­bon, it had to deal with the cri­sis in Geor­gia and, final­ly, it went through the glob­al finan­cial crisis.

Giv­en all these dif­fi­cul­ties, Ital­ians gen­er­al­ly have a pos­i­tive judge­ment of Sarkozy and the way he act­ed as the ‘EU-Pres­i­dent’. As Fran­co Ven­turi­ni affirmed in an arti­cle pub­lished by the Ital­ian news­pa­per “Cor­riere del­la Sera”, “in a crescen­do of ini­tia­tives, Sarkozy is shap­ing a Europe that oth­ers had in mind, but that nobody dared bring to light”[1]. Even if the press often speaks of Sarkozy as a “hyper­ac­tive” politi­cian, “not inclined to con­sult with others”[2], who behaves with great “ambi­tion and presidentialism”[3], every­body seems to agree that this kind of behav­iour is jus­ti­fied in light of the results of his policies.[4]

The French Pres­i­den­cy has been judged first­ly in respect of the aims it estab­lished when it start­ed its man­date in July and, sec­ond­ly, with ref­er­ence to its reac­tion to the con­tin­gent dif­fi­cul­ties that affect­ed Europe in the last months. Con­cern­ing the points of the presidency’s agen­da, a cen­tral issue is the future of the Com­mon Agri­cul­tur­al Pol­i­cy after 2013. At the Euro­pean Agri­cul­tur­al Min­is­ters Sum­mit of 28 Novem­ber 2008, the Ital­ian Min­is­ter for Agri­cul­tur­al Poli­cies, Luca Zaia, sup­port­ed the French posi­tion in favour of uphold­ing sub­si­dies for farmers.[5]

More­over, many Ital­ian politi­cians have also turned out to be in favour of the ini­tia­tives under­tak­en by Sarkozy in the field of immi­gra­tion, which is one of the hottest issues in our domes­tic pol­i­tics. After the adop­tion of the Euro­pean Pact on Immi­gra­tion and Asy­lum, one of the French Presidency’s objec­tives, the Ital­ian under­sec­re­tary of the inte­ri­or, Nit­to Francesco Pal­ma, declared: “At last the EU is tak­ing on respon­si­bil­i­ty for the prob­lems of those fron­tier coun­tries, like Italy, which are over-exposed to the phe­nom­e­non of ille­gal immigration”[6].

Anoth­er impor­tant issue on Sarkozy’s Euro­pean agen­da was the launch of the Union for the Mediter­ranean, which Ital­ian com­men­ta­tors feel has made great progress, espe­cial­ly after the For­eign Min­is­ters Sum­mit in Mar­seille on 3 and 4 Novem­ber 2008,[7] thanks to Sarkozy’s activity.

How­ev­er, far more opin­ions have been expressed in rela­tion to the French Presidency’s reac­tions to the unex­pect­ed events in which the Euro­pean Union was involved in the past months and Sarkozy’s activism on those occa­sions. Many con­sid­ered the ‘EU-President’s’ strong inter­ven­tion in the nego­ti­a­tions dur­ing the cri­sis in Geor­gia in August 2008 pos­i­tive­ly. On that occa­sion, he was praised for “avoid­ing a dan­ger­ous medi­a­tion vacuum”[8], thanks to his “time­ly intervention”[9] in favour of the restora­tion of peace in the Caucasus.

More­over, the ‘Pres­i­dent of the EU’ has been praised for his con­duct in the finan­cial cri­sis of the last months, notwith­stand­ing the obsta­cles put in his way by Ger­man Chan­cel­lor Angela Merkel. Many arti­cles of the Ital­ian press have observed that Berlin has opposed French Pres­i­den­cy pro­pos­als on sev­er­al occa­sions, most­ly in rela­tion to the finan­cial cri­sis. Some jour­nal­ists think that this is due to Berlin’s fear of los­ing its lead­ing role in Europe.[10] Notwith­stand­ing the dif­fi­cul­ties caused by the not always easy rela­tion­ship between Ger­many and France and their diverg­ing opin­ions on the best way to go through the eco­nom­ic cri­sis, in the opin­ion of many Ital­ian com­men­ta­tors, the ini­tia­tives under­tak­en by Sarkozy have man­aged to make the Euro­pean Union “more vis­i­ble” and “more effec­tive” in the inter­na­tion­al environment.[11] The Ital­ian press has con­sid­ered the fact that the pres­i­den­cy was in the hands of such a strong leader in these dif­fi­cult times a ‘lucky coin­ci­dence’ for the Euro­pean Union, which would have been in far more dif­fi­cul­ty under the past pres­i­den­cy (Slove­nia) or the next one, since the Czech Repub­lic is not even part of the Euroarea.[12]

Final­ly, the Decem­ber 2008 Euro­pean Coun­cil was per­ceived in Italy as the last great suc­cess of the French Pres­i­den­cy, because it man­aged to find a com­pro­mise among the 27 mem­ber states on long-debat­ed issues and par­tic­u­lar­ly on the future of the Lis­bon Treaty.[13]

To con­clude, both the Ital­ian pub­lic opin­ion and politi­cians think that the French Pres­i­den­cy, notwith­stand­ing the some­times exces­sive activism and pres­i­den­tial­ism of the French leader, was very good and man­aged to respond suc­cess­ful­ly to the unex­pect­ed events of the last months. Sarkozy’s lead­er­ship has been wide­ly praised. The Ital­ian For­eign Min­is­ter, Fran­co Frat­ti­ni, when asked his opin­ion about the French semes­ter, answered: “My opin­ion is pos­i­tive, because I believe that the French Pres­i­den­cy man­aged to com­bine the activism required in dif­fi­cult moments with pragmatism”[14].

As to the Czech Pres­i­den­cy, many doubts have been expressed on the pos­si­bil­i­ties of it being as effec­tive and strong as the French. First of all, as not­ed before, many fear that the fact that the Czech Repub­lic is out­side the Euroarea will some­how under­mine Euro­pean action in these dif­fi­cult eco­nom­ic times and that it will keep the EU out­side of many impor­tant inter­na­tion­al forums. More­over, there is much con­cern for the euroscep­ti­cal posi­tion of the Czech Head of State, Václav Klaus, who recent­ly defined him­self a “dis­si­dent of the EU”[15] and refused to hoist the Euro­pean flag out­side the Prague cas­tle. Klaus was defined as “a dead-end street” for the Euro­pean Union, since he con­sid­ers the Euro­pean semes­ter “a waste of time”[16].

Many arti­cles in the Ital­ian press not­ed that the future Euro­pean Coun­cil Pres­i­dent, Czech Prime Min­is­ter Mirek Topolánek, will also have to deal with the domes­tic prob­lem of the still pend­ing rat­i­fi­ca­tion of the Lis­bon Treaty.[17] This will put him in a dif­fi­cult posi­tion: on one hand, he will grad­u­al­ly have to make the oth­er EU mem­ber states trust him and his lead­er­ship, while, on the oth­er hand, he will have to com­bat those sen­ti­ments in his own coun­try con­trary to the rat­i­fi­ca­tion of the new Euro­pean treaty.[18] This looks like a very hard task, since, as some jour­nal­ists have high­light­ed, he has only a two-deputy major­i­ty in par­lia­ment and is there­fore very weak.[19]

Notwith­stand­ing all these per­plex­i­ties, the Ital­ian For­eign Min­is­ter, Fran­co Frat­ti­ni, affirmed that he trusts Topolánek and is opti­mistic about the Czech Presidency.[20]

It is evi­dent that Ital­ian com­men­ta­tors share the opin­ion that, with the end of the French lead­er­ship of the Euro­pean Coun­cil, the EU is going to lose an impor­tant ‘engine’ and that the new pres­i­den­cy will not be able to be as effec­tive as the last one.[21] How­ev­er, even if there are many doubts about Topolánek’s lead­er­ship, some, quot­ing a sen­tence pro­nounced by the Czech Vice-Pre­mier Alexan­dr Von­dra, argue that “to start with­out many expec­ta­tions may be an advan­tage”, because the Czechs may sur­prise their Euro­pean part­ners positively.[22]

 

 

 

[1] F. Ven­turi­ni: L’Europa e il freno del­la Merkel, Cor­riere del­la Sera, 8 Novem­ber 2008, avail­able at: http://rassegna.camera.it/chiosco_new/pagweb/immagineFrame.asp?comeFrom=rassegna&currentArticle=JT3DX (last access: 25 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[2] Ibid.
[3] M. Zat­terin: Pra­ga furiosa con Sarkò ‘La gui­da dell’UE è nos­tra anche con la reces­sione’, 16 Novem­ber 2008, avail­able at: http://78.4.240.5/files/rassegnastampa/081116/0000000060.pdf (last access: 25 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[4] Ibid.
[5] A. Longh­i­ni: Fran­cia: un bilan­cio del semes­tre europeo, 5 Decem­ber 2008, avail­able at: http://www.equilibri.net/articolo/10868/Francia__un_bilancio_del_semestre_europeo (last access: 25 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[6] See: Pat­to europeo sull’emergenza immi­grazione, Il Gior­nale, 26 Sep­tem­ber 2008, avail­able at. http://www.ilgiornale.it/a.pic1?ID=293482 (last access: 25 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[7] A. Longh­i­ni: Fran­cia: un bilan­cio del semes­tre europeo, 5 Decem­ber 2008 Avail­able at: http://www.equilibri.net/articolo/10868/Francia__un_bilancio_del_semestre_europeo (last access: 25 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[8] F. Ven­turi­ni: L’Europa e il freno del­la Merkel, Cor­riere del­la Sera, 8 Novem­ber 2008, avail­able at: http://rassegna.camera.it/chiosco_new/pagweb/immagineFrame.asp?comeFrom=rassegna&currentArticle=JT3DX (last access: 25 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[9] F. Chit­toli­na: Il dif­fi­cile semes­tre del­la pres­i­den­za francese dell’UE, 17 Octo­ber 2008, avail­able at: http://www.apiceuropa.com/wp2 (last access: 25 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[10] F. Ven­turi­ni: L’Europa e il freno del­la Merkel, Cor­riere del­la Sera, 8 Novem­ber 2008, avail­able at: http://rassegna.camera.it/chiosco_new/pagweb/immagineFrame.asp?comeFrom=rassegna&currentArticle=JT3DX (last access: 25 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[11] S. Romano: L’Europa nel­la crisi – Un pas­so ver­so l’Unione, Cor­riere del­la Sera, 30 Novem­ber 2008, avail­able at: http://archiviostorico.corriere.it/2008/novembre/30/EUROPA_NELLA_CRISI_PASSO_VERSO_co_9_081130029.shtml (last access: 25 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[12] M. Mon­ti: Un suc­ces­so dell’Europa, Cor­riere del­la Sera, 19 Octo­ber 2008.
[13] A. Cer­retel­li: I sei mesi d’oro di sarkozy, Il Sole 24 Ore, 13 Decem­ber 2008, avail­able at: http://rassegna.governo.it/rs_pdf/pdf/K6C/K6CYV.pdf (last access: 25 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[14] See: Inter­vista a Fran­co Frat­ti­ni, Pari­gi e Berli­no lit­igano? E noi Godremo, Libero Mer­ca­to, 2 Jan­u­ary 2009, avail­able at: http://www.openpolis.it/dichiarazione/383329 (last access: 25 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[15] M. Zat­terin: Pra­ga furiosa con Sarkò ‘La gui­da dell’UE è nos­tra anche con la reces­sione’, 16 Novem­ber 2008, avail­able at: http://78.4.240.5/files/rassegnastampa/081116/0000000060.pdf (last access: 25 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[16] See: Il vico­lo ceco dell’Unione si chia­ma Klaus, Il Foglio, 21 Decem­ber 2008, avail­able at: http://rassegna.governo.it/rs_pdf/pdf/K9B/K9BT4.pdf (last access: 25 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[17] See: http://www.euronews.net/it/article/12/12/2008/european-union-overregulated-says-new-eu-president-mirek-topolanek/ (last access: 25 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[18] Ibid.
[19] A. Cer­retel­li: Una pro­va dif­fi­cile per Pra­ga alla pres­i­den­za UE, Il Sole 24 Ore.
[20] See: Inter­vista a Fran­co Frat­ti­ni, Pari­gi e Berli­no lit­igano? E noi Godremo, Libero Mer­ca­to, 2 Jan­u­ary 2009, avail­able at: http://www.openpolis.it/dichiarazione/383329 (last access: 25 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[21] P. Pombeni: L’Europa smar­ri­ta, 2 Novem­ber 2008, avail­able at: http://www.europressresearch.eu/html/mappe/editoriale.php?id=192&lang=ITA (last access: 25 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[22] See: La “Repub­bli­ca degli euroscetti­ci” alla gui­da dell’UE, Cor­riere del­la Sera, 2 Jan­u­ary 2009, avail­able at: http://archiviostorico.corriere.it/2009/gennaio/02/Repubblica_degli_euroscettici_alla_guida_co_9_090102009.shtml (last access: 25 Jan­u­ary 2009).