Praise for the French Presidency and doubt about the Czechs’ ability to follow suite

In gen­er­al, the French Pres­i­den­cy was assessed as a very suc­cess­ful one. Its abil­i­ty to switch from the orig­i­nal empha­sis on e.g. agri­cul­ture and defence, to Geor­gia and the finan­cial cri­sis, has received well-earned praise in the EU and Fin­land alike. The final results and suc­cess­ful­ness of the French Pres­i­den­cy remain to be seen.

Full speed ahead from the start

The Finnish For­eign Min­is­ter Alexan­der Stubb thanked the French Pres­i­den­cy for its activ­i­ty in han­dling the finan­cial cri­sis: “I am glad that the Euro­pean Union took the lead in this debate. We should be thank­ful to the French Pres­i­den­cy for all the efforts it has put into solv­ing this cri­sis. The worst thing a Pres­i­den­cy can do in times like these is to do nothing.”[1] Min­is­ter of Migra­tion and Euro­pean Affairs, Astrid Thors, praised the French Pres­i­den­cy for tak­ing the small mem­ber states’ spe­cial cir­cum­stances into account in the Decem­ber Euro­pean Coun­cil meet­ing. The French Pres­i­den­cy suc­ceed­ed in strength­en­ing coop­er­a­tion and deci­sion-mak­ing capac­i­ty of the Union. One of the most inter­est­ing things to fol­low up on, has and will be, the coop­er­a­tion among the three biggest mem­ber states.[2] Com­mis­sion­er Olli Rehn acknowl­edged France for han­dling the Geor­gian cri­sis. Accord­ing to him, the EU was capa­ble of joint for­eign pol­i­cy this time, unlike dur­ing the war in Bosnia.[3]

In a sur­vey held at the begin­ning of Jan­u­ary 2009, Finnish cit­i­zens men­tioned eco­nom­ic sta­bil­i­ty and growth, as well as cli­mate change, as pol­i­cy areas where the Union is best able to exert pos­i­tive influence.[4] As these areas have been among those where the French Pres­i­den­cy was at its most active, it could be pre­sumed that either the French Pres­i­den­cy has been suc­cess­ful accord­ing to the Finns’ assess­ment, or that the French have suc­cess­ful­ly picked those sub­jects with which they are able to do the most.

In Fin­land the French Pres­i­den­cy was heav­i­ly crit­i­cised, both in the media and in the min­is­te­r­i­al lev­el, for invit­ing only the largest mem­ber coun­tries to the emer­gency meet­ing on the finan­cial cri­sis. It was said that the unit­ed front of the mem­ber states was shat­tered and inte­gra­tion failed its first major test. The mis­take was made, even though lat­er in Lux­em­bourg, a joint line was found.[5] In rela­tion to the Geor­gian cri­sis, the French Pres­i­den­cy got blamed for the pact nego­ti­at­ed by Nico­las Sarkozy, allow­ing Rus­sia the right to act on Geor­gian ter­ri­to­ry until inter­na­tion­al arrange­ments have been made, thus putting the pres­sure on the EU.[6]

Halfway through the French Pres­i­den­cy, the eval­u­a­tions on France’s per­for­mance dur­ing the first part were mixed. Finns were most­ly both­ered by the lack of organ­i­sa­tion and uni­for­mi­ty. The cri­tique passed by Finns says a lot about Finnish men­tal­i­ty and their fond­ness of well-laid plans. How­ev­er, the French Pres­i­den­cy was char­ac­terised by the unex­pect­ed. The Geor­gian war and the finan­cial cri­sis demand­ed and still do, lead­er­ship and speed, which France and Sarkozy clear­ly showed.[7]

The three crises

The French Pres­i­den­cy will def­i­nite­ly remain as a remark­able peri­od of EU his­to­ry. In the Geor­gian oper­a­tion Sarkozy took on the lead­er­ship in peace nego­ti­a­tions. Rus­sia pre­ferred France as a medi­a­tor over the multi­na­tion­al organ­i­sa­tions. Even though a sat­is­fac­to­ry solu­tion was not found for all, the oper­a­tion can still be count­ed as a pro for France. Fin­land held the OSCE chair­man­ship in 2008. Thus, Finnish pub­lic atten­tion con­cen­trat­ed ini­tial­ly on the actions of the OSCE and the Finnish chair­man­ship, with the EU large­ly over­shad­owed by this. There­fore For­eign Min­is­ter Stubb got most of the media atten­tion in medi­at­ing the Geor­gian cri­sis and the work done by Sarkozy and the French Pres­i­den­cy was some­what ignored. The finan­cial cri­sis hit after Geor­gia. Sarkozy react­ed quick­ly and host­ed a sum­mit to solve the sit­u­a­tion. Albeit all did not go equal­ly and ever so ele­gant­ly, the required activ­i­ty was there. The deci­sions and events on the Frenchs’ term have far-reach­ing con­se­quences that can only be guessed upon at this time. If the Europe was in want of a vis­i­ble leader, then it was found in the French President.[8]

The Czech Pres­i­den­cy is expect­ed to build up the EU-Rus­sia rela­tion­ship, pro­mote peace in the Mid­dle East, get the Lis­bon Treaty in effect and min­i­mize the con­se­quences of the finan­cial crisis.[9] It already had to deal with two major crises dur­ing its first few weeks as a pres­i­dent. Many have start­ed to won­der if an inter­nal­ly weak Czech gov­ern­ment is capa­ble of han­dling major problems.[10] In Fin­land, there has not been much spec­u­la­tion about the Czechs’ future yet.

 

 

 

[1] Alexan­der Stubb, Min­is­ter for For­eign Affairs: ”Who says world pol­i­tics is bor­ing?”, speech at the Lon­don School of Eco­nom­ics and Polit­i­cal Sci­ence, 20 Novem­ber 2008, Lon­don.
[2] Astrid Thors, Min­is­ter of Migra­tion and Euro­pean Affairs: speech at FIIA sem­i­nar, 16 Decem­ber 2008, Helsin­ki.
[3] ”Sarkozy: Euroop­pa muut­ti min­ua”, Helsin­gin Sanomat, 17 Decem­ber 2008.
[4] Sur­vey con­duct­ed between 1–11 Jan­u­ary 2009 by TNS Gallup Oy on behalf of the Euro­pean Parliament’s Infor­ma­tion Office in Helsin­ki and MTV3, avail­able at: http://www.europarl.fi/ressource/static/files/dokumenttipankki/EU-2009-RAPORTTI_1.pdf (last access: 10 March 2009).
[5] ”Yht­enäisyys koe­tuk­sel­la”, Suomen Kuvale­hti, 10 Octo­ber 2008.
[6] ”Ran­skaa moiti­taan kulissien takana”, Helsin­gin Sanomat, 30 August 2008.
[7] ”Nopeus ja kyky johta­ju­u­teen Ran­skan EU-johta­ju­u­den valtit”, Helsin­gin Sanomat, 21 Octo­ber 2008.
[8] ”Ran­skan EU-johtokau­den tulok­set mitataan jälkikä­teen”, Helsin­gin Sanomat, 31 Decem­ber 2008.
[9] ”Tšekil­lä on mon­ta EU-pähk­inää ratkot­ta­vana”, Helsin­gin Sanomat, 9 Jan­u­ary 2009.
[10] ”EU-puheen­jo­hta­ja Tšek­ki jou­tui koville heti kaut­en­sa alus­sa”, Helsin­gin Sanomat, 9 Jan­u­ary 2009.