The French struggle with a difficult mandate: mission accomplie

At the time when the French Pres­i­den­cy took office in mid-2008, there were very few who could antic­i­pate the enor­mous ten­sions and crises that it would have to face dur­ing its six months tenure. Although for jour­nal­ists, the French Pres­i­den­cy was to be a dif­fi­cult one, no one could envis­age the chal­lenges which it will come to deal with. When speak­ing about what they called a “dif­fi­cult man­date for Nico­las Sarkozy”[1], they were refer­ring to what they con­sid­ered to be the ‘tra­di­tion­al’ themes of the French Pres­i­den­cy: deal­ing with the Irish ‘No’; the secu­ri­ty relat­ed issues; envi­ron­ment and ener­gy; immi­gra­tion and oil cri­sis; etc. No one could have yet fore­seen the Geor­gian cri­sis or the eco­nom­ic cri­sis that would appear toward the end of the year.

In the begin­ning, after the Irish ‘No’, one may have thought that the main task of the French Pres­i­den­cy would be patch­ing up and con­tin­u­ing the rat­i­fi­ca­tion of the Treaty of Lis­bon. And to do that, Nico­las Sarkozy would have to give up its seem­ing ‘arro­gance’. Dinu Flămând, a Roman­ian com­men­ta­tor, spoke about this per­ceived sen­sa­tion of ‘pride’ that would only hurt the Euro­pean con­struc­tion. “What is cer­tain is that he will have to adopt anoth­er tac­tic of com­mu­ni­cat­ing with the oth­er part­ners, and to annul that impres­sion of arro­gance, that may look good in France, but not in Dublin or Berlin. Way too often, he left the impres­sion that he has all the solu­tions at hand or that he can solve the prob­lems of the Euro­pean Union, as he does in France; that is in the same impetu­ous and vol­un­taris­tic style by mobil­is­ing large fronts, putting into debate rad­i­cal reforms, one after anoth­er, often try­ing to pass in force or to ignore the neces­si­ty of the consensus.”[2]

The same impres­sion, that of pride, is shared by Cori­na Creţu, MEP for the PSD,[3] who remarks that “France has tak­en, on 1 July, the pres­i­den­cy of the Euro­pean Union with a great noise com­pa­ra­ble with its nation­al ego.”[4] All this excite­ment and opti­mism at the begin­ning of the pres­i­den­cy could have a back­lash as it “cre­ates, thus, a hori­zon of expec­ta­tions that risks, in case of insat­is­fac­tion, to crum­ble the last hopes regard­ing Europe’s way out of the deadlock.”[5] This being said, the French Pres­i­den­cy is expect­ed to treat as its first pri­or­i­ty the “relaunch­ing of the Euro­pean insti­tu­tion­al reform”[6]. All that can work if we “recov­er the ide­al­ism and the opti­mism that gen­er­at­ed, so far, the Euro­pean construction”[7].

Very soon all those opti­mistic agen­das were to be trou­bled by the Geor­gian war. This was a seri­ous cri­sis that strained the rela­tions between the Euro­pean Union and Rus­sia. Once this cri­sis was solved, anoth­er seri­ous one came up, name­ly the financial/economic cri­sis that is yet to be solved and that affects every­one around the world. That cri­sis requires a con­cen­trat­ed effort that needs to be con­tin­ued by all future pres­i­den­cies of the Euro­pean Union. France how­ev­er, seems to have dealt well with these unex­pect­ed crises and its sur­vey seems to be a pos­i­tive one.

Thus, in the words of Cori­na Creţu: “The Russ­ian mil­i­tary inter­ven­tion in Geor­gia and the ten­sion gen­er­at­ed in the inter­na­tion­al rela­tions, and also the finan­cial cri­sis have marked deci­sive­ly the activ­i­ty of the French Pres­i­den­cy. It is the mer­it of Pres­i­dent Sarkozy to have react­ed prompt­ly and ener­get­i­cal­ly in such dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tions, by con­tribut­ing to the rein­force­ment of the cohe­sion and the vis­i­bil­i­ty of the EU. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the ultra dynam­ic style of the Ély­see leader had its down­side: the solu­tions found are for the present, and the future impli­ca­tions of Russia’s expan­sion and of the eco­nom­ic cri­sis remain prob­lems that require solu­tions with a longer time perspective.”[8]

The Roman­ian politi­cians had the same pos­i­tive atti­tude toward the French Pres­i­den­cy. For instance the Roman­ian Pres­i­dent, Tra­ian Băs­es­cu, believes that it was a great suc­cess and that in the end every­thing turned out to be all right: “I have tak­en part in the last coun­cil under the French Pres­i­den­cy. I could say that, tak­ing into con­sid­er­a­tion the events dur­ing this pres­i­den­cy, it was a pres­i­den­cy of solved crises, if we look at the Geor­gian cri­sis, which hap­pened dur­ing this man­date, and the Union had a very good reac­tion and a great con­tri­bu­tion to stop­ping the Geor­gian war; the finan­cial cri­sis is anoth­er cri­sis in which the French Pres­i­den­cy got very much involved and suc­ceed­ed in doing so that no Euro­pean bank entered in a dif­fi­cul­ty, nor col­lapsed and, final­ly, the eco­nom­ic cri­sis which, also, seems to have a start of solu­tions, although, I must tell you, that all the heads of states and gov­ern­ments accuse the fast growth in num­ber of the unem­ployed due to the fall of pro­duc­tion, at least those who spoke have sig­nalled that, and the states are locat­ed from West to East and from North to South. I would say that the great suc­cess of the French Pres­i­den­cy besides hav­ing suc­cess­ful­ly man­aged the three crises would be today the unlock­ing of the Treaty of Lis­bon, by estab­lish­ing a road map for orga­niz­ing the ref­er­en­dum in Ire­land and the ener­gy-cli­mate changes pack­age, which was adopt­ed today.”[9]

As for the Czech Pres­i­den­cy of the Euro­pean Union, it is yet regard­ed with a small dose of mis­trust by many Roman­ian com­men­ta­tors and politi­cians. The euroscep­tic dec­la­ra­tions of the Czech offi­cials made many believe that this pres­i­den­cy will stop short from tak­ing any dras­tic actions: “I hope that the Czech Pres­i­den­cy of the EU, whose pri­or­i­ties will be pre­sent­ed Wednes­day, in the par­lia­ment plenum by the Pre­mier Min­is­ter Mirek Topolánek, will suc­ceed to mobilise more and take its role seriously”[10], declared the MEP Cori­na Cretu.

Oth­ers are more opti­mistic. The for­mer Roman­ian Prime Min­is­ter, Adri­an Năs­tase, believes that it will be bet­ter for every­one to col­lab­o­rate and that despite the inter­nal dif­fer­ences between the Czech offi­cials, they will real­ize that it is bet­ter for every­one to unite their efforts in front of the grow­ing prob­lems we are fac­ing: “I know that this should be the objec­tive of any mem­ber that took the ‘pres­i­den­cy’ of the EU: to strength­en the cohe­sion and to stim­u­late, bring­ing each time upfront, those things that unite the 27.”[11]

For the Roman­ian jour­nal­ist, Cris­t­ian Ghinea, the Czech Pres­i­den­cy appears to be a rather con­fus­ing one. The Czech domes­tic polit­i­cal con­flict is at risk of affect­ing its coher­ence and lim­it­ing its abil­i­ty to act. By com­par­ing it to the French Pres­i­den­cy the jour­nal­ists can­not stop notic­ing what they called a dimin­ish­ing of Europe’s pres­tige due to the poor vis­i­bil­i­ty of the Czechs: “unfor­tu­nate­ly the EU has lost anoth­er oppor­tu­ni­ty to play a role as an insti­tu­tion­al actor, and the pres­tige of Europe depends on the charm, vol­un­tarism and self-assur­ance of Nico­las Sarkozy.”[12]

Despite those prob­lems the offi­cial dec­la­ra­tions seem opti­mistic, as Roman­ian Prime Min­is­ter Emil Boc wel­comed the new Czech Pres­i­den­cy and its objec­tives as some­thing pos­i­tive that will help the future of the Euro­pean Union. Thus, in a meet­ing with the Czech Ambas­sador to Roma­nia on 7 Jan­u­ary 2009, Romania’s Prime Min­is­ter hailed the pri­or­i­ties of the Czech Pres­i­den­cy and the three ‘E’ on which its agen­da is struc­tured – Econ­o­my, Ener­gy and Europe in the world – and assured the Czech ambas­sador of the full sup­port of Romania’s gov­ern­ment for reach­ing the objec­tives estab­lished for the man­date of this pres­i­den­cy. In this con­text, the Prime Min­is­ter under­lined that those pri­or­i­ties cor­re­spond to the objec­tives that Roma­nia pro­motes at the Euro­pean level.[13]




[1] See: (last access: 23 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[2] See: (last access: 23 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[3] Social demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­tidul Social Demo­c­rat (PSD).
[4] See: (last access: 23 Jan­u­ary 2009)
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid.
[9] See: (last access: 23 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[10] See: (last access: 23 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[11] Ibid.
[12] Ibid.
[13] See: (last access: 23 Jan­u­ary 2009).