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

Italy
Istituto Affari Internazionali
 
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=... (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_semestr... (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_semestr... (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=... (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=... (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_P... (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-overregulat... (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_euro... (last access: 25 January 2009).