Mixed evaluations regarding French Presidency

Institute for Strategic and International Studies
The French Presidency had to deal with many current events, like the Irish ‘No’, the financial crisis and the Georgian crisis. The general evaluation of the French Presidency tended to be mixed. One common point, however, was how personalised in Sarkozy the French EU-Presidency had been, for good and bad. On the one hand, europhiles in particular, saw a French President openly dealing with existing problems and trying to make Europe relevant on the international stage. And in terms of both putting the Lisbon Treaty back on track, paying renewed attention to the Mediterranean with the new Union for the Mediterranean, and signing the European Pact on Immigration and Asylum, some of its key aims were achieved. Moreover, these policy priorities were largely in accordance with Portuguese official priorities, as the government made clear at the start of the French Presidency. Eurosceptics, could see in Sarkozy someone who challenged some traditional sacred cows, notable the boundaries of the role of the state in the economy and the mandate of the European Central Bank.[1]
On the other hand, there were serious concerns in Portugal – reinforced by the parting words of Sarkozy to the European Parliament to the effect that “larger European countries do not have special duties, but they do have special responsibilities” – regarding the apparent French attempt to affirm a ‘directoire’ of larger EU member states, a notion that is anathema in Portugal. These critical views of the French Presidency were reinforced by Sarkozy’s actions during the Czech Presidency. And even if the latter was also criticized, namely for its initial stance during the Gaza crisis, still, the Czech response that there was only one presidency of the EU at a time was applauded as a necessary reaffirmation of the principle of the equality of EU member states in all matters, including rights and responsibilities.[2]
The predominant expectations in Portugal regarding the Czech Presidency tend to be guarded. There is a great deal of concern among the europhile elite that, especially because of the well-known euroscepticism of the Czech President, Václav Klaus, the vital ratification of the Lisbon Treaty will be further complicated. His open support for the “Libertas” eurosceptic movement that led the campaign for the Irish ‘No’ confirmed their worst expectations.[3] He may find some sympathy, however, in the more limited eurosceptic circles. Still the prevailing mood in Portugal regarding the Czech Presidency seems to be determined by the strangeness in light of Portuguese political culture, of this kind of openly partisan, fractious political involvement of the Head of State of the Czech Republic in current affairs, international of otherwise. This is very much not the norm in Portugal, where traditionally the Head of State is seen as having the duty to rise above everyday political strife.

[1] See Bruno C. Reis/Mónica S. Silva: Report for Portugal, in: Institut für Europäische Politik (ed.): EU-27 Watch, No. 7, September 2008, Berlin, available at: (last access: 25 January 2009).

[2] Isabel Arriaga e Cunha: Dilema..., available at: (last access: 18 December 2008).

[3] Lusa (press agency): UE/Presidência - Tratado de Lisboa refém do sistema anti-míssil na República Checa, news release, 18 December 2008.