The French struggle with a difficult mandate: mission accomplie

European Institute of Romania
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).