The French Presidency

Elcano Royal Institute
The French Presidency of the EU 2008 – and the specific personal performance and engagement of the President Nicolas Sarkozy during the semester – has deserved quite contradictory evaluations among the different member states: very critical in some countries (because of some authoritarianism and the little time devoted to consensus building) and very positive in others, such as Spain.[1] The Spaniards liked the idea of the President Sarkozy to try to demonstrate EU’s ability to actively face and manage global challenges for getting a stronger Europe who knows how to be a leader in the world. Some of the French priorities fitted well with Spanish main concerns in the EU; namely, the energy, the environment and the climate change, the adoption of the Pact on Immigration and Asylum, the review of the CAP, the reinforcement of the European Defence and Security Policy and the launching of the Union for Mediterranean.
As regards crisis management, the French Presidency showed its capacity to address the challenges of the Irish ‘No’ to the Lisbon Treaty, the war in Georgia in August and the financial crisis in the autumn. Although the style and the method of the French President were sometimes criticised, as were the difficulties in the Franco-German relationship and the poor attention to social issues, this Presidency has been generally recognised to have successful and has helped to restore – at least for a while – the relationship between France and the rest of Europe; Spain in particular. As it has been mentioned in the section regarding the ‚Financial crisis and challenges of global governance’, thanks to the French support, Spain was invited to the G20 financial summit which was held in Washington last November 2008.
Nicolas Sarkozy’s method proved to be efficient although little progress was achieved in the liberalisation of the energy internal market and energy security. The review of the European Security Strategy (ESS) was also considered as very limited and specially modest for a country that places Security and Defence at the top of its EU agenda. In Agriculture, the practical results were not overly significant: a limited reform and a CAP Health check was carried out.
On the other hand, EU immigration policy did really make a significant political step forward with the Pact on Immigration and Asylum; a political document stating an overall common EU policy doctrine on migrations. Another common priority for the French Presidency and Spain was the Union for the Mediterranean, in which Spain had the uncomfortable situation of supporting the advantages of re-launching Mediterranean cooperation but, at the same time, preferring not to jeopardise the traditional EU Mediterranean policy within the so-called Barcelona Process in 1995. The German Chancellor Angela Merkel took the lead in resisting the French initiative. In the end, Paris recognised that it was more sensible and more responsible to involve the entire EU in the Union for the Mediterranean, with headquarters in Barcelona, and a ‘co-presidency’ was established, which was the only reminder of the original project.[2]
After the so active French Presidency – promoting some ambitious initiatives, able to ensure the normal functioning of the Presidency, leading the EU’s external representation in meetings with third countries and with the public opinion much impressed by the Nicolas Sarkozy’s crisis management capacity –, the expectations in Spain for the Czech Presidency are not particularly high. The general climate is that a country which has not ratified the Lisbon Treaty and plenty of Euro-sceptic voices can difficultly manage an EU Presidency that is indeed surrounded by uncertainty.[3]

[1] See Maxime Lefebvre, 2009, An Evaluation of the French EU Presidency (Elcano Royal Institute ARI, 43/2009), available at: (last access: 30 March 2009).

[2] See Maxime Lefebvre, 2009, (ibidem).

[3] See Daniel Esparza-Ruiz, 2009, ¿Lisboa o Moscú? Retos de la Presidencia checa en la UE (Elcano Royal Institute ARI, 28/2009), available at:
(last access: 30 March 2009).