French Presidency – positive impression of activism and coherence

United Kingdom
Federal Trust for Education and Research
 
The French Presidency of the European Union is generally regarded in the United Kingdom as a success, for its swift and active reaction to the Russian military intervention in South Ossetia and Georgia; for its coordination of national responses to the global economic and financial crisis; and for its facilitation of the package of environmental measures adopted in December 2008. Admittedly, none of these initiatives is without its critics in the UK. Some British commentators would have preferred a more robust response to Russian actions in Georgia; others claim that the French Presidency’s reaction to the worsening financial crisis in October of 2008 was considerably more effective than its attempts to coordinate national macroeconomic measures between the Union’s member states; yet others are unsure about the genuine sustainability of the package of environmental measures agreed in December 2008. Nevertheless, the French Presidency has generally left behind in the United Kingdom a positive impression of activism and coherence, the credit for which is normally given to Sarkozy personally.
 

Focus on enlargement and foreign policies of French Presidency

Turkey
Center for European Studies / Middle East Technical University
 
Enlargement and Turkey’s accession
 
In the Turkish media, Turkey’s general evaluation of the achievements, failures or weaknesses of the French Presidency, is covered under two main headings. First, the French Presidency is evaluated in terms of its enlargement policies with specific emphasis on Turkey’s ongoing accession negotiations process. The opening of two chapters, ‘free movement of capital’ and ‘information society and media’, is welcomed despite the country’s reservations for Turkey’s full membership.[1] It is agreed that France’s policies attempted to reflect the EU’s general attitude on enlargement. Yet, the Irish ‘No’ to Lisbon Treaty, the Georgian war and the global financial crisis are considered as critical events that might have shifted the priorities in France’s policy agenda concerning the enlargement process. Several civil society groups also criticised the European Council meeting decisions of 11/12 December 2008 as proposing very limited solutions in terms of the prospects of enlargement and Turkey-EU relations.
 
Foreign policy and financial crisis
 

Praise and some criticism for the French Presidency

Sweden
Stockholm International Peace Research Institute
 
The French Presidency received praise overall for its efficiency in gathering a unanimous EU view on important issues but also some criticism.
 
The climate issue agreement, while not the optimal seen from a Swedish perspective, was on the whole considered a success. Prime Minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, called it a historic agreement and stated that taking on the climate change so rapidly was one of the EU’s greatest accomplishments ever. Without this agreement, he claimed, many countries would not have done anything.[1]
 
The speed with which the EU under French leadership answered to the financial crisis has also been praised in Sweden. There are, however, also some negative points. The Minister for EU Affairs was critical of the French idea to install President Sarkozy as the Eurozone leader: “We should not build new institutions that divide Europe – in this moment we need unity, not division”.[2]
 
The Swedish view on the first version of the Mediterranean Union was negative, seeing this as an initiative that dealt with the same issues as the Barcelona Process, and therefore competing with it. With the changes undertaken, it is now rather seen as a ‘beefed-up’ version of it. The crucial factor is that the whole of the EU is now involved in the decision-making.[3]

The French Presidency

Spain
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.
 

The guardians of the ‘Western Balkan’

Slovenia
Centre of International Relations
 
The general evaluation of achievements, failures or weaknesses of the French Presidency by the Slovenian government is positive. The initial French reaction connecting the Irish ‘No’ directly to a standstill of the enlargement was negatively perceived, but was later on changed as the French position had mollified.[1] The Paris-based French Presidency and its non transparent style in the beginning, called for adaptations in Slovenian organisation of the EU affairs in Brussels and Paris. The main concern of the Slovenian government was the attention paid to the Western Balkans during the French Presidency. The Slovenian Presidency in the first half of 2008 was focused on bringing the Balkans back and high on the EU agenda and was not particularly pleased with the low profile France took with respect to the region. Considering the two big challenges the French Presidency faced, the Russian-Georgian war and the financial crisis, the little attention paid to the Balkans was comprehended.
 

Slovakia and the French and Czech EU Presidencies

Slovakia
Slovak Foreign Policy Association
 
The most important issue within the French EU-Presidency was the climate and energy package. At the beginning of the presidency, Slovakia with the other new EU member states expressed dissatisfaction with the Commission’s evaluation of emissions’ production when it used the reference data only from 2005 onwards.[1] Hungary, Slovakia and others, recorded a dramatic decrease in emissions in the 1990s due to their industrial recession. Before the summit, Prime Minister Fico declared the country’s support with some reservations for the package and appreciated the “constructive approach” of president Sarkozy.[2] Slovakia considered the summit a success because the country’s proposal for additional redistribution of emission quotas was accepted and also the decrease in emissions from 1990 to 2005 would be taken into account. During 2013-2020, Slovakia should gain 500-800 million Euros every year through the increase in emission permits. Prime Minister Fico also declared that the climate-energy package should not influence the energy prices in Slovakia as other countries worried.[3]
 

The French struggle with a difficult mandate: mission accomplie

Romania
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.
 

Mixed evaluations regarding French Presidency

Portugal
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]
 

High engagement of French diplomacy, Czech Presidency as bench mark for Polish Presidency

Poland
Foundation for European Studies - European Institute
 
Assessment of French Presidency
 
As regards to the key priorities for the presidency formulated by France, including the Climate and Energy Package and the finalization of the Lisbon Treaty ratification, the general assessment of the presidency is that “the Presidency was difficult for France and very good for Poland”[1]. What has been stressed is the deep involvement of France in actions taken in the interest of the whole European Union, a reasonable balance between an intergovernmental and a community approach. An important feature of the passed presidency was also the ability to work out compromise between the diversified interests of member states in a way that took into consideration the positions of individual member states.
 

Event-driven presidency

Netherlands
Netherlands Institute of International Relations ‘Clingendael’
 
Prior to taking over the presidency of Slovenia, the French rhetoric and priorities found somewhat sceptical ground in the Netherlands, especially in the press. The Mediterranean Union initiative was predominantly seen as a French hobbyhorse and when the deal was signed in July, commentators were somewhat scornful on its modified ambitions. Also, Nicolas Sarkozy’s statements and actions with regard to the Olympic Games in China and the situation in Tibet, were seen as a fairly rocky start of the French Presidency. But, as with many foreign affairs matters, the presidency was mainly judged upon its crisis management skills. When the Georgian-Russian conflict presented itself that summer, the rapid and decisive action of the French Presidency was widely applauded. In the margins, criticism focused on the absence of prior consultation with all EU member states and the apparent room left in the agreement for the incomplete withdrawal of Russian forces.[1]