French Presidency – very successful, Czech Presidency – high expectations

Mediterranean Academy of Diplomatic Studies, University of Malta
The main expectation of the Czech EU Presidency is that of consistency when it comes to following up on the achievements of the outgoing French Presidency.
The EU presidencies of the Czech Republic and Sweden are expected to focus their political attention on Ireland’s successful ratification of the Lisbon Treaty and the smooth selection of a new European Parliament in June. European governments will also be concentrating on implementing the stimulus packages they have announced in an attempt to revive growth in European economies.

Omnipresent French Presidency followed by too eurosceptic Czech President

Centre d’Etudes et de Recherches Européennes Robert Schuman
In concert with many other news media, the leading French left-of-centre newspaper “Le Monde” enumerates the French Presidency’s victims: “(There are) two victims of Sarkozy’s Presidency: Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, who presides over the Eurozone finance minister group and Javier Solana, the European responsible for foreign policy. Their posts were shadow posts of the European council president. Sarkozy showed that his personal experience grew during the French Presidency of the EU and that he did a strong showing”[1].
Luxembourg did not like the French Presidency’s proposal to offer a permanent Commissioner to Ireland. Sarkozy wanted to weaken the Commission; the Commission has been relegated to a secretariat of the Council. Every member state should have a representative in the Commission to push forward its interests. This way the governments can hope for a better understanding of their viewpoint. This compromise proposed by Sarkozy to satisfy the Irish demands was reached “by killing a certain European spirit“.[2]

Positive evaluation of the French Presidency

Institute of International Relations and Political Science, Vilnius University
Lithuanian officials positively evaluate the French Presidency and praise the efficient steps taken forward during this half of the year. Lithuanian President, Valdas Adamkus, in his letter to the French ambassador to Lithuania, Francois Laumonier, emphasized that the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy and diplomats have taken efficient steps while solving problems caused by the global financial crisis, intermediating during the Georgian-Russian conflict. He also positively evaluated the French aspirations to strengthen the energy security of Europe, develop the EU internal energy interconnections, strengthen the relations with the EU Eastern and Southern neighbours, and the fight with the climate change and other global challenges.[1] He said that “while dealing with these challenges the EU demonstrated leadership and unity. That is why today the EU is stronger and better prepared to deal with the challenges of the 21. century”[2].

The French and Czech Presidencies viewed from Latvia

Latvian Institute of International Affairs
Latvia – whether the government, the parliament, the media or research institutions – has not developed a tradition of issuing a comprehensive and systematic assessment of the achievements or shortcomings during a particular member state’s presidency of the European Union. Consequently, only a piecemeal and somewhat subjective assessment of the French Presidency can be provided here.
On 18 July 2007 the Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs published a very lengthy document explaining and commenting upon the particularly relevant issues for Latvia during the Slovenian and French Presidencies of the EU.[1] A summary of that document was published separately;[2] highlighted were 16 topics ranging from the Lisbon Treaty, European Neighbourhood Policy, and European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) to various topics related to the economy. These documents reveal Latvia’s priorities, and, in some cases, how Latvia would like to foster their realisation. They were not drafted with the intent to serve as a tool for evaluating the performance of the two presidencies.

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

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]

Overall perception of the French Presidency of the EU

Institute of International and European Affairs
The position of the government on France’s tenure in the Presidency of the EU is positive. The Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, in his statement to the Dáil on the outcome of the December European Council meeting remarked that the “excellent French Presidency of the Union” was demonstrated by the fact that “such a heavy agenda could be completed with unanimously agreed conclusions”. Mr. Cowen continued by stating that his government is “indebted to [President Sarkozy] for the leadership and assistance he has provided Europe”[1].
Irish media presented a similarly positive view of the French Presidency. The Irish Times newspaper describes it – in an editorial – as an “effective” Presidency during a difficult six months for Europe. The overall view in Ireland of the Presidency is that it was successful in its pragmatic yet ambitious approach that allowed the member states to reach strong compromises on important issues such as climate change and how to deal with the financial crisis.[2]
Mr. Cowen particularly praised the French Presidency for the work put into securing an agreement between Ireland and the other member states on how to recover and move forward from the rejection of the Lisbon Treaty by the Irish electorate in the June referendum.[3]

Dynamic French Presidency – benchmark for the Czech Republic

Institute for World Economics of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences
According to the opinion of the Hungarian government[1] the French Presidency successfully fulfilled its commitments concerning the presidency priorities: reaching agreement on the Energy-Climate Package and the health check of the Common Agricultural Policy, adoption of the European Pact on Immigration and Asylum, strengthening the European Security and Defence Policy, and launching the “Barcelona Process: Union for the Mediterranean” initiative.
Although the original priorities were overshadowed by a number of unforeseen crises and unexpected situations – such as the Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty, Russia's invasion of Georgia, or the global financial and economic crisis – France nonetheless played an active role at the EU level in all these matters. Its dynamism and effectiveness was very well demonstrated during the management of these situations so the Union was able to act together and find rapid and reasonable solutions. The French Presidency also managed to insure the unity of the European Union on the international scene, and to prove that the Union does play a global role in many areas with global responsibility and commitment.

A new approach to ‘Europe-building’

Greek Centre of European Studies and Research
The Sarkozy performance at the helm of ‘Europe’ has been highly rated in Greece, both in political circles and throughout the media/public opinion, despite some sarcastic comments about “a ‘showing-off’ of the French Presidency while the Commission was having intensive lessons on how to manage a crisis”.[1] Sarkozy’s tendency to come forward and take the lead was welcomed, be it in the context of the global (albeit US-initiated) financial crisis where he was instrumental in organising a ‘European response’ (even if he had to concede the effective helm of Eurogroup discussions to – non-Eurozone member – Gordon Brown of the UK) or in the context of the turn-of-the-year Israel/Gaza strip bloody foray where he did not hesitate to push aside the Czech Presidency and its (initially, at least) too hesitant responses especially as it came just after the French Presidency. Indeed, the one thing positively rated in the way the French Presidency was exercised was the lack of emphasis on the institutional aspects of things and the shift to a pragmatic – ‘we have to get results’ – approach, which has been sorely lacking in EU life.

Looking back: evaluation of the French EU-Presidency’s results

Institute for European Politics
The German evaluation of the French EU-Presidency ranges from “extremely successful”[1] or “breathless Presidency”[2], to a rather strong criticism about the lack of a Franco-German cooperation. Most observers underline that the originally planned priorities could predominantly not be dealt with – apart from the Energy and Climate Package. Issues like the future of the CAP and the planned defense union[3], were either not discussed in Germany[4] or of minor concern. Thus, unexpected events, such as the Georgian war and the global financial crisis, strongly attracted the attention of the French and then EU-President. Thus, the “political” French EU-Presidency that was announced by Nicolas Sarkozy finally became more relevant than it was to be expected:[5] Without the institutional setting of the pending future of the Lisbon Treaty, which designates a permanent President for the European Council, the EU in these times of crisis was in need of political leadership. Then EU-President Nicolas Sarkozy knew how to step into this blank position – a “stroke of luck”[6] as several politicians[7] and German newspapers concluded.

A presidency of crisis

Centre européen de Sciences Po
The French Presidency’s assessment is quite balanced, depending on the issues and the observers. The main success underlined is the ability showed by the French Presidency to deal with the two international crises that emerged during its term: the Georgian conflict and the financial and economic crisis. According to Jean-Dominique Giuliani, President of the Robert Schuman Foundation, the French President dealt with the different crisis in an absolutely brilliant way, “allowing ambitious decisions to be taken by the EU and materialised a European willingness that seemed to ‘dissolve’ into a discordance culture”.[1]
The way it dealt with the Russo-Georgian crisis appears as one of the first and main successes of this Presidency, almost unanimously recognised by French media. According to “Les Echos”, Sarkozy managed to present a well balanced proposition, preserving European interests, and helped Europe to mediate the conflict in a way it had never managed before.[2] Thierry Chopin (Professor at the College of Europe) and Lukas Macek (Sciences Po) consider that France managed to play a good mediator role in this crisis allowing, for the first time, Europe to end a conflict on its own initiative.[3]