Hungary appreciates French Presidency priorities

For Hungary, a member state who will participate in the next trio presidency, all the present priorities announced by the French EU-Presidency are of high importance and their special treatment is welcome. In regards to the environment, energy and climate issues,[1] at the ministerial meeting on the 3th until 5th of July, all member states – including Hungary – reinforced their earlier commitment to reduce CO2 emissions by 2020. Beyond the agreement on principle however, it is rather difficult for most of the new member states to fully comply with the target. On this point, Hungary would not like to slow down the negotiations leading to the final agreement by the end of the year, but would like to draw attention to the efforts Hungary already made between 1990 and 2005. According to Hungarian diplomats, the new member states need longer time and more investments to introduce clean technologies, which should be taken into account when calculating the emission trading system (ETS) quota. From this point of view Hungary does not support the Commission allowing Austria, Luxembourg, Spain and Italy to increase emissions by 2020 even above their Kyoto target. Hungary would also support the formula whereby 20 percent of the gains from ETS could be re-channelled to the new member states – against the 10 percent approach of most of the old members.

French Presidency priorities correspond closely to Greek ones

The goals of the French EU-Presidency are seen at first as over-ambitious – almost of a Gaulistic character – but with a tendency to be watered down little by little.[1] In any event, the priorities of the French Presidency correspond closely to areas of major interest in Greek public discourse. Moreover, there have been recent points of political convergence between Greece and France (most importantly for Greece: coordination of positions in the Bucharest 2008 spring NATO Summit over the controversial issue of FYROM[2] joining the Alliance, where the Greek veto was openly supported by France) which increased the visibility of French initiatives in Greek public opinion and made for an overall feeling of joint positioning in international fora.
Of the priorities declared by Paris, energy is of major interest for Greece – especially from an energy security point of view – due to its recent openings to ‘pipeline foreign policy’. Greece is actively participating in oil and gas pipeline projects (namely the “Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline” and the “South Stream gas projects”), through which Russian energy flows towards the EU are to increase. Given US warnings against ‘increased dependence from Russian oil and gas’, Athens is very much interested in putting its energy policy in a European/EU-setting.

The German debate about the French EU-Presidency priorities

Being the closest political partner within the European Union, the German debate about the French EU-Presidency is quite substantial. All relevant German actors are quite engaged in observing and evaluating the announced priorities, no less due to the fact that the German government was involved in the preparations with the French Presidency from the start. As mentioned above,[1] because of the failed ratification of the Lisbon Treaty in Ireland, the focus of the debate shifted from the four official French EU-Presidency’s priorities, to the question of the Reform Treaty’s future.
In this subchapter German actors’ interests and concerns with regard to the French agenda for the second half of 2008 will be analysed according to the following issues of the debate: energy/climate, future of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), defence, immigration, Union for the Mediterranean.
Energy and climate policy

French Priorities: a forgotten social agenda

Expectations are high regarding the French Presidency. Three years after the French ‘No’ vote to the Constitutional Treaty and six months after the Lisbon Treaty ratification by parliament, in a tense economic and social climate, the French Presidency is somehow seen as a way to reconcile the French people with the European Union. In January 2008, a poll from “IFOP” showed that 61 percent of French people thought that the French Presidency should have positive effects on France and its influence in Europe, 30 percent think that there will be no particular effects, and 9 percent believe there will be negative effects.[1]
The French government announced that its main priorities during its six month presidency would be: energy/climate, immigration, defence and the future of the Common Agricultural Policy, but also economic growth, unemployment and the Mediterranean Union. This immediately generated a strong reaction by the opposition (left-wing) parties, which have been focusing on the importance of inclusive social policies and good public services. Former Prime Minister Lionel Jospin opened the discussion in March after a consultation visit with the current President, Nicolas Sarkozy. On that occasion he declared that, in order to reconcile the European peoples with the EU, focusing on its social dimension was necessary.[2]

Finnish perspective on the French Presidency priorities

The Finnish media has not clearly presented the four French priorities so far. The main newspaper mentioned them for the first time a day before the start of the French Presidency. The expectations of Finland during the French Presidency are threefold. Firstly, Finland is looking forward to issues related to developing the European Security and Defence Policy and its responsibilities. Secondly, emphasis is being put on the Lisbon Process. Thirdly, for Finland relations between the EU and Russia play an important role. The expectations in this regard are high due to the strong presidential system in France and Russia having new rulers. In addition to this, the energy and climate package should be almost ready by the beginning of next year when the European Parliament starts the electoral campaign.[1]
Finland’s View on Developing EEAS

More Europe is fine but keep our interests in mind

The Estonian government’s priorities for the French Presidency are stipulated in a document approved on July 10th 2008.[1] In general, these priorities are in favour of ‘more Europe’, aligning quite well with the objectives of the French government. However, Estonia has specific concerns in a number of areas.
In general affairs, the most important objectives of the Estonian government for the French Presidency are to “find a constructive and satisfying solution on how to proceed with the Lisbon Treaty” and to ensure the “active continuation of the EU enlargement process according to previously agreed principles.”[2] The Estonian government continues to hope that the Lisbon Treaty will take effect on January 1st 2009. With regard to enlargement, Estonia continues to actively support Croatia’s, Turkey’s and Macedonia’s membership aspirations.

French Presidency agenda regarded as ambitious

The French Foreign Minister’s speech at the Europe Day on 9th of May recently stated that the priorities of the French Presidency equal the normal workload of three presidencies. With its wide focus on energy, defence and migration besides the institutional issues regarding the future of the Lisbon Treaty, the agenda of the French Presidency is considered ambitious in Denmark.[1] The general expectation to the French Presidency is mixed. The Danish government and parliament support the priorities of the French Presidency on most points:
The effort of the European Commission to reform the European energy sector has previously been supported by the Danish Minister for Climate and Energy, Connie Hedegaard.[2] The French reform is therefore seen as a welcome step for Denmark, which considers itself a front runner in developing sustainable energy. Furthermore, the prioritisation of climate change is in tune with the global United Nations Climate Change Conference “COP15”, which is to be held in Copenhagen in December 2009.

French priorities: arousing some suspicion, but still leaving room for cooperation – especially in energy policy

Overall, the strategy of the Czech government towards France and its priorities consisted of acknowledging the differences between the two (quite openly), followed by tough bargaining without superfluous political, ideological and emotional attacks on French positions and priorities, as well as without the demonstration of discrepancies. Czech representatives say that it is quite legitimate to have different visions and opinions (for example on Common Agricultural Policy). On the other side, negotiations are needed in order to ensure a certain coherence, to ensure that the consecutive presidencies do not move from one extreme to another. Czech officials acknowledged the (natural) differences between France and the Czech Republic and tried to find balance between them or find issue linkages.

The Cyprus Problem – high expectations of French Presidency

The French EU-Presidency’s priorities, as elaborated by French President Nicolas Sarkozy[1] and by the French ambassador in Nicosia Nicolas Galey,[2] were well received in Nicosia, which on various occasions has reaffirmed its commitment to co-operate with France to guarantee their success.
Besides Paris’ priorities to chart a common immigration policy, enhance the European defence policy, promote renewable energy resources, reform the Common Agricultural Policy and involve civil society in EU affairs, Nicosia is also concerned as regards France’s position towards Turkey’s accession to the EU and the European Union’s involvement in the negotiation process for the resolution of the Cyprus problem.[3]
The Cyprus Problem

Croatia expects to speed up negotiations on the EU membership during the French Presidency

Croatia’s expectations of the French Presidency are very high and primarily focused on speeding up the negotiations on EU membership. It was announced through bilateral high-level contacts that Croatia might open all the remaining chapters by the end of French Presidency and conclude some of them.[1] So far Croatia has opened negotiation on 20 chapters and provisionally closed two chapters, while Croatian Government submitted reports on all the remaining opening benchmarks on 30 June.