Sarkozy’s European Voice

By March 24, 2009Article, Atlantic Eye

COPENHAGEN, Denmark, March 24 (UPI) — In little more than a week, European leaders will meet with U.S. President Barack Obama in Strasbourg, France. Europeans will show a common voice on immigration and security. Much of the credit can be given to Nicolas Sarkozy’s six-month EU presidency, which ran from July to December 2008.

Many European leaders described Sarkozy’s EU presidency as a mixture of hubris and self-aggrandizement — a man with cowboy manner. These comments came mostly from European leaders who were jealous Sarkozy had taken center stage as a man who actually managed to give Europe a voice. Not only did Sarkozy give Europe a voice; he actually set an agenda that is good for the future.

Sarkozy took on the presidency during the Georgian crisis. It was the first war on European soil since the 1990s Balkan failure. It was during the Olympics, while the world was focused on China. It was during Bush’s lame-duck period.

Europe’s chattering classes pride themselves on consensus. Most often while seeking consensus, a vacuum in leadership is created. Never mind that the practice of consensus is often used as an excuse to avoid making a decision at all. Mostly, this endless blathering means lost opportunities for Europe to take the lead internationally.

Sarkozy understood this.

He negotiated a climate energy package for reducing CO2 while not putting the European economy’s competitive edge in danger. Germany was central to the passage of the bill, and Sarkozy was able to convince Chancellor Angela Merkel to back him. The Copenhagen agreement deals with a 20-percent reduction in CO2, energy efficiency and renewable energy. “The agreement finds a compromise between the environment and industrial competition,” said Charles Fries, France’s ambassador to Prague and the former European policy adviser to President Jacques Chirac.

Sarkozy — partly for domestic reasons — focused heavily on immigration and political asylum. The Pact on Immigration and Asylum bundled several European Commission regulatory texts. The document acknowledges the interconnectivity of Europe’s future. It especially attempts to create co-development and management on all migration issues for Europe — a significant political step.

Under the French presidency, the European Security and Defense Policy showed a growing capacity. With the operations in Kosovo, Georgia and Atalanta — a naval operation against piracy near Somalia — Sarkozy was able to show that Europe could indeed muster military and security capacity. Sarkozy — an Atlanticist — focused on making ESDP and NATO more complimentary. It was decided to unify the EU’s military and civilian strategic-planning capacities. Most importantly, Sarkozy announced that France would return to NATO’s integrated military structure, which it left 40 years ago.

Europeans are often hesitant about “persona politics.” But in a system that lives on consensus, the European Union had to swallow her consensus pride — taking a back seat to Sarkozy’s leadership style. Sarkozy put his personal energy into the EU presidency in an attempt to demonstrate Europe’s ability to manage global challenges. On the whole, Sarkozy was efficient and effective.

He showed creativity on the Union for the Mediterranean, which had actually been launched during his French presidential campaign in 2007. Some European countries took exception to this proposal because it did not include them as they are not on the Mediterranean. There was also concern that the Mediterranean Union would push aside Northern European countries that have been involved in the Barcelona process since 1995. Some felt it was competing with the EU herself. Nonetheless, Sarkozy showed he could and would think outside the box for Europe.

Agriculture was added to the French presidency’s agenda before Sarkozy actually took over. The Europeans had already secured financing for their Common Agricultural Policy through 2013. The French pushed for the suppression of milk quotas and for a CAP health check.

Energy policy will continue to haunt the European Union. The rising prices of oil and gas, and their fall, along with Europe’s energy reliance on Russia — especially among the new members from Central and Eastern Europe — create a growing interdependence. The United States is wary of this inheritance.

Sarkozy took the European presidency as three crises loomed — Ireland’s “no” on the Lisbon Treaty, Georgia and the world financial crisis.

Sarkozy considered himself the father of the new Lisbon Treaty. He traveled to Dublin and suggested the Irish should vote again, which did not endear him to Ireland’s leadership. A way out was found at the end of the French presidency by giving Ireland some guarantees on neutrality, abortion legislation and her tax system. Besides Ireland, the Czech Republic and Poland have also yet to approve the treaty, which creates a European president.

Sarkozy responded quickly to Russia’s invasion of Georgia. True, the Georgians were dumb enough to be provoked by Russia, and as was later shown, actually made the first move. Nonetheless, Sarkozy quickly secured the cessation of hostilities, recognition of Georgian sovereignty by Russia, withdrawal of Russian troops from zones adjacent to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and the agreement for further talks in Geneva on Georgian refugees, which are still ongoing.

Sarkozy showed he was up to the task during France’s EU presidency.

His leadership has paved the way for a stronger European voice.

Let us see what happens in Strasbourg.

(UPI International Columnist Marc S. Ellenbogen is chairman of the Berlin, Copenhagen and Sydney-based Global Panel Foundation and president of the Prague Society. A founding trustee of the Democratic Expat Leadership Council and a member of the National Advisory Board of the U.S. Democratic Party, he has advised many political candidates.)