A crisis-driven six months of French European Union Presidency draws towards a close. President Nicolas Sarkozy has given his conclusions at the Parliament in Strasbourg, before handing over to the Czechs at the end of this month.
His handling of the Russia-Georgia conflict, climate negotiations and response to the global economic turmoil won him mostly praise – not least for giving Europe a robust world presence. Sarkozy said: “In the financial crisis, Europe was united. Europe asked to have the summit in Washington. Europe asked for the G20 summit and Europe will organise the summit in London on 2 April on global governance reform. Europe tried to defend its convictions with a single voice.” The highly active Frenchman, then, drew accolades for helping Europe to “make progress”. But his very swiftness of action (or reaction, in the case of global or regional events) also brought him in for criticism, for example from German socialist Jo Leinen: “We have to pay attention that summit decisions don’t hurt the EU’s rules and foundations. There’s a big temptation to seek a quick success and leave all the norms to one side. That was the danger with Sarkozy and the French presidency, a bit.” The President of the European Commission appeared to have taken Sarkozy’s zeal positively. José Manuel Barroso said “rarely has Europe been able to express its satisfaction at so many positive results.” Yet a former prime minister, Belgian conservative Jean Luc Dehaene, said: “One thing President Sarkozy could be reproached for is that he rather thought of the European Commission as the secretariate of the Council. That’s not the commission’s role, especially in the monetary crisis when it somewhat closed itself in with that role, even though with the climate and energy package it showed it could be the driving force behind Europe.” That driving force will stand Europe in good stead: Recent contact between MEPs, Sarkozy and eurosceptic Czech president Vaclav Klaus has already struck a jarring note. But Sarkozy’s day ended harmoniously, with a concert at Strasbourg’s Palais de la Musique. The Czech EU presidency begins January 1.