Tuesday, 1 July 2008

France at the helm of the EU

The glamour and the glitter of France's six month Presidency of the EU officially begins today. When the French President, Nicholas Sarkozy, outlined his vision for the French EU Presidency on the same day as the start of Slovenia's EU Council Presidency it was all too clear that this was going to be an ambitious policy agenda - much of which is more about France regaining the initiative and its leadership role in Europe: to ensure France's place is at the heart of Europe.

With its slogan, "a more protective Europe", what can Scotland look forward to being achieved between now and the end of December? In an ambitious programme, Sarkozy has listed energy and climate change, security and defence, immigration, and the CAP health check as its top priorities. Beyond this Sarkozy has plans to reinvigorate the EU's relations with its Mediterranean neighbours through his Union of the Mediterranean. Key issues for Scotland are reaching a political agreement on the Commission's legislative plans for cutting carbon emissions and increasing the use of renewables, and reforming the CAP. Trouble is this needs to happen for sure by the end of the French Presidency – the European Parliamentary elections next June mean that the Parliament will pack up earlier that normal thus cutting short (by a couple of months) the time it has to enact legislation. It is also all the more imperative given the EU needs to have its negotiating position agreed before the world climate change conference in Copenhagen in December 2009.

Of course the French had hoped that in addition to its ambitious EU policy programme, its Presidency would be crowned by its success in preparing for the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty – and overseeing the appointment of the ‘new’ top jobs, President of the European Council and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. This has all been torn to shreds with Ireland's rejection of the Lisbon Treaty. Instead the French Presidency will be dogged by trying to resolve the so-called ‘crisis’ created by the Irish doing no more than exercising their democratic rights!! If there is a crisis then it is one that will be triggered by the ill-advised line coming out of Paris insisting that if there is no Lisbon Treaty there will be no further enlargement. Let’s be honest – had Gordon Brown not welched on his commitment to hold a referendum in the UK over the Lisbon Treaty then Ireland would not be alone in the veto corner!

At the recent European Council EU leaders agreed to give the Irish government more time to come up with some proposals on how next to proceed, reporting back at the next meeting of EU leaders in October. Before that though Sarkozy will be in Dublin to hear Ireland's concerns and one can only hope that he will listen. Threatening to block further EU enlargement and using it to push for Lisbon's ratification is not the answer Europe is looking for, nor what it wants.

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