Saturday, July 05, 2008

Nerves fraying?

When The Economist gets nervous about Sarkozy's stint in the EU presidency chair, perhaps it is time to sit up and take notice.

Actually, the magazine is suggesting that "Europe" is getting nervous, which is an odd thing for a continental land mass to do, so there is probably a bit of ego self-projection here.

Nevertheless, "Europe" quickly becomes "Europeans", some of whom, we are told, were feeling nervous on 1 July when France took over the six-monthly EU presidency of the EU. But, quelle horreur there are some others who do not trust the French president to be "chairman of the club".

C'est incroyable – some of the "colleagues" do not trust M. le president de toutes les grenouilles?

But, if The Economist says it, it must be true – and says it, it does. "For all the welcome energy he brings," quoth the mag, "the suspicion is that he is not interested in Europe as a forum in which 27 leaders debate and come to an agreement." Instead, comments one EU diplomat, Mr Sarkozy seems to see Europe as a backdrop for his own bilateral deal-making.

Despite that, M. le president is promising to use the French EU presidency to show that Europe can tackle "everyday concerns of citizens", whether by "protecting" them from globalisation, or by allowing lower taxes on restaurant meals. To nervous neighbours, that sounds less like a plan for Europe than a prescription for selling Europe to French voters.

However, it seems that the crucial test is how the French presidency handles the "tricky task" of brokering a deal on carbon dioxide emission cuts. "Europe" – that continental land mass again - is divided into two ideological camps. One is "liberal", including Britain and the Nordics, who believe in cutting carbon dioxide emissions across the globe by as much as possible for the lowest cost.

The other, would you believe, is "more protectionist". It wants to fight climate change but still preserve European jobs in energy-intensive industries. This camp wants to erect barriers to imports from countries that are not making matching sacrifices on carbon emissions.

Can we guess in which camp France resides? Well, says The Economist, it is not merely a member of this camp, but its leader: M. Sarkozy says that demanding "reciprocity" on tackling climate change will be a priority of his EU presidency.

All this and much more, not least the spat with Mandelson, is apparently leaving the impression that France is isolated. With a bag full of "populist" measure it wants to introduce, M. Sarkozy is stacking up the odds against himself, setting himself up for a fall, as the "colleagues" desert him.

So, in a rhetorical flourish, asks The Economist, "why promise such impossible things?" When they fail to happen, French voters will surely blame "Europe".

As with all good rhetorical questions, we get the answer – sort of. "If in fact the president is just another French politician who is happy to make Europe the scapegoat whenever it suits his domestic purposes, it is a question hardly worth asking at all."

So, what do we make of that? Do we have a bull in the China shop, another greasy French politician on the make, or what? It looks like even the mighty Economist doesn't quite know what to make of our new president (of the EU, that is).

Looks like we are in for an interesting ride.


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