Thursday, July 3, 2008

EU presidency passes to France

Photo credit: picture-alliance/dpa

France's six-month presidency of the European Union began Tuesday, July 1, taking the helm from Slovenia. Special Eiffel Tower lighting has been designed for the six-month period in the blue colors of the EU, along with a circle of stars, which honors Europe's flag of 12 gold stars on a field of blue.

photo by looking4poetry used under cc licence

Officially it was cause for celebration, but there are glaring problems lurking behind the festivities and handshakes. There is much turmoil within the European Union these days, especially since Ireland’s June 12 rejection of the Lisbon Treaty, designed to make reforms in the way the union is structured. My assessment is that Slovenia was only too happy to pass the baton over to France.

France’s Nicolas Sarkozy, whose popularity is sinking at home, said he hopes to be able to concentrate on five main areas as head of the EU presidency: immigration, defense, energy/environment, agriculture, and his most high-profile project: the July 13 launch of a new Union for the Mediterranean (countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, including north African nations and Turkey). Sarkozy sees the Mediterranean initiative as a way of promoting peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors. What fun that should be!

I hope Sarkozy remembers to bring along his best magic wand on July 13. Opponents are already derisively calling this proposal Sarkozy’s “Club Med” plan. I would suggest that all participants bring along food tasters.

But I digress. Sarkozy’s top priority will have to be to salvage the Lisbon Treaty, encouraging other EU countries to continue ratifying the charter (all 27 EU members must ratify in order for it to be enacted in 2009, as planned). In an interview on French television late Monday, Sarkozy said the EU would take in no new members until the Lisbon Treaty is ratified. Thus, anticipated EU inclusion for Croatia and Ukraine is in jeopardy.

The political party of Poland’s Lech Kaczynski, who helped negotiate the treaty, now opposes it. Kaczynski's move follows a statement by German President Koehler on Monday that he was suspending ratification of the treaty following a request for a delay by Germany's constitutional court. With the Czech Republic also waiting on a court decision before ratifying, Sarkozy will doubtless have to spend much of the next six months trying to save the treaty. He is due to travel to Ireland on July 11 to hear first hand the concerns of Irish voters.

Are we having fun yet?

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