A mixed assessment of France and high expectations for the Czech Presidency

Institute for International Relations
Continuation of the ratification process and the agreement on the new referendum in Ireland is regarded as a major success of the French Presidency in Croatia
Taking into account global challenges that occurred during the French Presidency, its pre-defined priorities and Croatian focus on accession negotiations, various segments of Croatian public evaluate differently the achievements of the French Presidency. Despite the fact that the enlargement process was not amongst the main priorities of the French Presidency, its results are viewed from the perspective of accession negotiations, which are amongst Croatia's top priorities.
The main priorities of the French Presidency (energy-climate package, European energy policy, migration, area of freedom, security and justice, Common Agricultural Policy and the Union for the Mediterranean) were officially presented by French Ambassador in Zagreb, François Saint-Paul and head of the delegation, Vincent Degert.[1] The presentation also outlined the Presidency’s approach to one of the first challenges the Presidency had to deal with: Irish ‘No’. The results of the Irish referendum were presented in the media as a serious threat to Croatian accession negotiations, despite the announcement of the French Ambassador that France had no intention of slowing down Croatian EU accession negotiations because of the Irish ‘No’. The same view was supported by Prime Minister Sanader, who considered that it would have no implications on Croatia's accession process.[2]
In this context, continuation of the ratification process and the agreement on new referendum in Ireland is regarded as a success of the French Presidency.[3]
On the other hand, the activities of the presidency during the Russia-Georgia war were regarded as more critical, despite the fact that the French EU Presidency helped reach a cease-fire agreement.[4] The EU summit held on this issue was regarded as rather rhetoric, without a strong common position on the issue,[5] because there were no sanctions for Russia.[6]
With regard to the financial crisis, initially a dominant view in Croatian media was that the role of the French Presidency was limited, while the other EU institutions, primarily the Commission[7] or the European Central Bank and member states (primarily Great Britain and Germany) were more active.[8] The perception changed later on as France actively facilitated the harmonisation of ideas; agreement on common EU approach at the G20 summit[9] and adoption of recovery plan at December summit, acknowledged as major achievement of the Presidency.[10] The adoption of the Recovery Plan has also been considered important from Croatia’s accession country perspective,[11] because enlargement fatigue might also be connected with the crisis.[12]
The pre-defined political priorities of the French Presidency received more attention at the sixth ministerial forum "Justice and Home Affairs – The EU and the Western Balkans", held in Zagreb 6-7 November 2008, where the French Presidency presented the European Pact on Immigration and Asylum, which had been adopted by the European Council on 16 October 2008.[13]
The efforts towards an agreement on an Energy-Climate Package were closely monitored. The French initiative to allow free CO2 allocation in new member states had been perceived as an attempt of the French Presidency to conclude “green revolution” talks.[14] Media reported that adoption of the Climate-Energy Package is one of the major achievements of the presidency.[15]
The establishment of the Union for the Mediterranean also received significant media coverage.[16] It is considered as an impetus for the development of transport routes and sea ports, environmental protection of the sea, and proposed establishment of solar fund.[17] The Government considers that the Union for the Mediterranean is fully compatible with Croatian foreign policy goals.[18]
The challenges that occurred during the French Presidency could lead to a multi-speed Europe:[19] Proposed measures for the Eurozone, including the establishment of an economic government, might lead there. A two-speed Europe was also identified by analysts as a possible outcome of the Irish ‘No’.[20] As it seems, the French Presidency managed to settle both issues, thus it appears to be rather successful.
Croatia’s main expectation was to open all or nearly all chapters during the presidency and to receive tentative dates for finalizing negotiations.[21]
Generally supportive of Croatia's integration towards the EU, the French Presidency faced challenges related to Slovenia’s reluctance to separate bilateral issues from the accession process.[22] The involvement of the French Presidency in this respect was very much appreciated.[23] An indicative road map for concluding accession negotiations by the end of 2009 is considered as “an important signal to Croatia and an unequivocal message”[24] by the government.
The French Presidency was marked by major crises that might have long-term consequences for the internal cohesion of the EU and also on the speed and success of Croatia’s integration process. The French Presidency was able to manage the crises which might be regarded as the main strength of the presidency.
Croats have high expectations from the Czech Presidency
Croatia has very high expectations on the outcome of the Czech Presidency, although it is taking place in a period of a very intensive global economic crisis and deceleration of economic growth, institutional challenges linked to the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty and spring elections for the European Parliament.
The Czech Presidency’s priorities were discussed and presented in Croatia on two round table discussions. The first one was organised by the “Heinrich Böll Foundation”, which started recently a series of public debates entitled Eurotations in different Croatian towns, which focused on priorities of the upcoming presidency and its impacts on Croatia. The debate was introduced by the Czech and French ambassador to Croatia as well as by representatives from the academic society.[25] Within the three priorities of the Czech presidency (economy, energy and the EU in the world), the continued development of negotiations between Croatia and the EU are highly positioned which is very much welcomed in Croatia, stressed Vesna Pusic, head of the National Committee for Monitoring the Negotiations. Croatia expects to focus on concluding negotiating chapters during the Czech Presidency, meaning that all the internal reforms should be completed by the end of the coming presidency. The message of the discussion expressed by Neven Šantić, journalist and moderator of the round table was that the Czech Republic will try to speed up the negotiation process, expecting required progress in reforms made by the Croatian government.[26] However, as an obstacle to the future effectiveness of the Czech Presidency, Dr. Damir Grubisa mentioned the unstable majority of the Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek and the strong eurosceptic attitude of President Václav Klaus as well as the fact that the Czech Republic is among the very few countries which have not officially ratified the Lisbon Treaty.[27]
The Czech Presidency’s priorities were also introduced in the Delegation of the European Commission in Zagreb. Among the Czech priorities are the further development of the negotiations with Croatia and finding a way to unblock it from the Slovenian side. The Czech Republic supports Croatian accession through the sharing of knowledge and experience gained in its own accession, said Mr. Karel Kühnl, Czech ambassador to Croatia.[28] One of the tasks of the presidency is to provide neutral space for finding a solution to the blockade that Croatia has encountered in its negotiations with the EU, added Mr. Karel Kühnl. Since the border dispute between Croatia and Slovenia is not a part of the EU’s acquis communautaire, the countries should find the solution and make a final decision themselves. There are no reasons for postponing Croatia’s accession to the EU due to bilateral reasons and the Czech Presidency will try to create an opportunity and a position acceptable for both sides, said Czech ambassador to Croatia, Karel Kühnl.[29]

[1] Press conference on the priorities of the French Presidency, available at: http://www.ambafrance.hr/spip.php?article950 (last access: 3 December 2008).

[2] Statement of Prime Minister Sanader, 09 October 2008, government’s web portal, available at: http://www.vlada.hr/hr/naslovnica/novosti_i_najave/2008/listopad/predsje... (last access: 10 January 2009).

[3] “Irska raspisuje novi referendum o EU”, t-portal, 11 December 2008, available at: http://www.tportal.hr/vijesti/svijet/2640/Irska-ide-na-novi-referendum-o... (last access: 20 January 2009).

[4] “Počeo EU monitoring u Južnoj Osetiji i Abhaziji”, Vjesnik daily, 1 October 2008, available at: http://www.vjesnik.hr/Html/2008/10/01/Clanak.asp?r=van&c=1 (last access: 20 January 2009).

[5] A. Palokaj in Jutarnji list daily, 1 September 2009, availiable at: http://www.jutarnji.hr/clanak/art-2008,9,1,,131751.jl (last access: 20 January 2009).

[6] “Blokada pregovora EU i Rusije”, Nacional weeky, 1 September 2009, available at: http://www.nacional.hr/clanak/48334/blokada-pregovora-eu-i-rusije (last access: 25 February 2009).

[7] E.g. “Protiv recesije – potrošnjom”, Slobodna Dalmacija, 28 November 2008, p. 15; Vjesnik, 27 November 2008, p.11.

[8] Vjesnik daily, 27 November 2008.

[9] “EU se zalaže za novi financijski poredak”, Deutsche Welle, 7 November 2008, available at: http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,3772908,00.html (last access: 12 January 2009).

[10] “EU postigla povijesni sporazum o klimi”, -t-portal, 12. December 2008, available at: http://www.tportal.hr/vijesti/svijet/2750/EU-postigla-povijesni-dogovor-... (last access: 20 January 2009).

[11] “Plan EK za gospodarski oporavak odnosi se i na zapadni Balkan”, Lider press, 27 November 2008, available at: http://www.liderpress.hr/default.aspx?sid=61185 (last access: 20 January 2009).

[12] Olli Rehn quoted in business.hr, available at: http://business.hr/Default2.aspx?ArticleID=01bf9244-c85a-4674-aab8-dd5a1... (last access: 12 January 2009).

[13] “Šesti ministarski Forum ’Pravosuđe i unutarnji poslovi - EU i Zapadni Balkan’”, available at: http://www.ambafrance.hr/spip.php?article1005 (last access: 3 December 2008).

[14] “Neočekivani dar Europske unije novim članicama”, Poslovni, 26 November 2008.

[15] “Povijesni summit EU-a s odlukama o Hrvatskoj”, Deutsche Welle, available at: http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,3871335,00.html (last access: 7 January 2009).

[16] Vjesnik, 5 November 2008, p.11.

[17] Vjesnik, 4 November 2008, p. 2.

[18] MInister Jandroković according to Coratian News Agency, HINA; 14 July 2008.

[19] Prof. Grubiša, in: Europa, Prilog, studeni 2008 (no 67, 4 December 2008), pp. 1, 6.

[20] Ibid., p. 6.

[21] Večernji list, 10 October 2008, p.9; Web portal Javno, available at: http://www.javno.com/en/croatia/clanak.php?id=162610 (last access: 12 January 2009).

[22] Cf. “Slovenija i Hrvatska najbliskije europske zemlje”, Novi List, 29 November 2008.

[23] Gordan Jandroković, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Republic of Croatia, in an interview at Radio 101, 13 January 2009; Vjesnik, daily 22 and 23 November 2008, p. 1.

[24] Ivo Sanader at the 6th EU-Western Balkans Ministerial conference, Zagreb, 6 November 2008, available at: http://www.vlada.hr/en/naslovnica/novosti_i_najave/2008/studeni/predsjed... (last access 12 January 2009).

[25] Visnja Samardzija from the Institute for International Relations and Damir Grubiša from the Faculty of Political Sciences gave introductions to the debate.

[26] Neven Šantić: “Czech Republic for Croatia in the EU”, Novi list, 28 November 2008.

[27] Damir Grubiša: „ Irish re-run and Czech presidency“, Europe, Supplement for European integration. No 68, December 2, 2008, pp 1 and 6.

[28] Zeljko Trkanjec: “Croatia and economy are presidency priorities“, EU and Croatia, Special supplement to Jutarnji list, 19 January 2009, p 30.

[29] “Priorities of Czech presidency over EU introduced: Economy, energy and EU in the world“, Delegation of the European Commission to the Republic of Croatia, available at: http://delhrv.ec.europa.eu/en/content/news/id/1478 (last access: 25 February 2009).