Omnipresent French Presidency followed by too eurosceptic Czech President

Centre d’Etudes et de Recherches Européennes Robert Schuman
In concert with many other news media, the leading French left-of-centre newspaper “Le Monde” enumerates the French Presidency’s victims: “(There are) two victims of Sarkozy’s Presidency: Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, who presides over the Eurozone finance minister group and Javier Solana, the European responsible for foreign policy. Their posts were shadow posts of the European council president. Sarkozy showed that his personal experience grew during the French Presidency of the EU and that he did a strong showing”[1].
Luxembourg did not like the French Presidency’s proposal to offer a permanent Commissioner to Ireland. Sarkozy wanted to weaken the Commission; the Commission has been relegated to a secretariat of the Council. Every member state should have a representative in the Commission to push forward its interests. This way the governments can hope for a better understanding of their viewpoint. This compromise proposed by Sarkozy to satisfy the Irish demands was reached “by killing a certain European spirit“.[2]
The French proposal of a European economic government was not met with a positive response in Luxembourg either. Even if the French economic newspaper “Les Echos” blames the Sarkozy administration for not having “informed the President of the Eurogroup beforehand”[3], Juncker had known about the French plans for some time, but he could rely on the strong German opposition against these plans. Even the Liberal political group in the European Parliament opposed Sarkozy’s ideas.[4]
The tensions between the French Presidency and the President of the Eurogroup seemed to have reached a climax when Juncker refused to assist to a meeting dealing with the so-called ‘tax heavens’ in Paris, on 21 October 2008. After airing a “tendentious report”[5] denouncing the “tax heaven Luxembourg” specialized in money laundering, French TV news anchor David Pujadas tried to destabilise Luxembourg Prime Minster Juncker in a live interview on 21 October 2008, during the highly attended 8 o’clock evening news.[6] René Kollwelter (socialist member of the “Luxembourg State Council”),[7] many French bloggers and thousands of French TV viewers saw in the whole operation a merely hidden manoeuvre of the “Élysée” to harm the Eurogroup’s President’s public image in France.[8] A public outcry coming from many French commuters working in Luxembourg as well as from Juncker’s fellow citizens followed this ‘very special’ TV news show.[9] Finally Arlette Chabot, the head of the information department of French TV “France 2”, presented her excuses to the Luxembourg Prime Minister.[10] The incident was closed, but left a very bad aftertaste.
Although the French Presidency was successful in many points: e.g. the Luxembourg Liberal leader Charles Goerens liked the French President’s quick reaction in the Georgian conflict[11] – no doubt about it – it did not satisfy the expectations of the major part of the Luxembourg political observers.
Expectations for the main priorities of the Czech Presidency
Traditionally, Luxembourg and the Czech Republic have very good relations going right back to the Middle Ages, when Luxembourg princes made out of Bohemia a cultural and political centre in Europe. In modern times, solidarity with the victims of the 1968 Soviet invasion was deeply felt in Luxembourg. Václav Havel, the first President of the Czech Republic, was also very popular in Luxembourg.
Most recently, however, the Luxembourg press as well as the representatives of political parties tend to be very sceptical about the chances of a successful Czech Presidency. Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Liberal MEP Lydie Polfer, did not even stick to the traditional diplomatic restraint politicians tend to adopt when she predicted the failure of the Czech Presidency already in November 2008.[12] Especially the reputation of the actual Czech President Václav Klaus is already very low – most certainly since his last state visit to Luxembourg, where he delivered a strong ‘anti-europeist’ speech – and his popularity fell even lower due to his manoeuvres to torpedo the Lisbon Treaty’s ratification by the Czech Republic, a reaction which was not appreciated at all in Luxembourg.
The very first actions of the Czech Presidency dealing with the Gaza crisis seem, in the eyes of many Luxembourg observers, to confirm these rather mixed expectations.[13] The two most influential national newspapers, “Tageblatt” and the “Luxemburger Wort”, try to elevate the Czech image by publishing interviews with very sympathetic Czech Minister of Foreign Affairs Karel Schwarzenberg.[14] Whereas the Communist newspaper “Zeitung vum Lëtzebuerger Vollek” could not find one positive point in the presentation of the Czech Presidency’s priorities by the Czech ambassador to Luxembourg, Katherina Lukesova.[15]

[1] Le M. Sarkozy a orchestré un retour à l’Europe des Etats, 14 December 2008.

[2] Les L’Europe présidentielle de Nicolas Sarkozy, 15 December 2008.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Tageblatt: Französischer EU-Ratsvorsitz zieht Bilanz der vergangen sechs Monate, 17 December 2008.

[5] Le Jeudi: J’ai eu honte by Nathalie Griesbeck French MEP, 30 October 2008.

[6] See: (last access: 23 January 2009).

[7] Luxemburger Wort: Jean-Claude Juncker et le piège de la télévison française, 25 November 2008.

[8] See: (last access: 23 January 2009).

[9] Tageblatt: Les spectateurs de France 2 s’insurgent, 23 October 2008.

[10] Midi libre: France 2 s’excuse après un reportage sur le Luxembourg, 24 October 2008.

[11] Chambre des Députés: Compte-rendu des séances publiques, 11 November 2008.

[12] Lëtzebuerger Journal: Echec annoncé de la présidence tchèque by Lydie Polfer (Liberal MEP), 13 November 2008.

[13] Tageblatt: Tschechiens EU-Ratspräsidentschaft international auf dem Glatteis, 7 January 2008.

[14] Luxemburger Wort: Europa darf nicht uninteressant werden, 23 January 2008; Tageblatt: Ein Diplomat der keiner ist, 31 December 2008.

[15] Zeitung vum Lëtzebuerger Vollek: Es muss etwas geschehen, 8 January 2008.