Expectations are high regarding the French Presidency. Three years after the French ‘No’ vote to the Constitutional Treaty and six months after the Lisbon Treaty ratification by parliament, in a tense economic and social climate, the French Presidency is somehow seen as a way to reconcile the French people with the European Union. In January 2008, a poll from “IFOP” showed that 61 percent of French people thought that the French Presidency should have positive effects on France and its influence in Europe, 30 percent think that there will be no particular effects, and 9 percent believe there will be negative effects.
The French government announced that its main priorities during its six month presidency would be: energy/climate, immigration, defence and the future of the Common Agricultural Policy, but also economic growth, unemployment and the Mediterranean Union. This immediately generated a strong reaction by the opposition (left-wing) parties, which have been focusing on the importance of inclusive social policies and good public services. Former Prime Minister Lionel Jospin opened the discussion in March after a consultation visit with the current President, Nicolas Sarkozy. On that occasion he declared that, in order to reconcile the European peoples with the EU, focusing on its social dimension was necessary.
Reactions to the strategy document on EU enlargement
French observers generally highlighted the mixed progress made by most candidate countries, and in particular the Balkan states, which would slow the enlargement process by a considerable amount. Croatia is touted as a prime example for other candidate countries and confirms its status as the “next country to become a member of the EU”. French newspapers, however, insisted on the corruption problems which make the accession prospects slower than Zagreb might expect. The newspapers also emphasized the fact that this issue also implicates other candidate countries.
In France, debates on enlargement are still dominated by Turkey’s accession. Thus, the publication of the strategy document was in many respects an occasion to tackle this issue. Le Figaro insisted on the fact that, according to the Commission report, Turkey’s progress was rather limited. France is opposed to the opening of negotiations with Turkey on institutional, budgetary or monetary issues, because it would imply that accession is taken for granted.
The question of ratification of the Lisbon Treaty is particularly important in France since the French President Nicolas Sarkozy is viewed as the main promoter of this treaty. Its adoption has always been considered as a major political goal and after the Irish ‘No’ vote; the French leaders had no choice but to add the ratification issue onto the agenda of the forthcoming French EU-Presidency.
Overcoming the ‘incident’
As expected, Nicolas Sarkozy immediately reacted to the Irish ‘No’ to the Lisbon Treaty, by trying to minimise its impact. First, he tried to make Peter Mandelson, European Commissioner for External Trade, responsible for this failure. According to the French President, the way Peter Mandelson negotiated an agreement with the WTO pointlessly worried Irish farmers. Then, he qualified this result as an ‘incident’, arguing that the other European member states had to go on with their respective ratification process, in order to prevent this Irish incident from turning into a major crisis. For many observers (and especially for the large coalition against the treaty, composed of left-wing parties – LCR, LO, PC – and nationalist movements – MPF, FN) this reaction is more proof of the elite’s unwillingness to listen to the people’s opinion.
A rapid parliamentary ratification
Following the signature of the Lisbon Treaty in October 2007, French President Nicolas Sarkozy made it clear he wanted France to be one of the first European countries to ratify the treaty, ideally by December 2007. Such eagerness demonstrated Sarkozy’s commitment to a rapidly progressing EU. President Sarkozy announced that the treaty would be ratified by the Parliament, and that the ratification process would begin immediately after the signature of the treaty on December 14th 2007, to be finalized at the latest by February 8th 2008. The first step towards the ratification, as stated by the Constitutional Council, is the adoption of a constitutional law, which modifies the French constitution. Such a law was presented on January 3rd 2008 to the Council of Ministers and adopted by the National Assembly and the Senate, convened in Congress on the 4th of February 2008. Three days later, both Chambers ratified the Lisbon Treaty with a massive majority.
Struggle for a Referendum
The decision made by the European Commission to authorise the cultivation of a genetically modified potato, and in fact to lift the moratorium on GMOs, caused a strong debate in France. If the French association for vegetal biotechnologies were to welcome this decision, environmental associations asked the government to use its safeguard clause. The latter decided to refer to the High Council on Biotechnologies (HCB) before making a decision, said the Ministries for the Environment and for Agriculture in a joint declaration. According to Hervé Kempf, from Le Monde, such a decision not only flies in the face of the Europe-wide debate of the past ten years, but it also raises a question, which discounts the European ideal: “In order to pave the way for GM products, the Commission plans to give each state the right to choose whether or not to authorise them, which clearly cuts the very principle of European integration and manifests the cacophony which currently reigns in the EU.”
 Agrapress: L’autorisation de la pomme de terre Amflora critiquée, 15/03/2010.
 Communiqué de Presse, 03/03/2010, available at: http://www.developpement-durable.gouv.fr/Pomme-de-terre-OGM-AMFLORA-la.html (last access: 04/06/2010).
 Le Monde: Mal à l’Europe, 07/03/2010.
The finance package for Greece: a façade agreement.
French official position regarding the finance package for Greece remained rather unclear. On the one hand, President Sarkozy supported since the beginning the idea of European initiatives in favour of Greece. He assumed that “we could not drop a member of the Eurozone, otherwise the Euro would be meaningless.” On the other hand, and partly following the German position, the Minister for the Economy, Christine Lagarde, assumed that Europe should not be indulgent towards Greece. This position was strongly criticised by the Socialist Party (PS), regretting the “disappearance of political Europe” and the return of “national egoisms, whereas we were expecting a deed of generosity from most of European governments.” The agreement that was finally reached at the European Council (25 and 26 March 2010) was considered a “façade agreement”. According to Jean-Pisani Ferry from economic think tank Bruegel: “what markets want, is a confirmation that the Eurozone members will not drop Greece, and this will only happen if they lend it money and if interest rates decrease, not before that.”
Since the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty, the countries applying for EU membership “can breathe again”, underlines Libération. The further enlargement of the European Union had been closely linked to the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty: French President Nicolas Sarkozy, when serving as President of the European Council, had made it very clear that, in a Union that could not even agree on adopting more functional institutions, the accession of additional countries could only make the situation worse. The adoption of the treaty was therefore a sine qua non condition for further enlargement.
Iceland and Croatia, 28th and 29th EU member states?
Centre européen de Sciences Po
Both because of the Poznan Conference and the EU-27 climate summit in Brussels, environmental issues have been largely covered by the French media. In its editorial, “Le Monde” emphasises the importance of these conferences: “the EU not only plays for the future of the international climate change treaty, but also for its economic future and international statute”. Therefore, in view of these challenges, reactions to the final agreement have been lukewarm.