Foreign Policy Blogs

Presidential matters

Sueddeutsche ZeitungAngela Merkel, German Chancellor, received Europe's most prestigious honor on May 1: the international Charlemagne Prize. Previous winners include US President Bill Clinton, former EU Commission President Jacques Delors, Luxembourg's Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker and Europe's “Mr. Foreign Policy,” Javier Solana. None other than French President Nicolas Sarkozy delivered the laudatory address – an interesting choice, given the often fraught relationship between the two that has had some commentators pointing to a notable cooling in the once so warm Franco-German relations.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Sarkozy spent a good portion of his time basking in the glory of his own rhethoric and professing his “love” for Angela Merkel (in what was almost the political equivalent of Tom Cruise's couch jumping episode).

Ahead of the French Presidency of the European Union, which begins on July 1, President Sarkozy is trying to portray himself and his agenda in the right (spot)light. Attempting to borrow from Germany's EU diplomatic toolkit, he has sent his immigration minister, Brice Hortefeux, on a whistle-stop tour of the European capitals in an attempt to forge a compromise on this tenuous policy area, much like the German Chancellor was able to craft an early agreement on environmental policy.

Most recently, he is working toward reminding everyone of his importance in the European construct by withdrawing his support for Tony Blair as the first long-term President of the European Union (following the changes agreed in the Lisbon Reform Treaty). The story is interesting for its potential tactical significance, as it was Sarkozy who first mentioned Blair as a contender when discussions on possible candidates arose a few months ago. Today, member states pencilled in first “substantive” talks about who might assume the bloc's top job for a summit in Brussels on June 19-20. Sarkozy now argues, there can only be two serious contenders for the job: Luxembourg's Prime Minister, Jean-Claude Juncker and current EU Commission President Barroso. But analysts believe that Sarko has not completely dropped Blair from his bracket, and wants to side with whichever candidate looks the most promising as his own Presidency of the Union evolves so that he then can be seen as “king maker”. For now, Sarkozy has ruled Blair out for failing to introduce the Euro and negotiating a series of opt-outs that took Britain further away from the Union, rather than fulfilling his one-time campaign promise, to put his country back into “the heart of Europe.”

The nomination for the EU President and for all subsequent key roles created by the Lisbon Reform Treaty will surely be a new chapter in mature Union diplomacy and extremely interesting to watch. What all EU players need, however, for this process to have its democratic legitimacy (however small), is a resounding “Yes” vote in the Irish referendum on the new Treaty. EU citizens, meanwhile, still want a high-profile figure as the first official “head” of the EU-27 – someone with global clout – and here early surveys are pointing to none other than Tony Blair. For the first time in a long time it looks as if actual EU policy (as opposed to member state haggling) could get interesting – and perhaps even a little dirty.

 

Author

Cathryn Cluver

Cathryn Cluver is a journalist and EU analyst. Now based in Hamburg, Germany, she previously worked at the European Policy Centre in Brussels, Belgium, where she was Deputy Editor of the EU policy journal, Challenge Europe. Prior to that, she was a producer with CNN-International in Atlanta and London. Cathryn graduated from the London School of Economics with a Master's Degree in European Studies and holds a BA with honors from Brown University in International Relations.

Areas of Focus:
Refugees; Immigration; Europe

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