The EU wants to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent by the year 2020. One of France's challenges during its turn at the EU presidency will be to get all 27 member states to agree before year end. (Report: N. Rushworth)
PARIS, June 29 (Reuters) - France takes over the European
Union's rotating presidency on Tuesday for what was originally
billed as six months of action-packed diplomacy, but other EU
capitals and Irish voters have forced it to scale down its aims.
Last year, fresh from his election victory, President
Nicolas Sarkozy had a range of plans for his turn at the helm,
from an EU-style Mediterranean Union to bringing the bloc's new
institutional order into force and hosting a summit on the euro.
Those plans have either been watered down or scrapped,
taking the sheen off Sarkozy's ambitions.
"We went from a vision that Mr Sarkozy was going to change
Europe to a slightly more realistic view of what a president can
do," said Olivier Louis, head of the EU presidency programme at
the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI).
To many countries, coordinating policy and organising the
many meetings that go with 27-nation bloc's presidency are just
another administrative chore. Sarkozy, however, had pledged to
make France's turn a model of action and effectiveness.
The Mediterranean Union was to bring the sea's motley crew
of residents together in one, EU-inspired framework.
But Germany and others baulked at the idea of France, Italy,
Spain and Greece drawing on EU funds to finance a project that
would not be open to EU countries without a Mediterranean coast.
The initiative was downsized, its membership expanded to all
EU states and it was renamed "Union for the Mediterranean". The
launch summit in Paris on July 13 will be one of the
presidency's main events, but its impact remains to be seen and
there are doubts about whether all leaders will attend.
"They (the French) are very concerned that they won't have a
PR strategy for the presidency, they don't know what to sell.
And the only thing they are able to sell is this Mediterranean
summit," said Ulrike Guerot, head of the Berlin office of the
European Council of Foreign Relations think-tank.
Paris had also expected to play midwife to the Lisbon Treaty
overhauling EU institutions, which was due to come into force on
Jan. 1, and find a long-term president for the bloc.
Irish voters' rejection of the EU reform treaty in a June
referendum scuppered any hope of the agreement Sarkozy helped
broker coming into force on schedule.
Sarkozy will go to Dublin on July 11 to look for a solution
that could address Irish voters' concerns and make it possible
for the government to call a new vote next year, diplomats say.
"Now that there's the Irish 'No', it's the future of Lisbon
that overshadows the rest of the agenda, and the French need to
be creative to offer solutions," Guerot said.
"If they come up with a good negotiation with the Irish and
they can find a face-saving solution, then that would be a big,
big, big result," she added.
The Mediterranean Union and Lisbon setbacks came after Paris
quietly abandoned another goal -- holding the first summit of
leaders from the 15-nation euro zone on the single currency,
over which Paris and Berlin clashed early in Sarkozy's term.
Many of France's other official priorities face obstacles.
One aim is brokering an agreement on mechanisms to curb
greenhouse gas emissions and promote green energy sources,
paving the way for a meeting in Copenhagen next year to create a
successor to the Kyoto protocol on climate change.
Diplomats say it is a particularly difficult task, with
numerous countries laying down their own requirements.
Sarkozy has announced he wants to use the EU presidency to
boost European defence, an ambition that will depend largely on
the bloc's other military heavyweight, Britain.
Both sides agree on pooling hardware such as helicopters and
ships but London has resisted creating a new European military
headquarters, and more technical issues on operational command
and control have yet to be resolved, diplomats say.
Paris is also due to lead an updating of the Common
Agricultural Policy and lay the foundations for future reform,
but talks so far have made little progress.
A more easily achievable task will be harmonising rules on
immigration and asylum in a single pact as much of it involves
pulling together initiatives that are already being prepared,
and it is widely supported.
Date created : 2008-06-30