The EU's winners and losers in 2008

5th January 2009, Comments 0 comments

Who did well and who didn’t in a turbulent year.

Brussels -- As 2008 draws to a breathless close amidst financial crisis, debate over climate change and the aftermath of war in Georgia, the European Union's winners and losers are becoming apparent.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy: WINNER. Sarkozy got off to a bad start in 2008, with his popularity slumping in domestic polls, but his career was rejuvenated when he took over the EU's rotating presidency on July 1.

The restless activity which has won him the nickname "Speedy" was abundantly apparent as he spearheaded the EU's joint reaction to the Russian-Georgian war in August, the financial crisis in September and a series of proposals on fighting climate change in December.

While critics say that his diplomatic efforts tended to put more emphasis on high-profile interventions than detailed negotiation, all admit that he has raised the EU's profile and won a formidable reputation as a tireless and tenacious activist.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown: WINNER. Brown, like Sarkozy, started the year in the political doldrums, trailing behind the opposition in poll after poll.

But the financial crisis in September gave him a new lease of life, as he used his 10 years' experience as British finance minister to create the EU's first major coordinated banking rescue package and launch its first economic recovery package.

To crown his performance, Brown, whose country does not use the single European currency, the euro, was invited to brief the first- ever summit of eurozone leaders in Paris on October 12 on Britain's reaction to the financial crisis.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel: ALSO RAN. The "golden girl" of European diplomacy, who in 2007 led the EU from the front on questions such as climate change and relations with Russia, barely featured on the European stage in 2008.

Hemmed in by political rivals at home, under intense pressure from Germany's mighty industrial lobby to water down the climate-change deal that she herself brokered, and facing an election in 2009, Merkel has been all but eclipsed internationally by the restless Sarkozy and the financial expert, Brown.

To her credit, she has played a full part in international talks on the financial crisis, climate change and the Georgian war, but she has not taken the lead in any of them. By her own high standards, that counts as close to failure.

Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen: LOSER. Cowen only became prime minister in May, but by mid-June he was already in deep trouble as Irish voters rejected the EU's reforming Lisbon treaty, making it impossible for the treaty to come into force anywhere in the bloc.

Cowen was deeply criticized for running a lackluster campaign - a failing which was all the more remarkable in that he had already had to negotiate a way past one negative Irish referendum on the EU's Nice treaty when he was Ireland's foreign minister in 2001.

Since then, the financial crisis has poured further woes on his head, with Ireland's once-tigerish economy heading into recession.

Poland: LOSER. It is not often that a whole country becomes an obvious loser, but Poland has managed it this year as the country's president and prime minister have engaged in an ever more open feud over the question of who runs key areas of policy.

The feud came to an embarrassing head in Brussels in October, when Prime Minister Donald Tusk refused President Lech Kaczynski a seat on the government aircraft, and Kaczynski retaliated by chartering his own flight and simply arguing his way into the summit anyway.

Slovenia: WINNER. On the other hand, the only state of the former Yugoslavia to have made it into the EU so far came out a comfortable winner over the year, becoming the first of the EU's new member states to run the bloc's rotating presidency.

While the presidency was largely overshadowed by Sarkozy - who published his plans for the French tenure on the same day that the Slovenes published theirs - it was efficiently run, dealing with issues such as Kosovo's declaration with barely a hitch.

Ben Nimmo/DPA/Expatica

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