President Sarkozy struts into leading role on EU stage

23rd June 2007, Comments 0 comments

BRUSSELS, June 23, 2007 (AFP) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy jumped into a leading role on the EU stage in his debut summit, but could not avoid stepping on some toes while trying to play the role of honest broker.

BRUSSELS, June 23, 2007 (AFP) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy jumped into a leading role on the EU stage in his debut summit, but could not avoid stepping on some toes while trying to play the role of honest broker.

Although German Chancellor Angela Merkel chaired the summit, she soon found herself sharing centre-stage with the new French leader as she struggled to appease Poland's concerns about a proposed EU treaty in crunch negotiations.

Thanks to their efforts, Poland dropped its resistance to a deal for a new treaty, which is supposed to replace the defunct EU constitution that French and Dutch voters rejected two years ago in referendums.

To reach the agreement, Sarkozy said he had "worked hand-in-hand with Angela Merkel" since he took office on May 16 to revive the French-German axis that has long driven EU integration and broaden it out to others.

"I did everything to bring the English and the Spanish into the French-German couple," he told journalists after the summit. "What I've always thought is that the French-German couple is essential... but it should not be exclusive."

Sarkozy's spokesman claimed that the new French leader had brokered an agreement with Poland on a compromise in the crunch talks, taking a swipe at Merkel's negotiating methods.

As the second night of tough negotiations began at the Brussels summit, Merkel had sought to raise the pressure on Poland to accept a compromise by threatening to go ahead with work on a new EU treaty in Warsaw's absence.

Tired of Poland's unwillingness to compromise, Merkel headed off to dinner, leaving Sarkozy to broker a deal acceptable to Polish President Lech Kaczynski, the French president's spokesman David Martinon said.

"France, a long-time friend of Poland, wanted -- well, President Sarkozy wanted -- to play a role to bring the Polish president around with another method," Martinon said.

"It's not by negotiating an agreement among 26 (out of 27 EU members) that he made things move," Martinon added.

So Sarkozy "brought" the Polish president into his office for a tete-a-tete.

Then the French leader brought Polish prime minister and Lech's twin brother Jaroslaw into the discussions by phone from Warsaw and also "got (British Prime Minister) Tony Blair to try to find something."

Soon afterwards, Warsaw agreed to a compromise as Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker and his Spanish counterpart Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero also became involved.

Asked whether the French leader negotiated with Merkel's blessing, Martinon said: "President Sarkozy has the habit of taking his liberty when it can be useful."

On the first day of the summit, Sarkozy sparked alarm among France's EU partners by convincing Germany to drop a key reference to "free and undistorted competition" in the new treaty.

Sarkozy convinced free-marketeers to drop their concerns after proposing a compromise that would not undermine the European Commission's antitrust powers.

The issue is highly contentious, with member states like Britain and the Netherlands deeply attached to the idea that Europe's markets should be open to competition and free from state meddling.

French fears that the EU fuels unrestrained, free-market competition boosted opposition to the bloc's draft constitution, which French voters rejected in a referendum two years ago.

Although successive EU treaties have stated free competition as one of the main objectives, French opponents seized on a reference in the charter to help mobilise voter opposition.


Copright AFP

Subject: French news

0 Comments To This Article