Sarkozy: the reluctant crisis manager
"I've tried to change Europe, but Europe changed me." The comment prompted huge applause for French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
And the parliamentarians have been more than satisfied with his performance.
"If you ever get the chance to take a good look at the problems of all 27 member states for six months, you become more tolerant and understanding, and you begin to understand that without doubt Europe is the best idea of the 20th century, and that we need Europe more than ever."
After six months holding the EU presidency, Nicolas Sarkozy hit the nail on the head. The French president, a man who always knows exactly how to play his audience, had huge and mainly French plans when he began in July.
The populist president wanted to become the European leader who protected the people from unbridled liberalism, immigration and threats in general from the outside world.
To do this he had picked on a few classic French themes: European defence should be reinforced and immigration limited. But in the end he managed to achieve relatively little in these areas. The Irish rejection of the EU treaty and the war in Georgia in August, followed by the credit crisis made a mockery of his agenda.
Sarkozy: "Europe changed me"
Took back the initiative for Europe
Rather than the great leader driving Europe into the future, he became a crisis manager who saved Europe from an abyss. A role which turned out to suit him well.
In the Bosnian war, Sarkozy pointed out, Europe stood on the sidelines while Washington took the initiative, but in Georgia it was Europe that intervened. Mr Sarkozy conveniently ignores the fact that then Washington had a strong president and now the US president is weak and sitting out his term in office. Here stands the populist speaker in all his perfection.
And perhaps the financial crisis was a gift from God for the French president. Thanks to his untameable energy, he still got the opportunity to put himself forward as the people's protector and the man who put Europe back on the map.
"Europe has said in one voice that it wants the capitalism of entrepreneurs and not one of speculators, that it wants to reform the financial system, that it wants to give emerging economies a chance, that it wants morally responsible capitalism."
Just like in Georgia, Europe also played the leading role in the financial crisis, concluded Mr Sarkozy. It took the initiative to demand morally responsible capitalism and reform the financial market.
Praise in European parliament
The French president cleverly took advantage of the weak position of the US to put Europe on the map. But Mr Sarkozy who is used to getting his way against all the odds, did not avoid making compromises in recent months.
And that is what makes him more than just a French leader, he has grown into a European leader, according to Martin Schulz, Chairman of the Party of European Socialists in the European parliament.
"Yes, the French presidency was a success. I congratulate you, mainly because you spoke as a pro-European. Because you said: "I stand for this European project". I often had my doubts in the past. I've heard many of your speeches. But during your presidency you showed that you stand for what you said in the beginning."
The praise the parliament gave Mr Sarkozy was not unjustified. He has proved that even a Europe in which the member states attach great value to their own sovereign powers can act in unity. And perhaps that is the greatest achievement of this pragmatic go-getter, Nicolas Sarkozy.