French leader bids EU goodbye

18th December 2008, Comments 0 comments

President Nicolas Sarkozy defends his energetic way of piloting the European Union in his final address as EU head.

STRASBOURG – President Nicolas Sarkozy brought down the curtain Tuesday on France's frenetic EU presidency but vowed that while Paris would be out of the European spotlight it would not be leaving its stage.

In an address to members of the European Parliament - his last of France's six-months at the EU helm - Sarkozy defended the results of his "crisis" presidency, from the conflict in Georgia to the global economic malaise.

Breaking regularly from script to a largely welcoming assembly, the French leader clearly enjoyed balancing a compliment to one lawmaker with a lashing for another, particularly Greens bloc leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit.

He also defended his energetic way of piloting the European Union, described by European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso as "positive impatience" but which annoyed German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

"I tried to change Europe, but Europe changed me," said the French leader, who as interior minister routinely missed EU justice and home affairs meetings, preferring to try to forge ahead with small groups of nations.

"When one has the chance over six months to learn about and to solve the problems of the 27 (EU) nations, one gains tolerance, an opening of the spirit and one understands Europe," he told the lawmakers in Strasbourg, northern France.

"We tried to organise all our action around two convictions: the world needs a strong Europe; (and) there cannot be a strong Europe if Europe is divided," Sarkozy said, conceding that he had been forced to make "compromises" along the way.

As with his two previous addresses here, Sarkozy took time to flatter the deputies for being a "decisive element in obtaining results" and noting it was "easier to discuss, work, negotiate" with them than with others he could think of.

It appeared to work well with most leaders of the assembly's main groups.

"If the next presidency does the same I would be happy," said Socialist bloc leader Martin Schulz.

The Czech Republic takes over the EU reins on 1 January and eurosceptic President Vaclav Klaus has already raised eyebrows in Brussels.

Conservative group chief Joseph Daul thanked Sarkozy for having helped "a political Europe to emerge”.

The only false note came from Greens co-president Cohn-Bendit, who described France's presidency as "a weathervane that faces the right way one moment, and a false direction the next."

He accused Sarkozy of using Barroso's commission as a "lapdog secretariat" and the assembly as "viagra for (EU) governments," and of only meeting Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama "on the quiet" due to Chinese pressure.

For his part the French president expressed surprise at the change of attitude of the Greens leader, so "courteous, tolerant and nice" during dinners at Sarkozy's Elysee Palace.

"One gets the impression that you've gone mad as soon as there is a camera under your nose," he said, to laughter in some parts of the house.

Liberal leader Graham Watson gave the president "good" marks for his term, but he encouraged Sarkozy not to try to do it all, and leave the EU's economy to its finance ministers and the European Central Bank.

To go by Sarkozy's address, that invitation will be rejected.

"No one could think that it would be a positive thing for Europe for France to leave its chair empty now just because it has finished its six-month presidency. No! On the contrary, I will be taking action," he said.

[AFP / Expatica]

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