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Sarkozy says Europe needs change

Published on July 01, 2008

1 July 2008

PARIS – France took the European Union helm on Tuesday with President Nicolas Sarkozy calling for profound changes in building Europe following the setback over Ireland’s ‘No’ to the bloc’s key reform treaty.

"There have been errors in the way that Europe has been built," Sarkozy acknowledged during a television interview on the eve of the July 1 opening day for the six-month French EU presidency.

The European project has become a source of concern to citizens who are wondering whether national institutions can better protect them from the ill effects of globalisation than European ones, he said.

Calling such thinking a "step backward," Sarkozy said: "We must therefore profoundly change our way of building Europe."

Sarkozy was hoping to lead the European Union into a new era of strength and unity, but Ireland’s rejection of a key reform treaty meant to streamline EU decision-making has all but thwarted his ambitious agenda.

The energetic leader who proclaimed "France is back in Europe" after winning elections in 2007 is now expected to spend much of his time as EU leader working to salvage the Lisbon Treaty.

"Something isn’t right. Something isn’t right at all," he said.

The French EU presidency’s "first priority is to find a way to contain the problem to the Irish", said Sarkozy, adding that EU countries must continue ratifying the key charter.

"We musn’t rush, but at the same time, we don’t have much time," he said, recalling that EU leaders had set the June 2009 European parliament elections as the deadline for approval of the Lisbon Treaty.

Sarkozy is due to travel to Ireland on 11 July to hear first hand the concerns of Irish voters, a day after he presents the priorities of the French EU presidency in an address to the EU parliament in Strasbourg.

EU leaders are expected to re-assess the fate of the Lisbon Treaty at a summit in October during which Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen is to present his ideas on the way forward.

Sarkozy’s proposal on the oil tax has received a cool reception from EU leaders, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel arguing that cutting the VAT would do nothing to encourage a reduction in consumption.

But the European Commission agreed to consider the proposals and Sarkozy is due to present a report in October.

Sarkozy also said he wanted to give tax breaks to encourage the green economy, from construction of energy-efficient houses to buying cars that are less polluting.

France has defined four priorities for its EU stint – immigration, defence, energy and the environment, and agriculture – and one of its most high-profile projects is the July 13 launch of a new Union for the Mediterranean.

The union will bring together European countries with states from the Mediterranean rim including Israel and its Arab neighbours to develop cooperation.

On the first day of the French EU presidency, Sarkozy and Prime Minister Francois Fillon are to hold working meetings with European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso.

A ceremony is to be held at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris later Tuesday.

On Monday evening, the Eiffel Tower was lit a dazzling blue with gold stars, symbolizing the EU colours.

A formal handover ceremony of the EU presidency from Slovenia to France was held on Monday, with Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel telling his French counterpart Bernard Kouchner that the union was "in rather good shape".

"You say it’s in good shape," Kouchner remarked. "Well, yes, let’s rather say it is in average shape."

[AFP / Expatica]

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