On New Year's Day France hands over the rotating European Union presidency to
the Czech Republic, ending one of the most eventful six-month tenures ever as
head of the 27-member bloc.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy is known as
a man of action - and he had plenty of issues to act on during France's six
months at the helm of the European Union. France's agenda initially included
launching a new European-Mediterranean partnership including North African and
Middle Eastern nations, and to advance the Lisbon Treaty to reform the 27-member
But unforeseen events worked to shape the French presidency into one
of the most dynamic in EU history. First came the brief war between Russia and
Georgia in August. President Sarkozy went to both capitals to secure a
Then came the financial and economic crises. Mr.
Sarkozy called for a European summit for figure out a common strategy to tackle
the meltdown - and pushed for a larger summit of the world's top economic powers
In a farewell address to the European Parliament in the
French city of Strasbourg earlier this month, Mr. Sarkozy dwelt on his tenure as
The French leader said he had learned tolerance
and a certain overture in trying to address the problems of 27 nations. He had
tried to change Europe, he said, but Europe had changed him. And he said the
European Union was more necessary now than ever.
A number of diplomats
and pundits have praised Mr. Sarkozy's energy, including European Union foreign
policy chief Javier Solana. Philip Whyte, a senior analyst at the Center for
European Reform in London, also gives the French president good marks.
think Sarkozy on the whole has done quite a good job," he says. "Sarkozy is not
someone who has a particularly coherent ideological view of the world. He's
really a man of action rather than a man of ideas. And because he's a man of
action, he's actually brought to the EU a lot of the energies that were needed
at this current point in time."
Some analysts actually wonder whether
Sarkozy has left a lasting mark on the role of an EU president because he has
been so active these past six months. Earlier in December, he also managed to
secure EU agreement on a climate change plan considered the most far-reaching to
date. Still, the final deal was watered down.
"Maybe he's tried to fill
a real political role, to show he's a political leader. It's not sure he
succeeded in that field because on many issues he didn't get a major outcome,"
says French analyst Philippe Moreau Defarges. "One example, the climate/energy
package. It's clear that agreement is not an historical agreement, it's just
adding the 27 national visions."
Mr. Sarkozy's authoritative style has also
managed to ruffle feathers - notably that of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
"The Franco-German relationship has always been the key relationship
within the EU," says analyst Philip Whyte. "But I think Sarkozy's approach to
diplomacy has always riled the Germans. And I think the personal relationship
between Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy is at an all-time low."
Sarkozy has scored political points at home. A poll earlier this month found 56
percent of French approved of his EU presidency. His popularity has also risen
compared to earlier this year, when many French disapproved of his lifestyle and
his tough reform policies.
But analyst Defarges points out that many
French are more interested in issues facing them at home - notably the moribund
economy and unemployment - than the European Union.
As for Mr. Sarkozy -
he may be ending his European presidency, but he appears intent on keeping
France a major world player.