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France's EU presidency performance arouses debate

December 28, 2008

Editor: Sun 
    PARIS, Dec. 25 (Xinhua) -- As France's rotating presidency of the European Union (EU) comes to an end on Dec. 31, there has been a debate on whether its performance has strengthened or weakened the bloc this year.
    France's half-year EU presidency has been characterized by several crises, including the Georgia-Russia military conflict, the global financial upheaval, and inter-EU problems such as France-Germany ties.
    Supporters of France's EU presidency cite the French government's reaction to the Russia-Georgia conflict and the international financial crisis, saying Paris's move was swift and successful.
    The "several crises that hit the Union since July have served to energize the EU as a whole," the European Policy Center, a think-tank in the EU, said in a commentary.
    The commentary said that energy resulted in a record number of EU summits convened by the French presidency and proved Europe to be a "dynamic player, constructive partner and effective crisis manager."
    Some political group leaders also welcomed Paris's reaction.
    "We will stand by this French presidency, (and) we will remember it because of the seriousness of the events of this half year," Francis Wurtz of the GUE/NGL group in the European Parliament told local media.
    The Thomas More Institute for European Studies, an EU think-tank, gave Paris high marks for its reaction to the Russia-Georgia conflict that erupted in August.
    French President Nicolas Sarkozy coordinated the EU stand and flew to Russia and Georgia to help broker a ceasefire, facilitating a deal that brought hopes of peace to the region.
    France "prevented the EU 27 (members) from splitting over relations with Russia as they had over the war in Iraq," the European Policy Center said.
    And when the international economic crisis came, Paris filled part of the vacuum left by the outgoing U.S. administration. It turned a crisis into an opportunity by calling the first-ever summit of leaders from the 15 countries in the euro zone and an EU summit in Brussels to coordinate the EU's response to the financial trouble.
    Not everyone, however, appreciates France's performance. Critics said France's presidency has weakened the EU's consolidation and international significance.
    Inter-EU ties, for example, have seen widening cracks between France and Germany, also a key player in the bloc, critics say.
    Berlin was unhappy with France as the latter launched its plan for a Mediterranean Union without consulting Germany.
    The financial crisis also has added fresh tension to the strained relationship between the two countries as they became at odds over how to deal with ailing banks and the economy as a whole.
    France was frustrated with Berlin's refusal to put in place a bigger economic stimulus project.
    At a meeting in London in early December, Sarkozy made clear his exasperation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel for her reluctance to back more government spending to combat the economic slowdown, according the International Herald Tribune.
    Other reports quoted Sarkozy as saying that "while France is acting, Germany is thinking," a remark that would undoubtedly anger Berlin.
    "Our falling out with Germany is a catastrophe," said former French prime minister Laurent Fabius.
    EU-China ties would be another weak point for France's presidency, critics say.
    Sarkozy, in total disregard of China's strong opposition, insisted on meeting in Poland on Dec. 6 with the Dalai Lama who has long been engaged in activities worldwide to split China.
    Sarkozy, as both head of state of France and rotating EU president, "grossly interfered in China's internal affairs and also severely hurt the feelings of the Chinese people," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said in a press release on Dec. 7.
    Also on Dec. 7, Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister He Yafei summoned Herve Ladsous, the French ambassador to China, to lodge a strong protest.
    China then announced a postponement of the China-Europe summit which was originally scheduled for early December in Lyon, France.
    "Sarkozy was absolutely miscalculating as he tried to undermine the core interests of China so as to win domestic support, which will eventually damage the interests of the people in France and Europe," said an editorial in the People's Daily overseas edition on Dec. 8.
Editor: Sun 
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