January 15, 2009
President Sarkozy’s separate foreign adventure in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict points to real flaws in the European Union workings. This was the last of his efforts to prove that equality among countries does not create influence in world affairs.
While the EU was conducting its own mission in the area, Sarkozy did his own stint as a self-appointed envoy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He is following up his own steps taken recently.
From the summer to December, France held the presidency of the EU. But Sarkozy was clear about his intention to follow up his special role beyond the official time slot. He declared that he wants to represent the EU in the G20 summit in the spring and tried to maintain his leadership over the Mediterranean Union, an official EU club for North-African and Near-East countries.
This is new. Never before did any big country undermine the equality of EU countries. EU leadership is divided in six-month-long stints. Tiny Luxembourg played the same role in its turn as did huge Germany. But Sarkozy broke the mould. Behind the scenes, he was secretly negotiating with the Czechs about sharing the presedency’s task with him. He was caught trying to rewrite the EU’s rotating presidency rule, when his negotiations with the Czecks were released in a Czech newspaper. Czechs were offended by his forceful ambition as they prepared themselves for their first big EU task as the leaders of the EU inter-governmental negotiations.
But the good questions is whether the current one is a good system?
The EU was made as a community, in which every country has an opportunity for trying its hand at the steering wheel. But the task has changed somewhat as the car become a long vehicle with a loaded agenda in a global highway. Cooperation and the learning curve among the members were important in the past. Are the future tasks the same?
I think that never before was so clear that the global crisis needs coordination between regional power houses. In some regions, this sort of power are diversified between countries ( Japan, China in the Far East), or represented by individual countries like Brazil, India or Russia. There is just one entity in the world which stands out from the crowd and this is the EU itself. Although its members are the world’s most developed countries, the world has seemed to be accepting the that EU is a coordinated entity from which a concerted answer could be expected.
It adds a new layer to the existing EU system. The EU, so far, has been an inward –looking project, which has been influential in regulating its domestic markets. This is the first time in history that policy coordination is overstepping national boundaries in the EU. The debate is no longer about the agenda representing EU countries in WTO or Doha negotiations. The EU as a regional powerhouse in the Atlantic sphere has a global role in stabilising the world markets.
If the EU presidency falls on the shoulder of a minor country with little experience in dealing with global issues, the EU ’s performance on the global stage could be inefficient. Hungarian civil servants and diplomats are already preparing for the presidency that will come up in 2011. They are learning French as it is required to calm down French grandstanding. But they will have no room to practice of high-flying diplomatic issues as their country is not a big-time player in world politics.
Think about people in the US, Japan or in the Chinese government. Would they listen as much intently to the Hungarian Prime Minister as to the words of the French President or the British PM?
The EU system is deeply democratic as it is eliminating any differences between the members’ size, population, economic strength. It is a playing ground for a democratic learning curve in state-to-state issues.
It worked well when the EU was separated from the world politics and was focused on internal market building and some external trade dispute in WTO-like negotiatons. But world politics needs strength, stamina and weight. Now it is the Gaza conflict, next time it will be the financial crisis or managing the situation in Afghanistan.
Notwithstanding his personality, drive and ambitions, Sarkozy is not creating holes in the EU system. He is just clever enough to sense that the world is changing and EU needs to adapt to it.