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European-American Topics - Politics - Sarkozy's interview


Interview given by Nicolas Sarkozy, French president, to the quarterly "Politique Internationale" Magazine, Paris May 2007
Posted May 23, 2007

 - Do you think, M. Sarkozy, that our foreign policy calls for some clear shifts?

THE PRESIDENT: It seems to me that so far we've not given sufficient consideration to a key question: what must the "backbone" of our foreign policy be? Not that it's desirable to start afresh; in many respects, Jacques Chirac's track record has been exemplary. But the changing world forces us to prepare certain shifts. In short, I believe the time has come to give French diplomacy a "doctrine". This must not prevent pragmatism in the conduct of affairs. A doctrine means a clear-cut vision of the world, and of the long-term objectives and interests we defend. It's a set of values which guide our action. It's what gives meaning and coherence over time. It's the prerequisite for our independence.

- Where should we start?

THE PRESIDENT: With Europe, naturally. It's urgent to break the stalemate over the operation of the institutions.

- Germany has made getting Europe moving again the priority of her EU presidency which ends on 30 June. You're known to be in favor of a "simplified treaty" which would deal only with institutional reforms. Isn't that being a bit dismissive of the 18 countries which ratified the text the French rejected in May 2005?

THE PRESIDENT: That's not what I've said and still less what I think. I argued for months, throughout the referendum campaign, for a "yes" vote. I've not changed on that point: I'm all in favor of an ambitious treaty; but for that you need time. And time is what we haven't got. It is urgent to enable Europe to function efficiently with 27 members. That's the reason I've proposed that we adopt a "simplified treaty" with the aim precisely of remedying the institutional emergency. I spoke of this simplified treaty for the first time over a year ago, in Berlin, then again last September in Brussels. Today I see that the idea has gained a lot of ground among our partners.

- Nevertheless a number of European States, particularly Spain and Germany, think that the constitutional reforms can't on their own constitute the substance of the treaty. Ruling out the idea of a "minimal accord," they're advocating on the contrary a "bold proposal".

THE PRESIDENT:  I'm not telling you anything you don't know when I say that the Constitutional Treaty can enter into force only if ratified by all member States. We now know that won't be the case. It is obviously impossible to get the French and the Dutch to vote a second time on an identical text. And in any case we know that of the States which haven't yet voted, several have no intention of ratifying it. As far as France is concerned, she owes it to her partners to be clear on this. Let no one count on me explaining to the French that they didn't properly understand the question put to them.

- Are you saying that we have to content ourselves with the Nice Treaty whose inadequacies you yourself have highlighted?

THE PRESIDENT: Certainly not. Everyone agrees that the institutions inherited from the Nice Treaty don't allow Europe to function properly with 27 members. Hence the idea for a "simplified treaty" focusing on the institutional questions. The draft Constitutional Treaty contained a number of measures that everyone, including the "no" camp, recognized would permit the EU to function more efficiently. The "simplified Treaty" would reintroduce those measures on which there was a consensus.
In the longer term, I am well aware that the necessity of giving the EU a referential text remains. This text - let's call it the "constitution" or "fundamental treaty", it doesn't matter which - will have to go beyond the technical provisions in the current treaties and seal the basically political dimension of European integration. Drafting this fundamental treaty has to be done as democratically as possible involving insofar as possible the European citizens and their representatives. There could, for example, be a large convention whose members would be appointed after a genuinely democratic debate, including in national parliaments.

- What in your view should this "simplified Treaty" include?

THE PRESIDENT: The simplified treaty should reintroduce a number of key provisions:
- extension of qualified majority voting and co-decision, particularly in the field of police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters:
- double majority rule (1);
- sharing of legislative power between the European Parliament and Council, and the election of the Commission president by the Parliament;
- compliance with the subsidiary principle. We must ensure compliance with this simple rule: the EU should act only when its action is more effective, more appropriate than that of member States. Respecting subsidiary means Europe [acts] where necessary, as much as necessary, but not more than necessary. For this, the "simplified treaty" must include a stronger role for national Parliaments through the so-called "early-warning" procedure;
- establishment of a stable European Council presidency. Today, this no longer seems to arouse controversy. Everyone recognizes that such a presidency would encourage more long-term measures, with these being more effectively followed through;
- creation of a European Union foreign minister combining the current duties of the EU's High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, the External Relations Commissioner and President of the Foreign Affairs Council.
There has been a genuine consensus on two other series of measures. First of all those concerning participative democracy inside the EU and, more especially, the citizens' right of initiative, i.e. the possibility given to a million Europeans [a proposal must have the support of at least a million EU citizens] to ask the Commission to make proposals in a specific area. And secondly, those which endorse enhanced cooperation projects.
Finally, giving the European Union legal personality will allow it to join, and sit as a political entity in, a number of organizations. All this can be included in a simplified treaty, which could be negotiated swiftly since essentially it would involve reintroducing the provisions worked on at length in the European Convention and IGC, without reopening the political debates through which compromises had been found.

- How will it be ratified?

THE PRESIDENT: This simplified treaty, which will amend the Nice and Amsterdam Treaties, can, like them, be placed before the Parliament for ratification. Our objective should be to start drawing it up as soon as possible so as to have it in force by the next European elections in 2009, as the recent Berlin Summit confirmed.

- This simplified treaty leaves aside, however, some important points, in particular the reform of the Commission. It isn't possible to go on working with 27 as we did with 15?
THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely. The Commission's composition will have to be revised. It's one of the most important institutional issues and certainly the hardest to resolve, since the Commission has a key position in the Community institutions. In many spheres, its decisions have huge consequences. We shall have to take time to think about and discuss this in order to find a balance between the desire of some member States to have a commissioner and the need to give the Commission sufficient coherence [to operate effectively].
The Constitutional Treaty - just like the Nice Treaty - adopted a system imposing a ceiling on the number of commissioners and sharing the posts between member States using a strict rotation system. This isn't satisfactory. The commissioners would still be appointed on a national basis, preventing the Commission from being a genuine team and threatening its legitimacy in citizens' eyes. It is already too often used as a scapegoat by the general public. What will happen the day it has to take a major decision affecting the future of a country without there even being a commissioner from that country within its ranks?
Several formulas have been contemplated, each with advantages and drawbacks: for example, keeping one commissioner per member State or a differentiated rotation system on the model of the UN Security Council.

- What solution do you advocate?

THE PRESIDENT: To end the deadlock, I believe we mustn't be afraid of making a sort of "conceptual jump" and entrusting the Commission's composition to its president. After all, he has the confidence of the European Council and the Parliament, which have jointly appointed him in line with the result of the European elections. He could form the team freely and then be responsible for obtaining approval of it from the Parliament and Council. National governments aren't formed in any other way. Of course, the Commission's president-designate would have to consult national governments and respect the balances underpinning the EU, particularly between the member States and political movements. But in the end, the choice would be his. That way the Commission could work as a genuine team headed by their president. The question of its composition would not be settled once and for all in the abstract, but would reflect the political balance of power after each renewal.

- Nor does the simplified treaty say anything on the rules for majority voting, which are a key aspect of the Constitutional Treaty?
THE PRESIDENT: Clearly, the unanimity rule has to be changed in Europe. How can we believe and get people to believe that we're going to fight terrorism effectively by convening a learned assembly of 54 interior and justice ministers, giving each two minutes to speak, and demanding they be unanimous?
A while ago I talked about the creation of a "super-qualified" majority requiring, for example, 70 or 80 percent of the votes for a decision to be adopted. What would be the appeal of this mechanism? Because there are areas which are so sensitive for member States that it's illusory to hope to get these moved into the sphere of simple qualified majority voting, but for which application of the unanimity rule would be sure to lead to deadlock. It's the case for taxation: we haven't gone far enough in harmonizing the taxes on businesses and economic activities subject to competition. The result is that States are allowed to indulge in destructive competition on tax to attract businesses to their countries by cutting corporate tax, sometimes to zero. Tax dumping, which is prospering under the unanimity rule isn't acceptable inside the EU. We must be able to clarify the division of powers between the Community institutions and States, according to the principles of subsidiary and proportionality.

- Basically, doesn't the crisis into which Europe has been plunged reflect the deep concern of the people faced with an entity whose limits they find hard to grasp?

THE PRESIDENT: You're right. Europe worries people because we haven't had the courage to ask the question about its borders. It's time to consider the matter frankly. Does Europe have to have borders? My answer is yes. The negative results of the French and Dutch referenda were partly provoked by hostility to a borderless Europe. Establishing a geographical and political framework for the European Union is essential for our fellow citizens to regain ownership of the European project.

-  Where should Europe extend to?

THE PRESIDENT: What's certain is that there must be no more enlargements until new institutions have been adopted.
A new member's accession is first of all a decision which the EU must take for itself, in line with its own objectives, within the limits of its capabilities and with its peoples' consent, before falling within the sphere of EU external policy and its concern to encourage reforms in other countries. The important thing for Europe is not to water down its policies and institutions in an entity in which any decision would, by definition, be impossible. What's important for the EU is to be solid enough to project its influence and lay the foundations of an area of stability and prosperity broadened to include its continental and Mediterranean neighbors. Which means that the EU's absorption capacity isn't infinitely extendable. I'd like this absorption capacity concept to be given specific content and made operational; let me add that it's necessary to check this at every stage of an enlargement process and not only on its completion, since then it's too late to react.

- Who is European and who isn't?

THE PRESIDENT: A distinction has to be made between two categories of States:
1. Those whose candidature for EU membership no one disputes. The European Union is open to all States clearly belonging to the European continent (Switzerland, Norway, the Balkans) and nearby islands (Iceland). These States will join the European Union when they can (the Balkans) or wish to (the others), provided that the EU, on its side, is in a position to accept them, particularly from the point of view of the operation of its institutions.
2. Those whose candidature for EU membership isn't self-evident or who are neighbors without being European. For these countries in the Euro-Asian and Mediterranean areas, our first step must be to establish a particularly close partnership. We must work with them with due regard for our respective interests, but without making concessions on our values. To my mind, there's nothing automatic: even though all those participating in the "Barcelona Process" are geographically destined to have a partnership with us, only those who we can see have made progress will be able to be accepted as "privileged partners" of the EU.

-  Do you think that, provided she fulfils the conditions set by the European Union, Turkey's place is in Europe?

THE PRESIDENT: Fulfillment of the criteria isn't the be-all and end-all here. On Turkey, I've always spoken clearly: I think she isn't destined to become a member of the European Union because she isn't European. But Turkey not joining the EU doesn't mean that she will distance herself from Europe. Who can seriously claim that the close ties between Turkey and Europe, which are the fruit of a historic process and sincere friendship, will be loosened overnight solely because of her not joining the EU? Turkey is a friendly country with which we share interests and values. We must deepen our relations with her in the framework of a "privileged partnership".
We must even go further and propose to the Mediterranean area countries that we establish with them a Mediterranean union, of which Turkey would naturally be one of the linchpins. This union would work closely with the European Union and one day have joint institutions with it. Its heads of State and government could have periodic meetings as does the major industrialized countries' G8. It would have a Council of the Mediterranean just as Europe has the Council of Europe. The pillars of this solidarity and cooperation area would be a common policy of concerted immigration measures, economic and trade development, promotion of the rule of law in the region, environmental protection and co-development with, for example, the creation of a Mediterranean Investment Bank modeled on the European Investment Bank.

-  The recent gas and oil crises which have pitted Russia against Ukraine and Belarus have highlighted the fragility of European energy supplies?
THE PRESIDENT: Energy will be the major issue of the twenty-first century. Europe must have a common energy policy modeled on the Common Agricultural Policy. Today, our partners are prepared to move towards this, which is excellent. France must be in the vanguard when it comes to drawing up a European energy policy based on the security and diversification of our supply sources, reduction of our energy dependence and fighting global warming by developing the use of environmentally-friendly energy sources.


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